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Section 1: A Greenspace Master Plan

1.1 Setting the Context

One of Ottawa’s early greenspaces, Major’s Hill Park, provides views to the Capital’s prominent landmarks.   Courtesy of the National Capital Commission One of Ottawa’s early greenspaces, Major’s Hill Park, provides views to the Capital’s prominent landmarks. Courtesy of the National Capital Commission

Ottawa is distinguished as a capital city by the abundance of parks, rivers, and woodlands that contribute to the high quality of life enjoyed by its residents. However, growth projections anticipate that by 2021, Ottawa’s population will increase by 50 per cent to almost 1.2 million people. Accommodating this growth poses significant challenges to conserving the city’s natural resources and maintaining its high standard of parkland. The contribution that greenspace makes to the overall quality of life will become even more important as the city grows.

Ottawa has never been better positioned to meet this challenge. With the amalgamation of 11 municipalities and one regional government in 2001, the new City of Ottawa has a unique opportunity to develop a view of greenspace that is comprehensive in its reach and that can be co-ordinated with other greenspace partners. It can build on the strong foundation of greenspace created in the past by the former municipalities and senior levels of government. Many of the former local municipalities extended their mandates for parks and recreation facilities to preserve woodlands and river features within their boundaries. The former Region of Ottawa-Carleton acquired environmental features, such as the Marlborough Forest and portions of the Carp Hills. Provincial parks were established around other natural features, such as Fitzroy Harbour, while provincial agencies such as the Conservation Authorities and provincial ministries managed other public lands. At the federal level, the National Capital Commission used greenspace as the fundamental, defining element of the National Capital Region, bounding the urban area of the 1950s with a 20,000 ha Greenbelt and introducing green parkways along the city’s canals and riverfronts.

With so many levels of government involved in greenspace, however, there was no common strategy for providing greenspace in the city. Each party had its own mandate, priorities and ability to contribute to greenspace. With amalgamation, there is now one municipality to take the lead in delivering greenspace to Ottawa communities and to partner with other levels of government, the private sector, and the community to provide greenspace for the future. But with this opportunity for leadership comes responsibility: the onus for building on the legacy of the past and maintaining high standards into the future rests with the City of Ottawa.

The purpose of the Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces is to express Council’s policy on greenspace in the urban area of the city. The Plan describes the lands that can be considered as greenspace and sets strategic directions for managing and extending this supply in order to achieve the community’s vision for greenspace. This vision is expressed in terms of five objectives that guide this plan: adequacy of supply, accessibility to all communities, quality in design and character, connectivity among greenspaces, and sustainability through management plans. The City has a range of tools to achieve these objectives; many are associated with the City’s land use planning responsibilities but others are available through the City’s own public works and projects undertaken with other partners. Adoption of the Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces is timely, as the new City evaluates the remaining natural features within the urban area and contemplates new capital projects for parks and leisure areas.

This is a master plan for the greenspaces in the urban area of Ottawa, a small portion of the city’s overall land mass defined in the Ottawa Official Plan as the greenbelt and the adjacent lands where urban development is permitted. Throughout the plan, however, reference is made to greenspaces that extend beyond the urban boundary or exist outside it, since natural areas do not respect planning boundaries. A work program for natural lands and open space and leisure lands in the rural area will be prepared in 2007, coordinating with other studies in the rural area.

1.2 The Greenspace Master Plan and the Ottawa Official Plan

In June 2001, the City initiated the Ottawa 20/20 consultation with residents on their vision for the new city, culminating in City Council’s adoption of five plans for managing the City’s economy, human services, arts and heritage, environment and land use. The City’s Official Plan for land use is supported by master plans for transportation and piped infrastructure, and calls for development of a master plan to create a blueprint for the city’s greenspaces. More specifically, the Official Plan sets the following tasks for this plan:

