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Section 2: Identifying Ottawa's Greenspaces and the Urban Greenspace Network

2.1 Taking Inventory

In 2001, more than 850 parks and thousands of hectares of municipal forests, wetlands or other natural lands were consolidated under one administration. Each of the former municipalities treated these lands differently in local zoning by-laws and for the most part, pursued different plans for greenspace within their boundaries. In addition to the municipal lands, federal lands in Ottawa include more than 20,000 ha of land within the National Capital Greenbelt, plus parks, parkways and recreational trails. National monuments and other high-profile buildings provide spaces for public gatherings and other greenspaces. The federal government and the Conservation Authorities own and maintain woodlands and other environment lands that bring nature into the city.

The Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces sets the table for planning all of these greenspaces in the urban area by:

  • Identifying all natural greenspaces and open space and leisure lands in Ottawa and mapping them as natural lands and as open space and leisure lands, or in some cases, as both types of land; some spaces are shown on both maps
  • Categorizing these lands based on their contribution to either natural features and functions, or to open space and leisure opportunities
  • Identifying an Urban Greenspace Network that combines both kinds of greenspaces into a single system

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

Taking Inventory

In the process of identifying all of Ottawa’s urban greenspaces, the Official Plan designation and the zoning were reviewed. It was found that natural lands, and open space and leisure lands are not always designated in the Official Plan or zoned consistently. Appropriate designation of greenspaces is a basic implementation strategy outlined in Section 4.0 of this Plan.

This section describes strategies for securing natural lands, and open space and leisure lands, and proposes to build the Urban Greenspace Network through multi-use pathways and Greens Streets. While the Urban Greenspace Network is a central, organizing element in the city’s greenspace system, land that is located off the network is also valued. In particular, natural lands occur where they occur and several of the most significant natural areas remaining in the urban area are not connected to the network. Strategies for securing these lands and other natural land will be proposed through the Urban Natural Features Strategy. The role of the Urban Natural Features Strategy is to identify specific natural lands that Council intends to secure for their environmental value through acquisition and other means over the next five to 10 years. The strategy builds on the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study, which established the environmental values of woodlands, wetlands and ravines in the urban area.

The inventories of land shown in this section on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB] Natural Land and Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB] Open Space and Leisure Land reflect the present use of the land. Both maps include lands where the zoning and Official Plan designations permit development for urban purposes. The use of these lands for greenspace will be subject to further studies, development applications and planning decisions in the future, with the maps updated periodically. Map 3 [PDF 1.74 MB] shows how these lands could be linked in a network, and includes potential linkages that do not reflect the current use. The network and the inventories will not have a direct effect on the Official Plan designation or zoning of the lands shown on the maps. Rather, the network and the inventories will be used to guide future land acquisitions, to plan future parks and leisure facilities, and to inform review of development applications and proposals for public works.

2.1.1 Data Sources and Assigned Values

Greenspaces were identified using a variety of sources, including former municipal plans and zoning by-laws, land use inventories, scientific studies, ongoing planning studies, and the provincial property database. Several studies described below were particularly critical in assembling the inventory. These studies were prepared at different times and for different purposes; where they addressed the same landscapes, the study undertaken with the most scientific rigour was given preference. Further, where the studies yielded a ranking of the value or importance of certain lands, such as natural greenspaces, these rankings were carried forward into the inventory. In some cases, the studies required updating to reflect changes in land use and commitments for development.

These sources include:

