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Ottawa's Maturing Neighbourhoods

CRITERIA FOR HEALTHY GROWTH AND CHANGE

Social Engagement and Streetscaping

Many of the maturing neighbourhoods of Ottawa have lower populations now than they did soon after they were constructed.  Their low densities are not adaquite to support corner stores within the neighbourhood fabric, or to enliven the streets.  Intensification could bring enough new residents to allow an urban social dynamic to flourish, especially as neighborhoods become walkable, with new and old residents choosing to walk to week-day destinations including transit, groceries, daycare and coffee shops.  

Neighborhood intensification and new development must be used as an opportunity to dramatically increase the architectural and urban features that foster social interaction.   In particular, the edge conditions along a street and the semi private spaces in front of homes are key locations.  Semi private space can include porches, balconies, terraces, patios, and front steps -- places to linger and watch the world go by. 

 

Images from various Canadian city streets shown below are from Jan Gehl's book Cities for People.

Social interaction is dependent on proximity.  Two people must be within about 25m of each other to begin to read facial expressions and dominant emotions.  Experiences become really interesting at 10m.  People on upper balconies are beyond any social interaction when above the 3rd floor.  The following images, also from Jan Gehl's book Cities for People, illustrate these points.  Semi private spaces in front of homes must be close enough to the street to be interesting and allow for social interaction, but still be clearly deliniated as private space.  Neighbourhoods can achieve this dynamic differently depending on their unique character and history. 

Criteria for Growth:

  1. Walkable

  2. Socially engaging

  3. Diverse (both in income and household demographics)

  4. Ecologically responsible

  5. Affordable (individually & collectively)​

"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.

“A sense of belonging is linked to positive mental and physical health, while social isolation is linked to poor health... There is a need to look at the many features that create the conditions for positive mental health and community resilience, including in our neighbourhoods...”

The building Blocks for a Healthy Ottawa, March 2019

 

"Streets can function both as places to be and linger, and places to move through.  Designing streets that encourage people to connect with others has physical and mental health benefits, and increases the likelihood of active transportation being chosen."

Peter Kageyama, For the Love of Cities

"People with a strong sense of community belonging are more likely to have better physical and mental health. Neighbourhoods can be designed to provide places for socializing, both formally and informally."

The building Blocks for a Healthy Ottawa, March 2019

"For decades the human dimension has been an overlooked and haphazardly addressed urban planning topic, while many other issues, such as accommodating the rocketing rise in car traffic, have come more strongly into focus."

Jan Gehl, Cities for People

"No single topic has greater impact on the life and attractiveness of city space than active, open and lively edges.  When the rhythms of the city's buildings produce short units, many doors and carefully designed details at ground-floor level, they support live in the city and near buildings. When the city's edges work, they reinforce city life.  Activities can supplement each other, the wealth of experience increases, walking become safer and distances seem shorter."

Jan Gehl, Cities for People

New developments within existing neighbourhoods must have street facing facades and front gardens that allow for space to linger, interact with neighbours, and provide interest to those walking by. The image on the left shows a facade designed without such regulations.  The image on the right shows an building designed to meet proposed zoning.  Buildings taller than 3 storeys do not contribute to this interaction or add animation to the pedestrian experience on the street.  (Images below: City of Ottawa, Zoning By-law R4 Zoning Review Phase 2 Discussion Paper #3 Draft Recommendations, Nov. 2019)