Hold The Line: A campaign to stop urban sprawl

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

La version française suit

Ottawa City Council declared a Climate Emergency in spring 2019. On March 30, 2020, the City will make a final decision on Ottawa’s urban boundary. The new Official Plan must be Ottawa’s climate emergency plan. Hold the Line is a necessary city-wide initiative to adequately respond to the Climate Emergency. 

Future development needs to be 70% intensification (on currently developed land) and 30% greenfield development (on previously undeveloped land) within the current boundary. The new Official Plan proposal suggests 60% intensification and 40% greenfield development.

The new Official Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city to hold the line on sprawl by embedding strong intensification targets and ensuring that the urban boundary is not expanded. This will protect vast swaths of greenfield land – vital natural areas and farmland – for generations to come. 

Urban sprawl will promote car-centric development moving Ottawa further away from a sustainable future. Intensification will allow to improve current infrastructure and public transportation and will help build healthy fundament for future greener development.

Besides the obvious environmental consequences, city expansion has economic, social and health implications for the residents.

The time is running out and Planning Committee doesn’t seem to listen to our voice!

Here’s what you can do to help us stop urban sprawl in Ottawa:

If you chose to email your councillor, we strongly urge you to edit the automated message to make it more personal. Writing your own personalized email to your councillor would have a huge impact. Please refer to the attached cheat sheet to help you compose your email!

This is definitely the most impactful way to express your concern. If you choose to call, try to make your call during office hours. Use the attached cheat sheet, if you need some help expressing your argument. 

We will be arranging face-to-face meetings with councillors. If you would like to speak with your councilor about the issue of urban sprawl, please reach out to our Political Organizer Isaac at isaac.smith@ecologyottawa.ca

Last but not the least, please reach out to your friends and colleagues, and share this message as much as you can. It is crucial that Ottawa residents are educated about the importance of the vote on the 30th of March!

Remember that you can influence the future of our city! It’s urgent to ACT NOW!



Ça n’arrive qu’une fois par génération!

Le conseil municipal d’Ottawa a déclaré une urgence climatique au printemps 2019. Le 30 mars 2020, la Ville prendra une décision finale sur la limite urbaine d’Ottawa. Le nouveau Plan Officiel doit être le plan d’urgence climatique d’Ottawa. Stop à l’étalement urbain est une initiative nécessaire à l’échelle de la ville pour répondre adéquatement à l’urgence climatique.

Le développement futur doit être de 70% d’intensification (sur les terres actuellement développées) et de 30% de développement en terrain vierge (sur des terres précédemment non développées) à l’intérieur de la frontière actuelle. La proposition actuelle dans le Plan Officiel suggère une intensification de 60% et un développement entièrement nouveau de 40%.

Le nouveau Plan Officiel est une occasion unique pour la ville de maintenir la ligne d’étalement en intégrant de solides objectifs d’intensification et en veillant à ce que la frontière urbaine ne soit pas élargie. Cela protégera de vastes étendues de terres vierges – des zones naturelles vitales et des terres agricoles – pour les générations à venir.

L’étalement urbain favorisera un développement centré sur la voiture, éloignant Ottawa d’un avenir durable. L’intensification permettra d’améliorer les infrastructures et les transports publics actuels et contribuera à construire des bases saines pour un développement futur plus vert.

Outre les conséquences environnementales évidentes, l’expansion de la ville a des implications économiques et sociales pour les habitants.

Le temps presse et le comité de planification ne semble pas écouter notre voix!

Voici ce que vous pouvez faire pour nous aider à stopper l’étalement urbain à Ottawa:

Si vous avez choisi d’envoyer un courriel à votre conseiller, on vous invite fortement à modifier le message automatisé pour le rendre plus personnel. Écrire votre propre e-mail personnalisé à votre conseiller aurait un impact énorme.

C’est certainement la façon la plus percutante d’exprimer votre préoccupation. Si vous choisissez d’appeler, essayez de passer votre appel pendant les heures de bureau.

