Climate Solutions and Ottawa’s Official Plan – SOLD OUT

On November 15th and 16th, Ecology Ottawa, Greenspace Alliance, Community Association for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES) and the Youth Climate Ambassadors are hosting 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 will discuss and co-create 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.

Following a welcome address from Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Ottawa’s top climate leaders will guide the workshop towards climate solutions that are also community solutions. 

120 participants from environmental groups, community associations and the general public will work together to develop the climate action message that will be delivered to the City administration and elected officials ahead of the public posting of the Climate Change Master Plan and Energy Evolution Strategy on December 6th, and voted on by committee on December 17.

The workshop’s maximum attendance, as well as a waiting list, filled up quickly indicating the high level of interest of residents in ensuring that effective climate action be central to the City’s new Official Plan.

For a detailed agenda and description of the event, visit the Eventbrite page here, or the Facebook event page here.

For more information or media requests, please contact Paul Johanis (Greenspace Alliance; 613- 513-8372), Robb Barnes (Ecology Ottawa; 613-860-5353), or Daniel Buckles (CAFES; 613-807-8048).

CAFES, Ecology Ottawa, Greenspace Alliance and the Youth Climate Ambassadors 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tepid and tentative City of Ottawa budget out of sync with the climate crisis

November 6, 2019

OTTAWA – Yesterday, Mayor Jim Watson presented the City of Ottawa’s draft 2020 budget to council. While the budget makes headway in some areas, it largely continues status quo investments on environmental initiatives in the city. At a high level, its tone and level of urgency are at odds with the global push for ambitious action in the face of the escalating climate emergency. 

“From an environmental lens, yesterday’s budget may have been serviceable in some other era,” said Robb Barnes, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa. “But in the context of an escalating global climate crisis, it is out of sync and out of step.” 

In terms of improvements and new initiatives, the draft 2020 budget features expansion of light rail ($4.7 billion), money for an electric bus pilot ($6 million), a rate freeze for EquiPass and the first increase in on-street parking rates in over a decade. 

In other areas, it continues business-as-usual spending on tree planting ($1.5 million), energy efficiency retrofits ($3 million) and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure ($9.1 million for Cycling and Pedestrian Plans; $500,000 for the Pedestrian Crossover Program).

In terms of spending reductions, the budget features a substantial reduction in funding to Energy Evolution, the City’s renewable energy strategy ($70,000, down from $150,000 in 2019 and $500,000 in 2018). It also features a massive investment in the wrong direction: $66.2 earmarked for road growth projects, including a project in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. Ottawa’s continued expansion of its road network creates serious challenges for future budgets, in terms of maintenance, clearing, and managing induced demand from additional vehicles. 

A more detailed breakdown of the draft 2020 budget and what is means for Ottawa’s environment is available here.

“Cities around the world are responding to the climate crisis with innovative policies that tackle emissions while enhancing livability, community connections and public health,” said Mr. Barnes. “This means massive investments in transit, green infrastructure, electrification, and active transportation networks. It also means a concerted effort to cease the continual expansion of road networks, along with the sprawl that entails. By contrast, Ottawa’s 2020 budget is tepid and tentative. It fixes small issues at the margins while aggravating many of the environmental challenges currently facing our city.” 

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For more information or to arrange an interview, contact: 

Robb Barnes
Executive Director
Ecology Ottawa
613-276-5753 (cell)
robb.barnes@ecologyottawa.ca

Budget 2020 – What does it mean for Ottawa’s environment?

On Wednesday, November 6, Mayor Jim Watson presented the draft city budget for 2020.

This budget has implications for all three of Ecology Ottawa’s program areas:

  • LIVING CITY, our program to protect and enhance Ottawa’s trees, water and green space;
  • RENEWABLE CITY, our program on climate change and energy policy; and
  • ACTIVE CITY, our program on sustainable transportation.

Below is a summary of budget items, colour-coded by program area and categorized four ways:

  • improvements and new initiatives;
  • business-as-usual spending;
  • spending reductions or bad investments; and
  • open questions.

