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Challenges of Growth

Challenges of Growth

“Ottawa shines as both a national capital and as a great place to call home.”

 Ottawa is unique among Canadian cities because its boundary takes in an urban area surrounded by a large and varied countryside.  Located at the juncture of the Ottawa River and the Rideau River and Canal, these waterways are the hallmarks of Ottawa.

 The city is currently on track towards a projected population of 1.1 million in 2031, an increase of 30 per cent over 2006. Population change creates new patterns of growth in Ottawa. Projected growth is strongest outside the Greenbelt, but the area inside the Greenbelt continues to contain the greatest concentration of people and jobs.

 Both young and old are already seeking more urban lifestyles, creating a boom in apartments in communities that offer street life, great views, and good places for walking and cycling. In 2011 almost two-thirds of households in Ottawa were small and contained only one or two persons.

 Villages continue to attract newcomers and as well as families with deep roots in the rural area. Rural Ottawa is expected to continue to receive about 10 per cent of the city’s growth.

 The population will become older as well as more diverse. The number of people over 65 will double from about one in 10 in 2006 to one in five in 2031.

Planning the Future, Building it Now

Everything we build today needs to fit our vision for tomorrow.

Building a liveable, sustainable city is the goal of this vision:

  • A network of communities where residents can live, work and play
  • Connected by affordable, reliable and functional cycling, transit, pedestrian and road systems.  

The building blocks of this vision include:

  • Build in, not out
  • Protect the countryside
  • Move people when and where they need to go – sustainably
  • Create people-friendly environments
  • Support economic development
  • Preserve the environment
  • Provide water and wastewater infrastructure where it’s needed
  • Live within our financial means

How Ottawa is developing to meet the challenge

The official plan and master plans are reviewed every five years.  The last review was approved by City Council on November 26, 2013.  Many issues and solutions were examined and as part of the review:

Build In, Not Out

Ottawa is made up of both urban and rural land.  Urban land includes all the land surrounded by the Greenbelt plus all the land in suburbs in Kanata, Barrhaven and Orléans. The City provides transit, roads, and water and wastewater services within the urban area to support new communities and economic development.

An aerial shot of the City of Ottawa downtownThe Urban Boundary separates urban land from rural land in the Official Plan.  A key planning goal of the City is to grow in a way that minimizes the need to expand the urban boundary by making the best use of the urban land we already have. Compact housing has been increased in new neighbourhoods through  the variety of units and available housing choices. Throughout the city, more jobs and housing are encouraged in existing areas in a way that protects the character of established neighbourhoods. This concept is referred to as intensification.

Why is it important to build within the urban boundary?

  • Building within the boundary is more affordable than expanding it because it uses the infrastructure we already have paid for and reduces the need for expensive new infrastructure
  • New development creates exciting new communities around the rapid transit system and rejuvenates aging shopping and residential areas—a plus for residents and the economy
  • Walking, cycling and transit are easier in a compact city
  • A compact city supports walking, cycling and transit and uses less energy, land and resources

Protect the Countryside

Ninety per cent of the land area in the City of Ottawa is rural. It is home to dozens of communities and contains a wealth of mineral resources, agricultural land, extensive forests and wetlands:

A farm in rural Ottawa

  • Villages - There are 26 villages in rural Ottawa, each with a unique character and history
  • Country lots - Country lots in the rural area outside the villages range from large, well-treed holdings to subdivisions of large lots similar to suburban developments
  • Agricultural lands - These lands are farmed for food and resources to the benefit of Ottawa’s residents and for export
  • Mineral aggregate resources, especially bedrock, sand and gravel -  These are used to build and repair houses, schools, roads, sewers and all the other structures in the city. Aggregates are an essential non-renewable resource that the City will steward for future generations.
  • Natural Heritage System – Forests, wetlands, rivers and other natural features create a system that extends throughout the rural area and into the urban area.

