March 30th, 2018
OPEN LETTER TO CITY OF OTTAWA AND ALL THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOBS IN CANADA’S CAPITAL CITY:
Re economic development in Ottawa
Attracting top-end talent to this city is a priority for Ottawa. The people living and working here are the reason this community is so rich with possibilities and future opportunities.
While much of Ottawa’s focus has been on growing knowledge-based industry, getting the pre-conditions for economic development right—making sure all the bases are covered—creates a community that young and not-so-young people in all walks of life want to settle or stay in.
Every time an immigrant selects or one of Ottawa’s young people chooses to move on down the road to faster-growing places like Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mumbai or Shanghai, that’s one less potential start-up, one fewer prospective all-star employee, whether they decide to focus on technology, real estate, education, healthcare, government or tourism, which are currently Ottawa’s primary drivers of economic development.
Letting people know—folks who already live in Ottawa or are considering moving here—that this city is a place where they can build world-spanning startups and great personal businesses for life (PB4Ls), and it’s a town determined to create vibrant, mixed use, walkable, safe, themed neighborhoods where residents can live, work, play, learn, shop, make, create, earn, exercise, train, and entertain is crucial to attracting and keeping the next generation of entrepreneurs at home.
The city needs to support and attract people who will follow Michael Cowpland (Mitel and Corel), Terence Matthews (Newbridge, Wesley Clover, KRP Properties, Brookstreet Hotel, Marshes Golf Club), Michael Potter (Cognos), John Doran (Domicile), Kris Singhal (Richcraft), Bruce Firestone (the Ottawa Senators), and Bill Malhotra (Claridge), Bill Teron (Beaverbrook and Kanata) to name just a few. Ottawa, like so many other cities and towns, is aging-out, a trend that must be reversed.
It’s not enough to rely on happenstance—things like finding out that Shopify serendipitously calls Ottawa its hometown because one of its founders, their CEO’s spouse happens to work in Ottawa and not in his native Germany.
That’s too uncertain, too tenuous.
City policy makers can make a difference by acting now.
By making sure economic development agencies—not just Invest Ottawa and the city of Ottawa’s own economic development department but chambers of commerce, community associations and BIAs as well—work closely together with all stakeholders to clear the way for new types of communities—ones which millennials might find irresistible—places like a fabulously interesting and diverse downtown or a suburb that is more than just a dormitory or a neighborhood where French is predominant or even a rural village, if that’s the lifestyle they choose.
Ottawa has to be a town where young people feel positive about raising their families because they know they will be able to provide for themselves and their children and grandchildren for generations to come. It has to be a green community, and also one in which people of all faiths, all nationalities, all genders get along in peace.
As an example of barriers to achieving this goal, I have been coaching a group (BlackSheep Developments, https://www.blacksheepdevelopments.com/) concerning their new development in Orleans, called Blue Sea Village Mer Bleue.
Here is their preliminary concept plan—
At its heart is a new, private-sector-paid-for training center for gymnastics designed by world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal called Fortitude:
This development will generate over 2,000 FTEs (full time equivalent jobs), and the Fortitude building alone will see more than 1.3 million visits a year.
In previous generations, training centers like this were paid for by government or not built at all. What BlackSheep Developments (BSD) has done is reinvent this industry—by placing a large traffic generator at its heart (the training center), BSD can surround it with a retail “apron” of compatible uses—restaurants, shops, health and wellness facilities—that subsidize, on a sustainable, on-going basis, the “institutional” use at its core.
This makes their rent affordable whilst still providing them with the opposite of their current facilities, which are cramped, crowded, evil-smelling, dingy, low-ceiling places with no or, at best, limited services.
It’s not that different from what was done with the Ottawa Senators’ home—the Palladium (now Canadian Tire Centre), which has double-loaded shops, restaurants and other facilities (like the YMCA-YWCA recreation centre) at grade that can be accessed from both outside and inside the arena (from its concourse). It’s so even on dark arena days, these places can be open and doing business… with what I refer to as a “WOW” effect–window on the world. In other words, the more penetrations a building has, the more independent ingress and egress it has, the more value it creates for tenants, guests, clients, customers and suppliers as well as ownership.
