Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) is holding a competition called Great Places in Canada, and several Ottawa sites are in the running.

Ottawa’s Chinatown and Old Ottawa South are nominated in the Neighbourhood category, Sussex Drive in the Street grouping, and the Brewer Park Oval and the South March Highlands in the Public Space category. As I write this, the South March Highlands has received over 8000 votes and is one of the frontrunners in all of Canada.

I’ve posted before about the South March Highlands, but if you don’t know the area you’re not alone. It’s one of our city’s best kept secrets, a little-explored area of forest and wetlands in west Ottawa that is home to over 650 species, including 18 species at risk. It’s considered sacred by Algonquin First Nations and has significant geographical and archaeological heritage.

The City and Province have recognized the Highlands as ecologically valuable, but despite some early planning efforts to protect it, only part of it is preserved—the rest is open to urban development. Last year the popular hiking and mountain biking area north of the Beaver Pond was bulldozed by a developer, KNL, for a planned residential subdivision. A group of individuals, community and environmental organizations in Ottawa and across Canada, the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, is trying to save the remainder.

Hopefully CIP’s Great Places in Canada competition will raise more awareness about the South March Highlands and other places that Ottawans—and Canadians—consider great. A panel of judges will select the winners; the sites that receive the most votes in each category will win the “People’s Choice.”

Please have a look at the nominations, and consider voting—you have until February 29, 2012 to vote for your favourites.

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