City of Ottawa Official Plan Poll Results and Analysis
by Bruce M Firestone, PhD
Decisions by municipal government can be even more important to individual residents than those made by higher levels—provincial, state or federal agencies. Noted urbanist Jane Jacobs called this the “subsidiarity” principal by which she meant that the closer government is to the people, the more likely it is to be both responsive to local needs and effective in terms of its delivery of solutions.
The city of Ottawa is in the process of developing a new OP, official plan. The goal is to develop one that suits 21st century conditions, a lofty ambition and maybe the first of its kind, at least in North America.
To assist in that process, the city of Ottawa together with OBJ and moderator /OBJ columnist Bruce M Firestone created a poll to gauge what is important to urban as well as rural-based citizens, BIAs, community associations, developers, environmentalists, creatives, techies, educators, healthcare professionals, ratepayers, investors, tenants, not-for-profits, affordable/supportive housing and transit advocates, sharing economy providers, economists, planners, infrastructure designers, tourist organizations, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, agritainment and agricultural producers, exporters, importers, truckers, and entrepreneurs.
A summary of those results is shown below. But first let’s talk about highlights.
1. Answers to the Team Ottawa versus On My Own question were fascinating—
I feel like I am:
On my own 39.5%
Part of “Team Ottawa” 60.5%
The most valuable resource any city or town has is its children. To keep younger people from moving down the road to larger centers with more perceived opportunity, building a municipal brand, communicating it effectively, creating a flexible zoning and official plan platform on which citizens and enterprises can develop their economic and social futures, plus making residents feel like they are part of something bigger then themselves are a huge part of convincing folks to throw their lot in with the rest of the inhabitants of a place.
It is one of the most important decisions any individual can make in a lifetime. In a way, you are what your city is.
Ottawa is doing a better job of making people feel like they are part of something special than I might have thought: 60.5% is not bad for a “government town” in my view. It’s likely that, say, Calgary would rank higher but still… not too shabby for the city of Ottawa; still, there is room to improve.
2. Expectations were that economic development, neighborhood safety and talent retention would rank amongst top issues but instead they were middle of the pack.
Rather, the top four issues were—a) access to affordable housing at 4.10 (out of 5), b) environmental protection/dealing with climate change/green technologies, 4.09, c) zoning rules that promote experimentation, densification and intensification in increasingly mixed-use, walkable communities, 3.97, and d) promotion of homegrown entrepreneurs, 3.84.
Access to affordable housing could be a proxy for talent retention because many tech industry veterans have said that they have more difficulty retaining talent because of a housing rental shortage than attracting talent in the first place.
Also, politicians who may be inclined to ignore the public’s concern over climate change and other environmental issues do so at some peril—it was a very close 2nd most important issue to poll respondents.
It is also interesting to note that respondents appear to understand the link between most important issues #3 and #4—zoning rules that promote experimentation, densification and intensification in increasingly mixed-use, walkable communities and promotion of homegrown entrepreneurs.
There is support for a more flexible official plan and retention/attraction/promotion of local entrepreneurs, those who choose to live in Ottawa and call the city their hometown.
3. The issues ranked lowest include: attracting entrepreneurs from other cities/nations, zoning laws that protect existing neighborhoods from change, nightlife and festivals, new roads and highways and sharing economy such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc.
This group of respondents appears to embrace change and places an emphasis on local action.
4. Overwhelmingly, respondents supported (nearly 90% in both cases): a) giving developers of office and institutional buildings a density bonus if they agree to add a residential use to their property and b) mixing into the community and dispersing throughout the municipality social, co-operative and affordable/supportive housing, including halfway houses and group homes.
This is quite markedly different from US experience where, according to the American Housing Survey, conducted by the US Census Bureau, the number of households living in gated communities was slightly more than 7 million in 2001, rising by more than 50% to almost 11 million households by 2009. A decade later, the process continues to separate US society into have and have-not zones where the former have jobs, nice homes, good roads and schools and the latter, by and large, do not.
