Frequent Bulldog contributor Ron Benn picks up the discussion where Mainella left off:
This challenge is neither new nor unique to Ottawa.
The demographic trend of cities growing at a faster rate than the country has been observed for more than half a century. The population of smaller towns has shrunk and continues to shrink as their teenagers leave town for college or university, never to return.
More people moving into cities puts more demand on infrastructure. It is not just roads. Water filtration capacity must be added in large lumps, not incrementally, as are sewage treatment facilities. Add to this list the infrastructure located in the cities, but not controlled by the cities, such as schools and hospitals.
In Ottawa’s case, planning staff and council failed to understand the relationship between an ever expanding municipal boundary, while they approved suburb after suburb after suburb to the outer edges of the city, and the cost to support those subdivisions. Suddenly, staff and council figured out that the city was not recovering enough money from the developers to fund the necessary infrastructure. So, the planning department and council came up with the solution to grow upwards (intensification), with the naive assumption that the residents of the mid- to high-rise buildings won’t put as much pressure on the already over-capacity infrastructure.
Intensification may, and I am doubtful of that assumption, lead to slower growth in demand for some elements of infrastructure (cars on roads being the primary one), but it will add to the capacity requirements of existing, poorly maintained infrastructure, such as water mains and sewers, while not changing the need for incremental filtration and treatment facilities. After all, the residents of all those high rises still take showers and flush toilets.
That we are faced with the so called infrastructure deficit is the most likely outcome and has been known to economists and others for decades, just as paying for current expenditures (i.e. things that do not have a long life) with long term debt will eventually result in a higher percentage of the budget being directed at paying interest on the debt. It is inevitable.
The funding solution invoked by the junior governments is to approach the more senior governments, with cap in hand, asking for more beans please. Except, unlike Charles Dickens orphans, their tone is whiny, demanding and entitled. There seems to be a fundamental lack of appreciation that all they are doing is playing musical deck chairs on the Titantic.
The solution will be painful. First of all, council must update its master plans, in all their various guises, to reflect the real infrastructure deficit. This will likely lead to significant increases in development fees. This will require the planning department and our elected officials to stop pandering to the self-serving demands of the development industry. It will also require our elected officials to think beyond their term in office.
We desperately need a significant change in political and public-civil service culture, not just at the municipal level, but at the provincial and federal levels. This will take stateswomen and statesmen, something that this city, province and country has been missing for decades, and a cursory review of the current roster of alternatives shows to be lacking.
Back to The Bulldog’s home page, click here.
To comment on this post, use the reply box at the bottom of this page.