Nous organiserons des rencontres en personne avec les conseillers municipaux. Si vous souhaitez parler à votre conseiller de la question de l’étalement urbain, veuillez contacter notre organisateur politique Isaac à isaac.smith@ecologyottawa.ca.

Dernier point mais non le moindre, veuillez contacter vos amis et collègues et partager ce message autant que vous le pouvez. Il est crucial que les résidents d’Ottawa soient sensibilisés à l’importance du vote du 30 mars!

N’oubliez pas que vous pouvez influencer l’avenir de notre ville! Il est urgent d’agir MAINTENANT!

Help create solutions for just, healthy and climate-friendly neighbourhoods!

As we speak, the City of Ottawa is working on a new Official Plan. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a better city – one that fights sprawl while ensuring accessible transit, building walkable neighbourhoodsand helping Ottawans transition away from the car.   

We can build a healthier and more inclusive city – but we need your help to get thereJoin us and various community partners on Saturday, February 22 for ‘Just Healthy Neighbourhoods,’ our second community-wide workshop focused on Ottawa’s new Official Plan. Individuals and organizations from across the city – from downtown to the rural wards – are invited to generate targeted solutions that build better neighbourhoods through intensification of the urban area.

This workshop sets the stage for a critically important vote on March 30, where council will decide on whether to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary. A vote to expand will have massive negative impacts on local climate action, greenspace protection, transit and other issues. We know we must intensify – the challenge is doing it right. Help chart the path to just, healthy neighbourhoods for Ottawa.  

Register now 

Space is limited and the last event filled up quickly. A vegetarian, low-waste lunch will be provided.

What can Ottawa do for better transit?

This year, we are asking Ottawans to use the transit system as their only means of transportation for one week in February – starting on Family Day and running from Monday, February 17, to Sunday, February 23, 2020. Do your best; if you can’t use transit for a specific trip, talk about it! The successes and failures are all interesting from the perspective of improving the transit system for all.

As with last year, if you are active on social media, we’d like to hear about your experience. Use the hashtag #TransitChallenge2020 or #défiTranspo2020. We will also ask participants to complete two short surveys (one mid week and one at the end) and we will release a report detailing the results shortly after the challenge ends.

We intend to compare the results from last year’s challenge to this year’s to see what has changed considering that the Light Rail Transit is now in operation. This is an interesting and informative way to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of our transit system as well as a useful method for decision-makers to experience some of the challenges that regular transit riders face. 

Please register for the challenge here: https://www.ottawatransitriders.ca/ottawa_transit_challenge_2020

We’re hosting a transit panel on February 13 to kick off the Transit Challenge… along with our partners Ottawa Transit Riders, Free Transit Ottawa, Healthy Transportation Coalition, and others!

Please register here

2020 Tree Giveaways

In 2020, Ecology Ottawa will be distributing 15,000 native tree seedlings free of charge to Ottawa area residents in an effort to re-plant our urban tree canopy. We are doing this because Ottawa’s urban tree canopy is under threat. Since 2008, the emerald ash borer has killed 25% of Ottawa’s trees. In addition to this, climate change, invasive pests, expanding urbanization and infill construction are also major threats to trees. We need to re-plant and keep planting to stay on top of the threats!

Information about the species of trees that we give away can be found here.

At all of the events listed below, our team of dedicated volunteers and staff will be handing out tree seedlings on a first-come, first-serve basis, so check the list of events frequently for one near you:


  • Sunday, April 19: Re4M Earth Day Event
  • Thursday, April 23 to Sunday, April 26 (date to be finalized): Ottawa Grassroots Festival at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (82 Kent Street)
  • Saturday, April 25 (10am-1pm): Dundonald Park Earth Day at Dundonald Park
  • Saturday, April 25: Community Clean-Up in the township of McNab/Braeside
  • Saturday, April 25: Arbor Day at Tanglewood Park Community Centre
  • Saturday, April 25 to Sunday, April 26 (date to be finalized): My Healthy Green Planet Expo at the EY Centre
  • Thursday, April 30 to Sunday May 3 (date to be finalized): PoutineFest (Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave.)