  1. Characterize and map Ottawa’s greenspaces – What do we consider to be greenspace? Where is it? What is the role of each piece - recreational, environmental or both?
  2. Review the greenspace identified in the Official Plan – Does the Official Plan accurately show all the different types of greenspace in the city? Are the designations in the Official Plan applied consistently to the same kinds of land?
  3. Review the greenspace that is not identified in the Official Plan – Are there parks, woodlands, wetlands and ravines in the urban areas that are not in the Plan and should be?
  4. Establish targets for greenspace – Is there enough? What is enough?
  5. Establish a network of greenspaces – How much of the city’s greenspace is connected? Where are there gaps? How do we fill the gaps and extend the network?
  6. Look at management of City-owned greenspaces - How do we find the balance between sustaining environmental lands and permitting public use?
  7. Develop a strategy for securing public access to greenspace, including guidelines for public acquisition - What are the tools available to the City? How should the City decide where to spend its money?

This master plan complements other Ottawa 20/20 plans in addition to the City’s Official Plan. The Human Services Plan includes parks and recreation facilities as one of the basic municipal services that build healthy and safe communities and contributes to individual well-being. The City’s Environmental Strategy recognizes the value of identifying connected natural systems and greenspaces as a means of achieving Council’s environmental goals. These goals include developing a green city; developing in harmony with nature; focusing on walking, cycling and transit; and supporting clean air and water. The multi-use pathway proposed in this plan also supports the objectives for walking and cycling in the Transportation Master Plan.

1.3 What is Greenspace?

The Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces looks at the broadest spectrum of urban land that contributes to greenspace, and looks more widely than many other Canadian municipalities. Most jurisdictions look at a segment of lands, either natural or man-made, and usually publicly owned. In addition to these lands, this plan considers the ravine lands and other remnant natural landscapes tucked in behind homes and urban development; the green and open parklands and school grounds in the suburbs and inner city; and even the parkway roads, parks and plazas that provide relief in a concrete environment. The plan also considers the greenspace contribution of commercial lands such as golf courses, campgrounds and marinas; institutional lands such as university grounds; and infrastructure lands such as utility corridors and storm water management ponds where these are secured for public access.

In its simplest form, greenspace is considered in this Plan to be land that serves one of two purposes:

  • Provision of recreation and leisure opportunities for the use and benefit of the public
  • Preservation of the natural environment and environmental systems

Some lands can be valued for both their recreational and environmental contributions. Figure 1 demonstrates how the values ascribed to natural lands and recreational or leisure lands vary along a continuum defined by different levels of human intervention, accessibility and biodiversity. Many of the city’s parks complement the functions of adjacent natural areas, and many natural areas provide recreational opportunities. At the extremes, however, these two types of land are very different.

Figure 1  The values ascribed to natural lands and open space and leisure lands vary depending on their location, accessibility, biodiversity and other qualities.

Figure 1 The values ascribed to natural lands and open space and leisure lands vary depending on their location, accessibility, biodiversity and other qualities.

1.3.1 Natural Land

Healthy natural lands are generally self regulating and require little human intervention.
Healthy natural lands are generally self regulating and require little human intervention.

Natural lands such as wetlands, forests, and waterway corridors are tied to established ecosystems that are essential to their existence. If these ecosystems are healthy, these greenspaces are self-regulating and require little human intervention. In an urban context, this is rarely the case. Planning for these greenspaces is opportunistic, in the sense that these spaces cannot be artificially created or easily recreated once they are destroyed. The City and the federal government own large areas of land that serve environmental functions, but many significant areas are privately owned or have a mixture of private and public ownership.

1.3.2 Open Space and Leisure Land

Open space and leisure land can be created in a variety of landscapes and requires human intervention to maintain it for recreational use.
Open space and leisure land can be created in a variety of landscapes and requires human intervention to maintain it for recreational use.

