This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on April 6, 2018
The proposed residential development at the Train Yards, and the current re-development at Heron Gate, are giving the Alta Vista community a lot of pause for thought. Both developments will bring thousands of new people into the ward, provide critical funds for the enhancement of city infrastructure and create additional economic opportunities. That’s a good thing.
But the question of how, exactly, these developments and surrounding areas will respond to the real-life needs of existing and forthcoming families and other residents is not clear. Whether there will be sufficient access to green space, playgrounds, recreation, modern community centres, youth and seniors programming, among other supports, has yet to be fully answered.
Unfortunately, the Train Yards and Heron Gate developments may, in fact, risk becoming a tale of two neighbourhoods. On the one hand, the Train Yards residential development is being designed from the ground up, with an experienced developer, strong engagement from the neighbourhood, excellent proximity to transit, and an expansive shopping and services complex next door. New residents will benefit from crucial city infrastructure, as well as great schools, access to hospitals, and other vital supports. Of course, additional play spaces and a much-needed community centre are also imperative.
On the other hand, the redevelopment of Heron Gate, already underway, looks rather different. With the demolition of some older residential buildings, long-time working families and other low-income residents including new Canadians, single parents, and seniors, will have to leave their homes temporarily, if not permanently. The untold disruption for families and kids who have known no other neighbourhood than Heron Gate has not been fully considered by the city. Many existing or returning residents may be priced out of renovated buildings, or unable to afford the rent in new builds.
Further, there is no explicit commitment to-date to make longer-term investments in essential community infrastructure, including accessible public parks with diverse recreational options for all ages, an updated and expanded community centre, and important pedestrian and transit links to the rest of the community.
These are the basic building blocks to foster neighbourhood cohesion and well-being, not just for the residents of Heron Gate, but Alta Vista writ large. All of Alta Vista’s neighbourhoods should have equitable access to amenities and community programs, and none should function in silos.
It is why the city’s 25-year planning process must consider not just bricks and mortar in its urban intensification strategy but other key variables that create inclusive and dynamic neighbourhoods, regardless of income, background or stage of life. In this respect, Heron Gate’s redevelopment, if done right, could present a golden opportunity to significantly enhance a mixed-income neighbourhood where everyone has a fair shot.
But this will only happen at the leadership of a City Council committed to building a strong foundation for everyone. With the additional revenue generated from developer fees, neighbourhoods experiencing significant growth pressures from a diverse population need to be a priority.
You can expect these concerns, among others, to be front and centre at an long-awaited Heron Gate visioning meeting this weekend finally being held with folks directly impacted by Heron Gate’s redevelopment.
As the mother of two teenagers who was proud to raise her children in Alta Vista, I have personally seen how families and neighbourhoods flourish when they are safe and cohesive places that bring people together and cultivate their strengths.
I also have been witness to families who have faltered, often tragically, in less cohesive environments without access to decent employment, quality childcare, transit, and/or community programs that build confidence and new opportunities.
In a smart and capable city such as Ottawa, it’s not lost on anyone that infrastructure goes well beyond things such as roads and sewers. It’s about people – and places to gather, grow and learn. Everyone pays when we neglect these human needs. Creating and investing in inclusive neighbourhoods that are purpose-built to thrive is absolutely key. And to do that, innovation, courage and commitment are required from City Council and developers alike.
Raylene Lang-Dion is a community advocate, mother of two in Alta Vista, and Youth Service Bureau Foundation board member. She intends to run for City Council.