  • Wednesday, May 6 or Wednesday, May 13 (date to be finalized): Terra20 Friends and Family Day
  • Sunday, May 17: Blossom Fest at Crossing Bridge Park
  • Sunday, May 17: Cyclofusion
  • Thursday, May 21 (5-9pm): Action Sandy Hill AGM
  • Saturday, May 23, 8am to 3pm: Great Glebe Garage Sale
  • Saturday, May 23 (11am-3pm): Butterfly-Garden Fun Day (General Burns Park)
  • Sunday, May 24: Canterbury Community Association Community Garage Sale


  • Saturday, June 6: Velofest (Centre Francophone de Vanier)
  • Saturday, June 6: Carp Farmers’ Market
  • Saturday, June 6: Carlington Community Association Yard and Plant Sale (Two locations: Raven Park and Harrold Place Park)
  • Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7: Doors Open Ottawa (various locations)
  • Sunday, June 7: Women’s Trail Festival (Camp Fortune, Qc)
  • Saturday, June 13 to Sunday, June 14 (date to be finalized): The New Art Festival at Central Park (in the Glebe)
  • Saturday, June 20 or Saturday, June 27 (date to be finalized): Fringe Festival at the Arts Court (2 Daly Avenue)


  • Weekly (dates to be determined): Yoga in the Park


  • Wednesday, August 5 to Sunday, August 9 (date to be finalized): Asinabka Festival
  • Saturday, August 8 (date to be finalized): Art in the Park (Strathcona Park)


  • Saturday, September 5th: Greater Avalon Community Association Barbeque
  • Friday, September 11 (6-8 pm): Rock the Block at the sport field next to Manor Park Community Centre
  • Saturday, September 19th: FrancOrléans Day
  • Thursday, September 24 to Sunday, September 27 (date to be finalized): Ottawa Fall Home Show at the EY Centre


  • Saturday, October 3: SMARTNet Alliance Sustainability Showcase (Horticultural Building, Lansdowne Park)

A citizen audit of green factors in Ottawa's light rail stations

The City of Ottawa launched the first stage of the light rail transit system in September 2019. Multiple issues arising soon after the inauguration, Ecology Ottawa and The Ken and Debbie Rubin Public Interest Advocacy Fund saw an opportunity to assess and shed more light on how light rail stations perform across a range of social and sustainability-related concerns. As a pilot program, Ecology Ottawa sees a need for further study of the challenges and opportunities surrounding the implementation of light rail in Ottawa, ongoing monitoring of the Confederation Line network, as well as for content that will help ensure the successful delivery of the second stage of the light rail. This is a first attempt at delineating several lines of evaluation, studying only two stations.

Follow this link to access the final findings and recommendations on opportunities to improve Rideau and Parliament stations in order to make commuting safer, more accessible and more convenient for all users.

One major finding stemming from Ecology Ottawa’s analysis and public conversations around transit and active transportation is the critical role of the development of light rail transit in determining the way Ottawans choose to commute.

The audits of the Rideau and Parliament light rail stations revealed important issues that had not yet been discussed in the media. Ecology Ottawa is confident that the results of the audits support other studies conducted by partner organizations in the sector such as the Council on Aging of Ottawa with their Snow Mole audits, and the Ottawa Transit Riders. Ecology Ottawa encourages the City of Ottawa to acknowledge and fix the issues with the first stage of the LRT, as well as urges both the City and the Rideau Transit Group to consider the recommendations stated above to avoid similar problems in the second stage. While some constitute significant investments, such as implementing better weather-sheltered bus stops, others are simple fixes that will make the Ottawa transit system much more appealing. Ranging from suitable bike ramps, sufficient bike parking, and an increase of users’ sense of place with improvements of the access to greenspace and green infrastructure, we hope the City sees the co-benefits involved in implementing these suggestions, such as reduced road traffic and better air quality. The advantages involved in improving the light rail experience for transit users is multifaceted and is directly linked to the ability Ottawa has of being a leader in its response to the climate crisis. Ecology Ottawa is hopeful that further steps will be taken to have a bigger and better impact, both on the transit riders’ point of view, but also on the climate front.

