Over the last six months, The Grid has become a place to record my ever-evolving understanding of Ottawa’s urban fabric and functions. When I started blogging in May, I had just moved here. This bestowed upon me the advantage of fresh eyes on the city, but also meant that I had to educate myself on the urban planning issues of an entirely new place.
Ottawa’s nature as a small-big city came in handy while writing my blog posts. As the national capital, the city boasted abundant urban planning projects and resources, on par with any large metropolis. Current projects included the construction on a new LRT system, a recently completed football stadium, and the transformation of the city core through condominium development.
But with just over one million people, Ottawa was still characterized by its strong sense of community. This meant that I could approach planners, community leaders and ordinary citizens with questions and receive informative responses. Through conversations with city planners and careful examination of city planning documents, I was soon up to speed with the city’s urban strengths and challenges.
I was particularly fascinated with the relationship between official plans and the final design outcomes they generated. One of my posts addressed the lack of open green space in Centretown, a neighbourhood experiencing strong condominium growth. By carefully reviewing official planning documents for Centretown, focusing on regulation concerning the development of green space, I learned what some of the city’s strategies were. Sometimes, much to my disappointment, it seemed that regulation was not producing the intended result, suggesting that a different planning approach might be needed.
Successful blogging often relies on conveying a personal experience as well as information. My most popular post describes my experience as a suburban biker in Ottawa. Much to my surprise, the post received numerous comments from readers who lived outside Ottawa, but who also lived in suburban locales and related strongly to my experience. The examples I provided from the Ottawa Cycling Plan may have helped readers generate similar strategies for their own cities.
My personal favorite blog involved taking a step back from the present to look at Ottawa’s planning history. I spent hours in the public library reading the Gréber Plan for Ottawa, prepared in 1950. It was unbelievable how much the city had changed in six decades, and how many of the changes were rooted in a document prepared by an urban planner and designer. The language of the Gréber Plan, far from being technical and dry, was full of exuberance, grandeur, and emotion, conveying a powerful vision for a new and better city.
Reading the Gréber Plan allowed me to appreciate planning as a long-term process that requires a strong vision and a lot of patience and persistence. More importantly, it opened my eyes to planning as a human activity, rooted in our desire to translate our values into beautiful and equitable built environments. Six months and twelve blog posts later, I owe my deeper appreciation of Ottawa’s evolving urban form to these investigations I made while writing for The Grid.
Credit: Images by Nour Aoude. All data linked to sources.