More egalitarian Ontarians (at least if poll respondents are reflective of the larger state) appear to support (indirectly) the Ontario Planning Act, which prohibits gated communities (unless they are condominiums). Mixing together different uses to create work and live built environments and geographic dispersal of social housing so every neighborhood shares some of the “burden” gets a lot of support…
5. Nearly as important as the above two issues was the urge to design neighborhoods for people rather than cars. Nearly 85% of respondents supported this idea, which means there is probably a widespread hunger to see more use of Woonerf (a Dutch word meaning “living”) streets where cars are guests and pedestrians and cyclists have priority.
6. Every city has its own magic wand—the power legally conveyed upon it to issue/change zoning bylaws and ordinances. In many jurisdictions this has become a vastly complex, expensive and time-consuming democratic process. Ottawa is no exception.
Over three quarters of respondents supported the position that the city should use its “magic wand” (that is, its own staff and resources) to help with planning approvals and costs for projects deemed to be of regional significance/net benefit to the city.
7. It was interesting seeing the juxtaposition of these two answers: support housing affordability by expanding the urban boundary was ranked at just 2.46 (out of 5) whilst supporting housing affordability by rezoning existing neighborhoods to support the addition of more housing garnered a 4.02 share.
The city of Ottawa seems to have read its electorate accurately with a continuing “freeze” on (most) urban boundary expansions.
8. Nearly half of respondents were not aware that coach houses are now permitted in the city of Ottawa (since November 2016) suggesting that there is more communication work that needs to be done by the municipality in terms of getting news about changes in its official plan widely distributed amongst its constituencies.
Notedly, almost three quarters of respondents want the city to do more of this type of urban experimentation.
9. Over 85% of respondents supported the notion that the city should be proactive in terms of building an inventory of ready-to-use sites so the region can react quickly to changes of direction in the local, national and global economies.
This means the next time a mega-corporation like Amazon comes calling with a 1,000,000 square foot requirement, the city has a list of available, ready-to-use sites sitting on the shelf, so to speak.
10. Nearly 80% of respondents answered yes to one of these two questions: housing is unaffordable and out of reach for me or unaffordable and out of reach for too many.
This is not just an Ottawa issue or even a Canada-wide issue. It is happening everywhere. Sitting homeowners in desirable cities are happily watching their house prices soar while young people and those-less-fortunate struggle to obtain any type of affordable accommodation let alone home ownership.
11. Probably no one classifies themselves as a NIMBY (someone who nearly always opposes any changes in his or her neighborhood, short for Not In My Backyard) and this survey was no different: nearly two thirds classify themselves as YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard). About 40% though say, “I have appealed or have been part of an appeal against developments in my neighborhood or city.”
Ottawa is well known provincially for being a source of abundant OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) and now planning tribunal appeals so it’s no surprise to see that almost 40% of respondents might fall into the group of concerned citizens against changes they perceive as negative or a threat (possibly) to their property values.
homeowner incomes broke down this way:
less than $35,000 5.0%
$35,000 to $65,000 27.7%
$65,000 to $100,000 31.9%
more than $100,000 35.5%
tenant incomes broke down this way:
less than $35,000 35.3%
$35,000 to $65,000 31.4%
$65,000 to $100,000 23.5%
more than $100,000 9.8%
age distribution of respondents was:
86 or older 0.7%
respondents worked in these fields:
Public administration (eg, federal, provincial or local government) 20.5%
Health care 13.3%
Private sector 47.2%
access to a private vehicle was:
household size broke down this way:
1 person 19.6%
2 persons 40.2%
3 persons 20.1%
4 or more 20.1%
MAJOR ISSUES RANKED
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 5 was most important, the major issues of concern ranked from most important to least were—
Access to affordable housing 4.10
Environmental protection/dealing with climate change/green technologies 4.09
Zoning rules that promote experimentation, densification and intensification in increasingly mixed-use, walkable communities 3.97
Promotion of homegrown entrepreneurs 3.84
Economic development 3.72
Police presence and safe neighborhoods 3.69
Talent retention 3.62
Attracting entrepreneurs from other cities/nations 3.31
Zoning laws that protect existing neighborhoods from change 3.20
Nightlife and festivals 3.16