These assessments are preliminary. Over the next few weeks, Ecology Ottawa staff and volunteers will be asking questions to councillors and city staff in order to clarify the points below.

Improvements and new initiatives

$2 million for purchase of natural areas. In past years, the city has spent over $800,000 on the purchase of natural areas for preservation. $2 million is a substantial increase over historic averages, although it should be noted that no amount was identified for the 2019 budget.

$4.7 billion for extension of light rail. There remain very serious issues with service delivery, reliability, transparency and public accountability on LRT. While there are very strong arguments that light rail investments could be better spent and better managed, the fact that the city is investing billions on transit is still a positive development.

$6 million for an electric bus pilot. While this line item was previously announced, we are pleased to see the city move towards electrification of its bus fleet. We urge the city to draw lessons learned from pilots in other cities and move towards more rapid electrification.

Rate freeze for EquiPass. Last year, EquiPass increased well above the rate of inflation. We are pleased to see the city cap EquiPass rates at 2019 levels for the 2020 budget year.

Increase in on-street parking rates. The 2020 budget sees the first increases in on-street parking in more than a decade. This is a welcome step forward, as higher parking rates encourage reduced car use and greater use of alternative transportation options.

$2 million for traffic calming. While some of this money may be allocated to overhead, this appears to be an increase in the traffic calming budget of $50,000 per ward (or $1.15 million) last year.

Business-as-usual spending

$1.5 million to plant 125,000 trees per year. This is a standard line item that we’ve seen in past budgets. We are happy to see the city continue to invest in forest cover.

$3 million for energy efficiency retrofits in City of Ottawa buildings. This year’s total matches the amount spent in 2019. Typically, these investments are not only good for climate action, but they return cost savings to the city.  We are happy to see the city continue to invest in this area.

$9.1 million for Cycling and Pedestrian Plans. Last year these plans received $7.1 million, a steep decline relative to average annual funding over the last term of council. While this year is seeing an increase in funding to $9.1 million, this is still well below the 2015-2018 average investment of over $20 million per year in this area. In light of this, we are categorizing this as a “business-as-usual” expenditure. 

$500,000 for the Pedestrian Crossover (PXO) Program. This amount is the same as in the 2019 budget. Clearly, there is ample demand in all wards for safer pedestrian crossings. We would like to see the city expand its spending in this area. 

Spending reductions or bad investments

$70,000 for Energy Evolution (spending reduction). Energy Evolution is the city’s plan for taking action on the climate emergency. In many ways, it is the most important environmental project underway at city hall. As such, it is disappointing to see this measly investment in climate action. The $70,000 investment is well below last year’s total of $150,000 and the 2018 total of $500,000.

$66.2 million for road growth projects (bad investment). Ottawa’s continued expansion of its road network creates serious challenges for future budgets, in terms of maintenance, clearing, and managing induced demand from additional vehicles. There is no evidence that widening roads alleviates congestion, and yet the city continues to justify massive investments in roads by claiming that new road projects will do precisely that – alleviate congestion and accommodate growth. This massive investment could be better used in any number of other areas (e.g., Energy Evolution, transit, pedestrian infrastructure and/or cycling infrastructure). Worse still, some of this money is earmarked for expansion or widening roads in sensitive areas such as the Greenbelt.

Open questions

No clear line item for investments as part of the Urban Forest Management Plan. As with last year’s budget, it remains uncertain what progress the city is making towards the ambitious goals laid out in the Urban Forest Management Plan.

Increasing climate resilience through floodplain mapping and community flood risk profiles. While this initiative was mentioned in the Mayor’s budget speech, we could not find a line item earmarked for specific climate resilience projects. So, while spending in this area would be welcomed, it remains unclear whether this spending is actually occurring.

No clear line item for green infrastructure investments. As with last year’s budget, it remains unclear what progress the city is making on integrating living and built water management infrastructure into roads and other city infrastructure.

No clear line item for vehicle electrification infrastructure. As with last year’s budget, it remains uncertain what progress the city is making towards the electrification of Ottawa’s transportation system. We know from other cities’ climate analyses (e.g., “Transform TO”) that rapid vehicle electrification is one of the most important climate change initiatives that can be conducted at the municipal level. It is imperative that the city make investments in this area. 

