On October 14th and 15th 2021, the City of Ottawa Joint Planning and Rural Affairs Committee hosted public deputations on the New Official Plan. Residents of Ottawa were invited to give five minutes of input into the Official Plan, and many of the presentations were followed by questions from councillors.
This being the age of Zoom, it was possible to follow the proceedings on YouTube. Several speakers came forward to make the case for keeping R1 zoning. R1 is the product of 20th century Euclidian zoning – that is, zoning by use, as opposed to by form. R1 refers to residential zoning of single detached dwellings. Several of the speakers at the Official Plan deputations spoke passionately of the attributes of R1 neighbourhoods – the peace, the quiet, the greenery, the trees, the safety. One speaker made the case that the rest of the city is in fact indebted to R1 for the oxygen its trees provide to the rest of us.
"R1 dwellers are far too often obliged to get into a car to run errands."
The problem is that R1 requires a support system of landscape that is precisely the reverse of what the R1 proponents purport to value. R1 explicitly forbids the mix of uses that would allow its residents to buy a loaf of bread, get a haircut or get their teeth cleaned without getting in a car. So R1 dwellers are far too often obliged to get into a car to run errands. This requires landscape of large parking lots, multilane roads, car dealerships, drive-thrus and gas stations: the type of landscape the R1 dwellers hold in the highest contempt. R1 residents value their tree-canopied cul-de-sac precisely because it doesn’t look like West Hunt Club at Merivale.
"The remedy is to keep the low density but encourage a mix of uses that would allow residents to conduct some of their daily business on foot."
This is not to undervalue the ecological attributes of R1 development. The trees, lawns and absorbent landscaping of low density development do play a valuable ecological role. The problem is that unless the neighbourhood has a mix of economic uses, it’s not a green neighbourhood at all, but a car-dependent one. The remedy is to keep the low density but encourage a mix of uses that would allow residents to conduct some of their daily business on foot.
The next time we’re lulled into thinking R1 is the green lifestyle choice, we need to remember that an intersection like Bank and Walkley is the traffic choked, hidden support system of the R1 dream.
~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa