Ottawa’s draft Official Plan

Will it help us become ‘the most livable city’?

Ottawa’s draft Official Plan

The Glebe will be affected for years to come by the city’s new Official Plan, now in draft form, laying out a blueprint for, among other things, accommodating 400,000 more Ottawa residents over the next 25 years. Send your comments on the plan to gca@glebeca.ca and the City of Ottawa.  Photo: Carolyn Mackenzie

By Carolyn Mackenzie

The City of Ottawa released the Draft Official Plan in November. It’s a huge, complicated document. It states an aspiration to make Ottawa “the most livable mid-sized city in North America over the next century.” The plan will direct where we will absorb 400,000 people over the next 25 years, how we get around, urban design, economic development and public health as well as environmental, climate and energy resiliency. It’s really important that we get it right or at least as right as we can.

City staff have put tremendous effort into this document and should be commended for introducing many progressive ideas. Yet there are policy areas to be reconciled and significant gaps that will need time to be filled, if we are all to get behind this Official Plan. For a start, two big issues need to be addressed:

The city should be transparent about its modelling of how growth management objectives in the plan will be achieved. How many people or “dwelling units” will go where? How many high-rise apartments and low-rise developments?

We need a robust monitoring and reporting plan. Let’s clarify our targets and our progress toward them, so the plan can be readjusted as we go.

Neighbourhoods matter, or do they?

The city has talked a lot recently about how “Neighbourhoods (NHs) Matter.” Concepts like “15-minute neighbourhoods” and “walkable” have been vigorously discussed at community and stakeholder meetings. The general idea is to make neighbourhoods more livable by including the majority of what we need within walking or cycling distance. This reduces dependence of cars while limiting greenhouse gas emissions and expensive road building.

Neighbourhood planning is also critical because the document states that 15-minute neighbourhoods are where most of the intensification will happen. But where is the map of those neighbourhoods? Where are the tools for managing this? How will we ensure that neighbourhoods remain livable as residents are added? This is an important area that is underdeveloped in the official plan. The GCA believes effective neighbourhood planning should include:

Establishment of clear and measurable criteria for 15-minute neighbourhoods to reflect an “ecosystem” approach that recognizes that elements work together. Think greenspace per resident, tree canopy, connectivity, social amenities, local commercial services, density/dwellings, diversity and equity measures.

Recognize that every neighbourhood needs a plan, but scale the effort to the need. There must be plans for all neighbourhoods, not just the privileged few. Develop a screening process to identify priority neighbourhoods based on large gaps, needs or opportunities and do them first. Make the planning tool “fit for purpose” – use a lighter touch when that is all that is required so we don’t break the bank. Leverage the knowledge and capacity of residents to better understand neighbourhood needs and potential solutions.

A more granular approach to directing “dense urban form” – if not at the neighbourhood level, then in a more nuanced manner than suggested by the Inner Urban Transect (one of six areas of the city designated as “transects”), which includes the Glebe. Applying blanket characteristics to such a large area of the city is likely to result in boring, homogenous neighbourhoods, and it puts our tree canopy at significant risk.

What about parks, trees and climate?

Land dedication for parks should be prioritized over cash payments in lieu from developers, and planning should include creative and flexible approaches like micro, pocket and linear parks. The city’s 40-per-cent tree canopy target must be broken down on a neighbourhood basis so that we do not end up with “haves” and “have not” neighbourhoods. Tree removal permits should only be granted in exceptional cases. Permeable space for trees around buildings should be required. Emissions targets and high-performance standards should be specified for buildings, and urban greening incentives should be included in the plan.

Lansdowne

We welcome Lansdowne being identified as a Special District along with the Rideau Canal. The urban park was a foundational element of the site’s redevelopment. Commercial and sporting elements are clearly an important part, but there is a great opportunity to meet tree canopy and climate-change goals; greenspace should not be an afterthought.

The new Official Plan shows great promise, but time should be allowed to fine tune a clearer and more concise articulation of intent and policies. If we don’t do this properly, we are setting ourselves up for more conflict; queue the lawyers for the costly trips to the appeals board as communities and developers argue once again over interpretations.

Detailed GCA comments can be found at: glebeca.ca. Send your feedback to gca@glebeca.ca and to the city (see engage.ottawa.ca the-new-official-plan). The final Official Plan will go to city council for approval in September.

Carolyn Mackenzie is chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Planning Committee.

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