Flying Blind: the Value of Simulators

We are all familiar with flight simulators, so that pilots can practice flying without the expense and risk of actually being in the air. And we've all been inundated with data from Covid modeling over the past year and a half. The value of modeling is clear. Simulation and modeling allow us to understand what is likely to happen under certain conditions. In other words, to try out or practice solutions, and to test our abilities and options before we move ahead.



It's time for city planners to simulate housing development in order to assess options and manage outcomes. Yes, there are many variables to consider, many outside of the City’s control. But adopting policy without some simulation practice first puts meeting our housing objectives at risk.

It is very common to hear one of our city planners say, 'we can't predict what developers will do here'. I have a little secret to share, a secret that is not actually a secret at all. It is my job as a development consultant to assist developers in figuring out exactly what developers should 'do here'. So while city planners live the mystery, development consultants do not. We simulate development every day, working out the most profitable development options based on the regulations that city planners have imposed. Our clients are able to use this modeling to make informed decisions. It must drive city planners crazy to know that all this knowledge is out there, but they are left to plan our city in the dark, in the absence of this data.

"The value of modeling is clear. Simulation and modeling allow us to understand what is likely to happen under certain conditions. In other words, to try out or practice solutions, and to test our abilities and options before we move ahead."

In the past this was a relative non-issue. The work of city planning was primarily to regulate new development on green-field or grey-field sites; development which is fairly predictable. (Green-field development is on previously undeveloped land. Grey-field development is on large properties that have previously been developed for another use, like an old school and yard, or an old factory.) It is not surprising that developments have been very repetitive over many decades. City planners have not been equipped with the tools to try out new ideas. So our city planning is, for the most part, the regulation of the development of more-of-the-same. And there has been little thought for long term monetary or environmental costs.



We are now at a turning point. More-of-the-same is clearly a recipe for disaster. Ottawa has declared a Climate Emergency and a Housing Emergency. It's time to be bold, to be ambitious. Try new things. Get out of this mess. But lets not put our city planners behind the wheel without first giving them practice time with a development simulator! And whether they like it or not, that will mean working with development industry members.

It really is simple. We work together. We share knowledge. We model and simulate options. We test to see how the potential outcomes measure up; how they impact the environment, what kinds of housing are produced, how the cost of housing changes. Then we choose an option that works.

"Our new Official Plan must be revised to include a requirement for our city planners to simulate, test and fine tune regulations before enacting them."

Our city planners are in the pilot seat without the instruments turned on, essentially flying blind, while a wealth of information lies at their doorstep. Our new Official Plan must be revised to include a requirement for our city planners to simulate, test and fine tune regulations before enacting them. So that we all get really significant climate action that doesn't break the bank and the housing we want and need.


~ ROSALINE HILL is an Ottawa based Architect and Development Consultant


WALKABLE CITY MOTION 3: Commit to Visual and Numerical Modeling to Support Development Planning


WHEREAS modeling and modern analytical tools can be leveraged to simulate and project intensification;


WHEREAS modeling can provide numerical projections of anticipated new housing under various regulatory and policy regimes, including projections of unit sizes/ types/tenures, small business development at walking distance from homes, active vs car-centric lifestyles, resulting emissions reductions, tree canopy, net City costs or savings, and comparisons with targets;


WHEREAS 3D visualizations can illustrate the implications of proposed built form, and support community engagement;


LET IT BE RESOLVED that visual and numerical modelling be adopted as a standard development planning tool by introducing a new policy under section


11 11.10) “This plan requires that Community Improvement Plans, Local Plans, and a New Zoning By-law be supported by:

● Numerical modeling of anticipated infill housing created as a result of proposed zoning, including projections regarding unit sizes/types/tenures, and

● 3 dimensional/visualizations of modeled results, to understand the implications of proposed built form on adjacent properties, communities, and the city as a whole.”

See other motions recommended to 'fill the holes' in our new Official Plan.