The Official Plan envisions that at least 50 per cent of rural growth will occur in villages where stores, commercial services, schools and community facilities are concentrated. Building complete communities in villages makes the best use of existing resources and curbs the need for new infrastructure and services. It is the most affordable growth option for residents and the municipality. 

Why is it important to protect the countryside?

There are potential conflicts between the ways we use rural land. Competing uses need to be balanced if we are to preserve the value of the rural area.

  • Steady population growth in the rural area shows that many Ottawa residents value this option.
  • Agriculture is the mainstay of the rural economy and preservation of agricultural land is the first step towards protecting the ability of future generations to produce the food they need.
  • An ongoing, inexpensive supply of mineral aggregates helps to minimize construction costs and supports local economic development.
  • The natural heritage system is a complex ecosystem that provides us with clean air and water.

Move People When and Where They Need To Go--Sustainably

Whether we choose to walk, cycle, take public transit or drive, each option has an impact that needs to be considered when making decisions about the future of the city. 

Although the percentage of people choosing to walk, cycle or take transit in Ottawa continues to increase, close to half of these trips will likely be made by car in the year 2031. The roads and parking facilities needed to accommodate that travel should be as safe and efficient as possible.

A cyclist using the segregated bike lane on Laurier AvenueThe City is also investing in public transportation and active transportation, such as walking and cycling, as attractive alternatives to car travel. These sustainable alternatives are more affordable and have less environmental impact today and in the future.

Sustainable transportation works best when the surrounding area is designed to support it. The City supports more dense housing with employment and services around rapid transit stations and along transit corridors. This approach makes the best use of infrastructure investments and builds vibrant new neighbourhoods.

Design policies for these areas support the development of streets and public spaces that are safe and attractive for pedestrians and cyclists. Streets are designed as complete streets, that accommodate the needs of all users, whether they choose to walk, bike, drive or take public transit.

Complete streets could have wider sidewalks, bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes.  Depending on the street, improvements could include smaller changes such as longer crosswalk signals that make it easier for older adults to cross the road, sheltered bus stops, or trees and benches to make a street more pleasant to use. 

Why is sustainable transportation important?

The sustainable transportation choices we make will improve the quality of life in Ottawa for current and future generations. Some of the important benefits of sustainable transportation include:

  • Making Ottawa a healthier place to live by promoting physically active lifestyles
  • Enhancing the sense of community by building walkable neighbourhoods
  • Reducing fossil fuel consumption, which saves the City money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
  • Providing affordable access to schools and universities, businesses, the workplace and Ottawa attractions by all residents, employees and visitors
  • Reducing traffic congestion and its economic and social costs and increasing transportation safety for all residents

Create People-Friendly Environments Through Urban Design

Urban design is about how buildings, landscapes and public spaces interact to make new developments and the public spaces around them more attractive and functional for people.  It is part art – designing beautiful spaces – and part planning – developing policies and rules that determine how built areas can best meet the needs of residents and businesses.

A conceptual drawing showing cars, cyclists and pedestrians on Queen StreetGood design supports sustainable development. It supports intensification by guiding the development of larger buildings that complement the character of the surrounding, established community. It builds complete streets, designed to accommodate the needs of all users. It provides a comprehensive approach to streets and public spaces that support walking, cycling and transit and that together, create a vibrant public realm.

As Ottawa grows, we need to make sure our communities keep their special character. Attractive, sustainable communities are created when they respect the landscape and its natural features and their look and feel reflects local values, history and culture.

Why is urban design important?

  • Ottawa’s future depends on growing within our urban spaces and increasing our use of transit and active transportation. Good urban design helps make it work.
  • Good design creates safe public spaces and supports an active lifestyle where people feel comfortable enough to walk, cycle and use public transit.
  • Attractive, vital urban spaces draw tourists and support business and employment.
  • Villages, suburbs and established inner city neighbourhoods each has a unique character that can be captured and expressed through good urban design.
  • An aesthetically pleasing and functional environment enriches residents’ quality of life and makes Ottawa a good place to do business.

