Ottawa's Maturing Neighbourhoods
FROM CRITERIA TO REGULATION
Streetscapes and Front Facades
The design elements of the front facade and the space between the front facade and the pavement have a huge impact on the streetscape, impacting the walkability and social dynamic of the neighbourhood. The front yard and facade have the potential to;
improve the pedestrian experience of the street by adding visual interest,
provide semi private spaces that are instrumental in personalizing and humanizing urban places,
frame the public street in a way that enriches existing neighbourhood character and community identity,
provide space for gardens and trees.
Our existing regulations do not encourage these features. Instead, they regulate the number of units and consequently the high-end residential typologies inside infill buildings.
The diagram below on the left shows some of the possible design features of small muilti-unit buildings designed within the existing vacuum of regulation regarding street impact. The image on the right shows the design features of typical semi's, as prescribed by our existing bylaws.
From CRITERIA to REGULATION:
"...treasure our cities... we will treasure them only when we come to love them as places – as vessels of our cultural identities, stages for our social interaction, and landscapes for our personal narratives."
Peter Calthrope, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.
"We may live among noble, honest, wallet-returning people, yet if we do not experience positive social interactions with them, we are unlikely to build those bonds of trust."
Charles Montgomery, Happy City.
"The most important psychological effect of the city is the way in which it moderates our relationships with other people. This last concern is so powerful and so central to personal and societal well-being that researchers who study it become positively evangelical."
Charles Montgomery, Happy City.
The following diagram shows examples of the elements of zoning that can and should be used to ensure active street frontages and built volumes that fit well within existing contexts, meeting the five criteria necessary for healthy growth.
Front Setback and Depth Factor
The character of a neighbourhood is influenced by the variegation of buildings as they are perceived by a pedestrian on a typical street. A pedestrian commonly views the buildings on a street at an angle, with diminishing perspective, and not as a fixed scene, but moving at a walking pace. From this vantage point some neighbourhoods are full of variety – a mix of differently shaped buildings with spaces between. Other neighbourhoods are experienced as more rhythmical, some with very small spaces between buildings, some with very flat front facades. This characteristic element of a neighbourhood should be respected and repeated in new infill, in order to maintain and enliven the unique and valued identities of our neighbourhoods.
This can largely be achieved by requiring an additional front setback over a percentage of the building face. This area of increased setback could be located anywhere over the front of the building; in a recessed 3rd floor level, a vertical indent containing balconies, a recessed front entry, or a combination of features. Allowing designers to position this additional setback will mitigate the cost impact on the end user, and encourage variety. When applied to a facade in a vertical manor, this type of added setback can be perceived by a pedestrian (viewing the street at an angle) as an increase in the spacing between buildings. When applied to the 3rd storey this additional setback gives the pedestrian the impression of reduced building height.
The depth (X) and percentage (Y%) of the additional setback, should be specific to each area, assigned to generate complimentary characteristics and volumes along the street. X and Y values should be identified on a new zoning map.
It is desirable to have front doors on buildings, to animate the street and maintain existing character. It is not significant wiether these doors lead to shared spaces or are specific to a single dwelling unit. Front entry doors should be required by zoning. Additionally, an entrance door that is in a wall 90 degrees to the front wall, but within 2m of the front wall, should also be permitted. This is common in many older buildings with large front porches and has a similar street impact as a front facing door.
Bay windows are permitted projections and should continue to be permitted projections with the same floor area and depth that they are currently permitted. Bay windows are currently not permitted to have foundations that extend to the basement level. However, these projections should be changed to allow that, which is actually a historical development pattern in Ottawa. Furthermore, limiting bay windows to 2.5 stories would stimulate more variable articulation on the front facade.
Street Facing Glazing
Windows facing the street should be zoned to have sills low enough to establish a sense of contentedness to the street, rather than a protective barrier (as with a very high sill). There should be lots of glazing between living space and the street to provide street animation and interest, and 'eyes on the street'. However it is important to recognize that what seems like 'a lot of glazing', when calculated by percentage, is actually quite small numerically. Note that many older buildings have as little at 15% front glazing but a facade that is animated with details and projections. In spite of small windows these buildings add interest and animation to the street. Zoning can combine requirements for glazing and permitted architectural projections to achieve a compatible degree of streetscape animation.
Bay windows add interest to front facades and are a staple of residential architecture throughout the history of Ottawa. They should be permitted in the forms in which they have traditionally been built.
Semi Private Outdoor Spaces: Porches, terraces, balconies, patios
Neighbours have a visceral negative reaction to infill projects that turn an anonymous face to the street. Semi private spaces in front of buildings are key to overcoming this problem. Residents in multi-unit buildings must be provided equal opportunity to engage in the usual street-side social activities that are avalable to those living in lower density housing typologies. Semi private outdoor spaces make this possible -- front porches, terraces and balconies. Dedicated walkways and front gardens that are associated with specific dwelling units stimulate garden care that is personalized.
Ground oriented units are important in the mix of housing available within Ottawa, as many households and individuals value connectedness to the ground and landscape. For this reason the use of large areas of hard landscaping or paving is unwelcome in maturing neighbourhoods filled with ground oriented units. Apart from required walkways, semi private outdoor spaces and garbage pads, hard landscaping should be limited to a reasonable percentage, but must not be entirely eliminated so as to allow for decorative boulders and stones, and miscellaneous features including sculptures.
Side Yard Air Conditioners
Air conditioners can be excessively noisy if grouped together. The number of AC's in side yards should be limited by zoning to no more than 2 units per side yard.
Front Yard Tree Planting
Zoning mechanisms intended to allow space for a tree must be simple, directly applicable to tree planting, and based on forestry standards for root space. These kinds of zoning regulations must not be abstract or they result in unintended consequences. Space for tree roots can be zoned by requiring rectangular areas of soft landscaping to be located between the curb or sidewalk and the front building face.
These kinds of features are difficult to zone but can be required as a condition for the release of securities in the Site Plan Approval process.
Exterior Amenity Spaces
Front and rear decks, patios, balconies and terraces are critical amenity features of a small apartment building as they provide the dual function of animating front and rear yards (which results in personalized places) and providing the most valued form of amenity for ground oriented residents. These elements are important and should be required by zoning.