Beyond balance: Finding a fair approach to growth

Ottawa is one city.

In the past two weeks, the City’s Planning Committee has debated and eventually approved the Official Plan’s Growth Management Strategy. Ultimately, allowing for a balanced growth approach to intensification means expanding within the core and expanding within existing suburban communities.

Although this plan takes on a fair approach to managing growth, it is also one I worry may be flawed – or not careful enough to address the current and future needs of our city.

For too long it has been urban versus suburban. I don’t even remember when or why it started, but every council meeting, it is evident that this is the case. Big files with significant impacts tend to become divided in a way that is not always right to any or all of our residents. We are all Ottawans – regardless of the start of our postal codes or the councillors who represent us.

Interestingly, the points my colleagues were making during the committee’s debate and questions to staff had similarities – whether they were speaking in an urban or suburban context.

What about the amenities? What of the existing, failing amenities? What about the connections to transit?

I would hate if this plan had all the ideals, all the purpose – parcels were purchased and developed without rhyme or reason.

That is why I believe that when it comes to a balanced approach – it is one that should not be done at the whim of a market – because, at the end of the day, that whim will dictate where families can afford to live, versus where they may wish to live.

The ideals of the Official Plan and the goals it wishes to achieve are admirable, and with conversations with residents, staff and colleagues, I see the strengths and weaknesses of how this city should and could grow.

But when we ask for a 15-minute neighbourhood, there are essential factors to consider –

affordability, proximity to transit, proper, reliable transit, ensuring the environment is found, not just mentioned in passing. It is also important to note that everyone is asking for – and deserves a 15-minute neighbourhood – and that should be considered whether you are developing in the core and any other community in Ottawa.

We all strive towards living near amenities that fit most residents’ wants. Many questions remain as to how the urban boundary decision will impact land use cost, which in the end might see more or fewer units build, depending on demand. One might hope that the fundamentals improve built standards, including minimizing environmental impacts and that Ottawa’s rental housing market opens up to provide residents with more options.

On the urban boundary debate, the analogy I find fitting here is weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you can’t just do one thing – reduce calories or exercise. One may get some results, but eventually, the weight will not fall off, or the results you were aiming for, fall short.

So, regardless of whether this balanced approach is adopted, achieving intensified targets will mean changes no matter the approved policy in communities within the greenbelt. But those changes do not need to happen without pause.

I will request staff to find the tools to ensure better design standards to respect neighbourhood character.  And density and development to be dispersed broadly within all of the communities within the greenbelt – including the bungalow-belt (Alta Vista, Beacon Hill-Cyrville) to meet our intensification targets.

Additionally, I want staff to explore options of incentives that would favour intensification areas that can quickly transition to meet the Official Plan objectives to meet the growth in Ottawa’s population.

I intend to vote against staff’s current recommendation in this report.

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