In the past 20 years the population of Ottawa has increased at an explosive rate. In those days Kanata, Orleans, and Barrhaven were just small collections of houses tucked away outside the greenbelt. Today those areas are huge sprawling suburban neighbourhoods which have shown some of the fastest growth in the city. With new expansions being added every day these areas are indicative of the urban sprawl problems faced in Ottawa and many other cities.
In my mind there is really only one solution that is going to stop this sprawl and bring the city back to a size and design that is manageable and efficient.
Urban intensification is the only way by which the city is going to be able to reign in the ballooning infrastructure and maintenance costs associated with the continual expansion of the suburbs.
The following are a few steps that the city needs to take to help promote building vertically instead of horizontally:
The City of Ottawa is made up of not only dense urban areas but, since the amalgamation in 2001, also includes the suburban areas of Kanata, Nepean, Orleans, and Barrhaven, the rural communities of Carp, Dunrobin, and Manotick and huge swaths of outlying farmland. This makes the city extremely complicated to control as the same by-laws and regulations that apply to one areas does not necessarily make sense for the whole city. As such the first step the city should take is to separate the outlying farm and rural communities their own county, giving them the control they want and letting the city focus on the dense urban areas.
After removing the outlying areas the city needs to stop granting permits allowing developers to rezone farmland into residential land on which to build more suburbs. If the developers cant find enough land to build on in Ottawa then maybe they need to start rethinking how they use the land we already have.
With the expansion of the suburbs halted the attention must turn to how the land we already have is used. This means a complete rethink of how the city land is zoned. This would mean that all the suburban neighbourhoods would be permanently zoned as residential only while the business parks in these areas would be grandfathered and would be allowed to expand vertically but not in area. The centre-town areas would be zoned so as to both allow and force all development to be as tall as is allowable, with considerations for the restrictions around the Peace Tower. The areas outside centre-town such as Westboro, Vanier, Nepean, and the Glebe, would be zoned to allow for medium-sized condo towers near busy streets and low-rise condo buildings throughout the neighbourhoods. These measures will promote intensification of the urban areas and make sure that the inner-city space is being used to its full capacity.
With the rezoning of the city complete planners can move on the a reorganization of the property tax scheme used. Property tax should retain a certain amount of the current system which looks at house frontage, and city services provided but should now include a component related to distance from downtown. By adding in a rebate, or discount, based on how close you live to downtown as well as discounts for living in apartment buildings and condos the city will be promoting people moving to denser urban areas while discouraging people from living in sprawling suburbs. The combination of compelling people to move closer to downtown while also encouraging building taller buildings will work together to help stop urban sprawl.
These measures will make it easier for the city to provide services to more people over a much smaller areas, something which will allow for huge savings.
There will of course be people who are opposed to this restructuring plan. These people will still be free to live in their large suburban and rural house but they should be prepared to either pay extremely high property tax or accept that they will be outside of the City of Ottawa where they will receive none of the same municipal services they would expect from an urban setting. They will instead have to work out how to get running water, internet, garbage pick up, and all the other benefits a city provides from their local county council instead.