Proposed working guide for new Official Plan imagines Ottawa’s economic future

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A staff report imagining the shifts Ottawa’s economy might see in the coming century could help to guide upcoming creation of the city’s new Official Plan after receiving planning committee’s unanimous approval on Thursday.

The report, titled “Ottawa Next: Beyond 2036,” looks at what forces might shape Ottawa over the next 100 years, in terms of its people, its infrastructure and its economy. Projecting that Ottawa could either continue on its current trajectory or experience disruption along its path, the report identifies a series of possible scenarios and suggests ways the city can be “resilient and adaptable to future change.”

One such scenario imagines Ottawa maintaining its reputation as a “government town,” with the public sector remaining the city’s largest employer and the high-tech industry remaining a distant second. Should the city’s researchers fail to commercialize on their advancements, this future would see multinationals swarm to the National Capital Region and suck the profits from local tech innovations out of the city.

One ambitious scenario, likely imagined much further in the future, would see a major tech employer set up shop in downtown Ottawa, bringing 100,000 jobs with it – twice the number advertised when Amazon was shopping around for its second headquarters. High tech would then surpass the federal government as the city’s top employer, and the talent demands on the city would bring a new post-secondary institution to the capital and spur growth in the airport’s international flight service.

The Ottawa airport could also benefit from a scenario that imagines the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor as a “mega-region” connected by high-speed rail. If this rapid transit future came to pass, the report suggests Ottawa could act as an overflow hub for the international demands on the Montreal and Toronto airports. With improved transportation options, the capital could benefit as an affordable housing market for talent working in any of the cities along the corridor.

The report goes on to suggest how Ottawa can best prepare its economy for these possible futures. Technology-readiness will go far in attracting talent and major employers, the report says, and infrastructure and city services planned today must be ready to connect with coming innovations, such as artificial intelligence and new modes of transportation.

The city’s housing strategy should also align with the demands of the economy, specifically the growing knowledge-based sector, the report says. Separating land for industry and employment from residential areas could be a barrier to bringing in talent, for example, and encouraging more mixed-use communities could foster a more attractive lifestyle for young workers.

Overall, the report seeks a holistic approach to city planning that considers how Ottawa can best be built to attract the talent it will need to thrive in the future. “The city itself becomes the advertisement for its new economy,” the report says.

The report will go on to city council next before officially being adopted as the working plan. The new Official Plan is expected to be finished by the end of 2021.

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