Potential policies and strategic directions for the city of Ottawa

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Sep 21
[This is the third in a 3-part series written for Ottawa Business Journal by OBJ columnist, Bruce M Firestone, PhD, who is working with the city of Ottawa to develop a new OP, official plan, one that is suited to 21st century conditions—both economic, sociological and environmental.]


If you were the ultimate authority in your town or city and, in fact, if you were creating a place from scratch what would it look like? A busy arterial dotted with big box stores, which is both pedestrian unfriendly and car-centric like Ottawa’s Merivale road or more like a walkabout place such as the ByWard market, a complex mixture of shops, tech offices, co-working spaces, restaurants, farmers’ market, condos, homes, museums, art galleries, embassies, hotels, parks, hospital, squares, academies, and a myriad of services including those catering to the less fortunate and homeless?

I’ll leave it to you to decide on that but, certainly, many urban designers are trending in the latter direction after 50-years of domination by cars, car travel and parking lots.


Multiple bottom lines

Many OBJ readers are aware of the drive to meet a triple bottom line—an accounting reference to reflect that, in addition to meeting minimum financial goals, every project, every new development whether an individual structure, a brownfield redevelopment, an in-fill venture or a greenfield subdivision, should also take into account social and ecological goals.

But I would suggest that a city or town or development proponent might consider targeting more than just those three bottom lines—they could also:

a) set a goal to produce close to zero waste

b) be nearly self-sufficient in food production

c) aim to be net-zero in terms of energy use/production

d) self-sufficient in jobs.

None of the above are new. In fact, Andy Haydon, the former chair of the RMOC, Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton (the precursor to an amalgamated city of Ottawa), set a long term target of 0.3 jobs per resident for each of the suburbs of Kanata, Barrhaven and Orleans, which would have made those places less dependent on downtown offices and work, and presumably reduce the hordes of single-occupant cars heading to the centre of the city each morning and reversing course every evening.

Only Kanata has achieved that goal but that doesn’t mean we should abandon Andy’s plan.

What does a place look like that mixes work and residential uses along with shopping, learning, playing, creating and making and a whole host of other things?

Well, if Kanata is a guide, it looks a lot like a conventional suburb, little changed since the 1970s or even the 1950s—a thousand homes over here, a tech park over there and big box stores somewhere else. Hmm, is that the best we can do?

Ottawa’s next official plan (OP) due out in 2021, the “OP for the 21st century,” will attempt to create a platform for creative people to try something different. Why might that appeal to future residents?

Well, in my view, we are heading towards a gig economy (if we like it or not) so whether you are a millennial, middle-aged or an elder, having a walkable, mixed-use place with plenty of opportunities to add to your income by developing your very own PB4L (personal business for life) or by benefiting from ownership or occupancy of real estate via a basement apartment, a coach house, a micro-store in your garage, a backyard workshop, a home office is likely to be a necessity especially given that CPP (Canada Pension Plan) payments in 2018 averaged just $555 monthly. Needless to say, living on that is not poverty—it’s destitution.


Magic wand

When we were trying to Bring Back the Senators in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a team that hadn’t (at that point) played an NHL game since 1933, I talked to several mayors saying: “You have a magic wand; you can use it to create the zoning we need to build a palladium (our word for MCFs, major community facilities, at the time). Help us!” I could have also told them this was their chance to be fairy godmother to Cinderella but that might have been a bridge too far, so I held my peace on that score.

I still believe in that magic wand, however. The city approved Amazon’s site plan for its 1,000,000 sq ft distribution centre on Boundary road in three months; a process that normally takes more than a year. If it’s good enough for Amazon, why not for everyone else?


Other concepts

Here’re some concepts that the city might explore further as part of their ongoing OP process, including how to—

-develop an even larger cohort of entrepreneurs and startups                           

-become the FEHAJ (for every home a job) and PB4L capital of the world

-train immigrants & others to develop their own PB4Ls         

-take much greater advantage of local waterways & other natural features

-develop coaching/mentoring/volunteer programs—entrepreneurs who have well-trained advisers tend to start enterprises that grow much faster and survive much longer         

-provide growing firms with abundant mezzanine financing

-develop more sources of startup funding & a local currency (I call it the O-Town dollar!)                      

-become a lifetime-learning community

develop separate high schools for technological arts, trades and entrepreneurs      

-create internship/apprenticeship programs for high schoolers and college/university students

-develop and redevelop urban, suburban & rural communities using neo-urbanist principles including denser, more intense, walkable neighborhoods using some woonerf (living) streets

-integrate Ottawa & Gatineau more closely especially using light rail links

-obtain citizen/provincial buy-in of innovative cityscapes & OP policies                          

-create sustainable funding for Invest Ottawa

-make Ottawa-Gatineau a festival/foodie/tourism region     

-develop at least two more significant engines of growth, that is in addition to Ottawa’s big six—technology, government, healthcare, education, tourism & real estate

-rebrand multilingual Ottawa-Gatineau as a giant startup factory and “Canada all in one city,” making the capital symbolize the whole country as a leader not only in terms of economic development but environmental sustainability as well

-become an animated/experimental city     

-find ways to keep Ottawa an affordable housing city             

-give entrepreneurs the ability to own their own premises as well as living and working on one site



There will be numerous opportunities to add to this list or comment (positively or negatively) on any individual policy direction. Part of my job as special economic adviser to the city of Ottawa is to listen to residents and concerned citizens as well as active players in the development industry. Please reach out to me via email if you’d like to make your views heard or if you’d like to attend one of our three upcoming live sessions with interesting panel members taking your questions and hearing your opinions.

Bruce M Firestone, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Century 21 Explorer Realty broker, Real Estate Investment and Business coach. Follow him on twitter @ProfBruce or email him bruce.firestone@century21.ca

Image source: © Jorge Royan / https://www.royan.com.ar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50453387

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.