  • The Natural Environment System Strategy, NESS (1997). The former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton undertook this comprehensive analysis for the 1997 Regional Official Plan. NESS combined existing regional vegetation and landform mapping with fieldwork to assess the relative significance of natural areas in the rural area and the Greenbelt. It evaluated forested and wetland areas, using standardised criteria to rank the natural landscapes as high, medium and low in significance. NESS also suggested a network of core natural areas and terrestrial and aquatic linkages among them. The NESS evaluation informed the environmental designations for the rural area in the 2003 Ottawa Official Plan.
  • Ministry of Natural Resources information. The Ministry is responsible for the identification and evaluation of wetlands in Ontario. It also maps the location of Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs), comprising earth science ANSIs such as rare landforms, and life science ANSIs such as habitats of rare or unique species. This information is continually being updated. Life science ANSIs and Provincially Significant Wetlands are included in environmental designations in the 2003 Ottawa Official Plan; earth science ANSIs are identified as landform features in the Plan.
  • Greenbelt Master Plan. In 1995, the National Capital Commission undertook this plan to identify greenbelt lands as rural landscapes, areas for future development (such as the Ottawa International Airport and federal employment areas) and natural landscapes with environmental value. The natural landscapes included forested lands, wetlands such as Mer Bleue, and linkages such as river and stream corridors. A network of outdoor destinations and recreational pathways was also proposed. Many of the natural landscapes were confirmed as having a high level of environmental significance in the Natural Environment System Strategy (NESS). The Greenbelt Master Plan is reflected in the designations in the 2003 Ottawa Official Plan.
  • Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study (UNAEES) 2005-2006. The City of Ottawa undertook this study to identify and to assess the relative environmental value of natural areas in the urban area. This study established a consistent environmental rating system and made recommendations regarding the management of these lands. Nine criteria were used to rank municipal, NCC, and private lands as high, moderate and low in environmental value. Some of these sites were already identified in an environmental and open space designation in the Official Plan and others were not. The study, which also yielded more accurate mapping than previously available, will provide a basis for setting priorities for acquisition or other means of securing these lands as natural areas.
  • Watershed and Subwatershed Studies. The Conservation Authorities and the City undertake watershed and subwatershed studies and continue to refine information on natural environment systems, river and stream corridors, and surface and ground water connections. These studies have been used to update earlier studies, such as NESS, where appropriate.
  • Cycling and Pathway Studies. The NCC is updating the 1994 study, The Integrated Network of Recreational Pathways for the National Capital Region, in partnership with the Cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. The current study, the Pathway Network for Canada’s Capital Region: 2006 Strategic Plan, identifies pathway corridors throughout the National Capital Region that embraces Gatineau and Ottawa. These pathways are the primary off-road connections among open spaces in the National Capital Region. The City is also undertaking a Cycling Plan to identify an on-road and off-road system for cyclists. Both studies were in progress in 2006 and information from this master plan contributed to their development.
  • Municipal Park Inventories. The City has prepared a database of all the City-owned and managed parks, identifying all park facilities of the former municipalities. The database is updated regularly and is linked to the City’s Geographic Information System (GIS).

In addition to these studies, the parks and recreation plans of the former municipalities classified parks and identified future park locations; community design plans and secondary plans have also identified lands intended for future parks and other greenspace. These have been included where sufficient information exists to do so. The 1999 Plan for Canada’s Capital and the Official Plan also provided context. In addition, land assessment data, topographic mapping, and mapping from the City’s land use surveys in 2001 and 2005 were consulted.

Altogether, these studies and evaluations have been used to identify greenspaces and assign greenspace values in this Plan. Information on natural lands included evaluation and ranking of the relative environmental value of individual sites, and these rankings have been carried forward into this Plan. Such rankings may need to be updated as additional information becomes available. Information on open space and leisure land was primarily descriptive and the ranking in this plan represents the level of public access and use.

The Greenspace Master Plan - Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces recognizes that not all environmental lands or all open space and leisure lands have the same intrinsic value or value to the public, based on their function, either within a natural environment system or within a system of open space and leisure lands. This Plan ranks both types of land generally in terms of their role or function, as described in three broad categories:

  • Primary lands include the natural landscapes and major rivers that are recognised as having high environmental quality or rarity, as well as the public parks and open spaces specifically designed to provide sport and leisure functions.
  • Supporting lands refine, complement and expand the primary lands. They include tributaries to rivers, isolated natural features, and habitats that link the primary areas. In the open space and leisure system, they are public lands that potentially contribute to leisure opportunities because they permit public access.
  • Contributing lands enhance or augment the primary or supporting lands. They include steep slopes, low-value natural areas or treed areas, as well as institutional, commercial recreational and other lands that permit varying levels of public access and use.

As discussed in Section 1.0, many parcels of land contribute to both natural and recreation functions and where this occurs; these lands have been included in both inventories.

2.2 Ottawa's Natural Lands

 Wetlands, Woodlands, River Corridors, Steep Slopes

Ottawa’s natural lands comprise the city’s significant wetlands and forests, and the rivers and their tributaries that run between them. Natural lands and features in Ottawa’s urban and Greenbelt areas are shown on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB], along with the priority assigned to each component. Natural functions occur within the physical limits of a forest, wetland or other natural feature and extend beyond the feature to adjacent lands, forming a natural system. Understanding natural systems and identifying their extent is complex, although data is available from previous studies. In particular, the former Region of Ottawa-Carleton’s Natural Environment Systems Strategy (NESS) attempted to capture the natural systems extending from the rural area into the Greenbelt and parts of the urban area. Also, the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study (UNAEES) evaluated and accurately mapped the remaining natural lands within the urban boundary. Natural watercourses, urban wetlands and other elements of the NESS system within the urban area, plus the lands evaluated in the UNAEES, provide the basis of a natural environment system in the inventory in this Plan.

2.2.1 Wetlands

Wetlands are unique habitat for many different plants and animals and also regulate flooding and water recharge areas.
Wetlands are unique habitat for many different plants and animals and also regulate flooding and water recharge areas.