If you would like to continue auditing light rail stations, please use this document as a template and send us your results. We will continue to accept reports and will communicate issues with city staff and councillors when relevant. Thank you for your continued support and help with transportation issues!

Read more here.

Contact Emilie at emilie.grenier@ecologyottawa.ca for more information.

Vision Zero nowhere in sight as city dithers with new Road Safety Action Plan

On Monday, November 25, Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Stephen Blais launched the 2020-2024 Road Safety Action Plan.

To say this document was eagerly anticipated would be an understatement. For years, Ecology Ottawa and other local groups have been advocating for Vision Zero – a plan to eliminate severe injury and death on Ottawa’s streets. Yet when tangible policy reforms for Vision Zero have been proposed – as in June 2019, with a motion from Coun. Catherine McKenney – council was told to trust in the process. The June 2019 Vision Zero motion was ultimately rejected by council. The reasoning was that road safety was already a city priority, and that Vision Zero was “just a brand.”

In other words, council didn’t want a policy declaration that failed to amount to meaningful progress on road safety. Council chose to wait for meaningful action, and the upcoming Road Safety Action Plan was the vehicle for that action.

If the new Road Safety Action Plan was designed to signal that the city was finally prioritizing the safety of vulnerable road users, it has badly missed its mark. While we commend the staff that worked diligently and consulted widely, the document lacks ambition at a time when cities around the world are re-thinking their transportation networks to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.

The Road Safety Action Plan lacks ambition in two major ways:

  • First, it advances a piecemeal target on road safety – a 20% reduction of severe injury and death by 2024 – rather than a meaningful path to zero. Even if we were to accept the argument that the city has to start somewhere (which begs the question of why the city hasn’t started in the first place), we would expect to see recommendations for long-term reductions to zero somewhere in this document. This language was nowhere to be found.
  • Second, this document tinkers at the margins when it should be addressing meaningful policy changes to disrupt the overwhelming dominance of cars and trucks in Ottawa’s transportation and design regime. The document offers well thought-out solutions, or “safety countermeasures,” at the level of engineering, education and enforcement. Some of these touch on important policy directions, such as speed reductions and no-right turn on red restrictions. It does not venture anything more ambitious, even as a thought experiment. Bolder ideas such as car lane reductions, car-free zones, mandatory changes in street design and vehicle type restrictions (e.g., banning large trucks from downtown) are not even hinted at. And yet other cities are experimenting with these, and much more ambitious ideas, as we speak.

Beyond this high-level summary, here are a few other notable aspects of the report.

The authors say the City of Ottawa has not yet demonstrated adequate political will, and worry if it ever will

As the report points out (and contrary to some public statements made by the mayor and Councillor Blais), Ottawa still has a long way to go if it wants to take meaningful action on road safety. Ottawa’s fatality rate of 2.7 per 100,000 population is many times higher than that of leading cities like Stockholm, with 0.4 fatalities. So, while Ottawa may compare favourably to national averages (like Sweden’s), its level of ambition remains far behind leading cities.

The Action Plan clearly states that a business-as-usual approach to road safety will not result in reductions to severe injury and death. The authors write, “If the current safety efforts by the City and its partner agencies are maintained but not altered the likelihood is low that a significant reduction in either the number or severity of [Fatal and Major injury] collisions will be achieved, especially in the context of increasing traffic volumes” (pp. 17-18). Importantly, in order to effectively reduce collisions through safety programs, “significant additional resources are required” (p. 18).

The focus on cost, while important, misses the broader conversation about meaningful policy solutions

Increased investment in safety countermeasures, such as the ones proposed in this document, would certainly be money well-spent. The report authors offer a range of safety ideas, such as roundabouts, better signals and red light cameras.

