NOTEBOOK: We’re the guinea pigs for building better suburbs


The City of Ottawa sent out a press release earlier this week about progress on a long-term project called “Building Better and Smarter Suburbs”. (You can read the full press release below.)

Suburbs are changing, and the city’s policies, bylaws and planning/design guidelines need to be updated to adapt to the evolving environment. The Building Better and Smarter Suburbs project contains a series of strategies covering all sorts of issues.

For now the initiatives apply to “greenfield” developments – in other words, brand new subdivisions like the ones we keep seeing all over Stittsville.  In some ways we’re the guinea pigs – several of the ideas come from concepts tested on new subdivisions in our community, for better or for worse.

For example, in the Fairwinds development where I live, things like park space and street layout has worked out fairly well, but snow clearing and parking is an ongoing problem.

The first phase of the initiatives kicked off in 2015 with some “quick win” initiatives around traffic calming, parking, buses, trees and stormwater management.

The second phase presented this week was more focused on infrastructure.   I would highly recommend David Reevely’s analysis from the Ottawa Citizen. An excerpt:

“City Hall has pushed really hard to get denser suburbs, realizing that sprawl is expensive and inefficient, and it’s succeeded impressively. The standard new subdivision is far fuller of rowhouses and townhouses than it would have been 20 years ago. We’ve still been using old low-density standards for the public things we build to make the suburbs work.”

There’s a potential to save money by updating the standards. Take road design, for example. We can shave five metres off the width of low-speed suburban roads if we build raised cycle tracks next to sidewalks (instead of bike lanes on the road), and eliminate boulevards between lanes. The smaller roadway could save $12-million, or $87 per house, writes Reevely.

One recommendation that I’m not a fan of is the idea to allow builders to use sump pumps in new subdivisions, instead of more extensive (and expensive) pipes deeper underground.

That lowers the up-front expense for developers, but it shifts the burden (and significant risk) to homeowners.   Sump pumps have to be replaced from time to time, and ideally they need a constant source of power.  (The report doesn’t provide an analysis of any cost savings, recommending a pilot project instead.)

The report is a little dry but easy to follow. Read the entire Building Better and Smarter Suburbs report here…

For immediate release:
May 9, 2017

Committee sees progress on building better and smarter suburbs

The City’s Planning Committee today heard about progress on two important projects that are making new suburban communities more liveable, sustainable and affordable by finding efficiencies that reduce costs for construction, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure.

The City launched the Building Better and Smarter Suburbs initiative in 2013 to explore suburban design challenges. City staff highlighted work done in collaboration with Councillors and community stakeholders to address challenges like how to best locate City parks, get more trees on streets and handle stormwater in ways that will better use the land and make new communities more liveable.

Staff also reported on the Infrastructure Standards Review, designed to complement Building Better and Smarter Suburbs. The Committee heard about how the review will result in reduced costs to build and maintain infrastructure in new and existing communities while still meeting standards to ensure public health and safety.

The Committee also approved a Development Charge By-law Amendment. The City’s Development Charges By-law is being updated to reflect changes to the Development Charges Act that took effect in January 2016, related to Public Transit Services.

The approved changes also reflect the settlement of an Ontario Municipal Board appeal concerning the City’s 2014 Development Charges By-law, specifically concerning Roads and Related Services, as well as another related to intersection costs.

Following the Infrastructure Standards Review, the City has revised infrastructure standards that will make the construction and maintenance of new communities more cost-effective.

The Committee approved a proposal for a four-storey painted mural at 261 Montreal Road in Vanier, as well. The mural will be the tallest in Ottawa and will explore themes of diversity, community and inclusion. It will be unveiled later this year as part of a community celebration and to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Most items approved at today’s Planning Committee will go to City Council on Wednesday, May 24, but several, including the mural at 261 Montreal Road, will be before Council on Wednesday, May 10.


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