Our 15-minute neighbourhood’s gems

The Glebe’s classic streetscape with stately trees makes walking a pleasure. This stretch of Woodlawn Avenue is a five-minute walk from shops and services on Bank Street.   Photo: Jennifer Humphries

By Jennifer Humphries

During COVID, the term 15-minute neighbourhood is being tossed about with enthusiasm in Ottawa and in other cities around the world. It’s a great catchphrase, suggestive of walking everywhere, social connection, comfort food around the corner, safe streets and clean air. But what exactly does it mean?

Ottawa’s Draft Official Plan, released in November, says: “A 15-minute neighbourhood is a neighbourhood where you can walk to get to the grocery store, where you can easily walk to frequent transit, and where children can safely walk to school. Walkable, 15-minute neighbourhoods reduce our dependency on cars, promote equity, social connections and a greater sense of community, foster physical and mental health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The 15-minute neighbourhood is at the core of a reimagining of cities across Europe, in Canada, the U.S and elsewhere.

Our 15-minute Glebe

Is the Glebe a 15-minute neighbourhood? Without a doubt. Living here, you can walk to get many of the things and experiences you need or want. It has vibrant streets. I think it’s fair to say that it’s loved by residents and visitors too.

The 15-minute buzz got me wondering what makes our neighbourhood so lovable. By sharing my personal reflections, I hope to inspire you to think about the Glebe as a 15-minute neighbourhood and about how we can make it an even greater place to live for ourselves and for future residents.

I’ve lived in the Glebe for 34 years and never thought of moving. Within 15 minutes, if I walk fast, I can be at its furthest reaches. In 10 minutes, I can be on Bank Street. I can shop at our gem of a grocery store and our great hardware store. I can get fresh bread, empanadas, coffee and olives at charming shops. I can get prescriptions filled and vaccines injected (soon, please), mail a letter at the post office, buy books, calendars, stationery, jigsaw puzzles, shoes and socks. Get videos and music. Find therapists, jewellers and original art. Eat at great restaurants and meet up with friends at nice pubs; during COVID, I can get delicious takeout! Best of all, I can chat with friendly people at businesses and on the street.

In 15 minutes, I can be at the Sunnyside Library. It’s not in the Glebe but it’s close. It’s a great walk across the Bank Street Bridge, a heritage gem that will be even better and safer when the walking and cycling lane is built.

On Sunday, I can walk to the Lansdowne Farmersʼ Market. It’s a gem too. As is the Aberdeen Pavilion, though it desperately needs a new roof! I’m no sports fan, but it was great before COVID to see people coming to cheer the RedBlacks and 67ʼs or to attend events like City Folk.

During COVID, I’ve wondered if I’d run out of interesting walking routes. I haven’t yet. I’ve discovered so many local curiosities, like the Canadian Prime Meridian Marker at the Dominion Observatory on the edge of the Arboretum. It’s outside the Glebe but easily walkable.

Changes are afoot in our neighbourhood. The new Official Plan will have a big impact. The Bank Street Height and Character Study will be finalized this year, giving greater support to keeping the “look and feel” of our mainstreet for years to come. There are new businesses such as cannabis shops, welcomed by some and a concern for others. COVID has given us time to rethink priorities – we need green space with trees, safe pathways for exercise, child- and teen-friendly parks. Where we live is where we work now; if that continues post-pandemic, will our neighbourhood need to adjust to suit the new reality? There are changes that will be controversial but may be needed if the Glebe is to continue to be a people-centric place – for example, a lane of Bank Street potentially given over to patios or to pedestrians and cyclists during the summer.

Change can be difficult; getting the kinds of change to make our neighbourhood even better will take effort. Through the Glebe Community Association (GCA) and in groups and forums across the city, I hope to contribute to making sure that our gems stay with us for years to come and that more such treasures become part of our community.

Please share your thoughts with the GCA and let us know what you’re engaged in to make our community the best it can be during and after COVID: gca@glebeca.ca.

Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Environment Committee and co-chair of the Glebe Report board. You can contact her at environment@glebeca.ca.


Here’s a list of some of my other gems in the Glebe or within walking distance:

  • Glebe Community Centre
  • Schools: all of them
  • Old Teacher’s College condos – nice repurposing
  • Ella Street Park (officially Capital Park) – took our kids there, now our grandkids
  • The massive American elm beside the Queen Elizabeth Driveway
  • Brown’s Inlet, especially the footpath from Wilton to Ralph
  • Trees, trees, trees, on our streets, at Commissioner’s Park and the Arboretum
  • Historic churches; St. André the Porter at Blessed Sacrament
  • Central Park and Patterson Creek
  • Mayfair Cinema, just over the bridge
  • Heritage districts: Clemow, Monkland and Linden Terrace
  • Character streets: the Glebe’s early 20th-century architecture is its signature
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