No clear line item for greening the municipal vehicle fleet. In past years, the city devoted $500,000 to converting its fleet to lower- or zero-emissions. As in the 2019 budget, we were unable to identify the “green fleet” line item.

$78.3 million for winter operations. While the Mayor states that this investment marks a $5.6 million increase over 2019 levels, this line item is difficult to parse. Our concern is that this money will continue to be prioritized for clearing parking lots and roadways, and will not result in any tangible improvements for active transportation modes. We will seek clarification from the City on how this investment will be allocated. 

Collaboration between City of Ottawa and NCC on winter network. The Mayor’s statement mentioned that staff have come to an agreement on a cost-sharing basis to support a number of trail initiatives. While this could be a promising development for active transportation initiatives, we could find no line item in the budget that corresponds to new winter trail investments.

An additional $7.5 million to expand the bus network. Clearly, the City of Ottawa is experiencing major challenges with the roll-out of light rail. This could be a welcome addition of funds to help restore rider confidence in Ottawa’s troubled transit system. However, the City of Ottawa has not yet posted detailed Transit Commission budget information. As such, this number has yet to be verified. We will seek additional clarification. 

Join us for Eco Gala 2019

On Wednesday November 20th, at the Horticulture Building in Lansdowne Park, Ecology Ottawa will be celebrating our 13th Eco Gala  – Ottawa’s biggest gathering of the environmental community.

Tickets are selling FAST. We are over 50% sold out.

Organize a table or buy your ticket today!

This year is going to be huge. Featuring speakers, food and drinks from local vendors, silent auctions, green activities, and organizations and businesses sharing their exciting environmental initiatives, Eco Gala is a must-attend event

Celebrate with us! Save the date: Wednesday, November 20th at Lansdowne’s Hoticulture Building.

We’re looking for local businesses who want to tell the world about their green products and services – everything from breweries to bike shops to solar companies. This is the place! To explore sponsorship opportunities, click here.

This is an important event, and we won’t be able to do it without your help. Click here to join our volunteer team today. 

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!

Greening Your Community: Where to Begin?

Community is at the heart of the work that Ecology Ottawa does. Community partners, associations, engaged citizens, friends, and neighbours all play a part in defining important environmental and social issues in our city, and deciding how Ecology Ottawa can contribute. Two weeks ago, as part of our year-long green infrastructure (G.I.) program in Britannia, Belltown, and Crystal Bay, we held a community event to ask people what ideas they have to “green” their communities. Not only that, we explored some obstacles that people face in making more sustainable choices day-to-day and long-term. Have you been wondering what you can do at home, or in community, to reduce your impact on the Earth and its resources? Are you looking for some inspiration, or resources, to begin living a more socially and environmentally sustainable life? Unsure of where to begin?

We’d like to help you with that! Following our “Greening Your Community” event on August 14th, we transformed the participatory session notes into a two page Report. Our offering to you is a document which we hope can be a jumping off point for you and other community members across Ottawa. Ideas are important to share, write down, and discuss, so we encourage you to add to this document, or run a similar discussion session with the prompting questions!

You can download the Report in English or French (PDF) below.

With the understanding that knowledge sharing and community mobilization is of utmost importance of the work Ecology Ottawa does, we are excited to continue the conversation at our final Green Infrastructure workshop in Britannia, taking place on Sunday, September 15th from 3-5:30pm. For the first time ever, Ecology Ottawa has put into words how we do the work we do — community organizing! Our pilot green infrastructure project in the west end has yielded many lessons about how to activate communities, and we want to share them with you! We hope to see you at the launch and celebration of our community guidebook, where we will also be handing out free tree seedlings, and at-home green infrastructure adaptations!

The People’s Official Plan and responding to the climate emergency

Setting the stage

The City of Ottawa is in the midst of developing a new Official Plan – its major land use and policy document, designed to shape Ottawa for decades into the future.

Getting the new Official Plan right is critical for many reasons. Most importantly, 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.

