How Stupid Is Ottawa Planning? Go To Houston



In jest, The Bulldog has called Ottawa the city without zoning.

In fact Ottawa has zoning for height. It just conveniently forgets it because of the outragious power of the development community in the capital.

So in Ottawa, we have seen examples of 16- and 17-storey condos planned for residential neighbourhoods. Why nine- and 12-storey condos back up on small residential homes. Watch those homes decay into community eyesores because few want to live in homes whose backyards are on display for hundreds of people. There goes the privacy and the neighbourhood.

But developers don’t care because they build the multi-unit structures and leave. The condo board can deal with the problems developers make. Or, most likely, not.

So one would think in zoning-free Houston conditions would be worse than in Ottawa … skyscrapers abutting single-family homes. But no.

However, the lack of zoning does appear to have affected one type of land use: multifamily structures such as condominiums and apartments. After Houston, I visited San Antonio and Austin. In those cities, apartments and houses are often kept far apart, limiting the supply of rental housing. By contrast, in Houston small multifamily structures often seem to sit right next to houses—even three- and four-story condos! This is true not just in poor areas, but even in high-rent areas like Boulevard Oaks. And because I saw new multifamily buildings as well as old ones, it seems to me that this mixture of uses might become more common over time. Evidently, the multifamily lion can lie down with the single-family lamb without anyone getting eaten.

The author above is shocked that four-storey condos would be up against single-family homes. Come to Ottawa my friend. Four-storey condos built beside single-family residential would be a pause that refreshes.

So zoning-free Houston doesn’t apply the law of the jungle in zoning, just commonsense.

In Ottawa, zoning is for the little people like you and me. The big guys can erect most anything they want when it comes to zoning.


Because most council candidates rely on developer donations for their election campaigns. In fact occasionally, the developers run a campaign against an incumbent they don’t like. Much of planning committee that adjudicates development decisions receives campaign money from builders.

And the city planning department is funded by developer fees thus big benefits the elves at city hall.

In addition, larger condos mean more property taxes for city hall so make ’em tall our developer friends.

Yes things are so bad in Ottawa which purportedly has zoning for the big guys, that Houston, without zoning, shows more height restraint than this co-opted capital.

That’s the level to which planning and democracy have declined in this city.

A city without rules builds lower than in a city with rules, namely Ottawa.

To read the whole story in Planetizen, click here.


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5 thoughts on “How Stupid Is Ottawa Planning? Go To Houston

  1. Looks like the arsonists have some control over the placement of fire stations. Read developers and timing, placement and height of developments.

  2. You still in love with Houston? Where they pave over wetlands that might ease the flooding, etc? I’m just glad I didn’t take your advice to go there.

    1. Merrill:

      Don’t love Houston. No planning … too much urban sprawl.

      But it’s a damn nasty thing that is happening to them.

      You can only wish them the best.


      1. I agree with that sentiment, but you seemed to be praising the absence of planning, and while there are upsides, there are also very real downsides. I guess one of the upsides would be that if you’re in a tower, you’re not going to be flooded out.


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