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. With an abundance of food and vegetative cover, they are a unique habitat for many different types of plants and animals. They also filter surface waters and thus help protect the quality of rivers and streams. They also regulate flooding and act as recharge or discharge areas for ground water resources. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has identified more than 14000 ha of wetlands in Ottawa that are provincially significant. Seven provincially significant wetlands are within the urban area or adjacent to it. Mer Bleue, Leitrim, Stony Swamp, Shirley’s Bay, Mud Lake and Petrie Island are the largest of these wetlands. All provincially significant wetlands are included as primary lands in the natural landscapes and features shown on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB].

There are few other wetlands in the urban area. Most of these are associated with woodlands and river corridors and add to their value. These wetlands are generally ranked as supporting lands on Map 1. However, where these wetlands are part of a woodland or other feature ranked high in the UNAEES or NESS, they are considered primary.

2.2.2 Forests and Woodlands

Remnant Shield woodlands in Kanata add to the quality of life valued in that community.
Remnant Shield woodlands in Kanata add to the quality of life valued in that community.

Large, complex systems of forests and wetlands in the rural area and the Greenbelt form the city’s core natural landscapes and these structure an overall natural landscape system. These core landscapes contain Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest identified by the Ministry of Natural Resources and most ranked as high and medium significance in the Natural Environment System Strategy (NESS). Many of these landscapes lie within the Greenbelt or are located adjacent to the urban area (e.g. the South March Highlands). These lands are identified as primary on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB].

Inside the urban area, remnant woodlands are small and isolated but act as anchors for natural features and functions. These wooded lands were identified, mapped and reviewed in detail by the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study (UNAEES). Woodlands that are rated as high or moderate by the UNAEES, such as McCarthy Woods and Trillium Woods, are identified as having a primary role on Map 1.

Other forested areas of varying quality play a supportive role to overall landscape biodiversity by buffering or joining more primary landscapes and providing linkages. Isolated woodlands play a supporting role in overall landscape biodiversity. In the urban area, UNAEES identified several sites as having low significance and these areas are shown as fulfilling a supporting role on Map 1.

Other treed areas in the urban area have not been evaluated from a natural environment perspective because they are smaller than the 0.8 ha minimum size set for the UNAEES evaluation. Map 1 identifies these lands as playing a contributing role in the overall greening of the city.

2.2.3 River, Stream and Creek Corridors

Shirley’s Brook provides a natural quality to the community and manages stormwater from adjacent development.
Shirley’s Brook provides a natural quality to the community and manages stormwater from adjacent development.

Six major rivers come together in Ottawa. Four of these run through the urban area: the Ottawa, Rideau, Jock, and Carp Rivers. Creeks and streams that stretch out across the landscape feed these rivers, carving valley lands, floodplains and escarpments as they go. In the rural area, valley and river systems act as habitat and corridors for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife that lead into the Greenbelt. These systems strengthen forest and wetland areas by joining them and supporting overall biodiversity. In the urban area, river corridors, steep slopes, flood plains and watercourses are among the most consistently visible fragments of natural landscapes because they are unsuitable for development. They provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Urban river and stream systems also perform hydrological functions, including conveyance of urban storm water. In some cases, waterfront land is retained in private ownership and public access is not permitted. Smaller watercourses often disappear completely into development.

The rivers and the largest creeks have been identified as primary on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB]. All other creeks, lakes and ponds are in supporting roles.

2.2.4 Escarpments and Steep Slopes

There are several escarpments in Ottawa that mark the edge of ancient shorelines and the passage of the glaciers. Escarpments skirt Parliament Hill and form the boundary of the Fallingbrook Community in Cumberland, for example, while others stand out only as local landmarks within neighbourhoods. Many of these escarpments are linked with sites identified by the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study and are identified as contributing features on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB].

2.2.5 The Policy and Regulatory Framework for Natural Lands

Most of the primary and supporting lands identified in the urban area on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB] are included in one of four land use designations in the Official Plan. These designations are Natural Environment Area and Significant Wetlands South and East of the Canadian Shield in the Greenbelt, plus Urban Natural Features and Major Open Space elsewhere in the urban area. Lands designated Significant Wetlands and Natural Environment Area are publicly owned. Most of the lands designated as Urban Natural Features and Major Open Space are publicly owned and the designation restricts development.

Throughout Ontario, conservation authorities take the lead role in planning for watercourses and implement much of the legislation in effect to protect them. There are three conservation authorities with responsibilities within the City of Ottawa: the Mississippi Valley CA, the Rideau Valley CA, and the South Nation CA.