But are these proposals – and the $4 million price tag associated with them – enough? Leaving cost aside for a moment, let’s talk about what the report fails to mention: policy reforms that would address safety challenges at a systemic level and allow the city to avoid future investments in retroactive fixes to the system. Imagine that streets and communities were systematically designed in a way that made safety “countermeasures” less necessary; that streets were built to prioritize vulnerable road users rather than motorists, and did not have to be retrofitted after the fact and at great cost. Imagine ambitious policy was the primary means by which the City of Ottawa sought to institute sweeping reforms to road safety.

While the authors reference the importance of existing city policies such as the 2015 Complete Streets Implementation Plan, they fail to mention that this policy still lacks the “teeth” needed to fundamentally change how roads are built in Ottawa. The Complete Streets framework is designed to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over motorists, but because of a wide range of possibilities for what the City might consider “complete,” we’re still seeing roads built without sidewalks in school zones, and new arterial roads being without segregated bike lanes. The policy gaps in the current transportation system will not be addressed by the few measures proposed in the document, such as lower speed limits and some right-turn-on-red restrictions.

If we want to focus on cost, we must address spending priorities at the City of Ottawa

While the road safety action plan proposes $31.5 million in measures and initiatives, only a small portion of this is new money. The city was already spending $25 million in 2019, and was budgeting a similar amount for 2020 before the new funding announcement.

2020 will see a one-time cash infusion of only $4 million. And while spending increases on road safety are welcome, the $4 million addition must be put into the broader context of the city’s spending priorities. As we have discussed elsewhere, the city is making this marginal increase in a budget that overwhelmingly favours investments in road growth projects, to the tune of $66.2 million.

Ottawa’s addiction to road growth projects is more than a misallocation of precious resources that indirectly creates budget pressures in other areas. At a fundamental level, there are trade-offs between designing and building a city for cars, and doing so for vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Every new car-oriented community means more cars on the road, which makes our streets more dangerous. These trade-offs are not acknowledged in the report.

So, while cost is a consideration here, it shouldn’t be the major one. The root problem is political prioritization, and it’s clear that the City of Ottawa continues to disproportionately favour cars over other modes of travel in our city.

The authors are ambivalent about whether the City of Ottawa actually wants Vision Zero, or accepts Vision Zero principles

In the document’s opening pages, there are some reassuring words that indicate that Ottawa shares Vision Zero objectives while using different language. This Road Safety Action Plan is the third iteration of a model – called “Towards Zero” – that is “built on the integrated approach and adopted the Swedish Vision Zero model” (p.1). As with Vision Zero, the “Towards Zero model holds the understanding that no loss of life is acceptable from motor vehicle collisions” (p. 1). The document also claims to have adopted the “Safe System Approach to road safety” (SSA), which has the principle that “human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system (i.e., life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society)” (p. 1).

Yet, it’s also clear that Road Safety Action Plan doesn’t hold these views. After all, this is the same document that essentially establishes an “acceptable” level of severe injury and death in Ottawa. That is, a 20% reduction from today’s levels by 2024.

The document also seems to reject the Vision Zero premise that severe injury and death is a product of bad design, and that choices about design are fundamentally political ones. In other words, a Vision Zero perspective states that deaths are not accidental – they are preventable, and it is incumbent upon society and policymakers to take this into account. Instead, the Road Safety Action Plan states, “Serious injuries and deaths are an emotional subject, especially when they are preventable” (p. 48, emphasis added).

It would be helpful to know the degree to which the authors, and city officials, think road deaths are preventable. If their fundamental assumption is – as it seems to be – that a certain amount of death and severe injury is an inevitable feature of the transportation system, while others are preventable, why do they even claim adherence to Vision Zero ideal in the first place? City officials have cautioned about the “empty rhetoric” that might come with a Vision Zero declaration not backed by meaningful measures. This document is guilty of a similar charge – declaring adherence to Vision Zero while failing to follow through on what that vision entails.

