June 06 2014

Imagining New Possibilities for Ottawa’s Greenbelt

Residents of Ottawa, Ontario are proud of their city’s vast green space, and this is no coincidence. Green space was written into Ottawa’s city plan in a big way in the 1950s, when the National Capital Greenbelt was established to protect the growth boundaries of the sprawling metropolis. But the plan to curb sprawl was thwarted when independent municipalities on the other side of the Greenbelt absorbed new subdivisions. These became Ottawa’s outer suburbs of Kanata, Barrhaven, and Orléans, which are still separated from the inner city by the Greenbelt’s expanse.

Trail in Ottawa's Greenbelt, Canada

Today the Greenbelt is seen as having exacerbated the state of sprawl and car-dependency. Suburbs that might have been ten minutes from downtown are now further away, increasing commute times and carbon burned. Considering that there is no shortage of urban parks and green parkways in the city, is it still necessary to have a Greenbelt at all? I propose that it is, as long as we recognize the Greenbelt’s real potential in building a sustainable city.

As we push forward into the twenty-first century, the heavy economic and environmental price of our low-density, suburban living model is becoming more evident. In contrast, dense urban areas are being praised for their environmental sustainability. But since cities need productive green spaces to sustain them, the challenge is to envision cities that are dense, green and productive. In other words, we need to ensure that urban green space serves more than an aesthetic or recreational function.

Farm in Ottawa's Greenbelt, Canada

Some people are already taking strides in this direction. Hidden Harvest Ottawa is an organization that recruits volunteers to harvest fruit trees on public and private property in the city, whose produce would otherwise go to waste. In addition to sharing the harvest with local food agencies, the organization sells fruit trees in the hope of increasing the city’s food output.

Amber Westfall is another local innovator who shares her knowledge of the edible and medicinal weeds that grow in Ottawa’s parks and gardens through organized plant walks. By teaching ways of sourcing healthy food locally and sustainably, her organization, The Wild Garden, hopes to encourage a unique relationship of care and stewardship between people and the land.

These examples illustrate the kind of opportunities presented when so much of your city space is “green.” Ottawa’s Greenbelt Master Plan adopted in 2013, suggests that urban planners are keen to exploit some of the Greenbelt’s potential beyond recreation. Sustainable agriculture is identified as one of the key visions for the Greenbelt, and an additional eight hundred hectares of its area will be dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices in the future.

Houses at the edge of Ottawa's Greenbelt, Canada

But despite these efforts, the landscape in Ottawa is still typical of that in much of North America. Where residential subdivisions end and the Greenbelt begins, there is little conversation; the two stand side by side like awkward strangers. Given its unique role of managing such a large urban-rural frontier, the City of Ottawa is in a great position to incubate new forms of living that exploit this promising space more responsibly than the suburbia of our recent past.

Are green spaces used effectively in your city? Do you think it is possible to bring together the density of urban areas and productivity of rural areas in one space?

Credits: Images by Nour Aoude. Data linked to sources.

Nour Aoude

After graduating from Princeton University with a degree in religion that challenged him to think critically and humanely, Nour has pursued work at nonprofit organizations whose missions are aligned with his personal beliefs. His adventures soon took him to Toronto, where he first experienced the joys and challenges of an exciting urban life. He has since decided to focus his efforts on building a career in urban planning and innovation. Nour's dream is to build cities that accomplish social justice, environmental sustainability, and a positive life experience for their citizens. He enjoys assessing the visible strengths and weaknesses of his city, such as walkability, bikeability, public transit access, urban aesthetics, and street culture. Through his work as an urban planning blogger, Nour hopes to delve further into these topics and develop the research and writing skills required for high-quality urban journalism. His work on The Grid will focus on Ottawa, a small but growing Canadian city with unique approaches to problems of sprawl and transit.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 6th, 2014 at 9:53 am and is filed under Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use, Nour Aoude, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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