How do you build a 10-minute neighbourhood? Ask this week's livable cities conference

Ottawa is playing host this week to a major international urban planning conference — and its goal is figuring out how to build neighbourhoods where everything's within a 10-minute walk.

International Making Cities Livable Conference kicks off today at the Shaw Centre

Rideau-Rockliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum poses with some of the objects he say represent goals of city planning, including a watering can, coffee cup, transit pass, library card and bicycle. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Ottawa is playing host this week to a major international urban planning conference — and its goal is figuring out how to build neighbourhoods where everything's within a 10-minute walk. 

The city made the bid to host the International Making Cities Livable Conference to coincide with the opening year of the forthcoming light-rail line.

It's the first time in the conference's 55 years that it's been held in Canada.

"The timing is no accident. It's the same year as LRT, which will have very, very profound implications for the city," said Alain Miguelez, the facilitator of the city's bid.

"It will change [city life] for the better in terms of mobility and how it grows." 

Maintaining 'the human scale'

An urban planner with the City of Ottawa and its program manager for community development, Miguelez said he's looking forward to a number of talks at this week's conference, which runs until Friday.

One he's intrigued by focuses on suburban development in Rome. Another, he said, will discuss pedestrian-priority neighbourhoods in Barcelona.

"It's really about [maintaining] the human scale as you grow as a city, as the population gets bigger, as you have more employment opportunities, more cultural offerings," he said.

Pedestrians and a cyclist pass by a fruit store in Barcelona's El Raval neighbourhood. One of the discussions at this week's conference will focus on how the Spanish city has built pedestrian-friendly communities. (Santi Palacios/The Associated Press)

Ottawa councillor among speakers

There are also several Canadian presenters at the five-day conference, including former City of Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum.

Nussbaum's presentation focuses on a handful of objects that, for him, represent the principles behind good neighbourhood planning.

"We've got the bicycle and the Presto card, we've got the staircase, we've got the coffee cup, we've got the watering can, and we've got the library card," Nussbaum said.

Those objects, he said, represent core elements of community planning — like building sustainable transportation, fostering mid-rise housing developments, zoning for local businesses, preserving green space and funding community services.

"I think if we think of building cities through residents and what residents want, we can do a better job of building public support for the kind of change I think we need to get to those 10-minute neighbourhoods," Nussbaum said.

Cyclists and cars make their way down Somerset Street West in Ottawa on May 12, 2018. The bicycle is one of a handful of objects Coun. Tobi Nussbaum will be using as a symbol of strong urban development in his presentation at this week's conference. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Many attendees from outside Canada

Nussbaum said he's also looking forward to hearing from experts from other North American cities, and swapping notes on how Ottawa's rules for development are changing.

"Increasingly, we are ensuring mixed-use neighbourhoods. I think the mistakes of the past of where we're forcing people — particularly, who are living in new neighbourhoods — to drive are being fixed," he said.

The conference, which runs until Friday, has about 300 people registered, said Miguelez. Roughly half are from outside Canada.

Miguelez said the city is paying for some logistical arrangements for the conference and renting the Shaw Centre as part of its hosting duties.