Tuesday 5 June 2012

Busting The Paris Myth:


Paris streetscape. Source.

There has been an on-going debate about how high buildings should be in Ottawa, and there’s no end in sight to this discussion. Lately, some have been advocating for a Paris-style height limit at six stories. The argument is that Paris is a dense urban city that has been able to grow without having buildings above six stories; it’s working great there, and everyone loves it...therefore, we should be able to achieve the same thing here in Ottawa by imposing a six-storey height limit and preventing high-rise development.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? No high-rise condos, trendy six-storey buildings with ground floor retail, and all this in a very attractive human scale with great architecture. Why, this is absolutely wonderful!


Paris at night. Source.
Why is there a difference? I’ve only been to Paris twice—both times I stayed within 5 km of the heart of the downtown—and I can’t think of any neighbourhood that was dominated by single-family homes on single lots with abundant parking. That is the key difference.

We strive to protect the core of our residential neighbourhoods, which in many cases are comprised of single-family homes; so just imagine the outrage if the City proposed allowing six-storey buildings along, say, Monkland Avenue in the Glebe.

Single-family homes. Source.
But as an example, take the proximity of Monkland Avenue or Alta Vista Drive to the centre of the City, and then look at the same relative proximity in Paris: you won’t find one single-family home there. There are lots of six-storey buildings, most certainly, but no single-family homes on large lots.

So until we are prepared to allow our low-density neighbourhood to transition to six-storey developments, comparing Ottawa to Paris is akin to comparing apples to oranges.

As long as we continue to protect our single-family homes on single lots, we are going to have to find other locations that allow higher heights and higher density.

Being like Paris is appealing, but in reality it is not achievable. We need to focus our efforts on determining the most appropriate places in our City for higher heights and higher density. This is exactly what the City is going to do in the upcoming Official Plan.


1 comment:

  1. The other two points people here forget about comparing increasing our density to a situation similar to london or paris (ie few tall buildings) is that i) height restrictions in those cities lead to considerable contemporary high rises and subdivisions outside city boundaries (which in europe are much smaller than here especially when compared to Ottawa) leaving areas of the english and french countriside to be cobbled up by development that cannot be had inside city limits. Does Ottawa want to destroy the agricultural land of eastern ontario because it won't have a building over 6 stories. I think not.

    The other key point ii) is that the lack of available land, and extreme height restrictions in places like london and paris also add to the extreme cost of housing in those cities. Having lived in london I can tell you a closet sized room with shared bath facilities can still cost close to what a lower end townhome can cost in Ottawa. Much of this is related to teh fact that in places like london/paris you can't build up and you can't build out (unless you hit suburban or rural cities/townships. These points are often missed by those folks here. I've often said do you want to die in a ditch over making sure nothing is about 6 stories on main street or would you prefer to have x fewer units built on the south march highlands. We can go up or we can go out.

    We also need a to ensure urban development and densification creates good mixed use neighbourhoods where single dwellings, high rises and mid-rise buildings co-exist. This will create sustainable local economies and even more livable communities!