Why does intensification have to be so hard? Change itself can certainly be hard. But in Ottawa, conflict around intensification is rooted in much more than just “resistance to change”.
The current Official Plan includes intensification policy and rules that are ambiguous and confusing. This has led to animosity between communities and developers, and broken trust with the City. The City writes high level policy that indicates permission for greater height and massing. Developers point to this language to gain approval for applications that residents view as prioritizing intensification over other policy considerations, like trees and neighbourhood context or compatibility. The result is ongoing conflict and a huge waste of developer, community, and planning staff resources.
"How about we trust residents of neighbourhoods to tell the City what shapes and sizes of buildings would be ideal and where."
Our new Official Plan talks about important neighbourhood amenities (small shops and services, parks/greenspace, pathways, etc.) that make a complete, walkable, 15 minute neighbourhood. It also says that these neighbourhood amenities will “keep pace” with intensification, and that planning rules will be informed by neighbourhood context. But while policy language continues to include loose terms that indicates permission for even greater height and massing, there is little clarity about how “context” will be applied to inform infill development. The Official Plan's words about the importance of neighbourhoods are not backed up with a real plan. All of that is going to breed conflict and mistrust, again.
So here’s an idea. How about the City is clear and transparent about how much density we need to add to neighbourhoods, to accommodate the 400k people we expect to welcome over the next 25 years. Then, how about we trust residents of neighbourhoods to tell the City what shapes and sizes of buildings would be ideal and where. For instance, where could 2 or 3 storey multi-unit building forms (ie. Missing Middle) be best located? What about mid-rise buildings? Where would they best fit in?
“[Intensification] a lot easier to take, if you feel you had a role in where it went”. ~ Scott Moffatt
While we are it, why not ask where we should plant more trees? What additional parks/greenspace are needed? Where small local shops and services should be located? What improvements to cycling and pedestrian paths should be made? Where benches should be located along key walking routes? Residents know their neighbourhoods, and they are the key users/customers – why wouldn’t the City want to access this knowledge to develop a Local Plan that brings together all of these ideas at once, and in the process, ensure that they fit together?
These Local Plans could be the result of simple neighbourhood workshops. They could be used to guide zoning that locates residential vs local commercial uses in neighbourhoods, provide input for infrastructure upgrade planning, provide input for municipal upgrades to recreation and social facilities, provide input for parks planning and for tree planting.
The City should also make sure that there is actually a link between intensification activity in a given neighbourhood and these planned improvements – a link that gives real meaning to the City’s statement that it will ensure that 15 minute neighbourhood amenities will “keep pace” with intensification.
As a wise co-Chair of Ottawa’s Planning Committee (#ScottMoffatt) recently said when referring to communities’ acceptance of intensification, “It’s a lot easier to take, if you feel you had a role in where it went”. That sounds like a great idea and something that should be added to our new Official Plan.
This doesn’t have to be that hard, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Workshops that include residents and other key stakeholders could capture ideas and help identify practical solutions. If we actually want to smooth the way for intensification that is easier, because residents support it, we need to figure out agile Local Planning tools that will also build trust. Let’s start with Local Plans.
If you think that Local Plans are critical to supporting livable neighbourhoods, email your Councilor and the Mayor, and tell them that you support the Motion below:
MOTION 4: Commit to Local Development Planning
WHEREAS simple, collaborative, neighbourhood-level planning builds residents’
confidence and trust in the development planning process;
WHEREAS the residents are best positioned to identify desirable forms and features for
missing middle multi-unit infill housing, to build support for neighbourhood transition,
and to identify or locate new walkable shopping destinations and other key transitional
WHEREAS resident informed Local Plans can determine ideal locations for future
shopping walking destinations (“Local Commercial Destinations”), ideal locations for
new parkettes, park upgrades and benches, ideal programs/uses for park
upgrades/acquisitions, preferred tree planting, shortfalls to neighbourhood walkability,
bikeability and overall completeness.
WHEREAS Local Plans can be used to guide zoning that locates residential vs local
commercial uses in neighbourhoods, provide input for infrastructure upgrade planning,
provide input for municipal upgrades to recreation and social facilities, provide input for
parks planning and for tree planting.
BE IT RESOLVED that local development with the active engagement of residents be
entrenched in the Official Plan by adding a policy under section 11:
11.11 The City shall commit to undertaking agile, neighbourhood-level planning
processes, that include a broad range of stakeholders, for the purpose of establishing
and maintaining strong 15 minute neighbourhoods through Community Improvement
Plans, Local Plans, the New Zoning By-law and other development planning processes.
See other motions recommended to 'fill the holes' in our new Official Plan.