By Alvin Tsang
Kitchissippi is seeing increasing interest for walkable neighbourhoods.
Walkable Ottawa is an initiative that works with residents, community associations, real-estate developers and environmentalists to ensure the existence of 15-minute neighbourhoods. The goal is to transition every neighbourhood to become walkable and complete (with shops, services, parks and recreation — everything residents need) within a 15-minute walk from every direction.
Architect Rosaline J. Hill, who founded Walkable Ottawa in May 2020, believed that if the idea of walkable neighbourhoods was as real and serious as her data suggested, the ideas and conversations could no longer be vague.
“There was no clear sense to get from where we are to where we are going,” said Hill. “Walkable neighbourhoods would be a huge impact on emissions. It exceeds anything else we can do for emissions — it’s huge! I can spend my whole life recycling and not touch this level of impact. The impacts on human health are extraordinary, yet the conversation is all very vague.”
While there has been a lot of high-level talk from the City of Ottawa this past year, Hill said the subject of walkability has been met with confused conversation around what it means.
Hill started Walkable Ottawa on the idea that she could get together a group of people to begin collaborating on as large a scale as possible. The goal was to figure out what it would take to transition actual existing neighbourhoods from where they are right now — which are predominantly car-dependent — to fully walkable.
“The issues relevant in Kitchissippi?” said Hill. “First, the narrow streets and the winter danger of walking in Hintonburg. Second, the shortage of trees and parks. Walkable-neighbourhood shade from trees is important. Having parks as destinations to walk to is important. That’s a great starting point there.”
Hintonburg is home to the Parkdale Farmer’s Market and is predominantly a residential neighbourhood with a commercial strip along Wellington. But the situation in Westboro is a bit different.
“In Westboro, there are parts of the neighbourhood where there aren’t shops to walk to,” said Hill. “That’s the primary challenge there: making sure everyone has somewhere within distance to walk to shops.”
The transition to a 15-minute neighbourhood for Westboro could mean reduced emissions and greener streets.
“Westboro already has lots of trees, and the challenge there will be to maintain the tree canopy despite the ongoing infill and construction there,” explained Hill.
The City of Ottawa was said to have little commitment to increasing tree canopy in its policy framework, Hill said.
“There’s also a great community frustration in Westboro about garage doors facing the streets,” Hill added.
A key part of the recipe for walkable neighbourhoods is to ensure new developments have “people spaces,” as Hill called them, such as porches, terraces, balconies and patios — not garage doors. “People spaces” can go a long way to improve walkability.
Since its launch a year ago, Walkable Ottawa dedicated its efforts to understanding an appropriate definition of “walkable,” and spent the year analyzing the dynamics of change in neighbourhoods. The goal now is to shift the dynamic from an old trajectory to a new one.
“One of the really important things we’ve discovered is that the dynamics of change in a neighbourhood function like an ecosystem,” said Hill.
A key lesson that came out of Walkable Ottawa’s collaboration and analysis was the factor of interdependencies when changing patterns of growth and development, Hill said. What Hintonburg and Westboro would need is a holistic approach for change that covers all bases.
“We are so embedded in our car culture. We can’t expect to add some sidewalks and a couple of nice benches, and everyone gets out of their cars,” said Hill.
Of those interdependent pieces, a big one was to stimulate the development of small services and shops to walk to. Another piece was allowing the shops to be located in places that neighbourhood residents would naturally walk by.
“We need to stop building the kinds of shops that we enjoy going to in our cars, and we need to start building the kinds of shops that we enjoy walking to,” said Hill.
“Because if we keep building them both, we know who’s going to win,” she added.
To learn more, visit walkableottawa.ca.