[The self-explantory letter below was dated February 1995 at the time that there was a move afoot by the federal government to have the NCC sell off chunks of the greenbelt. It was only a well organised campaign led primarily by Jane Berlin that forced a retreat. After re-reading my letter five years later, I find I am totally unrepentent for any anguish it may have caused to the recipients.]
Dr. Q.Bristow. P.Eng.|
14th February 1995
The Ottawa Official Plan
The Ottawa Official Plan brochure "Inheriting the Future", with its talk of "compact neighbourhoods"
and a strategy of: "...support for sensitively increasing housing and job intensity...." seems to be
saying that the only way the city can operate on an economically viable basis in the future is if we all
live on top of each other in the smallest possible space. The fictional scenario presented of a
developer wanting to cram 48 housing units onto a single disused school site of less than two acres,
represents a timid and myopic vision for the capital city of a country which, following the breakup
of the Soviet Union, now has the largest landmass on the face of the Earth. Perhaps "Mortgaging the
future" would be a more appropriate title.
The Green Spaces
All the indications from the (too many) levels of government with their fingers in the local pie,
are that any green spaces owned by any one of them are regarded as economic liabilities. Either
because they involve actual outlays of money to maintain them (including, God forbid, the
employment of Canadians), or, because they represent capital which could be realised to supplement
their dwindling revenues.
The absurdity of this policy at this critical stage in the Ottawa economy, is that even though
governments insist on selling the green spaces to raise cash, nobody really wants to buy them, because
there is almost no market for new housing of any description (unless it's free), and not much for
"Neighbourhood-Commercial-Retail" development either. Witness the spaces left by bankrupt
businesses at all the local shopping centres.
With the impending Public Service cuts (a staggering 30,000 jobs or even more over three years seems actually possible, depending on who one talks to), we are absolutely certain to see an even more depressed market for residential and commercial development in the near future (see for example the "Ottawa Citizen" business section Saturday February 11th: "Capital Region Losing Ground; Ottawa-Carleton unemployment rate higher than eastern Ontario average for first time in many years; Local job loss jitters no joking matter"). Given these circumstances, it is surely the height of fiscal irresponsibility for governments to fly in the face of market forces and deliberately instigate unwanted, unnecessary and (at this inopportune time) economically risky development in the Ottawa area, by putting their green spaces up for sale simply in order to raise cash.
The local volunteers, municipal staff and the consultants have all done their best to make the public consultation aspect as meaningful as possible. Nevertheless the terms of reference given to them were such that they really cannot do very much other than say: "OK, it's good bye to your local green spaces whether you like it or not. We are here to ask you whether you want the buildings to be apartments, offices, health clinics, houses, strip malls, or a tossed salad of all the above". This reminds me of a quip from the venerable "Goon Show" repertoire which went: "Would you like your breakfast now, or when it's ready".
The four options offered reflect the view expressed above, in that there is little to choose
between them, and hanging on to the existing green spaces is not one of them. Of the four, number
one seems to be the least undesirable, since it would appear to involve the smallest increase in the
residential population, while avoiding excessive commercial activity.
The term "Low Profile Residential" means different things in different places. In all the options, the
term when applied to the "H" segment on the map, means "Single Family Homes", in all other
segments it means up to 4 storey buildings as well as single family houses. This is really quite
important and the more conventional (and more informative) designations such as "Multiple
Occupancy Residential" and "Single Family Residential" should replace the bureaucratically trendy
(but totally vague) planner-eeze, which seems to be creeping into everything these days. Having one
term to cover two totally different usages is either deliberate obfuscation or simple incompetence.
The higher population densities espoused by the grand plan means that with everything closer
together, noise pollution will become much more of an irritant than it already is, because as the
distance from a noise source is halved, the sound level energy is quadrupled (not just doubled). A
major and growing contributor to this is the noise from residential heat pumps, a problem which is
becoming increasingly intrusive as time goes on. Special attention should also be paid to the central
air conditioning plants on the tops of any office and apartment buildings. More stringent limits on
noise levels will need to be enacted and enforced to make life tolerable in the brave new (and more
The Alta Vista Parkway
The proposed Alta Vista Parkway is I suppose (regrettably) a fait accompli, on paper at least. I cannot imagine where the money is coming from, especially when governments profess to be so poverty stricken that they have to sell off their green spaces to make ends meet. [I note, en passant, that there is never a problem at any level of government when it comes to subsidising sports teams. For example the province has recently agreed to pay for the highway interchange required to make the Senators Palladium hockey rink accessible from the highway 417. The rationale was that it created much needed jobs. Nothing was said about how those same jobs could have been created for the benefit of the taxpayers whose money is being used, by (for example) advancing the schedule for the Highway 16 upgrade; without helping to create much needed profits for participants in a commercial business consortium to pay themselves and their stable of young hockey players outrageously inflated salaries, but that is of course another story]
I would argue very strongly that there be no exit ramps south of the Rideau River. The
raison d'etre for the wretched road as I understand it, is to create a conduit to down-town for the
commuters from the new Hunt Club road development via Conroy road. What I am reasonably sure
that we in the study area do not want, is for the conduit to spill traffic from an exit ramp down Smyth
Road and across the bridge to Main Street. I am equally sure however that it will be one of the
options the planners have in mind. We probably will not hear much about that until it is presented as
a given (having been settled in advance) in the appropriate planning and consultation study.
The Hon. John Manley M.P.
Mr. Dalton McGuinty M.P.P.
Mrs. Jacqueline Holzman, Mayor of the City of Ottawa
Mr. Peter Hume, Regional Councillor
Mr Allan Higdon, City of Ottawa Councillor
M. Marcel Beaudry, Chairman N.C.C.
Mr. John Hoyles, N.C.C. General Manager
Mr. John MacLeod, Visioning Committee member
Mrs. Jane Berlin, Member, Board of Directors, Alta Vista Community Assoc.,