The growth of Ottawa; one size does not fit all

In Ottawa, the shadow of this battle has been the white elephant in the corner for years now.

Battle-lines have been drawn up and much of the political jockeying we see at City Hall right now have grown from these seed of discontent.

Ottawa is a very unique town.

From a social planning perspective, likely too unique.

The results of a giant amalgamation in 2001, with former Ontario Premier Mike Harris adding his weight, have shown to be a recipe for urban sprawl.

The original plan for amalgamation was essentially a desire based on a design for future growth.

And now the urban councilors are facing the rural councillors on that topic, or ‘urban sprawl’ as many of the downtown officials often cite.

This is a City that goes north to the Arnprior line, east to almost Clarence-Rockland and then south to nearly Kemptville.

That’s an impressive tax base but with 2,790 square kilometres but it also brings with it around 6,000 kilometres in roadways — and that is a giant challenge.

It may be a bit of a pipe dream to expect good roads in rural Ottawa, ever.

The architects of this amalgamation were either tax hungry or simply too ambitious.

Driving the city-line is the equivalent of driving from Copenhagen to Barcelona, and back!

And you’d even have enough distance available to fit in a side trip to Berlin.

This is Canada. European designed social planning does not make for a perfect template. One size does not fit all. We have space.

Speaking of size; imagine this; you can also fit the major cities of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto inside that Ottawa boundary.

We have over 6 kilometres per person here in Ottawa!

Jim Watson’s solution for all of this has been light rail transit. To be fair, this has been discussed in this town for many years. Our first commuter rail project goes back to the late 50’s on the CN Rail track.
It’s a novel idea except that many residents living in rural Ottawa will pay — but not really see the fruits of their tax money, if at all.

Phase 3, if all goes well, LRT will not arrive in west Ottawa until around the early 2030’s at the cost of around 5 billion more. Work is already underway on Phase 2 and if we can believe in timelines anymore, it should be completed in 2022 at the cost of 4.66 billion dollars.

Phase 1 has been a nightmare so far, and you can’t convince me that there isn’t some relief downtown, for this file at least, in this sudden unexpected turn of unprecedented events.

TOPSHOT - A large portion of Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa, Ontario is seen caved in, causing a massive sinkhole that knocked out power to the majority of the downtown area on June 8, 2016.The massive sinkhole formed next to a shopping mall in downtown Ottawa, caused a gas leak and forced the evacuation of all nearby businesses. / AFP / (Chris Roussakis/AFP) / Chris Roussakis        (Photo credit should read CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/AFP via Getty Images)

TOPSHOT - A large portion of Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa, Ontario is seen caved in, causing a massive sinkhole that knocked out power to the majority of the downtown area on June 8, 2016.The massive sinkhole formed next to a shopping mall in downtown Ottawa, caused a gas leak and forced the evacuation of all nearby businesses. / AFP / (Chris Roussakis/AFP) / Chris Roussakis (Photo credit should read CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Thankfully they may be able to finally catch their breath and try and figure this out. For the sake of this city, and I hope for the best, we need for this to work.

For comparison sake, Edmonton and Calgary launched into light rail transit in the late 70’s-early 80’s while we decided to follow the bus route.

Meanwhile, our rural roads are in rough shape and our infrastructure is aging. In hindsight, you have to wonder; who couldn’t see this coming?

In a ‘state of the assets’ report done back in 2012, only about 15% of the paved local roads were rated ‘in good or better condition’ and only 1/3rd of gravel roads were given a passing grade.
Have our roads improved or worsened since? Take a county drive and let me know what you think.

When I campaigned for council in the summer and fall of 2014, it was easily the number one issue brought up at the doors here in rural Ottawa.

So with an estimated 400,000 (plus) coming to Ottawa in the next 25 years, where are they going to live and how
does that effect you and I?

If you listen to Jim Watson’s arch enemy, Shawn Menard, who is a downtown councillor in Ward 17, one would be led to believe that roads are the enemy and only bike-paths matter.

From a rural standpoint, in a town where only 2% travel to work on their bicycle, his opinions could be considered far from balanced and considerate.

He apparently has his preferred lifestyle picked, and apparently we’re all to follow:

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A well made point by Ottawa political watchdog, and former political candidate, Jay Tysick who pointed out “1.4B over 50 years is only 28M/year. that’s less than 1% of our City’s total current budget. How would you end homelessness with a 1% tax increase?”

I’d also like to point out that homelessness is not just a monetary issue. At times it’s a lifestyle choice and all the money in the world won’t eliminate it from the face of the earth.

Back to the rural/suburban lifestyle that many Ottawa citizens have chosen and accounts for 41% of the city’s overall population.

Many do not get the level of services, LRT access or even sidewalks that our urban counterparts do, but its a choice and ultimately you can’t tell people where to live.

It’s also important to point out that there are 26 different villages in Ottawa, all with their own unique flavour.

West Carleton-March city councilor Eli El-Chantiry made it clear where he stands and said in regards to good, sustainable farmland; ‘over his dead body’ will he allow it to be paved over for development.

Good, and I hope we realize that we need to support our farmers more too.

Maybe we need to keep them on their lands and allow more severances so that these heritage families can sustain this as well as their hard earned family birthrights?

If food supply isn’t viewed as an essential service, then I don’t know what essential means.

Another developer who attended the recent meetings also made a salient point. He said that if affordable housing is not provided inside the city limits, people would simply drive past the city limits to find permanent and affordable housing.

Good point, and you only have to look to the GTA to prove that point.

This is a complex problem, It’s not easy, I am not saying it is, but one thing I do believe is this; I think these problems were either the result of tax hunger or over-ambition.

It’s seems they bit off more than they could chew, and beyond all of our current challenges, It will all be very costly.

Jon “Gonzo” Mark is also a columnist for Ottawa Voice Community Newspapers

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