How Ottawa will change in the 2020s

Over the course of this decade, billions of dollars worth of projects in Ottawa promise to change the city in fundamental ways.

Rail link to airport, new central library among projects set to transform city

Ottawa is set to see billions of dollars worth in infrastructure projects across the city this decade. (CBC)

Over the course of this decade, billions of dollars worth of projects in Ottawa promise to change the city in fundamental ways.

Passengers should soon be able to step on the O-Train to get to the airport, more condos and apartments will likely appear near the transit stations and the core of downtown will continue to expand to the west, with the creation of a new Central Library and development at LeBreton Flats and the Zibi project.

David Gordon, a professor at Queen's University in the school of urban and regional planning and author of Town and Crown: An Illustrated History of Canada's Capital, is excited to see his hometown transform from a medium-sized city to a full-fledged, big Canadian city.

"I would describe this as the period when Ottawa's growing up," Gordon said.

"Hopefully we'll see a lot more intensification within the greenbelt and a slowing down of the very quick growth in areas like Orleans, Kanata and south Nepean."

Gordon, who grew up in Beacon Hill, sees Ottawa as similar to where Vancouver was a couple decades ago.

There's the promise of more urban development, better transit and more thriving community hubs but also concerns about rapid growth, especially around maintaining Ottawa's (relatively) less-expensive, family-friendly reputation.

"Ottawa's sort of looking now at the situation Vancouver's in today and wondering about how you grow up and get dense and probably a little nervous about how you do that while maintaining quality of life and affordability," he said.

"That will be a big challenge in the years ahead."

A revamped Elgin Street

An artist's rendering shows how Elgin Street will look once the City of Ottawa is finished work by the fall of 2020. (City of Ottawa)

One of the first major projects Ottawa residents may notice this decade is the revitalization of Elgin Street.

The $40-million project hit a major goal post in December, when car and pedestrian traffic returned to the restaurant-and-shop-lined street.

Starting this spring and until the fall of 2020, crews will put the finishing touches on Elgin. The street will see a final asphalt lift and landscaping and the installation of new street lights and public art.

Gordon said the corridor is going through a revitalization and could be on track to become more of a destination neighbourhood in the city again.

"That whole area of Ottawa has become a much more interesting place to live — similar to what's happening to Westboro," he said.

O-Train to expand, including to the airport

A look at how the next stage of light rail will extend to the airport and further east. (City of Ottawa)

Ottawa is following the footsteps of other major cities, including Toronto and San Francisco, with a rail link between the Ottawa International Airport and downtown.

The City of Ottawa expects passengers will soon be able to take the Trillium line down to the airport by 2022.

The O-Train's Confederation Line is also expected to get longer this decade as well. 

Tree removals and street work already started for stage two of the east-west rail route. The city plans to finish the east extension of the light-rail system all the way to Trim station by 2024 and extend to Moodie Station by 2025.

But don't start trip planning yet. As Ottawans remember, the first stage of the light-rail system took more than a year longer than expected to complete.

The cost of stage two of the light-rail system is expected to cost about $4.66 billion.

More people living near LRT stations

David Gordon, a professor at Queen's University in the school of urban and regional planning, says Ottawa may be where Vancouver was a couple decades ago, on the cusp of a development boom. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Over the next decade, Ottawa will likely see a boom in new residential units near the city's light-rail transit stations.

Both the $1.5 billion Zibi development on the Ottawa River and the National Capital Comission's plans to see a new neighbourhood at LeBreton Flats will see the city core grow further west, says Gordon.

The areas are served by both Pimisi and Bayview Stations. 

The NCC plans to sell its 21-hectare property in stages. Gordon calls the LeBreton development long overdue.

"That area's been vacant for way too long," he said.

The new Ottawa Central Library

Calgary's Central Library, pictured here, is one of the projects that inspired the Ottawa Central Library project. (Dave Dormer/CBC)

Most likely, the first LeBreton Flats development to start this decade will be Ottawa's new Central Library.

The $192.9-million, 216,000 square-foot facility next to Pimisi Station will include a cafe, genealogy centre, community services and house Library and Archives Canada materials and work spaces.

In 2019, the city consulted with the public on the new library's design and future amenities. The city wants the new Central Library to become a hub of collaboration, space to show exhibits and presentations and of course, loan books.

"I'm really looking forward to the new Central Library," said Gordon. "[Central libraries] have been very positive for Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Calgary. They've really helped as a major city amenity."

The city plans to finish the Ottawa Central Library by the end of 2024.

Renovations at Parliament Hill

Scaffolding and security fences will continue to be a fixture at Parliament Hill as work continues to rehabilitate buildings over much of the next decade. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

For most of the next ten years, scaffolding and construction crews will continue to be a fixture at Parliament Hill as crews work to repair buildings and update plumbing, electrical systems and windows.

The federal government calls the $3-billion rehabilitation project at Parliament Hill the most complex of its kind in Canada's history. 

The government is also building the second stage of its new visitor centre, which will link all the West, Centre and East Blocks at Parliament Hill.

"Being able to have a better visitor centre and a better visitor experience at Parliament Hill is going to be a very important part of the national capital region experience," said Gordon.

"It's a really magnificent set of buildings and it has a powerful effect on people to come and visit them."


  • A previous version of the story stated David Gordon's family was from Bells Corners, in fact he grew up in Beacon Hill.
    Jan 07, 2020 3:50 PM ET

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at