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Public Health and Planning Co-creating 15-minute Neighbourhoods in Ottawa

From link.



Located on the eastern boundary of Ontario, Ottawa is the capital of Canada and has over 1 million residents. It is the fourth largest city in the country and the second largest in Ontario. Residents born outside of the country make up almost 18% of Ottawa’s population with people arriving from around the world.

Ottawa’s economy is built largely around the technology sector and the federal government, but also benefits from a vital rural sector that contributes over $1 billion to the GDP. Ottawa’s agricultural sector includes about 300,000 acres of farmland and 1,300 agricultural operations and employs approximately 10,000 people.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH), which has responsibility for community health in Ottawa, is part of the City of Ottawa with a semi-autonomous Board of Health.


OPH co-located two of its staff in Ottawa’s Planning, Real Estate and Economic Development department for three years with the goal of having the City’s new OP rooted in a framework that creates healthy, inclusive and resilient communities.

“We were using what we characterized as the ‘Five C’s – compact, connected, convivial, complete and cool’ to describe our vision of the neighbourhoods that we wanted to create, but we found it difficult to advance this vision to the public and to our colleagues in planning in a way that integrated all of these features through planning levers,” explained Inge Roosendaal, Senior Planner with OPH. “We wanted a cohesive framework that would capture the concept of the five Cs so we pitched the idea of the ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ and it resonated with our stakeholders and communities.”
One of the OPH staff was a registered professional planner with a master’s degree in planning and experience in public health who understood the land use planning process and population health. The other had a master’s degree in geography with a specialization in environmental sciences, and work experience in health hazards, environmental policy, climate change, and urban planning.

“It was seminal to the achievement of public health’s goals that we were assigned to work with the Planning Department for the entire OP process,” noted Inge. “In the past, we were consulted only. This time, we were fully engaged at every stage in the process.”
“This allowed us time to gather relevant health evidence and to prepare one of the background papers that informed the development of the OP,” said Inge. “But more importantly, it gave us time to engage in discussions with colleagues in other departments and participate in meetings with consultants, the public, and developers at every stage in the process.”

The two public health staff had the support of senior staff in public health, including the Medical Officer of Health (MOH), as well as the support of the General Manager (GM) for the Planning, Real Estate and Economic Development department. The GM expressed the view that his goal was to have a new OP that ambitiously supports positive health outcomes as well.

“We consulted with other staff in public health, including senior staff, but ultimately, we were the people in the room, dealing with a wide range of complex and interconnected issues,” noted Inge. “Our senior staff understood that the process could not work if we were not empowered to make decisions with staff from other departments.”

The concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood was captured in a high-level policy directions report called the “5 Big Moves” that was approved by Ottawa City Council in September 2019 and became the framework around which the OP was built.

“We were consulting with the public on the 15-minute neighbourhood concept during the pandemic, so residents were really feeling the impact that their neighbourhoods were having on their daily lives,” said Inge. “That helped people appreciate how neighbourhood design affects their physical and mental well-being by influencing whether they can walk and cycle safely, access essential services, connect with others outdoors, get relief from extreme heat, or enjoy parks and greenspace.”


The new OP, which was approved by Ottawa City Council in November 2021, will guide development in the City until 2046. The City’s vision – to become the most livable mid-sized city in North America over the next century – is supported by five broad policies:

  • Accommodate more growth with intensification of existing neighbourhoods rather than with greenfield development.
  • Ensure that the majority of trips in 2046 will be made by sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, transit or carpooling.
  • Use sophisticated urban and community design principles to create stronger, more inclusive and vibrant neighbourhoods and villages that also reflect and integrate Ottawa’s economic, racial and gender diversity.
  • Embed environmental, climate and health resiliency and energy into the framework of planning policies to support walkable 15-minute neighbourhoods with a diverse mix of land uses, mature trees, greenspaces, and pathways, that help the City achieve its net zero climate commitment for 2050 and its 40% urban forest canopy cover target, and increase the City’s resiliency to the effects of climate change.
  • Embed economic development into the framework of the planning policies.
  • The OP includes six cross-cutting strategic policy directions that will be advanced with implementation policies that are captured in multiple sections of the OP. Three of these policy directions are: Healthy and Inclusive Communities, Climate Change and Energy, and Gender and Racial Equity.
The OP includes specific policy ‘hooks’ for these cross-cutting policies to help ensure that the strategic goals are implemented through multiple planning aspects and levers. Because the OP sets the broad policy framework for how Ottawa grows, these policy hooks will be supported by other policies and plans that have been, or will be, developed by the City. For example, the City released a 15-Minute Neighbourhoods Baseline Report in September 2021 that analyzes existing neighbourhoods using newly developed criteria and methodology for assessing 15-minute neighbourhoods and identifies the next steps for implementing the policy goals enshrined in the OP.

Ottawa describes 15-minute neighbourhoods as: “compact, well-connected places with a clustering of a diverse mix of land uses; this includes a range of housing types, shops, services, local access to food, schools and day care facilities, employment, greenspaces, parks, and pathways. They are complete communities that support active transportation and transit, reduce car dependency, and enable people to live car-light or car-free.”

