The intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and heightened attention to pervasive anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism provide a context for urgently rethinking and reshaping our society.
With COVID-19, the City of Ottawa has shown it can react quickly in an emergency–but has not yet been able to reimagine and redirect investments towards a more environmentally and socially just city.
In contrast to other cities around the world, Ottawa has been reluctant to reallocate public space to walking, biking and other sustainable uses; and is not treating the climate emergency and other important public investments with the urgency they require. On the contrary, at a City Council meeting on June 24, 2020, city staff presented budget scenarios that include a $2-million reduction in the budget to address the climate emergency, and cuts to social services. These are likely on the agenda for the City’s Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.
The key decision is being expressed as what proportion of growth should happen within the existing urban boundary (through intensification), how much through development on vacant land within the boundary, and how much through growth outside the boundary (in rural areas of Ottawa), by expanding the urban boundary.
It’s not really the first question that should be considered. A first step is to look at what kind of growth we are undertaking. Intensification can create livable and sustainable cities, but not the way Ottawa has been doing it. Planning and intensification within the current urban boundary have been driven by the interests of developers, often ignoring city and community plans, the value of existing built and natural environments, and the kind of city that residents want. It’s been led by financial considerations rather than people- and environment-focused ones.
The boundary debate also hasn’t taken into sufficient account who we’re planning and building for. Who will Ottawa’s residents be, what kind of housing and services will be appropriate and affordable for them? How can we increase walkability, social connectedness, and other important features?
Many residents, and groups including Ecology Ottawa, Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and Healthy Transportation Coalition, are calling on Ottawa City Council not to expand the urban boundary, but rather to Hold the Line. They’re saying that in a climate emergency, Ottawa’s official plan needs to be a climate emergency plan. Expanding the urban boundary will only increase the economic, environmental and social costs that residents will have to bear, including the costs of building and maintaining car-centric roads, expanding connections to water, sewer and other infrastructure, and potential destruction of agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands.
Immerse yourself in these tree- and greening-inspired events coming up this weekend and this month:
Depaving Event: The Champlain Park Community Association, Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, the City of Ottawa, EnviroCentre and other partners are hosting a depaving event on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 from 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Volunteers are invited to help remove one block of pavement from Pontiac Street, between Carleton and Cowley Avenues. Replacing the asphalt with grass will expand Champlain Park and connect it with NCC parkway greenspace. Details are available on Councillor Jeff Leiper’s website and the Facebook event page. Find out more about the importance of depaving for the environment on Depave Paradise’s website.
Speaking for the Trees Book Talk: The Ottawa International Writers Festival hosts renowned botanist, biochemist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger for a discussion of her book, To Speak for the Trees, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 from 2-4 p.m. at Library and Archives Canada. Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s writings have changed the way we think about trees, their value and our relationship to them. Her book shares her journey and explains how trees are part of the solution to the climate emergency in ways we might not be aware of. Find out more and register through the OIWF website.
PhotoSynthesis Festival: Tree Fest Ottawa’s PhotoSynthesis III festival is on now until Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 at Lansdowne Park. This year’s photography exhibit focuses on Pollinators and the Urban Forest. In addition, programming on Sunday Oct. 6, 2019 from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. includes a talk on native pollinator health in Ottawa, a guided walk on pollinator gardens, a nature scavenger hunt, a bee box making workshop, stories and mural painting.
Fall Rhapsody: The NCC’s Fall Rhapsody takes place from Saturday, Oct. 5-Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019 in Ottawa’s core, the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park. The website has tips on where to find beautiful fall colours and activities taking place across the national capital region. A sample of activities includes brunch and family yoga in Gatineau Park, guided nature hikes at Lac Philippe, a picnic and kite flying in Meech Creek Valley, Anishinabe Nibin (Algonquin summer) cultural activities, and more. On weekends, there are free shuttles from downtown Ottawa to Gatineau Park and Camp Fortune.
Forest Bathing: The Garden Promenade and Forest Therapy Ottawa are offering an opportunity to experience forest bathing in the fall colours of the Dominion Arboretum, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Find out more and register on Eventbrite. Check out Forest Therapy Ottawa’s website for more information on the benefits of quality time spent in forests, and on other upcoming forest wellness events.
CommuniTree Conference: Blackburn Community Association, in partnership with Just Food and Ecology Ottawa, is holding a CommuniTree Conference on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019 from 9 a.m.-1:15 p.m. at the Just Food Farm. Sessions cover the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan and Tree Bylaw, urban forest sustainability, the Healing Forests project, citizen science and community tree mapping, and a walking tour of a community food forest. Register in advance through the Blackburn Community Association website.
Around the world, people are demanding immediate action to address the climate emergency. Young people in particular, through #FridaysforFuture and #GlobalClimateStrike, and inspired by Greta Thunberg, have been speaking out about the need for those in power to do things differently.
In Ottawa-Gatineau, on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, young people, environmental groups, workplaces, and anyone who has a stake in our shared climate future are taking time out to gather on Parliament Hill to support the call for action.
People will be meeting at 11:30 a.m. at Confederation Park (corner Elgin and Laurier) in Ottawa, and the corner of Portage and Laval in Gatineau, then heading to Parliament Hill. Join if you can. Check for details and updates on the event page.
June is a great month for creative, city-building events in Ottawa. Here are two happening the first weekend in June:
Doors Open Ottawa 2019
Have you ever wanted to see what happens behind the scenes at a local museum or historic site, learn what goes on at a food centre or greenhouse, experience an innovation centre, get to know embassies or places of worship, or visit a wildlife sanctuary? More than 130 sites of architectural, historic, cultural, religious, scientific or social significance are opening their doors to visitors on Saturday June 1 and/or Sunday June 2, 2019 for Doors Open Ottawa. A free shuttle bus takes people between many of the buildings, and more than 50 are downtown within walking distance of each other. Find details, including a list of participating buildings and an interactive map, on the City of Ottawa’s website.
Intergenerational Day 2019
For the first time, thanks to local organizers, Ottawa will be part of Intergenerational Day. On Saturday, June 1, 2019, groups around the city will host activities that bring together people of all ages, build relationships and celebrate the contributions of all generations. Everyone is invited to participate in events, and even contribute individual actions, large or small. Intergenerational Day events in Ottawa include community plant sales/swaps, art exhibits and fairs, neighbourhood garage sales and even an intergenerational picnic with a focus on climate action. Find out more (or contribute an activity!) on the iGenOttawa website.