Consultations are ongoing and will wrap up in December 2019. In response to this once-in-a-generation opportunity, Ecology Ottawa has joined with community groups from across the city to respond to the city’s call for public input. This coalition, dubbed the ‘People’s Official Plan for Ottawa’s Climate Crisis,’ involves collaboration with the Federation of Citizens’ Association, Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES), Bike Ottawa, Healthy Transportation Coalition, Just Food, the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and other like-minded community advocates.

This summer, the group developed position papers on various themes related to the new Official Plan. Across a wide range of areas – from transportation to local economic development – we responded to the city’s discussion papers and emphasized the need for dramatic and ambitious action to respond to the climate crisis.

The 5 Big Moves

On Thursday, August 22, we joined with other members of the People’s Official Plan coalition to respond to the city’s new Official Plan strategy document, entitled ‘5 Big Moves.’ The new documents lay out policy directions across five areas:

  1. Growth management;
  2. Mobility;
  3. Urban and community design;
  4. Climate, energy and public health; and
  5. Economic development.

Click here to read the city’s 5 Big Moves document.

It should be noted that this edition of the 5 Big Moves is designed for public input. A final version will be presented to committee, and then council, on December 12. That gives us several months to help shape the city’s direction on this plan. Written comments will be accepted until December 12, but there are deadlines for public input via surveys which must be completed by September 16.

After reading the 5 Big Moves and the content below, click here to take surveys on the major areas in the plan by September 16.

Submit written comments on the 5 Big Moves to Charmaine Forgie at the City of Ottawa before December 12. Email her at charmaine.forgie@ottawa.ca.

Major steps forward

For the most part, our comments on the 5 Big Moves can be summed up in four words: “move further and faster.” Broadly speaking, there are a number of policy suggestions that would move Ottawa towards a much more sustainable land use model, meaning substantial progress on climate action, active transportation and fostering health and livability into our city’s very design. In many cases, the question boils down to how ambitious we choose to be in adopting and implementing these ideas.

Some of the major steps forward outlined in this document include the ones below. But important questions also need to be asked. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Achieving more growth by intensification than greenfield development (Big Move #1). This concept is fundamental to the document’s growth management vision. However, the document lays out three growth scenarios, and only one involves holding the line on expansion of Ottawa’s urban boundary. Like many North American cities, Ottawa is already plagued by urban sprawl. It is critical that we do not sprawl further, and this means that we focus at least 70% of future growth on intensification rather than greenfield development. (Click here to learn about our Hold the Line anti-sprawl campaign.)
  • Linking growth management strategy to greenhouse gas emission reduction targets (Big Move #1, Policy Direction #4). This is a very welcome initiative. If properly implemented (i.e., implemented ambitiously and meaningfully), this means that climate considerations will dictate the growth patterns of our city. If all new developments had to pass a rigorous climate test as part of the approval process, this would mark a seismic shift in how Ottawa is designed. We would no longer allow developers to build isolated, car-dominated communities in greenfields. We would no longer allow for energy intensive buildings, or buildings with low densities. As expected, the devil will be in the details here, but the overarching message and the possibilities of strong progress on sustainable urban design are evident.
  • Achieving a majority of trips by sustainable transportation (Big Move #2). This sounds great, but there are two important caveats. First, while the goal is laudable, the 5 Big Moves document identifies 2046 as the target year for this goal. We must ensure that the new Official Plan contains ambitious targets for sustainable transportation, in order to achieve this objective well before 2046. Second, it is bizarre that the City of Ottawa considers carpooling a sustainable transportation option. While carpooling is certainly an improvement over single-occupancy, we think the threshold for categorizing transportation options as sustainable must be higher. The ultimate test of any modal target whether we can reduce emissions at the speed and scale required by climate science. Over-emphasis on carpooling as a “sustainable transportation” tool can actually move us in the wrong direction on emissions.
  • Exploring new financial mechanisms for sustainable transportation infrastructure, such as road tolls and congestion charges (Big Move #2, Policy Direction #4). The idea of road tolls is long overdue. In the last term of council, the Transportation Committee abandoned the idea of merely studying road pricing, to say nothing about implementing it. Transportation Committee’s decision does profound damage to our city. It continues to exacerbate congestion, and continues to punish Ottawans who choose sustainable transportation options by making them pay equally for a costly road system even while they play a minimal role in using it. This new Official Plan policy direction also hints at using parking fees more strategically (e.g., raising rates and using revenues to pay for sustainable transportation). This is another promising and long overdue idea.
  • Building walkable, 15-minute neighbourhoods (Big Move #4, Policy Direction #3). This is another idea that sounds great, but requires an important caveat. Nowhere in the 5 Big Moves document is any definition provided for what constitutes a “15-minute neighbourhood.” Does this mean that a trip by any transportation mode can be conducted in 15 minutes? Will sustainable transportation options like walking, cycling and transit be explicitly prioritized over cars? And will this standard have any actual teeth when it comes to new community design? As we know, new communities in Ottawa are still being overwhelmingly designed in favour of the car, with transit and other transportation modes as second thoughts. Will this policy direction help change Ottawa’s reckless approach to urban expansion?
  • Integrating concepts of public health, climate mitigation and community resiliency into planning (Big Move #4). The climate crisis is already having severe effects on our city. A fulsome response must prioritize mitigation – reducing our emissions in line with what the science demands – while also strengthening community resilience. All of this intersects profoundly with public health. We need to consistently think through the public health implications of sprawl, of poor transit access, of dangerous streets for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists, and of the many benefits of trees and greenspace for our communities.
  • Protecting and growing the urban forest (Big Move #4, Policy Direction #5). This is vital for sustainability, livability and resilience in Ottawa. The challenge to date is that the city has shied away from clear targets. New studies indicate that a 40% tree canopy cover is required to effectively combat the urban heat island effect. Ottawa neighbourhoods are in some cases struggling to maintain even 20% coverage. We need to see this target embedded here, along with a plan to ramp up tree cover city-wide.

