Project gives residents a voice in planning process

By Jes Ellacott

The City of Ottawa is embarking on a pilot project that aims to incorporate public opinion into reshaping the city, a social forum was told last week.

The project is a neighbourhood planning initiative that is happening in the community of Hintonburg. Its aim is to get the community more involved in processes that will affect their day to day lives, said Paula Speevak-Sladowski, managing director of the centre for voluntary sector research and development at Carleton University.

“People really know what they need, and people really need to be engaged in making decisions about what they need,” said Speevak-Sladowski.

The Hintonburg neighbourhood planning initiative is the first of its kind in Ottawa, but Elaina Mack, from Carleton’s University’s centre for urban research and education, says that if all goes well it certainly won’t be the last.

“The long term ambition is to try it out in an urban, suburban and rural setting and find out what the lessons are, get over the stumbling blocks and figure out how to replicate it for different neighbourhoods across the city,” said Mack.

Although the neighbourhood planning initiative has been underway for the last 12 months, most of the work has been behind the scenes, focusing on the road reconstruction of West Wellington.

Nancy Jackson, who is in charge of strategic initiative and business planning for the City of Ottawa, said a document detailing the neighbourhood plan should be completed, and ready for evaluation, by next May.

The document will cover the entire spectrum of issues, from safety and arts to zoning and infrastructure.

The discussion about the neighbourhood planning initiative took place at this year’s Imagine Ottawa social forum last Saturday.

The forum offered presentations covering a number of social issues, but focused specifically on the theme of sustainable neighbourhoods.

It brought together members of the Continuity Task Force from Hintonburg, which is made up of two citizens and a business owner from the community, City of Ottawa personnel and Carleton University researchers who are overseeing the project, to form a discussion panel.

The “bottom up” process of having a task force make decisions, instead of having those decisions handed down from above, will be duplicated in a new project in Vars, a rural community south-east of downtown Ottawa, and also in an as of yet unspecified suburban community, said Jackson.

Deciding which community to choose for the pilot project was difficult, said Jackson.

She added that many urban communities in Ottawa volunteered, but Hintonburg was chosen because of the reputation of the neighbourhood as an arts community. It was also a prime candidate because of some of the social problems in the area.

“We knew it was a community that was having difficulty around the illegal trades which include prostitution and drugs . . . we wanted to attempt to maximize the benefit of neughbourhood planning. We didn’t want to go into a neighbourhood that was doing just fine, we wanted a neighbourhood with issues, and we found them in Hintonburg,” said Jackson.

She added that the $20-million road reconstruction on West Wellington also drew them to the community, because part of the project focuses on infrastructure reconstruction.

Guido Weisz, one of the Carleton University researchers, said community involvement is one of the best ways to solve issues and move forward in a community, but he warned that it is a work-intensive and time consuming process for the city and participants involved.

However, the members of the committee were generally positive.

Ottawa as a whole could benefit from this process and become much more of a community-based city, said Chris Green, member of the Continuity Task Force and owner of Harvest Loaf bakery on Wellington.

“This has to be seen as a way to collectively make an area thrive,” said Green.