These conservation authorities take the lead in implementing the legislation that protects aquatic corridors. Legislation includes the Federal Fisheries Act, the Conservation Authority Act, and the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. Conservation authorities are the lead agencies in the watershed planning process, which provides the natural environment basis for land use planning in the Ottawa Official Plan. Conservation authorities also provide flood plain mapping and manage site alteration and fill regulations adjacent to many of the City’s watercourses, and within and adjacent to provincially significant wetlands. Official Plan policies and the regulations administered by conservation authorities seek to protect setback areas from all watercourses.

The designation of some parcels of natural land and open space land in the Official Plan require amendment. Much of the river-front land is identified as Major Open Space, whereas an environmental designation may be more appropriate in some locations. Also, community design plans approved since 2001 have identified significant greenspaces associated with urban watercourses and these can be designated in the Official Plan. Land along the Jock River is identified in a secondary plan in Volume 2 of the Official Plan, and should also be shown in Volume 1.

2.2.6 Current Initiatives to Secure Ottawa’s Natural Lands

The City is at a crossroads regarding protection of natural areas. By 2006, evaluation of 192 sites of 0.8 ha or more will be completed through the Urban Natural Areas Environmental Evaluation Study, and Council and the community will need to decide which of these are worthy of protection as Urban Natural Features. Urban Natural Features are natural lands designated in the Official Plan to preserve the feature so that it can be used for conservation or passive leisure uses. An Urban Natural Features Strategy will be brought forward for consultation to consider which new sites will be designated and protected over the long term, and how this can be accomplished. While some sites may be secured through partnerships with other levels of government, others will require acquisition.

While the UNAEES looked at large wooded sites across the urban areas, a Forest Strategy, now in progress, is evaluating forest cover in the urban and rural contexts. Forest and tree canopy targets for specific areas of the City will form part of that strategy.

In addition, Council approved new Official Plan policies on setback provisions from water bodies in 2006. The policies identify appropriate setbacks to protect water quality, aquatic and fish habitat, and the riparian environment, as well as provide an element of protection from hazards associated with unstable slopes and flooding. Further work on implementation guidelines is proposed to help interpret the new policies.

2.3 Ottawa's Open Space and Leisure Lands

Ottawa’s open space and leisure lands are the greenspaces that provide for the open space, recreation and leisure needs of the community and may be accessed by the public. These are the places where residents congregate, play games, swim and lie in the sun, celebrate with others at festivals, ride bicycles, and sit and read under a shady tree. Much of this land is public park or civic space, but other open space and leisure lands, such as golf courses, are privately owned. In addition, other lands contribute to open space, including landscaped lands available for public use, such as the grounds of major institutions, and land associated with infrastructure, such as stormwater management ponds.

 Public Parks, Sport Fields, Pathways , Other Open Spaces

Mapping all the land that contributes to open space and leisure use reveals the pattern that they form and the relationships among them. As well, by mapping the inventory of leisure lands, the distribution of public parks in different communities is more evident and standards of delivery for new communities and older communities are more readily monitored.

In building the inventory of Ottawa’s open space and leisure land, shown on Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB], several characteristics have been used to assess the contribution that each parcel of land makes to the overall open space and leisure system in the urban area. These characteristics are:

  • Ownership and level of public access
  • Current and planned land use
  • Topography and inherent natural qualities
  • Cultural heritage value (i.e., as associated with a heritage site)
  • Ability of municipal government and other partners to increase the open space and leisure use

Three types of land contribute to open space and leisure land in the city. They are ranked below, based upon their planned purpose and their open space and leisure contribution.

2.3.1 Public Parks, Sports Fields, and Multi-Use Pathways

Open space and leisure lands are the accessible greenspaces that provide for the recreational and leisure needs of the community.
Open space and leisure lands are the accessible greenspaces that provide for the recreational and leisure needs of the community.

Public parks, sports fields, and multi-use pathways are the primary and most important lands that provide for the recreational needs of the community. The City owns most of these lands and compared with other public bodies, has the most direct mandate for open space, recreation and leisure. New public parks, sports fields, and multi-use pathways are provided through public acquisition and through parkland dedication required under the Planning Act at the time of development. Federal parks and recreation areas add to Ottawa’s urban parkland resources; they beautify the city and support its role as the National Capital. The Province focuses its parkland contributions on two parks in the rural area. All these lands are ranked as primary lands on Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB].

2.3.2 Other Publicly Owned Lands

Other public lands expand opportunities for public recreation and leisure.
Other public lands expand opportunities for public recreation and leisure.