Some steps backward

While the vast majority of the content in the 5 Big Moves document seems promising, there are some clear steps backward which should be pointed out. We look forward to having these sections either removed or dramatically altered by the time the final version of this document is approved by council.

  • Considering the Greenbelt as an area for potential urban expansion (Big Move #1, Policy Direction #3). While this policy direction contains language about ensuring that expansion of urban lands within the Greenbelt is compensated by extensions beyond it, the idea is ultimately wrongheaded. The Greenbelt is a cherished natural space, and communities have developed around it. Altering the Greenbelt’s geography at this stage could not only deprive communities of the access they have historically enjoyed, but also create a slippery slope for further development. Instead of thinking of how and when to develop in sensitive greenspace, we should be thinking about how to optimize the Greenbelt’s function as a local food hub and source of biodiversity and natural resilience.
  • Growing the Ottawa Airport and expanding the number of connections to the airport (Big Move #5, Policy Direction #2). This initiative is strikingly out of place in the context of a policy document that largely puts forward meaningful policy proposals to address climate change and embed community sustainability. An enlarged and well-connected airport moves Ottawa directly in the opposite direction. Globally, we need to be dramatically reducing air travel, and some countries are beginning to see meaningful shifts in demand in response to the climate crisis. Meanwhile, despite public backlash, the City of Ottawa continues its plans to widen the Airport Parkway, a policy direction that will worsen congestion while embedding more car-dependency on the city as a whole.

What’s missing

Here are some elements that could be emphasized, clarified or highlighted before the 5 Big Moves are finalized on December 12.

  • Climate mitigation as central organizing principle of the new Official Plan. Climate change makes a strong showing in the 5 Big Moves, but more can be done to frame the city’s new Official Plan as the city’s climate emergency plan. The new Official Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond ambitiously to the climate crisis while making a better city. We need strong language in this plan that explicitly ties the success of all aspects to vigorous, science-based efforts to do our fair share to combat climate change.
  • More integration of local food production into economic discussion, with explicit emphasis on hard targets and leveraging Greenbelt for local food production. The 5 Big Moves refers to working with the National Capital Commission to ensure best use and management of the Greenbelt (Big Move #5, Policy Direction #8). Unfortunately, it fails to mention local food production in this area. We can aim much higher. For example, local community leaders such as Tom Marcantonio have been championing a vision for “50 by 50,” where Ottawa grows 50% of its own food by 2050. The new Official Plan would be greatly strengthened by hard targets to gauge measurable progress in local food production, using the Greenbelt as a major source of this effort.

