Urban Boundary Expansion Statement at the Joint Planning Committee/ Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee – May 11, 2020
By Kirstin Pulles on behalf of Free Transit Ottawa
May 11, 2020
As a representative of Free Transit Ottawa, I want to focus on how urban expansion impacts not only the functionality of the city, but also how equitably designed it is. We at Free Transit Ottawa do not support an expansion of the current urban boundary.
On April 24, 2019, the City of Ottawa declared a climate emergency acknowledging the need for massive reductions in carbon admissions. This can only happen if the city changes many of its policies, above all its approach to urban planning. You are being asked to make a choice here with clear environmental consequences. Providing for future housing needs by expanding the city’s boundary to allow for new single-family dwellings will only continue with the old policies which are incompatible with the need to massively reduce carbon emissions.
Transportation is responsible for 40 percent of Ottawa’s greenhouse gases. Cars are the main culprit and these can be reduced by 2/3rds on a per trip basis by using public transit. Expanding the boundary and single family dwellings works against this reduction. In most suburban neighbourhoods, necessary services are beyond walking distance forcing people to rely on private cars for the vast majority of their transportation needs. Low density development makes good public transit prohibitively expensive. I’m glad to hear many stakeholders focusing on transit in planning, but want to note that the declared intentions do not seem to match with reality. The relationship between urban sprawl and transit ridership have been shown to be inverse in study after study. Sprawl goes up, ridership goes down. I also again want note that we have seen ongoing ridership declines even without the added pressure of expansion.
Some claim that most people want to live in the suburbs, and that they willing to go afar for their dream home. However, a CHMC study finds that 80 per cent of homebuyers would give up a large house and a yard for a modest or attached dwelling where they could walk to amenities, take transit to work and commute in under 30 minutes. The argument is being made that price is a simple a question of supply and demand and so expanding the boundary will lower costs, but not all supply is equal. The supply of far away, car dependent, isolated single family homes does not meet the demand for housing in liveable communities close to work and vibrant neighbourhoods.
The city is claiming that the new developments outside of the existing urban boundary will be near rapid transit and key amenities. It will not be on agricultural or other resource oriented lands, or on fragile ecological zones such as the wetlands that protect us from worsened flooding. I want to note that these proposed neighbourhoods are much closer to existence within our urban boundary. There is little to hold developers accountable to the neighbourhoods they are proposing in order to sway us in favour of a plan with unreliable outcomes.
Others defend the expansion because they reject our current forms of densification. Agreed. These are too often ugly high-rises that offer very limited accommodation for families, or displace existing residents. Zoning laws are applied unevenly, and often without any apparent long term plan. Rent costs increase in the few walkable, livable neighbourhoods in the city as developers build luxury condos rather than affordable housing. But the answer is not to build out the suburbs but to democratize city planning and development. We are being given nightmarish pictures of how intensification may happen, but often these visions are being presented by developers with a vested interest in specific outcomes from this plan. I don’t think that developers should be seen as neutral sources of information in this debate. I don’t think that industry voices should control our urban development. A drive for profit must not have unlimited control over our future.
Our city has the power to direct development in democratic, community-oriented ways.
Our city needs to be viewed as a common space, where we make decisions collectively. We have a right to the city, to shape the space we share in order to shape our lives and communities. The city, its government and its people, not developers, need to be at the helm of urban planning.