The Official Plan is Ottawa’s major land use and policy document, and will shape our city for at least the next 25 years. Something this big demands major public engagement, and Ottawans have stepped up in a big way. We’ve seen 500-person rallies to stop sprawl, packed Saturday morning Zoom workshops on neighbourhood design, and overwhelming public input into arcane city processes. We’ve seen community outrage at last-minute land use decisions like the Tewin development, and missives from senior city officials pointing to “unprecedented engagement” from the public.
People are eager to share their vision of a more dynamic, sustainable and climate-friendly Ottawa. This has come out in numerous workshops with the People’s Official Plan, a broad coalition of organizations collaborating on a future vision for our city. It has also shown up in community reports from workshops we’ve held with Walkable Ottawa. (See our City View report here.)
As a member of the People's Official Plan, we've been working hard on highlighting the key deficiencies in the draft Official Plan, including a highly-detailed Technical Report which suggests ways the City planning staff can make specific improvements and including key targets which the City must implement to allow monitoring, as well as a Key Issues document (below), summarising the issues for easy reference. By any indication, there is still more work to be done to get the plan right. But time is running out. We expect a new draft Official Plan sometime this summer, followed by a final council decision this fall.
This means there are only months left to ensure the new Official Plan adequately responds to the climate emergency. When it comes to climate action, no measure in a city’s toolkit is as important as land use planning. It’s urgent that we build bustling, walkable neighbourhoods while avoiding sprawl, with its devastating impacts on climate, food security and nearby nature. We know the city has threatened to expand its urban boundary further if we can’t get community consensus on intensification, so it’s critical that we demand ambition from council here. We also know that – with a policy mix that delivers amenities with intensification, and considers innovative forms of gentle density – we can grow while respecting and enhancing the look and feel of our communities.
This is the key rationale behind our push for 15-minute neighbourhoods. Councillors need to know there’s a critical mass of Ottawans who want to prioritize climate action in the new Official Plan. The community wants to move past the question of whether intensification will occur, and get at the mechanics of how best to shape a climate-friendly city. With the right approach, we know we can build a better city while tackling the climate crisis with ambition and resolve.