What are your thoughts on the 5 Big Moves? The City of Ottawa wants to hear from you.

Click here to take surveys on the major areas in the plan by September 16, and send written comments to charmaine.forgie@ottawa.ca today.

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 urge the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.

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 urge the mayor and councillors to hold the line on urban sprawl.

10,000 Trees and Counting

As many of you may know, a large part of the work that our Living City team does — beyond our green infrastructure and greenspace protection campaigns — relates to trees. More specifically, we collaborate on, organize, and attend community events so that we can give away native tree seedlings to as many Ottawa area residents as possible! The appetite for planting trees and re-greening our capital has proven to be a large one: Our goal for this spring and summer was to distribute 12,000 trees, and it excites us to announce that we have surpassed the 10,000 tree mark!

Living City Organizer, Kathleen, at the Herb Garden giveaway in Almonte, ON.

Since the beginning of April, our dedicated tree giveaway volunteers have allowed us to attend over 100 events across the city and surrounding areas to bring trees to YOU. We can’t do this great work without the support and energy of our volunteers, who are central to the success of the tree giveaway program — thank you.

And of course, our tree giveaways for 2019 are not over! We still have events scheduled into September, and opportunities to collaborate if you are looking to host a tree giveaway.

Tabling at the Great Glebe GREEN Garage Sale, where over 2,000 trees were given out. Photo provided by MakerHouseCo.

We are floored by the success of the giveaways and the desire by community members to invest in the future of our city, country, and planet by planting trees on their properties. The Living City team cannot wait to hand out the 12,000th tree this fall, knowing that the program is going to continue and expand in 2020 with 15,000 trees hoping to find their forever homes in your yards and properties next year!

A dark week for Ottawa’s democracy

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin – https://unsplash.com/photos/NqOInJ-ttqM

It has been a dark week for local democracy in Ottawa. 

Last Wednesday, council green-lit an Old Ottawa East development that violated a years-old neighbourhood plan. The original design was rooted in thousands of hours of community consultation and engagement with city processes, but no matter. In the end, the developer pulled the rug out from under the community. Planning committee refused to stop the process, and council gave its stamp of approval with a 14-9 vote in favour of the project.  

Earlier that morning, one of the city’s most powerful committees blocked a non-member councillor from asking a simple question. While the councillor’s question was about a baseball lease, the move speaks volumes about Ottawa’s decision-making process on environmental matters. It points to a council whose decision-making process has been centralized around the mayor. This concentration of power has clear, negative implications for the areas of the city with councillors outside of the mayor’s inner circle. 

If we needed further evidence of this point, last week’s Château Laurier decision made it crystal clear. Kelly Egan has pointed out that Ottawa’s urban councillors have been on the losing end of planning decisions for some time now. The root cause is committee composition, which stems from mayoral decisions. Immediately after the 2018 election, the mayor cut out urban councillors from key decision-making roles impacting Ottawa’s environment. In this way, the causes behind the “radiator-shaped goiter” on the Château Laurier are the same as those behind environmental crises like climate change, tree decimation and urban sprawl.  

So what can be done? 

Put simply, we can’t let cynicism induce us to inaction. We need to stand up and be heard. Even when we feel that residents don’t have a voice, we won’t be silenced. Even when our councillors push for what’s right, and risk being sidelined when they run afoul of the mayor, we won’t be silenced.

Now, more than ever, we need to bring the pressure of mass mobilization to bear on city council. Ecology Ottawa is uniquely positioned to amplify your voice to demand better from city hall. We must continue to organize in communities, pressure council at key moments and keep all council members accountable to the public.

We cannot do this without your support. Donate today to join thousands of other Ottawa residents who stand up for our environment. Your contribution will go towards building a better, greener city for now and for future generations.