City of Ottawa Official Plan
Vibrant, multicultural and rich in history — Ottawa is one of the fastest-growing cities in the province of Ontario, and even in Canada! In 2019, the city surpassed a million people and there aren’t signs of slowing down any time soon. And thus the recent release of the City of Ottawa Official Plan to help shape the future of our great city.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance, “The population of Eastern Ontario is projected to grow 27.9% over the projection period, from 1.91 million to 2.44 million. Ottawa is projected to grow fastest at 39% from 1.03 million in 2019 to 1.43 million in 2046.”
Prompted by the population boom, in November of 2020, the City of Ottawa released their draft copy of the New Official Plan — outlining their vision for the future and policy frameworks to guide city development.
Many of the proposed frameworks are rooted ”to adapt to an increasing pace of change whether in the context of the climate crisis, economic disruptions, emerging technologies, or changing demographics.” [- New Official Plan. City of Ottawa, 2020]
Right now, the current Official Plan is from 2003 and as the needs of the city continue to evolve, this plan is welcomed by many. Council will vote on the New Official Plan by Fall 2021 and is expected to be approved by the Ministry later this year.
In this video, I’ll be laying out the city’s big policy moves and going over the top ten most important highlights. From housing to parks and recreation facilities, there’s a lot to cover so let’s jump right into it!
5 Big policies
Outlined in the New Official Plan here are the City of Ottawa’s priorities for the next few decades to come:
1. Growth: Achieve, by the end of its planning period, more growth by intensification than by greenfield development. This growth will provide a variety of affordable housing options for residents.
2. Mobility: By 2046, the majority of trips in the City of Ottawa will be made by sustainable transportation.
3. Urban Design: Improve our sophistication in urban and community design, and put this knowledge to the service of good urbanism at all scales, from the largest to the very small.
4. Resiliency: Embed public health, environmental, climate and energy resiliency into the framework of our planning policies.
5. Economy: Embed economic development into the framework of our planning policies.
[- New Official Plan. City of Ottawa, 2020]
This “Big Five Policies” framework is set to underpin the foundation of future city planning and drive the city’s ambitious goal to become the most livable mid-sized city in North America!
top 10 highlights of City of Ottawa Official Plan
And now for the top five highlights. Here are some of the most notable pieces in the New Official Plan that will help you decide whether to stay, relocate or move to Ottawa.
1. City Boundaries
With the City of Ottawa anticipating the growth of almost half a million people over the course of the next 25 years (which is expected to be around 194,800 new private households), supporting growth within existing neighbourhoods, undeveloped greenfield areas within the city’s urban boundaries and expanding the city’s boundaries are key areas of focus in the New Official Plan.
“The Official Plan will increase the share of future growth to be within Ottawa’s existing built-up area to 60% by 2046 by putting in place zoning and other mechanisms to give the City the option not to further expand the urban boundary beyond 2046.”
Affordable housing, regulations to ensure new builds complement characters of existing neighbourhoods and the city’s commitment to climate change responsibilities are at the centre of Ottawa’s new growth policies.
The city is expecting much of the new housing demands to be ground-oriented units, which include single-detached, semi-detached and row house dwellings. However, in the Greenbelt area where built-up areas already exist, housing builds are expected to be in the form of apartments.
In the greenfield region, many of the new housing will be ground-oriented units located in the Suburban Transect. There is a target of at least 10% of new dwellings in the greenfield region to be in the form of apartments. In the rural areas of Ottawa, the city anticipates a 7% growth of new housing in the form of single-detached builds.
As the City of Ottawa New Official Plan states it: “New policies will increase the variety of affordable, low-rise housing options for residents within existing neighbourhoods close to hubs and corridors, and within walkable 15-minute neighbourhoods.”
Another major highlight in the New Official Plan is the focus on regeneration. The city defines regeneration as “the development of a property, site or area at a higher density than currently exists”. The city of Ottawa emphasizes that regeneration of the city is not just about increasing urban density — but over the course of the new strategic plan, guidelines will be set in place to ensure that community infrastructure and neighbourhood amenities are to be built around neighbours to create “15-minute neighbourhoods”. Meaning, everything you need will be within a 15-minute walking distance. This includes groceries, “services, parks, recreational facilities, public spaces, and other elements of a complete neighbourhood.”
According to the City of Ottawa, “As Canada’s capital, almost 30% of the city’s economic activity and one-third of employed residents are attributable to the public sector, which includes all three levels of government and government-funded organizations like universities and hospitals. In addition to the public sector, knowledge-based industries (including communications technology, software, , defence and security, digital media, life science and clean technology) are a major employer and economic engine in Ottawa.”