New roads and highways 2.97
Sharing economy such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc 2.78
We should design communities where pedestrians and cyclists are prioritized over cars 164 84.5%
We should design communities where cars are given priority over pedestrians and cyclists 30 15.5%
In my view, house prices and rents are:
Unaffordable and out of reach for me, Unaffordable and out of reach for too many 171 78.8%
Affordable for me, Affordable for most people in our community 46 21.2%
The City of Ottawa now permits coach houses in R1 zones throughout the community. I:
Was not aware of this 87 48.6%
Do not support the idea of adding more density to existing neighborhoods 19 10.6%
Would consider adding one to my backyard 73 40.8%
I’d like to see the city:
Do more of this type of urban experimentation 145 73.6%
Do more to preserve the existing character of neighborhoods 52 26.4%
I believe the city should (rank each statement from 1 to 5, where 5 is very important to you and 1 is not important):
Support housing affordability by expanding the urban boundary so that new housing can be built in new suburbs, even if this means higher taxes to support the extension of city services: 2.46
Support housing affordability by rezoning existing neighborhoods to support the addition of more housing in existing neighborhoods on existing services, and take advantage of LRT, transit and existing roads and services: 4.02
Support housing affordability by increasing the options that current property owners have to develop more housing units of various types: 3.66
Continue to grow outward so that new suburbs are created, no matter how far they are from the center of the city: 2.12
Focus on intensifying the city’s core so more people can live closer to where they work and put less strain on our roads: 3.86
Continue to prevent new rural lot subdivisions to maintain the character of rural areas and protect the environment: 3.35
The city should:
Use its own staff and resources to help with planning approvals and costs for projects deemed to be of regional significance 146 76.8%
Not use its own staff and resources for such tasks because it sets a bad precedent 44 23.2%
The city should:
Give developers of office and institutional buildings a density bonus if they agree to add a residential use to their property 168 89.4%
Restrict development so that it is either all commercial or all residential 20 10.6%
Social, co-operative and affordable housing, including halfway houses and group homes:
Should be mixed into the community and dispersed throughout the municipality 175 87.9%
Should not be allowed in R1 zones 9 4.5%
Should be restricted to specific localities 15 7.5%
The city should:
Be proactive by building an inventory of ready-to-use sites so the region can react quickly to changes of direction in the local, national and global economies 160 85.1%
Wait for proponents to come forward, then put them through the normal planning, zoning, site plan and subdivision process 28 14.9%
I would say I have more in common with the YIMBY (yes, in my backyard) group rather than the NIMBY (not in my backyard) group 60.1%
I have appealed or have been part of an appeal against developments in my neighborhood or city 39.9%
I use public transit:
Almost never 38.8%
On my own 39.5%
Part of “Team Ottawa” 60.5%
For more information, please contact:
Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD
Real Estate Investment and Business coach
Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc broker
Ottawa Senators founder
Stop the bike lanes from taking over our streets and parking spaces!
Maintain proper sidewalks, beautify neighborhoods, stricter bylaws for residential property upkeep.
Reduce parkland fees to promote development; allow for more density in R4 neighborhoods with smaller lots, provide incentives for affordable housing creation, improve the site plan, rezoning, minor variance, and permit approval process it takes way too long and costs are already high.
Focus on affordable AND sustainable/environmental housing solutions.
Expanding the urban boundary is not the only option for generating affordable housing; property owners already have the option to create affordable housing of various types—they just need to choose to make housing affordable and make that a priority/reality.
Use inclusionary zoning to meet affordable housing targets
1. build PROTECTED bike lanes on every major street. 2. build bicycle advisory lanes on every minor street 3. build PROTECTED bike lanes on every secondary street 4. legislate that PROTECTED bike lanes are mandatory. 5. make it illegal to rebuild, renew, resurface, and redesign a street without PROTECTED bike lanes or bicycle advisory lanes.
Make the ByWard Market car free.
Please take about 10 to 12-minutes to answer the following questions.
more information, please contact Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci,
 “Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution,” Wikipedia.
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