Open space and leisure land can be created in a variety of landscapes and requires human intervention to maintain it for recreational use. Public parks, gardens, play areas and outdoor sports fields are the largest and most obvious examples of these lands. Land containing pathways and trails also provide for informal relaxation and serve other social and community purposes. These lands are characterized by a cultured landscape with trees, turf and other vegetation, along with buildings. As open lands, they contribute to hydrological functions. Although plant and animal diversity is limited, plant and animal species that can adapt to urban conditions flourish and create a “natural” setting for urban residents. The public has full access to this land. In most cases, the land is publicly owned, although increasingly, the private sector or private-public partnerships are delivering sport fields and facilities. Recreation land such as parks and sports fields is provided in response to community growth and community expectations regarding service delivery.

1.3.3 Other Open Space

A constructed wetland in Kanata provides stormwater management and community pathways.
A constructed wetland in Kanata provides stormwater management and community pathways.

In addition to these two types of greenspaces, there are many other types of land that contribute to the overall sense of greenspace in the city. These are landscaped lands available for public use, such as the grounds surrounding public institutions, and land associated with infrastructure, such as hydro corridors and city parkways. If properly planned and managed, these lands can restore or extend natural environment functions, enhance recreation opportunities, and add to the beauty of the city.

Extensive open landscaped areas that contribute to the city’s greenspace surround large institutions and business campuses. Public access may be permitted in some cases and leisure activities and environmental benefits may be ancillary to the main function of the land. Examples include the Central Experimental Farm, where some lands are accessible to the public and others are reserved for research; the campuses of the city’s three universities; and the grounds surrounding suburban office parks. Others may include privately owned recreation land such as golf courses and marinas where access is conditional. In these cases, soft surface landscaping contributes to the hydrological function of the area and urban wildlife and plants may flourish.

The facilities and corridors used for major infrastructure, such as stormwater management ponds and hydro corridors, also provide opportunity for greenspaces for recreational use and wildlife movement. Corridor lands accommodate linear infrastructure such as hydroelectric facilities, gas, sewer, and major wire and fibre optics, as well as linear transportation facilities such as parkways, railways and rapid transit corridors. These lands also include facility sites such as water and wastewater treatment plants. Some corridors, such as hydroelectric or transportation corridors, can be highly managed landscapes with limited plant and animal diversity. In other situations, such as stormwater management ponds, habitats may be created through facility design and managed naturalization. Depending on its location, the corridor can provide links for animal movement and plant dispersion and pathways for walking and cycling. These lands are primarily in government, public and private agency or corporate ownership, and where they are developed and secured for public access, they are included in the plan’s assessment of greenspace.

Many vacant, undeveloped properties provide greenspace benefits, in the short term. In order to secure all or part of these lands, the City must identify these lands and their greenspace role and work with their public or private sector owners to ensure their long-term use.

In order to plan for such a diverse landmass, a computer-based mapping and information system was used to identify and analyse the various types of greenspaces in the city. This system can be continuously updated and used for a variety of purposes, including monitoring of greenspace targets and achievement of other objectives.

1.4 Objectives for Ottawa's Greenspace

1.4.1 Ottawa 20/20

Over the course of the Ottawa 20/20 consultation in 2001, residents created seven principles to guide the major growth management plans adopted by Ottawa Council in 2003. All of them can be filtered through a green lens, as shown below, and used to set objectives for Ottawa’s greenspace.

  • A Caring and Inclusive City – “The basics” in Ottawa include recreation, along with food, clothing and shelter. Diversity is celebrated, and everyone feels safe in the community. Ottawa’s greenspaces are safe, abundant and accessible, and meet a variety of needs.
  • A Creative City Rich in Heritage, Unique in Identity - The people of Ottawa are proud of their city and recognize its role as a national capital. Greenspace is integral to Ottawa’s image as a national and international capital and colours how residents and visitors see the city.
  • A Green and Environmentally Sensitive City - Trees are valued as individual specimens lining city streets or as clusters in woodlands and ravines. Residents value the protection of natural lands and seek to improve the quality of the environment including travelling by walking and cycling along multi-use pathways.
  • A City of Distinct, Liveable Communities – Each community has a unique identity but they all are beautiful, made complete with parks and an abundance of trees. They are also easy to get around and barrier-free for the disabled.
  • An Innovative City where Prosperity is Shared Among All – Local businesses thrive on opportunities for tourism. Ottawa’s greenspaces help make it an attractive tourist destination and an ideal place to live and work.
  • A Responsible and Responsive City - The City looks for innovative ways to deliver services and makes efficient use of its resources. Partnerships with other levels of government and the community help create greenspaces and manage them through affordable and sustainable strategies.
  • A Healthy and Active City – Ottawa’s greenspaces facilitate residents’ participation in a broad range of recreational pursuits and their enjoyment of a healthy lifestyle.