It’s not that different than what Mall of America (in Bloomington Minnesota) has done—at its core are attractors like blacklight mini-golf, mirror maze, bumper cars, aquarium, roller coaster, games, indoor theme park, comedy club, and it hosts countless events.
Those attractions bring the people, the stores (more than 520 of them at last count) pay (most of) the freight.[photo copyright MOAC MALL HOLDINGS LLC]
What’s holding up development here in Ottawa?
Well for one, city planning rules and Ontario provincial policy statements (originally developed in the 1980s to address now outdated Toronto-centric concerns) somehow value a job in “employment lands” such as working in, say, a Lee Valley Tools distribution center more highly than an internationally-known gymnastics trainer, whose job is much harder to offshore or automate, one would think.
And other planning, zoning and official plan stipulations get in the way as well—things like prohibiting development of Woonerf streets (living roads that put pedestrians and cyclists first and make cars, trucks and buses, guests) as well as the building of true mixed-use communities, which not only have employment but also residential, commercial, retail, office, recreation, entertainment and education/training uses, all-in-one, so to speak.
Does Ottawa really need to see more suburbs built with 3,000 (nearly identical) homes in a row with nary a job, office, shop, doctor, pharmacy or pub to walk to? The city already has enough places like that. Is that what young people really want, not to mention elders? No, in my opinion.
It’s incredible that a recent city-commissioned, Toronto-based consultant’s reportrecommended abolishing a longstanding Ottawa goal of having 0.3 jobs per resident in each of its suburbs so that they could be self-sustaining places (which only Kanata has achieved) and not mere exurbs, deserted during daytime, whilst cramming commuter roads with single-occupant, rush-hour vehicles…
That’s like giving up. Surely, Ottawa can do better?
It is my view that the city of Ottawa should find a way to break through planning barriers even if it means setting a precedent; even if it means the city shoulders some of the work and cost of studies and other charges to get major community facilities like Fortitude off the ground and even for minor ones—as long as they show a net benefit to Ottawa.
What’s wrong with setting a precedent, as long as it’s a good one?
In closing, I believe a timely review of city policies with respect to mixed-use land development as well as a jobs and economic development report from an Ottawa-based organization—a group that knows the history of this city and understands its challenges—are needed. It’s so the city of Ottawa can evolve creative, local solutions that actually fit this community.
If the city wants more Shopifys and more knowledge workers, it has to find ways to get those people to want to settle there. By attracting and keeping their most valuable resource in Ottawa (children and young people), the city can compete and win in what is, after all, a worldwide battle for talent.
It’s top tier talent that creates value, attracts VC funding, and powers a modern economy, which is all about creating more options and alternatives—it provides a growing cornucopia of wealth and opportunity for all. It’s exactly the opposite of a more pie-for-me-means-less-for-you economy, which is certainly not what is wanted in Ottawa-Gatineau or, indeed, anywhere in Canada.
Many urbanists and futurists predict that this century will belong to megapolises with populations of ten million and more. Canada doesn’t have a single one of them, and, other than Toronto (perhaps), this nation is unlikely to see one any time soon, even if Canada reaches the federal government’s current goal of 100 million citizens by 2100.
So, the city of Ottawa has to be more creative, more flexible, nimbler and build on an already formidable international brand of being part of a nation where peace, order and good government predominate—values, unfortunately, not in abundant supply worldwide.
It’s up to the city of Ottawa to take initiative to greenlight projects put forward by eager entrepreneurs and then support them or, in the alternative crush them under an avalanche of arcane and outdated sets of city rules and policies.
Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD
ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker
Ottawa Senators founder
Real Estate Investment and Business coach
MAKING IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
 Ottawa Employment Land Review, Hemson Consulting, Urban Strategies, August 2016
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