Other publicly owned lands developed or maintained for other purposes expand opportunities for public recreation and leisure. They play a supportive role in the open space and leisure system when public access is facilitated by pathways or other facilities, and agreements are in place with the public owner to permit public use. These lands include institutional lands such as school grounds; infrastructure land, such as storm water management ponds; and utility and other corridors such as hydro lands and major roadway corridors. For example, the City programs sports facilities on school sites and secures opportunities for walking, cycling or other recreation by agreement on some provincially owned hydro corridors and some federally owned land. The NCC has also developed pathways and other recreation areas on federal property such as the parkway corridors and Greenbelt lands. Some natural areas, such as those managed by the Conservation Authorities, are also developed to provide for informal recreation. These lands are identified as supporting land on Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB].

All levels of government and several public agencies also own vacant lands where public recreation may not be facilitated but public access is rarely restricted. These lands, such as lands associated with the Airport Parkway and provincially owned hydro corridors, are intended for other purposes. However, these public lands play a contributing role by expanding the visual greenspace of the city and the amount of land available for public use in the future. These lands are identified as contributing on Map 2.

2.3.3 Privately Owned Lands

Privately owned golf courses are greenspaces that contribute to the character and identity of communities.
Privately owned golf courses are greenspaces that contribute to the character and identity of communities.

Privately owned lands such as cemeteries, golf courses and the grounds of public and private institutions also provide open space and leisure opportunities. In these cases, private decisions determine land use and public access is by permission only. These lands play a contributing role in the City’s open space and leisure system.

2.3.4 The Policy and Regulatory Framework for Open Space and Leisure Lands

The primary and supporting lands identified on Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB] have various designations in the Official Plan. The Official Plan designates most of the large parks, open space corridors along the major watercourses, parkway corridors, and corridors reserved for rapid transit and major roads. Some large parks and waterfront lands shown on Map 2 have been identified in community design plans approved by Council since 2003 and are not designated in the Official Plan.

Unlike the policy framework for natural lands, there is less guidance or regulatory direction from senior levels of government for open spaces and leisure lands. The Planning Act provides the framework for the dedication of parkland during the development process. The Municipal Act provides the parameters for the provision of municipal facilities required to meet new growth, including indoor and outdoor sport and leisure facilities. The Provincial Policy Statement (2005) introduces provincial policies for public spaces, parks and open space.

2.3.5 Ongoing Initiatives for Securing Open Space and Leisure Lands

The City has adopted a strategy to respond to the need for additional sports fields. In 2004 Council approved a Sports Fields Strategy–Strategic Options and Recommendations (2003), which recommended standards for providing sports fields throughout the city on a per capita basis and an approach to partnering with school boards, private sports associations and other partners to meet current and future needs. A subsequent study, A Study of Potential Sports Fields Sites, reviewed the potential of vacant lands within the urban area and the Greenbelt to be developed as sports fields, as a guide to future partnerships and acquisition. In 2006 Council approved the acquisition of a new sports field and in 2007 will consider a proposal for ongoing capital funding for sports field acquisition.

An update of the City’s parkland dedication by-law is also in progress. The new by-law will standardize the way in which the parkland dedication is calculated throughout the city and establish criteria for the use of cash taken in lieu of the land dedication.

2.4 Ottawa's Urban Greenspace Network

2.4.1 A Network Approach

The idea of a network approach to greenspaces is based on the principles of landscape ecology and an ecosystems approach to land use planning and management. A systems perspective frames decisions for one element of the system on an understanding of the implications for other elements of the system. Greenspaces function on different levels and as a result have different, but compatible, ecological and social functions that together create a system that is more effective and stronger than if it were fragmented. When the system is compromised, fragmented habitats decline and animal populations are lost; dispersed parks and open spaces are not easily accessible; and environmental mitigation by natural processes is weakened and requires significant intervention and public investment to restore.

Figure 2   A systems perspective frames decisions for one element of the system on an understanding of the implications for other elements of the system.

Figure 2 A systems perspective frames decisions for one element of the system on an understanding of the implications for other elements of the system.

A city that keeps its natural areas healthy also keeps its inhabitants healthy. Where people have ample room and can easily access the elements of a greenspace network for recreation and leisure, healthy living becomes part of daily routines and nature becomes an important, visible part of city living. Where an Urban Greenspace Network is fostered, flora and fauna can also thrive in connected habitats. With proper places to grow throughout the Urban Greenspace Network, trees provide enormous benefit by filtering pollutants and cooling the air. When woodlots and forests are preserved and linked, water quality is enhanced, soil is retained, and wildlife can thrive. People are able to move through and between communities more easily and get access to more facilities, which in turn are used more efficiently. The whole network becomes resilient and, as a result, is enhanced so that its benefits exceed the contribution of the individual parts.

