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Urban Design Guidelines for Development along Traditional Mainstreets

Urban Design Guidelines for Development along Traditional Mainstreets

Approved by City Council on May 24, 2006
Publication #21-03

Urban Design Guidelines for Development along Traditional Mainstreets [PDF 1.46 MB]

Mainstreets are defined in the Official Plan as "streets that offer some of the most significant opportunities in the city for intensification through more compact forms of development, a lively mix of uses and a pedestrian-friendly environment.”

Traditional Mainstreets, in contrast to Arterial Mainstreets, are defined as those Mainstreets developed primarily before 1945. They generally present a tightly knit urban fabric, with buildings that are often small-scale, with narrow frontages and set close to and addressing the street. This results in a strong pedestrian orientation and transit-friendly environment. Land uses are often mixed, with commercial uses at the street level and residential uses on the upper levels. These streets normally have a four-lane cross-section, on-street parking and adjacent development with limited on-site parking.

Purpose and Application

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide urban design guidance at the planning application stage in order to assess, promote and achieve appropriate development along Traditional Mainstreets. Specific site context and conditions will also be reviewed in conjunction with these guidelines.

These guidelines are to be applied throughout the City for all streets identified as a Traditional Mainstreet within the Official Plan. Where a Community Design Plan or relevant planning study exists, these guidelines will augment those documents. They will also be used to help inform the preparation of new Community Design Plans.


  • To promote development that will enhance and reinforce the recognized or planned scale and character of the streets
  • To promote development that is compatible with, and complements its surrounding s
  • To achieve high-quality built form and strengthen building continuity along Traditional Mainstreets
  • To foster compact, pedestrian-oriented development linked to street level amenities
  • To accommodate a broad range of uses including retail, services, commercial uses, offices, residential and institutional uses where one can live, shop and access amenities

Official Plan and By-law Direction

For Traditional Mainstreets, the Official Plan supports compatible development that respects the character of the street and adjacent areas , so that a more compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development pattern , with building heights between four and six storeys, can be achieved or reinforced (Official Plan Amendment No. 28, Section 3.6.3).

Annex 1 of the Official Plan identifies the protected rights-of-way sufficient to provide enough area for the streetscape elements and meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Annex 3 of the Official Plan contains a number of design considerations that illustrate ways to achieve the Design Objectives and Principles in Section 2.5.1 of the Official Plan. All other policies of the Official Plan , applicable regulations, the Private Approach By-Law, Signs By-law and Zoning By-laws must be met.

In addition, respect the municipal and provincial policies specifically related to additions and infill associated with heritage buildings and areas: City of Ottawa Official Plan Section, and and the Provincial Policy Statement 2.6 Cultural Heritage.

Context and Challenges

Traditional Mainstreets are found primarily within the older parts of the City, often pre-dating requirements to provide individual on-site parking. They serve as the main shopping street for the immediately adjoining community and, by virtue of unique specialty stores, often attract customers from beyond the local area.  Vacant lots, aging retail strip malls, single storey  developments, automobile sales lots, parking lots, and gas stations along these Traditional Mainstreets provide significant potential for intensification and redevelopment.

To remain competitive with outlying commercial shopping areas, Traditional Mainstreets must continue to respond to market trends. At the same time, to retain their role as an integral part of their surrounding community, new development must be of a type and scale that is compatible in form and considers the context of the street.  These guidelines seek to sustain and enhance the spatial and design qualities of the streetscape and foster a pedestrian-oriented environment on Traditional Mainstreets.


Amenity: something that contributes to an area's needs, whether social, environmental or cultural

Articulation: architectural detail that gives a building interest and added richness

Boulevard: area between the curb and the sidewalk for: street trees, newspaper boxes, parking meters, light poles, bike rings etc. so that sidewalks are kept free and clear for pedestrians

Built form: buildings and structures

Clear pedestrian travel route: unobstructed 2.0 metre wide sidewalk

Compatible / Compatibility: when the density, form, bulk, height, setbacks, and/or materials of buildings are able to co-exist with their surroundings.

Curb cut: a break in the curb for car access from the street onto a lot

Driveway: a private way across land used for vehicular access from a public street - includes a private right-of-way

Glazing: clear or lightly tinted glass windows

Façade: the principal face of a building (also referred to as the front wall)

Fascia: a plain horizontal band along the facade, often where the building’s sign is placed (Refer Figure 13 & 19)

Frontage Zone: the area in the right-of-way between the building and the sidewalk; can include planting, outdoor patios, etc.

Gateway: a main point of entrance into a district or a neighbourhood and a good location for intensification

Hard landscape: landscape features other than plant materials (e.g. decorative pavers, planter boxes, walks, fences, retaining walls, etc.)

Intensification: higher, bigger and more compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development

Lane: a narrow street at the back of buildings, generally used for service and parking

Light pollution: light created from excessive illumination, by unshielded or misaligned light fixtures, and by inefficient lamp sources, with health implications to humans and wildlife

Mews: small pedestrian passageway to link parking to public sidewalks, parks to sidewalks etc.

Nodes: important locations in a city to highlight, feature or intensify, occurring at key intersections and neighbourhood gateways

Overlook: the design of a private amenity space of one unit has the potential, if incorrectly placed, to ‘overlook’ the private amenity space of another

Parking lot: a lot or other place used for the temporary parking of four or more passenger vehicles

Pedestrian scale: a size of a building or space that a pedestrian perceives as not dominating or overpowering

Pedestrian travel route: the unobstructed portion of the sidewalk

Pedestrian walkway: sidewalk on private property

Permeable surface: a surface formed of material that allows infiltration of water to the sub-base

Property line: the legal boundary of a property

Public realm: the streets, lanes, parks and open spaces that are free and available to anyone to use

Right-of-way: a public or private area that allows for passage of people or goods, including, but not limited to, freeways, streets, bicycle paths, alleys, trails and pedestrian walkways

Scale: the size of a building or an architectural feature in relation to its surroundings and to the size of a person

Screening: vegetation, landforms, or structures that serve to reduce the impact of development on nearby properties

Setback: the required distance from a road, property line, or another structure, within which no building can be located

Sidewalk: unobstructed concrete or paved area for pedestrian travel in the public right-of-way

Soft landscape: planting such as trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals

Stacking lane: an on-site queuing lane for motorized vehicles, which is separated from other vehicular traffic and pedestrian circulation by barriers, markings or signs

Streetscape: the overall character and appearance of a street formed by buildings and landscape features that frame the public street. Includes building façades, street trees, plants, lighting, street furniture, paving, etc.

Street frontage: the front of the property facing the street

Street Section: a street cross-section which includes the horizontal line of the street plus the vertical edges of the buildings, on either side, that face it

Streetwall: street edge, along which a line of buildings can occur and defines the limits of the right-of-way.

Urban design: the analysis and design of the city's physical form

Urban form: the pattern of development in an urban area

Figure Credits

Figures Description
Figure 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19: Ottawa, Ontario. City of Ottawa
Figure 10: Toronto, Ontario.
Figure 14: Kingston, Ontario.