Neighbourhood green space in Ottawa is precious – and disappearing, so it’s no surprise that residents get angry when they do not receive support from the city to help them safeguard these invaluable places to gather and enjoy recreational activities or leisure time.
Whether in an established community such as College Ward or a new one like the proposed development at LeBreton Flats, residents have a right to expect basic guiding principles are not just in place, but also respected. Guiding principles that ensure neighbourhoods have enough physical spaces — such as parks and activity centres — to facilitate members functioning as a community and to enhance their quality of life.
These principles underpin the City View Community Association’s efforts to preserve 21 Withrow Ave., a Nepean property that includes Kilmorie house, a historic stone home (built in 1842) surrounded by two acres of gardens and more than 100 mature trees.
This property is one of the only remaining green spaces off busy Merivale Road, an area with little park space. Residents envision an arts and culture community centre, as well as natural space for neighbours to gather, children to run, youth to explore gardens, and community bonds to strengthen, while shaded in a canopy of trees.
Despite the community’s strongly expressed interest in preserving the park and the historic property at 21 Withrow, there is a development proposal for a subdivision to be built on the two acres surrounding Kilmorie house. This major infill project would use up all of the available land, and the park land would be gone.
While not every green space can or should be preserved, it’s vital to consider when community activities are being thwarted by a lack of public spaces and to put community first in guiding development decisions. Expecting residents of a neighbourhood to get in their cars and drive to places to meet, exercise or enjoy nature goes against everything we know about what makes for healthy individual lives and communities.
Once green spaces and gathering places are gone, no amount of tax revenue can make up for this loss. It’s also critical that decision-making in these cases is done transparently and accountably, with information that is timely and complete, shared with community groups and developers alike.
Let’s be clear: Development can be beneficial, especially when it incorporates community-first principles. That means more than a shrug and “money’s tight all over” attitude from elected officials when a situation like 21 Withrow arises. It means prioritizing the health and well-being of individual residents and supporting the social cohesion and vibrancy of communities so everyone wins. Better is possible with the right approach.
This editorial first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on September 13, 2018. You can find it here.
Emilie Coyle is a mother, lawyer, community builder and proud third generation resident of College Ward, where she is a candidate for City Council. She is a long-time champion of public engagement.