UrbSanity: Development doesn’t have to be a dirty word

Originally published in Centretown Buzz
by Jeff Salmon
August 22, 2014

Development—the dirty word that draws the ire of local residents who may otherwise be uninterested or uninvolved in their community.

Of course, this is an obvious generalization, because in every community there are a committed group of residents volunteering on community associations, or staying current with the events of the neighbourhood.

The threat of development, however, seems to be the rallying cry needed to grab the attention of the many residents who do not actively participate in community affairs on a regular basis.

It seems that the collective fear of development is a product of two things in particular—the precedent of uninspiring and insensitive projects around the city and a prevailing NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude.

There are, of course, plenty of examples of condo and infill projects that have missed the mark, and it is natural to worry that the proposed development near you may as well. However, we should not overlook the increasing number of quality projects popping up in Ottawa.

It is easy to be pessimistic, but redevelopment can enact positive change within communities as well as increase the value of properties in the area over time.

On the other hand, the NIMBY mentality may prove to be the more challenging hurdle to overcome, because if we see a string of well-designed, contextually respectful developments, people may not fear the worst when they see a “sold” sign go up down the street.

The challenge is that the NIMBY attitude is characterized by selfishness—“development is fine, even great, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me.”

The problem with this is that it paints all development with the same brush. Nobody wants to live next to a construction site: they can be noisy and messy, and they don’t look nice. But unfortunately that is not a valid reason to oppose a proposed project.

Generally speaking, we cannot criticize Ottawa for not meeting our expectations as a capital city, nor can we expect it to become a truly world class city overnight and without some disruption.

The City and its staff are certainly working towards improving the urban environment and the caliber of design in the city, and they are seeking our input.

Through an extensive consultation process, which included both community associations and developers, the City’s planning department prepared a set of urban infill design guidelines that have now been approved in principle.

In 2013, the City also conducted the “Building a Livable Ottawa Survey,” with questions addressing affordability, transportation planning, intensification and tall buildings, and growth in rural villages, to name a few. Locally they have also established the Centretown Community Design Plan in the last year.

The reward of the inclusive approach the City is taking is twofold. First, there is the opportunity to participate and have your opinions considered and, second, the hope is that the these design guidelines or policies achieve a balance between the interests of residents and communities and those of the developers.

With this in mind, residents and community associations can build on the proactive process that the City is employing by building relationships with the developers and architects who are producing good work around the city.

Communities can develop a shortlist of the ideal people, firms, and developers they would like to work with and approach them with opportunities, perhaps even before they are made public.

These opportunities would reward these developers and designers for the good work they have already produced while also establishing the expectation that the proposed project should be as good or better.

Furthermore, in the highly competitive world of development and construction, it sends a message to those not on the shortlist that they must do better or they may miss out on lucrative opportunities.

By actively seeking out good design and development for our neighbourhoods, we can hopefully put our fear of lackluster and insensitive projects behind us.

Beyond that, it is up to us to come to grips with the fact that development is going to happen. We are going to have to put up with the noise and mess but, hopefully, the inconvenience becomes a little more bearable knowing that a good project will be the result.

First things first, though: take a second to think about an infill project or condo that you really like and do a bit of research—who was the developer? Who was the architect?

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