The city’s council approved a 3,200-acre boundary expansion onto undeveloped lands in response to projected population growth
By Kate Ayers
As urban populations grow, the need for adequate housing also increases. The result? Municipalities and developers look to land surrounding cities. Often, however, this land is under cultivation.
“Ottawa, like many urban regions in Canada, has an urban growth boundary policy. It is to prevent leapfrogging outside of the boundary, and it states development has to happen within a set envelope,” Dr. Pierre Filion said to Farms.com. He’s a professor in the University of Waterloo’s school of planning.
“Over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been an interest in urban intensification to increase urban density within the existing parameter. One reason for this push was to protect agricultural land on the outskirts of cities. People live in higher densities in condo towers and apartment buildings, instead of single-family homes.”
Urban intensification requires less land for housing when populations grow, thus protecting surrounding agricultural land.
However, a projected population growth of 402,200 people in the city of Ottawa by 2046 suggests the need for an additional 194,800 homes, a May Real Estate News Exchange article said. Half of this development would occur in existing neighbourhoods and the remaining growth would extend onto undeveloped lands, a city staff member said.
So, City of Ottawa staff recently proposed to expand the urban boundary to allow construction of 23,300 homes in the city’s outskirts, a May CBC News article said. About 88 per cent of these units would be single-family dwellings and the remaining builds would be apartments.
This expansion is in addition to the 66,300 units already under development.
“In most places, farms that are close to the urban parameter already have options open,” Filion said.
“Speculators meet with these farmers and offer them good money so that, when it comes time to develop the area, the farm can become a construction site.”
In Ottawa’s case, “the decision about expanding urban boundaries is taking place during the pandemic,” Filion said.
“In these circumstances, some people argue it is not a good idea to encourage urban density because it makes people more susceptible to contagions. Rather, it is much better to have development in the suburban style where people have their own houses and they travel by car.”
Higher-density regions depend on public transit.
“When you have people packed into an LRT (light-rail transit), a bus, a subway car or a commuter train, it could be dangerous,” Filion said.
But overcrowded housing and higher-risk jobs, not general urban density, are the main concerns for disease transmission, he added.
Higher-density living offers several positives for residents, including vibrant communities.
This type of planning can “make for a more active and animated urban environment,” Filion said.
“It makes public spaces that are more lively, and pleasant environments that attract people. Higher-density living makes it more likely that people will walk or cycle. Distances between residential and business areas are short. If you have a denser urban centre, you need less investment in road infrastructure, such as highways and expressways.”
Since people do not need to commute far distances, higher-density living creates positive environmental effects, Filion said. Greenhouse gas emissions are lower, and natural and agricultural areas are protected.
However, as a result of COVID-19, a lot of uncertainty exists, Filion said. “People’s responses to the pandemic will impact how we develop areas.”