Support Economic Development

What is employment land?

Maintaining an adequate supply of suitable employment land that has the required water and sewer services is essential to the future economic prosperity of Ottawa and the quality of life of its residents.   As Ottawa grows, the City needs to make sure the land reserved for employment is suited to the needs of businesses and is located in the right area.   The City may consider changing the permitted uses of employment land not currently being used, including adding residential development options where they create affordable, liveable communities close to public transit and jobs.   

A commercial building in an employment areaWhy does employment land matter?

Employment land provides businesses with the land needed to conduct their activities now and in the future. Employment land:

  • Supports economic development and job opportunities, from jobs in advanced technology to jobs in construction, trucking, and warehousing/distribution
  • Is easily accessible from surrounding communities and makes it easy for people to work close to where they live
  • Includes suitable sites for activities that are incompatible with most other uses because of noise, light, hours of operation or other characteristics (away from suburban neighbourhoods)
  • Creates signature addresses for businesses (e.g. Kanata Research Park) which encourage business development in a specific area

Preserve the Environment

The environment is the collection of support systems that makes the lives of humans and other species possible. It is the air we breathe, the ground beneath our feet, the water we drink, and the energy that heats our homes and powers our society. The challenge in planning for the environment is to anticipate how these processes and interactions are affected by human activity and to act so that their integrity can be preserved under changing conditions.

Large, old growth treeWhy is preserving the environment important?

The City works to preserve and enhance its environment for all residents by:

  • Improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Identifying and protecting natural features and prime agriculture land and ensuring mineral resources are used carefully
  • Planning on the basis of the natural systems defined by water systems
  • Managing groundwater resources
  • Planning for forests and other greenspaces.


Provide Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Where It’s Needed

Ottawa’s infrastructure provides clean drinking water, removes wastewater and manages storm water so that the water quality in receiving creeks is maintained and property is protected from over-land flows during major rainfalls.  These essential services are fundamental to the health and safety of residents and the economic life of the city.

As Ottawa grows over the next decade, the City must plan the new infrastructure required to support growth and manage and upgrade existing infrastructure. Both demands must be balanced against the City’s available financial resources. By monitoring where population and employment growth is occurring, the City can deliver infrastructure services in the right place, at the right time and at the lowest cost.   

stormwater management ponds

Why is Infrastructure Important?

Every community requires basic infrastructure services. Water and wastewater infrastructure:

  • Helps protect the quality of water in the rivers and streams that ultimately receive runoff and discharged wastewater
  • Protects public health
  • Helps communities adapt to climate change and changing weather patterns by managing stormwater flows
  • Supports economic development and the quality of life that helps Ottawa attract mobile, highly-skilled workers

Live Within Our Financial Means

The City currently receives most of its revenue from two sources: property taxes and development charges.

Property taxes are collected from property owners to fund improvement and maintenance to current infrastructure, such as bicycle lanes and roads.

Development charges are one-time fees paid by property owners when new building permits are issued.  These charges are used to help fund new roads and municipal services needed to support new development.

A hand stacking coinsAdditional funding can also come from the provincial and federal governments, as is the case with Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit system.

Why is living within our financial means important?

Much like any household, the City must ensure expenditures do not exceed income and make choices that are within its financial means.  The cost of new growth and the cost of maintaining infrastructure and consistent service levels must be balanced across the city. 

The  City  will  use  a  variety  of  techniques  both  in  revenue generation and cost avoidance to make sure growth pays for itself:

  • The City will make sure sources of revenue can support proposed project costs
  • The City will review the list of projects it wants funded against the resources available and prioritize these projects.
  • The City will make decisions based on what projects get funded and in what timeframe, based on the type of revenue it receives. 
  • The City will be fiscally responsible and financially sustainable over the long term. It will focus on strategies to ensure infrastructure renewal needs are met and new sources of funding and techniques are secured to make growth pay for itself.