2.4.2 Building on Past Experience

Greenspace is a powerful planning element that has shaped the character and quality of Ottawa for more than a century. Early in the 19th century, Fredrick Todd was one of the first to prepare plans for the Capital that were inspired by the image of an urban area juxtaposed within a wild natural landscape. This image influenced many successive plans that set the framework for the current pattern of parkway and greenspace development. These visions were best expressed in the 1950 plan for the National Capital prepared by Jacques Gréber. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Ottawa neighbourhoods such as Glen Cairn and Greenboro were structured around greenspaces, providing alternative means for getting around and a wider range of recreational opportunities for residents, making these communities popular places to live. In the 1990s the National Capital Commission brought this concept forward, updating it with ecological planning principles in the Master Plan for Canada’s Capital.

The concept of a network of greenspace has been a key organizing principle of recent municipal land use planning. In the 1990s the former City of Ottawa incorporated a Greenway System into its official plan and zoning by-law, identifying a network of natural and open spaces. The Greenway System was opportunistic in that it sought to connect spaces in a city that was already largely developed. In 1994, the former City of Ottawa, the Regional Municipality and other area municipalities within the National Capital Region worked with the National Capital Commission to plan and develop a system of recreational pathways through the Integrated Network of Recreational Pathways for the National Capital Region. In the 1997 Regional Official Plan, this pathway system formed part of a regional open space network that connected land in the Greenbelt, the Central Experimental Farm and large public parks with scenic corridors and over 300 kms of recreational pathways.

The suburban municipalities also had plans and strategies to create networks of green spaces. In these rapidly growing communities, planners, politicians and community leaders sought to protect elements of the natural landscape as suburban development proceeded. Each municipality used various means to protect natural areas and to provide parks, sports fields and quiet places for community residents. Each also sought to expand traditional parks and open space lands by innovative means, for example, by designing naturalistic storm water management ponds such as the Monahan Drain constructed wetland that not only enhances water quality, but also provides habitats for urban wildlife and opportunities for leisure. Transportation and utility corridors such as West Hunt Club Road and the abandoned rail corridor have been designed to include recreational pathways to link communities and support cycling.

The City’s Official Plan continues with this tradition of greenspace planning, proposing that a comprehensive greenspace network be developed.

The Elements of the Network

From the natural land on Map 1, the Greenspace Network takes in the primary lands that can be connected by water or land corridors, plus the secondary and contributing elements that connect the primary lands. The natural lands carried into the Greenspace Network comprise:

  • The primary landscapes identified on Map 1, such as Mer Bleue, Stony Swamp, South March Highlands and Shirley’s Bay. Most of these are large and self-sustaining
  • The woodlots, rivers, streams and creeks that connect these large landscapes

From the open space and leisure lands on Map 2, the Greenspace Network takes in the primary elements of the system, such as the major parks and outdoor destinations, plus the secondary and contributing elements that are adjacent to the primary elements and that connect them.

As a result, not all primary elements shown on Maps 1 and 2 are carried forward, but only those that are or can be connected and that are self-sustaining as part of the City-wide network.

Outdoor recreation and leisure destinations that are accessible from the network are also shown on Map 4. Many of these destinations are associated with a significant natural feature, often with associated programming, and attract both residents and visitors to the city. Destinations located in proximity to each other form complexes, such as the complex formed by Dick Bell Park, Andrew Hayden Park and Britannia Park. Other destinations are the launching point into a larger natural landscape such as Mer Bleue or the South March Highlands.

2.4.3 What is the Urban Greenspace Network?

The Urban Greenspace Network is a connected and protected network of natural lands and open spaces and leisure lands that structures the urban area; strengthens distinct communities; incorporates natural features; provides opportunities to improve environmental quality; and increases accessibility to open air recreation.

Figure 3   The Urban Greenspace Network demonstrates how the city can be shaped through the physical connection of natural lands and open spaces.

Figure 3 The Urban Greenspace Network demonstrates how the city can be shaped through the physical connection of natural lands and open spaces.

The proposed Urban Greenspace Network shown on Map 3 [PDF 1.74 MB] is both a physical entity and a core concept that can be used to plan the city. As a connected and protected physical network of natural lands and open spaces, the network can constitute the permanent, defining feature of the city’s physical form where it may grow and what areas should be protected. As a concept, it can guide public decision-making and creation of the network.

As a physical entity, the Urban Greenspace Network is greenspace drawn from the natural lands inventory on Map 1 [PDF 3.82 MB] and the open space and leisure lands on Map 2 [PDF 3.82 MB], and the existing and potential connections among these lands. The connections take the form of streams and other natural corridors that sustain ecological functions and multi-use recreational pathways that increase accessibility. Thus, the network provides access to environmental areas as well as recreation destinations. It also connects large ecological areas and linkages (such as wetlands, river corridors, and large woodlands) in the rural area and the Greenbelt with small and more fragmented urban environment features such as woodlots, creeks, and landscapes that are important for social as well as environmental reasons.

