Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Intensification and sustainable communities: arenas edition

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This morning, the CBC took a look at the possible closure of Dulude arena and others. Tom Brown in our ward is also on a list of possible rink closures in the urban area. It’s heartbreaking, and I’d like to take a moment to make it clear why, if Council chooses to go down this path, the decision would likely have implications that will be felt for decades.

Right now, the City is contemplating a new Official Plan. It’s the master plan for the City that describes to the Province how we’ll grow through intensification, largely near transit as they have ordered. We’ll have new targets for how many new housing units we want to be built in already-serviced areas, and in the Transportation Master Plan that flows from that we’ll describe our goal to have a majority of trips from Point A to Point B made by active transportation (walking, cycling, etc.) and public transit.

The new Official Plan will also describe the geography in which we expect to accommodate growth. There is an urban boundary today that demarcates where builders may build, and where they may not. The discussion at City Hall happening between City staff, builders (who want the boundary expanded), environment advocates (who want it frozen), and the Councillors’ sponsor group (none from the downtown where intensification is most likely to occur), is how much intensification is necessary in order to check urban sprawl.

The big discussion that’s coming is that any effort to check urban sprawl will require very significant intensification near transit. We are likely to have to accommodate 400,000 more people within the urban boundary by 2046 – whatever that boundary is.

Cards on the table, I’m naturally sympathetic to the environmental and economic arguments for greater intensification. Taxpayers and the climate only suffer when growth is further and further afield from the core, and when it’s built largely to be navigated by private automobile.

The City is looking hard already at increasing the allowable density in the R4 zones that ring the downtown as a first step. The new Official Plan will likely be a precursor to allowing greater density in all zones along our new LRT lines. Residents understand the need for greater intensification but are nervous about the impacts on their quality of life. And, as the CBC article demonstrates so well, they’re right to be.

The City has been positing that it wants to build “15-minute neighbourhoods”. Those are neighbourhoods in which people live in close proximity to the amenities they most need, and close to excellent transit. But the thrust of the arena review is the exact opposite. Rather than keeping our recreation infrastructure in the core, the thrust is to ask residents to drive to the suburbs to take to the ice.

It could all work. There is the potential that the City could build larger, more modern recreation facilities in downtown neighbourhoods and invest in their maintenance. Where new rec facilities are in the next neighbourhood over, those could be served by excellent, affordable transit. The City could ensure that new builds leave room for trees, and that there are adequate by-law services to address occasional tensions. Builders could be required to include affordable housing in their developments. In order to facilitate moving around by bike and foot, sidewalks would be well-plowed, cycle tracks built and traffic calmed. Bad builders would be stopped in their tracks by a city planning department bent on liveable and sustainable design.

I’m between a rock and a hard place today. Significant intensification, particularly near transit, will be critical to our City’s sustainability. I want to vote for greater density in our transit-proximate neighbourhoods, including Kitchissippi which is a natural place to start. But when we’re facing serious questions about the state of our transit system, when recreation facilities are threatened with closure with no plan to replace them, when badly designed buildings are allowed to move ahead, and when our roads become more unsafe by the day with small hope of change, I can’t. Without some assurance that intensification is part of an inviolate bargain that ensures the necessary infrastructure and amenities to make that sustainable, I’ll face continued resistance to voting for it.

If the arena discussion is any indication of how intensification will proceed, we’ve got some very hard choices ahead.


Posted February 10, 2020