Ottawa is a city conflicted when it comes to sustainable development.
Its official plan – still in the first review phase – looks to both expand the urban boundary and intensify development into the year 2031.
The two concepts are at odds, according to Ecology Ottawa, an environmental group hoping to halt the expansion of Ottawa’s burgeoning suburbs in the east and west while populating the existing city more densely.
“To say that this plan is one step forward and two steps back would be an understatement,” said Trevor Haché, steering committee member of Ecology Ottawa. “What city planners have proposed . . . is the second largest expansion of Ottawa’s urban boundary in the last two decades.”
Currently, only about 36 per cent of new urban housing is intensification development. The official plan calls for an increase to 44 per cent by 2031.
A more compact city is environmentally-friendly since it requires less land and improves the viability of a well-connected public transit system.
But in order to meet growing demand for single detached homes, city staff is recommending an additional 795 hectares be added in Stittsville, Kanata, South Nepean and Orleans.
In the last 19 years, the city’s borders grew by 3,450 hectares to bring its total size to 35,265 – representing a 10.8 per cent growth.
“Some people are saying we don’t need any more land,” said city planner Lesley Paterson. “Obviously the development industry says we need more.”
The city needs both more land and intensified development, she said.
After presenting a revised plan in early May, based on public feedback, the city will adopt its official plan on May 27.
“We’re targeting 40 per cent of new development for intensification … Even if we achieve that, we’d still need more urban land,” said Paterson. “I suspect we’ll stick to our position about the (amount of land to be added to the urban boundary).”
“Political leadership is required to ensure our city makes a clean break away from the failed planning of the past, which saw the leapfrogging of the Greenbelt and increasing vehicle-related smog and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Matthew Paterson, a University of Ottawa professor and volunteer for Ecology Ottawa.