1.4.2 Greenspace Objectives

Working from the seven principles, the objectives for greenspace listed below were set in consultation with the public and interested organizations to guide the policies in this Plan.

  • Adequacy - The City will ensure that there is enough greenspace to meet the needs of a growing and diverse community and will maintain natural systems, biodiversity and habitat.
  • Accessibility - Ottawa residents will have ready access to greenspaces in close proximity to their homes and communities.
  • Connectivity - Ottawa’s greenspaces will be linked to provide improved access to a variety of greenspaces and recreational facilities, better connections between homes and schools or workplaces, and improved biodiversity and the movement of native plants and animals.
  • Quality - Greenspaces will be attractive, safe and well-designed, serving the multiple needs of users while defining the unique identity of communities. Where greenspaces are primarily natural areas, they will be preserved in a manner that maintains or improves natural features and functions.
  • Sustainability - Greenspaces will be planned and managed in a way that minimizes human intervention and public spending over time, through reliance on natural processes as well as innovative methods for protecting greenspace.

1.5 The Structure of this Plan

The Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces begins with an inventory of all the parks and leisure lands, natural lands and other lands that together constitute greenspace in the urban area of the city. Drawing on previous municipal studies, zoning by-laws, and other sources, the inventories not only identify existing greenspaces, but also map them as natural lands or open space and leisure land, and shows the level of contribution they make to each of these functions. This contribution, to a large degree, reflects evaluations made in other, more detailed studies from the past.

The City’s greenspace objectives are advanced when greenspace is considered as a network that exists on the ground as a series of inter-linked greenspaces and also serves as an organizing principle for structuring the city. An Urban Greenspace Network has been identified as part of this Plan, incorporating linked natural lands and open space and leisure lands in the previous municipalities, the landscaped lands plus the infrastructure lands available for public use, plus the parkways and river corridors that link them. By planning for greenspace with reference to an Urban Greenspace Network:

  • Accessibility to greenspace throughout the city is improved
  • Priorities for acquiring new greenspaces to fill gaps or extend the network are apparent
  • A context for neighbourhood planning and larger community design plans is created
  • The sustainability of natural environment lands within the network is supported

Section 2.0 of this Plan presents the inventories of natural lands and open space and leisure lands, and the proposed Urban Greenspace Network described above. The inventory identifies natural land that serves significant environmental functions needing protection, as well as the open space and leisure land that provides opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Urban Greenspace Network is the City’s vision for greenspace in 2020, a continuous greenway connecting homes and neighbourhoods into a larger system that extends into the countryside. Most of this land is already available for public use, but there are gaps in the network that need to be filled. New projects are proposed to build the network, to complement ongoing municipal initiatives to add to the city’s greenspace.

Section 3.0 considers Council’s objectives for greenspace and the issues surrounding each one. Adequacy of greenspace is paramount: is there enough? The quality of the greenspace and whether it can be readily accessed and used are also important, along with connectivity among natural areas and sustainable strategies for maintenance. Municipal policies to achieve these objectives are proposed.

Section 4.0 sums up the project and policies proposed to build the Urban Greenspace Network and pursues Council’s objectives for greenspace. To a large degree, the City can advance its greenspace objectives and complete the Urban Greenspace Network in the normal course of its planning, development review and capital works projects in the urban area. But at the same time, key projects will accelerate the extension of the network.