Planning? In Ottawa? What planning?
Earlier this week we read about an international, livable cities planning conference to be held in Ottawa next week.
So, what is planning? What does it entail? In an effort to keep it simple, planning is future oriented, generally based on a vision or objective, and needs to cross disciplines. It should be internally cohesive (as in the pieces fit together), and externally cohesive (not be at odds with other plans).
It should involve action items, measurable outcomes and have a reasonably definitive timeline.
Ottawa has a number of plans that address population growth. There are official, secondary and community development plans, with each level of plan providing more details at the local level.
There is a transportation plan that is supposed to address how the population moves around the city. In addition, there ancillary plans that should be kept in mind, such as greenhouse gas mitigation regulations. Why are these important? Economists will tell you that for every 1,000 new residents in an urban area, about 300 new homes will be required. If Ottawa grows at 10,000 per year, Ottawa needs about 3,000 new homes per year.
Are Ottawa’s various growth-oriented plans developed in a cohesive manner? Not really.
The Watson administration has advised the residents of Ottawa on a number of occasions, that intensification is necessary because the city cannot keep expanding its outer edges with new subdivisions. This approximates a vision, but only if one applies a generous definition of vision. Having said that, the city continues to approve subdivisions along the outer perimeter. I don’t venture out to Orleans with any frequency (I am a west-ender), but I have had occasion to see the incremental growth that is Riverside South, Barrhaven which has effectively merged into Manotick, the south side of Manotick, and the Kanata-Stittsville perimeter, which is closing in on Richmond. If what we have seen during the last eight years is the manifestation of constraint … well, that would be another definition that has been stretched.
The official plan sets an overall intensification standard, but the secondary and community development plans often have different standards. Why? The planning department’s explanation is that these things take time and resources. They work through these various plans in series, a series that never ends because by the time the last one is done, the first one is scheduled for updates. In short, while this level of effort is great for job security, the multi-year cycles to update the various plans means that cohesiveness is not an outcome.
People are living further away from the city centre and from each other. How do they get around, to get to work, school, shopping, hockey, soccer, to the dentist or doctor’s office? As mentioned before, Mayor Jim Watson has advised us that the city cannot afford to build the new infrastructure, including roadways and mass transit systems to support this population growth. To point to an obvious incoherent piece of the planning puzzle, the current plan for the LRT system doesn’t reach Kanata (sorry Councillor Allan Hubley, but Moodie Drive is not in stately Kanata – never has been and never will be) until 2031 at the earliest. No word on when it will reach Barrhaven.
That doesn’t stop his administration from approving the new subdivisions, or from accepting the development fees for each new housing start. It merely points out the obvious, which is that the per lot development fee is inadequate to meet the requirements.
When it comes to intensification, the influx of new residents to existing neighbourhoods puts pressure on the existing roadways, water and sewer systems, and electrical power loads. What is being done about those short-comings in the various city plans? At best, the execution of the improvements is being done in a reactive time frame, after the new buildings are up and have added to the load. In other words, these plans are not future oriented. They are trying to catch up to an ever growing demand.
Finally, as I look out my office window and see the traffic backed up on West Hunt Club every day, throughout the day, I don’t have to wonder about how Ottawa is doing in achieving its goals to reduce the green-house gases emitted by vehicles within the city. The explicit decisions to not improve the transportation infrastructure to allow people who need (not just want) to move about the city creates traffic tie-ups. This means thousands of vehicles are idling, pushing out green-house gases. Why don’t they take the LRT? It isn’t operational yet, it is a short line, and there are no meaningful plans to expand it within Ken Gray’s expected lifespan to the outer suburbs.
Future oriented? No. Based on a vision? Barely. Internally cohesive? No. Externally cohesive? No. Would examining the action items and measurable outcomes change the obvious conclusion? No. When any one key element is missing, the outcome is failure. When multiple elements are missing, the outcome is abject failure.
Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association executive for the better part of three decades.