As a core concept, the Urban Greenspace Network provides a frame of reference for land use planning and comprehensive decision-making. Where lands serve environmental and leisure purposes, future management plans for the land can reflect both roles. Reference to the Urban Greenspace Network will help the City to:

  • Identify the land that physically connects greenspaces from urban parks and natural areas, through the Greenbelt, to the larger natural landscapes in Ottawa’s countryside
  • Maintain the sustainability of Ottawa’s urban natural areas by maintaining a diversity of natural features and functions and providing or enhancing links between habitats
  • Incorporate and protect cultural heritage landscapes, such as the Ottawa and Rideau waterways, that define the city and contribute to the health and vitality of the Greenbelt’s diverse natural, rural and cultural landscapes
  • Improve access to greenspaces through pathways and other linkages that accommodate the growing interest in outdoor recreation, contact with natural places, and healthy lifestyles
  • Guide decisions on the management and acquisition of greenspace
  • Provide opportunities for community participation and partnership in the development and management of network components
  • Locate new recreation facilities as destinations within the network, and upgrade and connect existing facilities where possible

2.4.4 Building the Urban Greenspace Network

Much of the Urban Greenspace Network already exists but other components are still conceptual. It includes lands that are privately owned and lands that are not currently designated in the Official Plan or zoned for open space or environmental purposes. Although public ownership at times is viewed as the most expedient way of securing greenspace land for public use, public ownership is not always necessary or desirable. Public ownership is usually reserved to protect the most fragile of natural environment areas such as Trillium Woods, or to secure public access to a special area such as a waterfront or urban woodland. There are many other ways land can be added to the Urban Greenspace Network, including: covenants, easements, agreements with landowners, and through progressive land management techniques. Some of these techniques are described in detail in Appendix A.

Other conceptual components are the proposed citywide and community pathways on Map 4 [PDF 1.76 MB]. These multi-use pathways are a defining feature of the Urban Greenspace Network. Lands were chosen for the network in part on the basis of their access to an existing pathway or their potential to be linked in the future to the larger pathway network. In many locations, the pathway forms the link between greenspaces and affords access to the heart of larger areas. Map 4 shows proposed additions to the pathway systems, which would complete the missing pieces of the Urban Greenspace Network.

2.4.5 Strategies to Build the Urban Greenspace Network

Not all of the network can be achieved at once. Several initiatives described previously in this section to protect natural lands and secure greenspaces also contribute to completing the Urban Greenspace Network. These initiatives include acquisition of natural areas through the Urban Natural Features Strategy, planning for new sports fields, and standardizing parkland dedication provisions through the new Parkland Dedication by-law.

The network can also be built through day-to-day functions of municipal government. The City can build the network through development review, community planning, and cooperation with other levels of government and other organizations. Through these functions, the City can act on the premise that greenspace lands that are on or adjacent to the network make the most progress towards achieving the City’s greenspace objectives: connectivity, adequacy, quality, accessibility and sustainability. These lands should therefore have priority above other lands that make a similar contribution to the open space and leisure system or natural system, but are not on the Urban Greenspace Network.

The City can build the Urban Greenspace Network through the actions listed below.

  1. When planning new parks and open spaces in existing and new communities, give priority to land on the Urban Greenspace Network by:
    1. Situating new district and community parks on the network or as extensions to the existing network
    2. Using new local and neighbourhood parks to address network gaps and to provide connections to facilities that are not on the network
    3. Situating new recreation facilities and other public facilities on the network
  2. When developing plans for new and existing communities, ensure that recreation facilities and lands dedicated for public purposes are connected to the Urban Greenspace Network and its multi-use pathway system.
  3. When considering development applications, build the Urban Greenspace Network by:
    1. Ensuring that the applications implement the community design plan for the area and its plan for greenspace
    2. Where no community design plan exists, seek opportunities where appropriate to fill gaps and extend the network
    3. Being explicit in reports to Council about the effects of the planning decisions on the Urban Greenspace Network
  4. Use partnerships and agreements with other public agencies and the private sector to:
    1. Develop or enhance the contribution of their lands to the Urban Greenspace Network
    2. Explore alternatives to public acquisition to provide public access to additional greenspace
  5. Give priority to locations on the Urban Greenspace Network for partnership projects, such as stewardship projects or new capital projects, undertaken with community groups, sports clubs, the business community and other stakeholders.
  6. When considering the disposal of City-owned land, ensure that any network function is retained.
  7. Where transit, road, rail and utility corridors are part of the Urban Greenspace Network or cross the network, accommodate the network in the design of the infrastructure. Where corridors cross the network, for example, a safe crossing should be provided so that passageways through the greenspace network are not severed. Where these corridors have potential to improve connectivity, recreational pathways and other linkages can be provided.

