Reducing Ottawa’s carbon pollution and preserving our urban green space: A balancing act

Ottawa’s population is increasing, and like all growing cities, we face an inherent tension between preserving our living environment and meeting the needs of the human population.

Like other cities – especially North American ones – Ottawa has a long history of prioritizing low-density development patterns to accommodate its population. This approach can result in urban sprawl, and has a range of profound environmental costs. It dramatically increases per capita carbon pollution, eliminates vast tracts of greenspace and farmland, threatens local biodiversity and poses structural challenges to the viability of transit and active transportation across our city.

When it comes to cities and climate change, there is a clear and widely observed connection: the denser the city, the lower its carbon pollution. This is because dense, compact cities reduce car-dependency and vastly increase the energy efficiency of our built environment. Infill development – that is, development within already-built-up areas as opposed to undeveloped “greenfield” lands – provides more people with access to the amenities of city life while using less space, fewer roads, and less infrastructure. Density is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, but it can’t happen with the flick of a switch. It takes policy ambition and, underpinning that, community support for more bustling, dynamic neighbourhoods.

Also, density alone isn’t a silver bullet; it needs to be combined with smart policies that enhance, rather than degrade, the vitality of our neighbourhoods. Many Ottawa residents are justifiably skeptical of new developments that, all too often, ignore the aesthetic and community-focused elements that make for a green, vibrant city. Too often, these elements are outlined in Community Design Plans that are ignored by decision-makers at city hall.

Ecology Ottawa’s position on preserving green space within our city’s core is not black and white. We recognize the need for much more high-density infill in Ottawa, but also for development practices that protect existing green spaces and the urban tree canopy. We recognize the need for infrastructure development, but also for a comprehensive biodiversity strategy anchored in strong monitoring practices, so we know what we’re losing, when we’re losing it, and what kind of work is needed to protect nearby nature. We understand the importance of greenspace to a healthy and dynamic city, but also that its level of quality and connectedness – as well as that of a proposed development – are key to weighing the competing merits of any new development.

The considerations above provide a guide and framework, but all community advocates know that details matter when it comes to evaluating specific projects. As our city continues to grow, we will continue to urge decision-makers to look for creative solutions that balance the strong community need for green space protection with the demands of climate-friendly urban design.   

– The Ecology Ottawa team

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