Op-ed: Moving toward a more livable Ottawa

In the last of a three-part series, OBJ columnist Bruce Firestone looks at ways the City of Ottawa can redesign itself to prepare for the economy of the future
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If you were to design your ideal city from scratch, what would it look like? Would it be filled with busy arteries like Merivale Road, lined by big-box stores? Or would it showcase more walkable neighbourhoods with a wide range of businesses, vendors and public spaces like the ByWard Market? 

Multiple bottom lines

City planners are heading more in the second direction, a smart move in my view. Many OBJ readers are aware of the drive to meet a triple bottom line ​– an accounting reference that means in addition to meeting minimum financial goals, every new development project should also take into account social and ecological goals. 

But I would suggest that developers might consider targeting more than just those three bottom lines. They could also:

  • strive to produce close to zero waste

  • be nearly self-sufficient in food production

  • aim for net-zero energy use/production

  • push to become self-sufficient in jobs.

None of the above goals are new. In fact, Andy Haydon, the former chair of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, decades ago set a long-term target of 0.3 jobs for each resident of Kanata, Barrhaven and Orleans. Had it been achieved, that ratio would have reduced the number of residents who needed to travel downtown to work, leading to less traffic congestion on Ottawa major roads. 

Only Kanata has achieved that goal. And what does a place that mixes commercial and retail spaces with residential areas look like?

Well, if Kanata is a guide, it looks a lot like a conventional suburb, little changed since the 1970s or even the 1950s ​– a thousand homes over here, a tech park over there and big-box stores somewhere else. 

Is that really the best we can do?

Ottawa’s next official plan, due out in 2021, will attempt to create a platform for creative people to try something different. Why might that appeal to future residents? 

Well, in my view, we are heading towards a gig economy, whether we like it or not. So whether you are a millennial, middle-aged or a senior, you’ll want to live in a neighbourhood that offers plenty of opportunities to add to your income with your own business or allows you to make extra money via a basement apartment, coach house, micro-store in your garage or backyard workshop.  

Magic wand

When I was part of the group trying to bring back the Senators in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I told several local mayors: “You have a magic wand; you can use it to create the zoning we need to build a stadium. Help us!” 

I still believe in that magic wand. The city approved developer Broccolini’s site plan for Amazon’s one-million-square-foot distribution centre on Boundary Road ​– a process that normally takes more than a year ​– in just three months. If the wheels of bureaucracy at City Hall can turn that quickly for Amazon, why not for everyone else?

Other concepts

Here are just a few other concepts the city might want to explore as part of its ongoing effort to redraw the official plan, including how to:

  • nurture more entrepreneurs and startups

  • develop coaching, mentoring and volunteer programs for entrepreneurs 

  • find new sources of startup funding

  • build separate high schools devoted to technological arts, trades and budding entrepreneurs

  • create more internship and apprenticeship programs for high schoolers and college and university students

  • integrate Ottawa and Gatineau more closely, especially using light rail links

  • make Ottawa-Gatineau a more vibrant festival, foodie and overall tourism region

There will be numerous opportunities for Ottawans to add to this list or comment on any individual policy direction as the official plan process moves along. Please reach out to me via email if you’d like to make your views heard or if you’d like to attend one of our three upcoming live sessions with panel members who will take questions and hear your opinions. 

Bruce M. Firestone is a co-founder of the Ottawa Senators, a broker with Century 21 Explorer Realty and a business coach. bruce.firestone@century21.ca