As condo after condo is planned in the Wellington West neighbourhood, intensification is seen as an inevitable by many local citizens. City of Ottawa planners and councilors promote intensification all the while musing on the increased tax base a new seven storey condo will provide. Citizens begrudgingly accept that the new condo development, whether in their backyard, on their street, or in their neighbourhood will increase traffic but they also hope that the new developments may encourage new businesses and increase public transit and community services. But what really is driving this move to intensify our cities?
The promotion of urban intensification, or densification or infill as it is otherwise known, can be attributed in part to the popularization of the urban planning theory of Smart Growth. Smart Growth theory promotes the construction and reconstruction of compact communities in the center of the city, as a more sustainable approach than continuing urban sprawl. Smart growth communities are transit oriented, bicycle and pedestrian friendly and promote local jobs and services.
Smart growth policies and practices, struggle with how to densify an urban neighbourhood and still make room for diversity and equity. Although equity is part of Smart Growth in theory, it is often a challenge in many communities in practice. In thinking about the multitude of new construction taking place on Wellington and Richmond roads there is an absence of even a glimmer of affordable housing and instead the heightened popularity of the area is increasing the costs of housing and rental units and pricing many long time residents right out of the market and the area.
One land use planning tool prescribed by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to compensate a community for allowing increased height and density in their neighbourhood is Height and Density Bonusing. In exchange for increased height that surpasses the zoning by-law, developers are required to provide a service or benefit to the community as negotiated by the municipality. For example, an additional two storeys would require the developer to set aside a space inside the building for affordable housing, daycare facility or restore a local park. Some European countries have incentives to trade density for green roofs and other environmental services. Toronto and Vancouver have long established histories of using density bonusing to encourage the developer to give back to the community. The City of Ottawa does not yet. Density bonusing policies must be written into a municipality’s Official Plan in order for it to be used as a development tool.
Since the early 1990’s the City of Ottawa has made intensification part of its planning strategy. In the proposed Official Plan, the City has established density targets that it hopes to reach through intensification. In the Wellington West neighbourhood, intensification is hurling along but there seems to be an absence of other aspects of Smart Growth. Where is the increased access to transit, bike lanes and affordable housing? How is the intensification of our neigbourhood actually limiting sprawl into the greenbelt and beyond? Why are City staff not encouraging the use of tools like density bonusing to give back to the community?