Climate Solutions and Ottawa’s Official Plan – Executive Summary

On November 15th and 16th, Ecology Ottawa, Greenspace Alliance, Community Association for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES) and the Youth Climate Ambassadors hosted a workshop on Climate Solutions and Ottawa’s Official Plan. Individuals and organizations from all areas of the city, from the downtown core to the rural wards discussed and co-created targeted climate solutions that can help shape the Official Plan.

The City declared a climate emergency last spring. It is now in the process of developing its new Official Plan, which will frame land use in Ottawa over the next 25 years.  Effective climate action must be central to the new Official Plan.

Over 100 participants from environmental groups, community associations and the general public worked together to develop a climate action message. It is organized around the four building blocks (nature, food, buildings/infrastructure and transportation) and the priority actions defined by the working groups at the event. It also draws on ideas presented at the workshop and in prior documents developed through the People’s Official Plan (POP).

Visit this link to read a Declaration, which is a more contextual and strategic summary of our demands, and here for a graphic summary that was created at the workshop.  

 We have also posted to the internet the outstanding video by Diane Saxe (https://youtu.be/773nlW13agw).

In the meantime, we need your help! Please use any of these materials to engage urgently with your neighbours, your neighbourhood associations and with your Councillor on this topic. There is little time left to influence members of the joint Planning and Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee meeting in March 2020.

Please contact emilie.grenier@ecologyottawa.ca if you want to join a team of residents from your ward and meet with your councillor, participate in our phoning campaign or help with our petition.

Thank you for a great Eco Gala

What an amazing Gala we had on Wednesday November 20th, 2019.

We want to give a big shout out to everyone who helped make this night a success. Together we created an amazing space where the environmental community in Ottawa can gather.

Below are some photos highlighting the event. We look forward to next year!

Opening ceremony from Annie Smith St-George who is a well recognized Algonquin Elder
One of our community booths. Envirocentre pictured here. Click here to learn more about what they do.
The silent auction–thank you so much to all those who donated!
Interesting discussions between youth and adults!
Eco Gala installation made by Re4M
Two youth speakers: Sophia Sidarous, left, and Mia Beijer, right.
Keynote address from Natan Obed, President of ITK
Guests looking at maps of the North during Natan Obed’s keynote address
We can’t wait to see you again next year!

Join the Ottawa Climate Strike!

On March 15th, more than 150,000 students were officially on strike across Québec. At other events, young people across have Canada marched in the streets, demanding action today to ensure we have a world for future generations.

Young people have been going on strike around the world every Friday since Greta Thunberg set off #FridaysForFuture in August of 2018, and have been waging creative protests to push politicians to take bold action and tackle the climate crisis head on.

On September 27, the entire planet is on strike. Not just students, but also workers, citizens – as the climate crisis spares nobody, we must all be mobilized. Let’s make this date an historic moment, a moment of true change.

It is high time we take matters into our own hands.

Join us at the Global Climate Strike to demand accountability and action regarding the climate crisis!

Let us know you’re coming! RSVP now at this link:  https://www.ecologyottawa.org/ottawa_climate_strike

We will be meeting at Confederation Park at 11:30am.

WHEN: September 27, 2019 at 11:30am – 2pm

WHERE: Confederation Park (Laurier Ave. and Elgin St.)

After the mass marches and rally on Parliament for the Global Climate Strike… be part of a mass bike ride for the climate!

Bring your bikes to one of the two march meeting points, ready for the ride afterwards. Or if you can’t make the mid-day marches, meet us late afternoon at The Spider on Sussex!

Proposed itinerary:
3:00pm leave from Confederation Park
3:30pm meetup point in Gatineau (Portage @ Laval)
4:30pm meetup point at The Spider (at National Art Gallery)
5:45pm at Confederation Park

Here is the facebook link for the Climate Strike Bike: https://www.facebook.com/events/478631632730542/

For more information about the march, please see the event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2358161320964436/

We need organizers! Will you step up to invite your friends to join you on the big day? Contact Clara to see how you can help out.

