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Hold the Line on Urban Sprawl, Local Campaigners Urge Ottawa City Council

Holding the line on the City of Ottawa’s urban boundary is an essential first step if the community hopes to do its part to get the climate crisis under control, local green space advocate Daniel Buckles wrote in a recent Ottawa Citizen op ed.

While city staff are likely to recommend that elected councillors expand the boundary by 1,200 hectares, holding the line “supports action on the climate emergency,” while connecting with “what people truly care about” in their communities, Buckles argues on behalf of the People’s Official Plan for Ottawa’s Climate Emergency. “The city has not yet demonstrated that it has done its best to hold the line, and must do so now before any decision is made on a land budget for the new Official Plan.”

Too often, “environmental, economic, health, and social equity goals are pitched against each other, as though we can never have one without the other,” he writes. But “a Greenspace Alliance assessment, using city data on population growth, housing needs, and land available within the current urban boundary and within rural villages, shows a viable path to population growth without urban expansion.”

And the approach has some prospect of earning majority support in a council vote coming up March 30: only 11 or 23 councillors responded to a Greenspace Alliance survey shortly after the last municipal election, but 10 of them supported holding the line.

That makes sense, Buckles adds, since containing urban sprawl supports an array of local goals: it keeps local taxes down, by dodging the massive cost of new roads, sewers, and water mains, and makes affordability and inclusion a priority in a community that has just declared a housing and homelessness emergency.

“A 2009 City of Calgary report show that it costs about 30% more to provide city services to new neighbourhoods that are built on the edge of the city, compared to homes built within the existing city limits,” he writes. And “new single-family homes on the outskirts of Ottawa are less affordable than homes in low-rise, multi-unit sustainable buildings that can be built or redeveloped in many neighbourhoods throughout the city.”

Local residents are also concerned about protecting farmland in a large, extended city whose geographic footprint is about 70% rural. “Ottawa could produce a lot more of its own food than we do currently, and these lands are vital to that future,” Buckles writes. 

At the same time, “a plurality of people care about having a grocery store, a park, and a library within walking distance from their home,” and “expansion of the urban boundary weakens efforts to create denser, inclusive, healthy neighbourhoods with nearby services.”

All of those values match up with an effort to get local greenhouse gas emissions under control. “Urban sprawl would increase carbon emissions and human stress through thousands of additional kilometres driven by new residents dispersed in the farthest reaches of the urban area, when we should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation,” he says. And “it would undermine the city’s Climate Change Master Plan by locking in a carbon emission future much higher than it needs to be.”

[Disclosure: The Energy Mix publisher Mitchell Beer is a volunteer with the People’s Official Plan for Ottawa’s Climate Emergency.]