In addition to these ongoing municipal activities, the Urban Greenspace Network can be built through new initiatives to create the on-road and off-road connections that form the backbone of the network. The Greenspace Master Plan recommends that Council:

  • Implement key sections of the recreational pathway system identified in the Pathway Network for Canada’s Capital Region: 2006 Strategic Plan and request staff to prepare a plan and budget estimate to do so
  • Prepare a Green Street Strategy to explore ways that Green Streets could be used to provide connections within the Urban Greenspace Network and contribute to the greening of municipal infrastructure

2.4.6 Multi-Use Pathways

Much of the city is well-connected by a multi-use pathway built by the National Capital Commission and the former municipalities. The Greenspace Master Plan – Strategies for Ottawa’s Urban Greenspaces proposes to extend this network by creating a city-wide grid of pathways and filling in the grid with community pathways and Green Streets that link neighbourhoods to the city-wide system. Map 4 [PDF 1.76 MB] shows the existing pathway systems within the Urban Greenspace Network and how they could be extended.

The groundwork for the citywide pathway system is being laid by the Pathway Network for Canada’s Capital Region: 2006 Strategic Plan. This is a joint project of the NCC and the Cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. This study, due for completion in 2007, inventories and proposes extensions to the existing pathway system in the National Capital Area. Much of the mapping used to create the Urban Greenspace Network was provided as a backdrop for this study. Following Council receipt of this study, a capital budget and implementation plan for priority sections will be prepared for Council consideration.

The proposed community networks shown in new communities on Map 4 reflect provisions of community design plans approved by the City and will be developed as the community grows. The proposed community network in established communities may also be secured through community design plans in the future, as well as through review of development applications.

Components of the Multi-Use Pathway

The pathway will take its character from the surrounding lands, natural in some areas and more designed in others. Integration with the system built by the NCC will be achieved through common construction and safety standards, with interpretive signs identifying the pathway as an urban amenity.

A Pathway Clearance Zone – 6.0 metres wide free and clear for safe use, including a 3.0 metre wide pathway and a 1.5 metre shoulder on either side.

A Pathway Corridor – Where opportunity exists, a corridor of 6.0 meters on either side of the clearance zone is desirable. The width of the pathway corridor will be defined for each segment in more detailed area planning and design studies that consider the pathway’s context.

A Pathway Context Zone –Varying in width according to the pathway corridor’s immediate environment and defined by view sheds. Elements that define the view shed’s limits may include buildings, fences and other site features, vegetation and landforms. The optimum width of the pathway context zone should also be defined for each segment in more detailed area planning and design studies.

Components of the Multi-Use Pathway

2.4.7 Green Streets

Green Streets offer an alternative to off-road pathways and are an attractive amenity in their own right. In older communities, connection of parks to the Urban Greenspace Network may only be possible by converting some streets to “green streets”, following a community design plan or other planning study. A Green Street is a street right-of-way that, through its design and operation:

  • Strengthens accessibility to destinations such as schools, culture and leisure facilities, parks and open spaces, transit stops, work places and other destinations within and adjacent to the community
  • Creates an enhanced environment in the right-of-way that is attractive and safe for all pedestrians and cyclists
  • Improves overall environmental quality and the “greening” of infrastructure by cleansing runoff, increasing water infiltration, reducing urban heat island effects and improving air quality
  • Improves the overall visual and environmental quality of the community and the city
  • Maximizes the opportunity for trees and other landscaping to flourish
  • Improves connectivity of the Urban Greenspace Network and community access to the Network

A Green Street Strategy is needed to explore the opportunities in Ottawa to build Green Streets in new communities as public capital works or to create them in established communities at various scales.

In established communities, Green Streets could be built as part of a roadway rehabilitation program or scaled down to focus on the improvement of barren traffic islands and road verges with planting, flowers, benches and other community-sponsored elements. Such projects could be initiated by local communities and funded from such sources as: City grant programs; public, private and not-for-profit partners; or special local improvement levies. Examples of City funding programs include the Adopt-A-Road Program and the Green Partnership Pilot Program. Funding and support partners include Trees Canada, Evergreen Foundation, and Go-for-Green.

Characteristics of a Green Street

Green Streets include many enhancements designed to support walking and cycling in an attractive, open space environment such as wider boulevards, sidewalks, multi-use pathways, street trees and other landscaping, and roadway features. Each Green Street would have its own character and design based on its context, the types of users, the right-of-way dimensions, and its transportation role.

Characteristics of a Green Street