By 2046, employment in Ottawa is projected to grow by 189,000 jobs. At the heart of the city’s plan to help accelerate growing employment is to create a city that attracts a skilled workforce and businesses by ensuring policies support “livable cities that are resilient, with a variety of safe, affordable, vibrant, mixed-use areas, with access to green space and cultural life and social harmony”. This is largely to be re-imagined through the regeneration process the city has put forward.
While the Downtown Core is expected to remain the most important employment hub in the city, the New Official Plan includes a vision of diversifying all other regions of the city like Outer Urban Corridors and Suburban Town Centres as areas of economic growth. In-line with the concept of a “15-minute neighbourhood”, the city aims to support small businesses who provide services within these “15-minute neighbourhoods” with minimized initial start-up costs and ongoing overhead.
5. Rural Economic Development
With over 80% of Ottawa’s land mass located within the rural regions of the city’s boundaries — it’s home to over 2,000 businesses which includes around 1,000 farming operations. “Ottawa’s rural area is dominated by high-value industries such as agriculture, construction, mineral extraction, manufacturing and warehousing. It plays an important economic function in Ottawa, with rural businesses generating approximately $1.96 billion in annual revenues.”
To bolster rural economic development, the city has plans to further support availability of infrastructure services, greater flexibility in land-uses and protection of prime agricultural lands. Greater flexibility in land-uses will also ensure villages can flourish in the tourism industry.
Currently, with a walk score of 45 and 50 for transit and 64 for biking — in many regions of Ottawa outside the downtown core, the city is largely classified as car-dependent with a good (but not necessarily convenient) transit system. Outlined in the New Official Plan, “In the urban area and villages, people who walk, cycle, and use transit shall, by default, be given priority… [to] support healthy, complete communities and expand the extent of the City where it is possible to live a car-light and car-free lifestyle.“
With a greater emphasis on the city’s climate action responsibilities both from a sustainable and greener point of view, the role of public transit and active transportation will be prioritized, and space for automobiles more deliberately thought out.
7. Parks and Recreation Facilities
A key component to improving the quality of life for residents in a community? Parks and recreation facilities. It comes to no surprise that parks and recs planning have their own separate sections under city wide-policies (and a dedicated TV show too!).
With the release of the New Official Plan, the city has created a new classification system to determine the right size, amenities and location for future parks and upgrades to existing infrastructure. You can see here a sample of the criteria that the city will use. Close to home you have essentials like playgrounds and facilities for active recreation like outdoor rinks and soccer fields, with more extensive builds like arenas available within the city. Quantity and distribution along with quality and public demand all factor into decision-making for municipal recreational needs.
From building new parks in the downtown core and inner urban areas (for example as part of the LeBreton development) to locating new rural parks — I’m excited to see what the city comes up with to fit the needs of a growing population.
8. School Facilities
School facilities play an important role in any healthy and livable community — and are a critical piece in any “15-minute neighbourhood” strategy. Outside of serving as an educational institution, schools are a community hub that provide infrastructure for other activities and services like childcare, sports and arts facilities, and event spaces. The city has outlined two key priorities which are; “to make it safe and easy to walk or bike to school through supportive site and neighbourhood design; and locate schools and other community uses close together to provide convenient access to residents”.
We all know the importance that culture plays in any city we live in. You’ll find greater social cohesion, increased livability, a growing global profile, diversified economies with new businesses and tourism — the list goes on and on.
But often overshadowed by the creativity and arts found in other Canadian cities nearby like Toronto and Montreal — Ottawa needs to work ten times harder to compete and shine against two cultural powerhouses. In the New Official Plan, the city not only plans to create new spaces and places for culture to thrive and innovate, but to “strengthen the economic impact of the creative and cultural industries” through development proposals and lowering barriers for music, arts and cultural events to take place. There are also plans to allocate budget for public art on city-owned land and private developments.
10. Build accessible, inclusive communities
The healthy growth of a community means that cities are designed with a people-first approach in mind. In the New Official Plan, all “Plans and policies shall ensure that communities and places are designed to consider the needs of children, older adults, people with disabilities, women and gender-diverse persons, people living with lower incomes, as well as for those who are at greater risk for and well-being outcomes.”
By ensuring proper steps are taken to minimize inequalities among diverse groups of people — accessible and inclusive communities increases the city’s quality of life and promotes health and wellbeing for all residents!