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Future of Ottawa: A bright future

By Kevin Bourne on January 30, 2015

This is the final part in our week-long series The Future of Ottawa.  In this post urban affairs analyst Kevin Bourne imagines what Ottawa will look like in the not so distant future.  Twitter users: use hashtag #futott if you want to discuss this series on Twitter.

Imagine a city where you hop on a train to meet up with your friends at the renovated and expanded downtown mall.  Imagine you’re driving down the highway and suddenly the skyline appears on the horizon signifying that you’re approaching the heart of the city.  It gets closer and closer until you’re engulfed in tall buildings, with tons of people to meet and things to do.  There’s an energy in the air.  No, you’re not in Toronto or Montreal; you’re in the Ottawa of the future.

Ottawa has sometimes been a source of frustration for both locals and Canadians.  Slow growth. Tons of potential never realized.

Three years ago I came to an enlightening  conclusion: “Ottawa is a late bloomer!” (I should know, I was one as well).  The term late bloomer is “…used metaphorically to describe a child or adolescent who develops slower than others in their age group, but eventually catches up and in some cases overtakes their peers…”(Wikipedia).  Sounds rather fitting for our city.

We’ve been called “the city that fun forgot” and a small town, but this is changing.  The completion of the first phase of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project may very well mark the beginning of our adulthood.  Here is how I believe Ottawa will change in the coming years.

Expanded downtown

Photo courtesy of Hassan Madhoun (courtesy of Flickr - creative commons)

Photo courtesy of Hassan Madhoun (courtesy of Flickr – creative commons)

The city’s vision is for clusters of development around LRT stations.  Lots surrounding the Trillium line, the Preston-Carling area, with buildings potentially up to 55 storeys, Bayview Station, Lebreton Flats and Chaudière Island in the west.

In the east, the city envisions buildings up to 45 storeys surrounding Lees Station which will hug the 417 similar to the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.  Hurdman Station will also have its share of towers.

If these plans pan out they will challenge our current thoughts on where downtown begins and ends.

Downtown as a destination

Downtown is going to become a destination in a way that it’s never been before.  The trip to downtown will be a lot more exciting and “big city” whether you’re taking the LRT or approaching the skyline on the highway.

Conventional thinking says that more employers will want to be located downtown.  Also, increased investment will lead to there being more things to do downtown.  We’re already talking about a new home for the Ottawa Senators on top of all the current developments.  Our downtown has the opportunity to truly become the economic and culturally hub that it’s supposed to be.

Private sector driven growth

The federal government will always be important to the region, but the private sector is now playing more of a prominent role in city-building.

We’ve seen the private sector initiate the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.  We’ve seen a developer take the initiative to develop the Domtar lands instead of waiting for the National Capital Commission.  We’ve seen about a billion dollars invested in major retail projects like mall expansions.  Invest Ottawa is helping companies to create jobs.

As Ottawa evolves into a bigger city, I believe this kind of private sector-led growth will continue, if not increase.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see that a growth spurt is in full effect.  This decade will include some of the most significant development projects in our city’s history: the convention centre, Lansdowne Park, the Bayshore and Rideau Centre projects, the Tanger Outlets, the innovation centre, the Arts Court redevelopment, the National Arts Centre renovation, the Windmill waterfront project, 48-55 storey condo towers and the LRT project.

We will also host high profile events for Canada’s 150th birthday and could be well into the planning stages for a new central library and a hockey arena at Lebreton Flats.  This is significant growth within 10 years.

There are two things that distinguish a big city from a small town: urbanism and economics.  As Ottawa becomes more urbanized through LRT and higher density buildings, as the private sector continues to play a significant role in the city, and as we make more investments in the cultural sector, we will become more of a centre of economic and cultural activity where people will want to live and work.

This is the real Ottawa; the Ottawa of the future.  Can the real Ottawa please stand up?

Kevin Bourne is a well known analyst of development-related issues in Ottawa.