I have been reading with some trepidation the stories about the growth of the greater Ottawa area, especially in the west. I am wondering if this city is soon to become somewhere in which I will no longer want to live. Just recall the recent news stories: The Moody Drive to March Road portion of the 417 to be eight lanes — another 250,000 people in the region in ten years — more land to be re-zoned for commercial purposes — and on and on.
On a recent Friday morning I was travelling Merivale Road south from Baseline to the Greenbelt. At the Hunt Club intersection the traffic, visual pollution and new construction all brought to mind images of many parts of Toronto. I don't want to live in this city if what I saw is only going to get worse.
I am not alone in my fears. There have been postings to the National Capital FreeNet's Virtual Community Association (VCA) discussion group. Ottawa Citizen columnist Randal Denley has dealt with the matter. Even Fr. Dan Dubroy, pastor of St. Elizabeth parish, somewhat humourously addressed the subject in a recent homily.
In his VCA posting, Erwin Dreessen espoused the need for up front planning of transportation, rather than trying to correct the messes afterwards. He said: “On this and many other transportation challenges, a re-thinking of the issue - alleviating car traffic pressures at their source (modulating demand) rather than at the tail (laying pavement for rubber) - is required if we are to turn this region around, away from an otherwise inevitable deterioration of its livability and efficiency.”
He continued: “(L)et's keep our eye on the big picture. If we are to achieve a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels in 2007, as the Regional Official Plan calls for, then we cannot continue to do what we do. David Suzuki and Ralph Torrie see a 50% reduction over 30 years as quite feasible and likely the minimum required if we are to stand a chance of surviving on this planet. We have to act, re-think our approach to land use and movement of people and goods, and build for the future.”
Can we hope for this approach to work in Ottawa? Is there really a way to manage growth in a manner that keeps the amount of pavement in check? Yes, probably a way, but is there the will? This may require ‘capping' the size of the city at some level and saying, OK, that is enough growth.
Politicians and business interests seem to see growth as a wonderful indicator of urban robustness, but at some point we lose the good stuff (open space, waterways, clean (in relative terms) air, low crime rates, etc.) in favour of higher density, more roads, more cars, and a lower quality of life.
I like being able to walk 10 minutes from my home and arrive at green space like the Experimental Farm; or take a short bike ride and be alongside a waterway (Rideau Canal, Rideau River, Ottawa River or Jock River), or see the majesty of the Gatineau Hills from many vantage points, and so on. If these things which make Ottawa so worth calling home go by the wayside, I can't see myself staying here. Something very precious will have been lost forever for me, my children and many others. Is this the price of our city's success? If so, is such success worth the cost?
As we approach the municipal elections next month, this is, for me, one of the key issues upon which I will be judging candidates. If you agree you want to see growth controlled so as not to lose the very quality of life aspects which make living in (the new) Ottawa so wonderful the time to speak up is now. At the rate our region is growing, waiting even a few months will be too late.
Editor's Note: See the notice on page 10 for two All Candidates debates