Welcome to the 15-minute neighbourhood: Intensification key to city's official plan

Ottawa city councillors and the public got their first glance of five main policy objectives for the city’s new Official Plan that aims to create North America’s most liveable mid-size city.

Revised growth blueprint aims make capital North America's most 'liveable' mid-sized city

Planners here want to learn from such cities as Copenhagen to emulate their successes and avoid their failures. (John McConnico/Bloomberg News)

Ottawa's revised official plan aims to create a community of "15-minute neighbourhoods" that will transform the capital into North America's most liveable mid-sized city while planning for a population that will eventually double or even triple.

To reach that lofty goal, the 25-year growth blueprint unveiled Thursday at Ottawa City Hall is hard-focused on urban intensification instead of sprawl, creating residential hubs where people can get to most of their daily destinations — schools, grocery stores, public transit, parks and libraries — within a 15-minute walk from their homes.

We can't continue to have our city be entirely people coming from far-flung suburbs downtown to work, and then back again.- Coun. Jeff Leiper

"We have to start to think about what we need to put in place now to reach that two- to three-million threshold," said Alain Miguelez, a senior city planning official.

The city will learn from European cities including Oslo, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and from Portland, Ore., emulating their successes and avoiding their mistakes, Miguelez said.

"We want to incorporate whatever teachings we can borrow to make sure that we're avoiding the problems that they've experienced and that we're steering the city in the right direction to be a liveable city of that size," he said.

Ottawa surpassed the one-million population mark this summer. The capital region's population is expected to grow to two or even three million by 2046. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Bikes, trains and carpooling

To achieve its ambition, the city is aiming to have residents make significantly more than 50 per cent of their trips by foot, bicycle, public transit or by carpooling, Miguelez said. Currently, between 40 and 50 percent of residents' daily trips are made by some mode of transportation other than their personal vehicles.

Because the city's public transit system is undergoing a significant expansion, that dream is a distinct possibility, Miguelez said.

A close-up of a man's face.
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper agrees with the concept of intensification, but warns it must be properly planned. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

But as residents of downtown neighbourhoods have already discovered, intensification can come with certain pitfalls. 

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said he doesn't want to see an abrupt rise in high-density infills overnight.

"There has to be some kind of consideration given to residents who have lived in their neighbourhoods for decades that you're not suddenly waking up to a lowrise apartment building where there used to be a single-family home," he said.

Leiper agrees with the general concept of intensification — provided it's well-planned.

"We can't continue to have our city be entirely people coming from far-flung suburbs downtown to work, and then back again."