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Ottawa's Maturing Neighbourhoods


Diversity; Household Size & Income, Age

The approach to urban neighbourhood design and patterns of housing in Ottawa have not changed for decades.  The existing patterns were modeled on middle class families with two parents and their young kids, and now lend themselves primary to upper middle class households.  The majority of our households are no longer representative of the classic nuclear family.  This miss-match impacts our neighbourhoods by reducing the diversity of households, reducing the population density, and increasing the ecological footprint.  It impacts our households by limiting housing options such that many of are "house poor", and many are without acceptable forms of housing at all.

Zoning often inadvertently discriminates.  There is no evidence that Ottawa zoning was ever intended or designed to discriminate, but it does. Ottawa's zoning discriminates by household size, household age, and household income. Other municipalities in North America are working to revise bylaws that were established specifically to racially discriminate.  You can read about the experience in Minneapolis:  


Zoning regulations can directly and indirectly regulate the size of dwellings, their proximity to the ground, whether or not dwellings have private gardens, whether units have parking or interior garbage storage, and the ways in which units can or cannot be attached or stacked.  All of these elements impact the value of each home and how much it costs to purchase or rent.  Zoning that results in only upper middle class housing (larger homes on large lots in well serviced locations) prevents economic diversity of households by pricing people out of neighbourhoods.  


Similarly, zoning that results in dwelling units that all have stairs, prevents people from aging in place within their neighbourhood.

According to Statistics Canada, based on 2016 census results, 69% of our homes in Ottawa are single family homes, semi's or townhouses.  These generally are designed for families with 2 parents and 2 or more kids.   This type of home made a lot of sense when Canadian's lived in large household groups.  But over the years, as our household demographics have changed, our development patterns have remained the same, because zoning has stayed the same.

Criteria for Growth:

  1. Walkable

  2. Socially engaging

  3. Diverse (both in income and household demographics)

  4. Ecologically responsible

  5. Affordable (individually & collectively)​

"There are risks and costs to action.  But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction."  J.F.Kennedy

As we have sorted (socially & geographically), loneliness rates have tracked equally with sorting.  The more sorted we become the more lonely we are... We have forgotten that we are inextricably connected to each other."  Brene Brown

"Age-friendly planning includes designing communities for older adults and children, to ensure needs can be met across the lifespan."

City of Ottawa OP Preliminary Policy Directions

“...many of Toronto's most pleasant places to live are now off-limits to everyone but the affluent. Planning policies that restrict certain housing types also restrict certain kinds of people. Such rules are inherently unjust.”

House Divided; How the Missing Middle Will Solve Toronto's Affordability Crisis

statscan household size over time.png

Above: Chart from Statistic Canada study, The shift to smaller households over the past century, 

Neighborhoods that are diverse would include housing of all types and sizes.  Regulating minimum lot or unit sizes only serves to discriminate.  The Ontario Building Code regulates minimum room sizes -- zoning does not need to. 


There is a need to include very low income households in neighbourhoods. To do so would require more than just revised zoning.  For the majority of households, the barrier to affordable dwellings in many maturing neighbourhoods is a result of poorly conceived zoning. 

If zoning for maturing neigbhourhoods allowed small homes, and small multi unit buildings, builders and developers would build units of the sizes and types that are marketable or rentable, naturally meeting household need. 

All zoning must be reviewed using this economic diversity lens.  For example, a resent study demonstrated that by requiring a small 8 unit apartment building to have garbage stored inside rather than in rear yard sheds, the rent for each unit would likely be increased by $61.  In comparison, features on the front facade that would improve neighbourhood compatibility and allow for more social interaction were found to increase rental cost by half this amount.  (City of Ottawa, Zoning By-law R4 Zoning Review Phase 2 Discussion Paper #3 Draft Recommendations, Nov. 2019)

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