Feature – Making the Future Bright
By Jennifer Campbell
Creating more vibrant, healthy, and complete neighbourhoods is the goal of the City of Ottawa’s current Infrastructure Master Plan. It also aims to ensure long term affordability for the city government and residents.
To achieve that goal, the city must ensure there is enough infrastructure capacity to accommodate all of the development happening as Ottawa’s population pushes one million inhabitants. The city must weigh development against environmental concerns and it must build more compact neighbourhoods, where people can live, work and play while minimizing their need to drive and maximizing their ability to cycle and walk.
When we think about development and infrastructure, we also think of the big projects—light rail, the redevelopment of Elgin Street, and the soon-to-be reimagined LeBreton Flats redevelopment. To talk about what they foresee for Ottawa on the infrastructure and development front, we consulted three experts. We also asked them about interesting projects they’ve undertaken and their wish lists for the future.
Alexis Ashworth is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa, which builds affordable homes for families in need. In terms of trends, she sees an urgent need for affordable housing, one that might surprise those who think affluent Ottawa is free from such needs.
“There’s a 10,000-person waiting list to get into social housing in Ottawa,” Ashworth says. “We have an affordable housing need that’s reaching a crisis level. Shelters are full and people can’t get into social housing.”
Between 30-40 per cent of families who move into Habitat housing come from social housing, which means they free up one such unit when they move into a Habitat home.
“Stronger communities are built when families of all income ranges are included,” Ashworth says.
Meanwhile Brigil president Gilles Desjardins, whose company has built more than 10,000 units in 30 different communities in the region, says he sees active retirees and seniors looking to spoil themselves, while also shedding the responsibilities of property ownership. He envisions even more high-rise buildings—especially in the downtown area—and more mixed development, in which commercial, residential and recreational facilities intertwine. Brigil is building one such project in Orleans. Petrie’s Landing will feature 600 new condo units, on top of an existing 400 units, as well as a commercial centre and office tower.
Kevin Skinner, vice-president of PCL Constructors Canada Inc., applauded the city’s “strategic approach” to development, highlighting the light-rail project. He says the city is working well with the federal government to make sure Ottawa is a liveable city worthy of its national-capital status.
“We’re hoping the private sector will be able to deliver on some of the dreams of densification in Ottawa like they’re doing in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal,” Skinner says. “There are neat concepts coming out, but we don’t know what future generations are going to want.”
He noted that disruptive technologies such as Uber, Lyft, electric and autonomous vehicles are all going to play into the future development of cities, and commercial development will become increasingly “smart and green” as cities move toward a zero-carbon footprint.
Asked about his favourite project, Skinner named the Parliamentary precinct—specifically developing the West Block into the temporary House of Commons and moving the Senate chambers into the old train station. He has a lot to choose from, including the Canadian War Museum, Museum of Nature, the Rideau Centre and National Arts Centre redevelopments and the Ottawa airport, to name just a few.
“West Block was pretty special to me,” he says. “It put it all into perspective—what we did as a company—and it was on time and on budget. It also was a great demonstration of how the government and private sector can work in partnership to get complex things done.”
Desjardins named two leading-edge developments from Brigil’s Pinnacle brand, a concept inspired by the services offered by major hotels. The twin 33-storey luxury condo towers being built on Parkdale Avenue are one example of this kind of development as are the three 13-storey condo buildings being developed at the junction of the 416 and 417 highways.
For Ashworth’s part, she’s excited that Habitat is launching its second-largest development project in 2021. The project consists of approximately 11 townhouses on Mac Street in Ottawa South and will be built in two phases over two years. Adding to her excitement is that the Governor General’s Foot Guard, in honour of its 150th anniversary in June 2022, has committed to raising $250,000 for the Mac Street development.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with them on this exciting initiative,” Ashworth says.
The future looks bright
When it comes to projects Skinner would put high on his wish list, he named the LeBreton Flats redevelopment.
“It used to be the centre of Ottawa 150 years ago and I think the concept put out by the NCC was really forward-thinking,” he says, and adds that he’d like to continue to work on the Parliamentary precinct, “to make sure our heritage stays in place.”
As for Desjardins, he says Brigil’s future is bright.
“We will deliver more than 5,000 units by 2024 in a dozen new communities,” he says. “I want Brigil to continue to be a leader, supported by the best partners and the best people.”
Ashworth wishes Ottawa developers were more open to partnerships, suggesting they “not be afraid of the NIMBY of partnering with not-for-profits.” She also says Habitat supports inclusionary zoning, which ensures affordable housing is included in new developments. Many Habitat chapters have fruitful relationships with developers and Ottawa has had successful partnerships with PCL and The Regional Group, but so far, those are the only ones.
“The challenge for us is paying market price for land,” Ashworth says. “Builder partnerships can work really successfully. It just hasn’t happened yet in Ottawa.”
Jennifer Campbell is an Ottawa writer and editor. She has written for numerous newspapers and magazines and is currently the editor of Diplomat magazine.