CONTACT: Clara Cuny · clara.cuny@ecologyottawa.ca · 613-860-5353

Hope to see you there!

Hold the Line: A campaign to stop urban sprawl

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Ottawa City Council is about to debate and decide on a new Official Plan. This is the major land use and policy document that will shape the size and character of our city for decades to come – all the way out to 2046.

The new Official Plan will have a dramatic impact on whether we as a city do our fair share to tackle the climate crisis. The United Nations has identified the next 11 years as critical to avoiding climate catastrophe. It’s all hands on deck, and cities like Ottawa have an opportunity to lead the way in the transition to a climate-friendly world. In other words, the new Official Plan must be Ottawa’s climate emergency plan.

When it comes to land use planning, one of the major policy tools the city has in its arsenal is the scope and scale of intensification, and the degree to which it will allow for new development on previously undeveloped land (“greenfield development”).

The new Official Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city to hold the line on sprawl by embedding strong intensification targets and ensuring that the urban boundary is not expanded. This will protect vast swaths of greenfield land – vital natural areas and farmland – for generations to come.

Click here to EMAIL the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.

Click here to CALL the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.

Click here for a PDF file of the petition if you would like to help us get more signatures. Simply scan and email an electronic version of the petition once it’s filled out.

What do we mean by urban sprawl?

Urban sprawl is typically defined using one or more of the following, inter-related attributes:

  • Low densities – people are spread out across large tracts of land. This means there are huge distances to travel to get from one place to another, and it is difficult to have a viable transit system because the costs of running the system vastly outstrip potential revenues.
  • Car-centric development – communities are designed around the car. In other words, sprawling developments are planned around the assumption that the car will be primary means of transportation, and it becomes inconvenient – sometimes downright dangerous – to use alternative modes of travel such as walking, biking or transit.
  • Single-use development – residential areas are separated from commercial and other uses. In other words, people don’t live close to where they work or play. This means they must travel long distances, moving from a large cluster of residents to a separated cluster of retail and commercial space, and then back again. Not surprisingly, people often end up doing so by car.

What’s the climate connection with urban sprawl?

The links between sprawl and climate change are well-studied and multi-faceted.

At the surface level, there are some obvious climate-related problems with a land use pattern centred around the car. Besides issues like congestion, gridlock and poor air quality, the obvious consequence is more greenhouse gas emissions from more cars on the road more often.

Within the boundaries of the City of Ottawa, transportation is the second major source of emissions, accounting for 44% of all community-wide emissions as of 2016. (The primary source of emissions in Ottawa is “stationary energy,” meaning how we heat, cool and electrify our homes, offices and other buildings.) If we intend to meet our city-wide emissions reduction targets, we will need to quickly and dramatically move away from car-dependency toward other transportation modes such as transit, cycling and walking. Any movement in the direction of more sprawl means this transition will be more complicated and challenging than it already is.

In addition to this obvious climate implication, there are two secondary climate effects of sprawl.

First, as noted above, sprawl threatens the viability of transit. In Ottawa, as in many North American cities, we continue to struggle to maintain an effective and reasonably priced transit system. One major issue is cost; over the past decade, transit costs have been rising at a rate well beyond the rate of inflation, even as parking rates have remained flat. While the cost of transit is ultimately a political decision – transit could be made free tomorrow if there was sufficient political will – its long-term viability is hindered when the system faces large structural challenges. Sprawl means fewer transit riders (and therefore less revenue) over a greater distance. This inevitably raises the funding threshold needed for viable, dependable transit, not to mention a transit system that is affordable and accessible to all Ottawans.

Second, sprawl threatens Ottawa’s natural greenspaces and farmland. These areas have profound value in and of themselves, and are home to a diverse array of animals, plants and insects which we can and must protect. There is a food security angle which is also deeply important here. But even further, there is a climate implication to the loss of these spaces. Vibrant and intact greenspaces, along with their rich plant life and healthy soils, have the potential to soak up and store carbon dioxide. When Ottawa’s greenspaces are lost or degraded, this ‘natural capital’ is lost. While there is greenspace both inside and outside of Ottawa’s urban boundary, the vast majority of it lies outside the urban boundary, and is at risk from an urban boundary expansion.