“In the planning field, there are so many factors and tensions that need to be weighed and considered. We can’t just pass along the health evidence and walk away; we need to be in the room, to understand the other factors that need to be considered, and to inform conversations to find a way that balances health perspectives with all of the factors, needs and realities,” offered Inge.


This project has provided a number of lessons for OPH:
  • Public health needs to recognize the interconnections among public health, built environment, climate change, biodiversity and health equity in its approach to public policy in keeping with the World Health Organization’s Geneva Charter of Well-being. High-level policy work must be boundary-spanning, reduce silos within public health agencies and cut across programs, issues and disciplines to be efficient and effective.
  • The 15-minute neighbourhood is pivotal to addressing public health, climate change and health equity at a community level.
  • Public health can have a substantial impact on the social determinants of health (SDOH) such as transportation networks, the built environment, and housing if it commits the time and staff resources needed to fully engage in land use and transportation planning processes.
  • It is helpful if the public health staff involved in these processes have specialized training in land use and urban planning, climate change, environmental health, and/or policy development.
  • Policy windows can open and close quickly, and issues are often very complex; as such, senior staff have to be willing to empower staff to make decisions at working group and committee meetings.
  • Public health would benefit from having policy staff who can work at a high level with other departments and/or jurisdictions to address the ecological determinants of health (EDOH) such as the built environment, climate change, and air quality, as well as the SDOH, that affect the health of the public.
“The 15-minute neighbourhood is the key lever for advancing climate resiliency, public health, and health equity at the community level,” noted Inge. “Many of the features needed to improve public health and health equity, such as walkable neighbourhoods rich in amenities, cycling infrastructure, efficient transit service, well-developed tree canopies for shade, and greenspace, are the features needed to reduce greenhouse gases and increase climate resiliency.”
The annual report of the Planning Department on its Study-Work Plan for 2023-2024 is headed to next week's Planning & Housing Ctte:

Lots of stuff in there, but I'll highlight a couple of the bits that in line with broader zoning reform:


The City Building section is also of consequence and many of the relevant studies will lead to upzoning/more flexible zoning across the effected areas:


The revised Midrise Guidelines will be covered in one of the reports below:


Here, we'll see the outstanding MTSA reports:


Also on tap is a Final Report on Recommended Employment Lands Conversion; and revision to Front-Yard parking rules.

And a bunch more stuff.
A window on some some of the timing of various zoning reform initiatives over the next year(s) can be found in a report to next week's Executive Ctte meeting.

From the above:






Something in the below would make Sean Galbraith rather happy:



There's quite a bit more, but I aimed for the zoning related components and those things I know interest people here and we otherwise may not be up to date on; for the policy wonks among us, the report is long'ish, but worth a read.

Edit to add: I think @HousingNowTO and his team will want to consider some of the above.
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Screenshot from the article.

Nothing we don't already know but I'm happy to see major papers write more about the subject. Hopefully it encourages citizens to appreciate that we need to re-zone and build up much of the city.

Screenshot from the article.
View attachment 463889

Nothing we don't already know but I'm happy to see major papers write more about the subject. Hopefully it encourages citizens to appreciate that we need to re-zone and build up much of the city.
None of the developers who build these condos live in them. They’re all in SFHs, the same their customers aspire to.
But I'm fairly sure that not more than one of our current city councilors (if any) live in an apartment.
Some of the more "richer" ones would buy two adjoining condo suites and combine them both into one unit. Could be two units on different floors, or two units on the same floor.

From link.
But I'm fairly sure that not more than one of our current city councilors (if any) live in an apartment.

While true, is this not more a reflection of the rapid increase in housing prices in the last generation more than anything?

In 20 years, I bet most of them would be living in MURBs

Yes it has, and the reason for this forgetfulness is that the wealthy and mid-level middle class hold greater influence upon these elected officials. They are the same people, while the dirty unwashed working stiff has very little in common with real estate agents, developers and elected officials too.

A true class system with regards to housing exists in Ontario and Canada. Are the New Democrats crying out loud for reforming of this system? No, they are not. They want to represent the higher ups, those with excess revenue and economic purchasing power.
A housing revolution is needed, not just in Ontario but across this land. Why won’t governments put their hands into building affordable rental units? They have the funds, the regulations to make sure these units are made appropriately and in a timely manner. The very power of the elite, real estate and developers lobby, will always sway our elected officials away from competing with these financial aggressors.

Even with zoning reform, it's the developers in my view that have the last call on what type of housing they want to build. There's very little that can be done to prod developers to build certain types of housing. Even the provincial government admits that it's challenging to nudge developers to building certain housing stock, these developers just won't bend over and take a loss; they will either build what they like or just sit on their hands and land and wait it out.

I do often wonder if it might be appropriate for the city/municipality/Government to get into the development game and start their own construction company to build what is needed instead of waiting for developers to come to the table. Would this be a possible solution? It's mentioned here and there but never seems to go beyond a comment or two.