This article is taken from the Spring 2020 edition of the PEN Insider, and was written by Paul Johanis from the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital. Read the whole PEN and Insider here.
The City of Ottawa is currently reviewing its Official Plan. Under the Planning Act, every city in Ontario must have an Official Plan which conforms to the requirements of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) issued from time to time. The Official Plan is a land use plan with a planning horizon of twenty five years. It determines how much, and what kind, of new housing will be required to accommodate population growth over this period, as well as where (roughly) in the City this new housing will be built.
Ottawa is rather unique in that it has a very large rural area within its city limits – the Experimental Farm. So a very important part of the Official Plan is how much of the City should be designated as urban, which allows for dense residential development and is fully serviced, and how much should remain rural. The boundary between the urban area and the rural area is called the urban boundary.
The Official Plan is reviewed every five years: population and housing projections are updated, and decisions are made about accommodating this expected growth. The first priority, according to the PPS, is to accommodate growth through intensification and redevelopment in the existing built up area. If that is not sufficient, then development can occur in vacant urban residential lands inside the existing urban boundary. If there is still not enough space, then the City can, through an Official Plan Comprehensive Review, expand the urban boundary into the rural area.
In the context of the climate emergency declared by the City, expanding the urban boundary is not a viable growth strategy as it would 1) increase carbon emissions through the thousands of additional kilometers driven by new population dispersed in the farthest reaches of the urban area, when we should be reducing GHG emissions, and 2) take out of service rural lands that are far better than urban lands at capturing and storing carbon, which we need to protect ourselves from the worst effects of climate change.
Rather than allow sprawl, the Official Plan should protect the rural lands and green spaces that provide the ecosystem services that make life in the Ottawa region possible, and support urban intensification that results in relatively dense, multi-use and socially integrated communities that are walkable, connected and green. Over the next twenty five years, Ottawa will need to add 194,500 new dwellings to accommodate our projected population growth. Of this, according to the latest working assumptions provided by the City, they expect that 13,000 will be located in the rural area and 181,500 in the urban area. With 98,200 provided through intensification and 58,200 through development of existing vacant urban residential land, there would be 25,100 dwellings that need to be accommodated outside the urban boundary, representing an urban expansion of about 1500 hectares. That is an area as large as Kitchissippi and Somerset wards combined. By increasing the portion gained through intensification from 98,200 to 123, 300 no urban
expansion would be required at all.
So more intensification would be good, but not the kind of intensification where developers are reduced to roaming the streets looking for developable parcels! This wild-west approach has only turned intensification into a dirty word in many communities, and continuing this around transit nodes and corridors is not the way to go.
There is an appetite for a kind of intensification where communities, developers and the
City work together to redevelop neighbourhoods, across the entire urban area, including the outer suburbs, to achieve the aims of denser, better serviced, more livable, green and
connected neighbourhoods, secured in iron-clad secondary plans. This is the appropriate
Official Plan response to the climate emergency.