Of course, there are other impacts of sprawl. It affects everything from human health (more people spending more time stuck in traffic), to social isolation, to lack of access for services – especially for new Canadians who are increasingly calling suburban or quasi-suburban communities home.

Ottawa’s progress on urban sprawl to date

Ottawa has made some tentative steps on combating sprawl, but for the most part they have been ineffective, tepid or poorly executed.

The Greenbelt, for example, was intended to contain urban development while allowing ‘complete communities’ to develop outside it, where housing and jobs would be roughly in balance. However, City policy has allowed development east, south and even west of the Greenbelt to consist overwhelmingly of bedroom communities, requiring multiple corridors for roads and pipes that threaten the Greenbelt’s integrity.

More recently, there have been other instances where Ottawa has tried – and failed – to rein in sprawl.

In 2009, the last time there was a public debate on whether or not to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary, city council voted to expand the boundary by 230 hectares. This was roughly one quarter of the expansion recommended by city staff and roughly one tenth of the land sought by developers. Ultimately, council’s decision was overruled by the Ontario Municipal Board. That, combined with some other factors, led to 1,104 hectares being added to Ottawa’s urban area.

Meanwhile, key policy initiatives designed to curb sprawl seem inadequate to the task. Take for example Building Better and Smarter Suburbs (2015), a City of Ottawa policy document which outlines planning instructions for future suburban development. Certainly, there are positive elements to this document – including emphasis on complete communities, compact growth, mixed-use development and active transportation. But many of the problems of sprawling development continue in Ottawa. We continue to see new communities designed around the car. We continue to see large tracts of single-family homes – as opposed to mixed use development – in these areas. We continue to see neighbourhoods struggle to make streets safe for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. We continue to see transit stretched thin by city budgets that raise bus rates while spending hundreds of millions on new roads.

What are we asking for?

As a city, Ottawa must change course. The new Official Plan is a major opportunity to make that happen.

We are urging councillors to ‘Hold the Line’ and reject new urban boundary expansion as part of the new Official Plan. Instead, the city must focus future development on the existing urban area. In the process, we can build a city of compact, complete communities with access to jobs and transit. We can preserve more greenspace for plants, animals and local food production.

More specifically, we are asking for the city to account for at least 70% of future growth through intensification rather than greenfield development. This development mix will allow all development to take place within the established urban boundary for the current planning period. This means avoiding further clearing of forests and farmland outside the urban boundary to make room for more concrete, roads and buildings.

The 70% threshold has been identified by Ottawa planners as being the most ambitious of three possible growth scenarios, and the only one in which we hold the line on urban boundary expansion. For context, Ottawa’s current Official Plan has an intensification target that gradually rises from 40% to 50%, meaning that soon roughly half of new development will take place in already-developed areas, with the other half in greenfields. The city identifies this 50% “status quo” intensification target and a 60% “middle ground” intensification target as the other two viable scenarios for the new Official Plan.

Certainly, much needs to be said about the form intensification takes. Beyond high-level intensification targets, there are vital discussions that must take place around density, neighbourhood livability and the City’s respect for community input. This is a critical aspect of local planning that deserves careful consideration, now and in the years to come.

But for now, we are presented with a major opportunity to embed strong intensification targets into the city’s most important policy document.

Certainly, there is room for much more ambition than we have seen to date. While Ottawa is a city of tremendous beauty, it is also a city of box malls, gigantic parking lots, car-dominated communities and massive single-family homes.

A better future is possible, but it must start with political leadership. That is where you come in. Politicians will only lead if they hear clear demand from their constituents. We must demand, loudly and firmly, that Ottawa City Council use the new Official Plan to hold the line on urban sprawl.

Click here to EMAIL the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.

Click here to CALL the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.