May 11, 2020 Presentation to the the Joint Committee of Planning, Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
I’m presenting today as a resident of Kitchissippi, the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation. I am also a co-convenor of the Peoples Official Plan for Ottawa’s Climate Emergency. This is a volunteer-led initiative of neighbourhoods, environmental organizations and social inclusion groups that have been working together since April of last year. Our purpose has been to help shape the new Official Plan so that it moves further and faster on the Climate Emergency and the Housing and Homelessness Emergency.
Council is tasked with an important decision that will address many complex city- building priorities. I know you want to make a decision that has the greatest chance of improving the quality of life for all current and future residents. Today I highlight three reasons why maintaining the current urban boundary is the best decision.
First of all, it is clear that simply expanding the urban boundary will not solve the intensification challenge. How we build matters a lot, as pointed out by many residents. What needs to be added to this observation, however, is that this will require an unprecedented level of innovation and cooperation. The problems of building a missing middle of gentle and low density, of retaining and enhancing the presence of trees in neighbourhoods, of ensuring minimum levels of access to greenspace cannot be solved by intensification as we have experienced it over the last 10 to 20 years. We have to innovate and cooperate, as a building industry, a City government and as organized neighbourhoods.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Working with the existing urban footprint is the constraint we need to stimulate innovation in the building industry and set new, greener directions in community and neighbourhood development. Furthermore, it defines a predictable urban space in a time of uncertainty. Far from being “too ambitious” for Ottawans or “too difficult” for the building industry, the average 64% intensification rate called for in the No Expansion Scenario can be seen as “just right”. The modest constraint can stimulate new public and private investment in healthy, green density and a range of housing options for youth, renters, families, and an aging population. It also signals to all stakeholders that it is time to face the reality of the climate crisis and the need to plan for healthy and inclusive urban density.
A second reason for working within the existing urban footprint and protecting the rural land bank is that it would provide the City with insurance against a number of significant risks:
1. It avoids the need to bake into the City’s books major financial and fiscal liabilities for future infrastructure and services, when they may prove to be unaffordable in the near future.
2. It avoids the loss of rural lands that are vital to the health and safety of the urban and rural population. All General Rural lands can contribute to greater food self-reliance and climate resilience, not just the most fertile lands.
3. It focuses attention on a rapidly aging population that needs better access to amenities near where they live.
4. It also remains responsive to rapid shifts in demand for more rental housing, shorter commutes and more modest-sized homes close to amenities.
Working with the existing urban footprint and safeguarding all rural lands is insuranceagainst likely and high impact risks associated with further expansion of the urban boundary.
Today staff have clarified, for the first time, that the term “balance” in the recommended scenario refers to the balance of all policy objectives. This doesn’t work for me, however, for two reasons. First, it is clear that the No Expansion Scenario aligns betterwith the new Official Plan policy directions already adopted by Council, including scope for providing appropriate housing choices. It also meets all requirements of the Provincial Policy Statement. Why wouldn’t Council opt for the scenario that best meets priority policy objectives, rather than settle for a lesser scenario?
Second, the phrase “balanced growth” confuses the meaning of the term “growth”. It blurs the idea of population growth with the idea of geographic growth with the idea of economic growth. This puts undue emphasis on the number of hectares of land needed when growth management in the Provincial Policy Statement actual refers to the population growth that needs to be managed.
The No Expansion Scenario put on the table can manage population growth, and is the safer and more responsible path to an innovative, fiscally responsible and resilient city. Councillors must take it now, and launch a new phase of inclusive and green city building.