Ottawa’s growing population could pose environmental problems, critics say

Ottawa’s population topped one million according to 2021 census data recently released by Statistics Canada, growing from 934,243 in 2016 to 1,017,449 in 2021.

Ottawa’s population growth rate was 8.9% for the five-year census period, making it the fourth most populous municipality in the country, behind Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

This comes as no surprise to the City of Ottawa. He began work on a new official plan in 2019 to guide the city’s growth and development over the next 50 years.

But a growing urban population has the potential to put a strain on Ottawa’s green spaces and environment, especially as COVID-19 has already caused increased traffic on the city’s outdoor pathways.

“If we reduce our individual impact, even through collective policies, but the population continues to grow and we ignore it, we are not really going to achieve the global environmental objectives that we must set ourselves in as a community.”

Josh Snider, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa

Dominique Huras of the National Capital Commission says the NCC has seen a significant increase in the number of people using its outdoor recreational space over the past two years.

“Whether it’s greenbelt, trails, winter, summer, almost all of our assets have seen increased usage because people want to get out and do things, especially when we’re under lockdown,” Huras said.

The NCC has done its best to make its spaces easily accessible by turning programs like the old Bike-Sundays into Bike-Weekends, adding another day of car-free access to various rides for cyclists, roller skaters and walkers.

“We are always striving to create more space for people,” says Huras. “But we also have a conservation mandate. So offer more while conserving as much land as possible. »

A population increase could also challenge current climate targets. Josh Snider, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, explains that while current solutions aim to reduce the carbon footprint of the average citizen, multiplying the result by more people diminishes success.

“If we reduce our individual impact, even through collective policies, but the population continues to grow and we ignore it, we are not really going to achieve the global environmental objectives that we must set ourselves in as a community,” says Snider.

One of the priorities of the new Official Plan is the creation of 15-minute neighborhoods where services, amenities and businesses are easily accessible on foot. Ecology Ottawa supports this initiative and hopes the city can follow through on the defined climate goals.

“On the one hand, it’s exciting to see that the Official Plan is taking climate-related environmental issues more seriously,” says Snider. “But on the other hand, we don’t necessarily see a commensurate level of commitment in terms of dollars.”

Although the Official Plan will guide development for the next 50 years, these climate goals cannot be achieved quickly enough.

“A number of people in the community think the postponement is the new climate denial,” Snider says. “The city is moving in the right direction, but not fast enough.”

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