---- Back to the drawing board for liveable neighbourhoods
We have to talk ... about a failed experiment by our city's well-meaning municipal planners. The problem was never about intentions or about how planners actually saw new neighbourhoods; it has repeatedly been with the builders – and inspectors – who modify plans that were already approved.
Neighbouring residents’ associations have fought hard when they saw the re-zoning of recreationally-zoned properties, such as the former Connaught Park hippodrome neighbourhood. Properties zoned "Recreational" had already become rare by the time the zoning criteria were upgraded. In the modification proposal, which was approved, an “urban heart of the village” concept was built-in to the provision of the zoning change. In other words: The city would approve changing land from recreational use to housing development – but only if each plan includes a small commercial core. The plans at the time clearly listed a bakery, convenience store, laundromat or pharmacy, all with bicycling paths leading into the residential streets. This was key to the "urban village" concept all the rage in Gatineau, what, fifteen-twenty years ago?
On the ground, now 13 years later, the concept updated to the hipper, "eco-village", the closest depanneur is still a lengthy hike along one of two major arteries into Aylmer. The neighbourhood is fully packed with growing families, and there’s nothing walkable about the place. This is what Gatineau gets when it tries creating an ‘Eco-Village’ (City's terminology for what was approved for this site) without sufficient safeguards against changes in building restrictions.
When Cabaret Pink burned down last week, residents were hopeful there’d be a walkable way to buy a loaf of bread on the horizon. But look at that neighbourhood now. The experiment went so poorly that city officials are today proposing to remove ‘heart of the urban village’ terminology from their planning vocabulary. A Bylaw proposal notice to this effect is in today's edition of the Bulletin.
Difficulties and frustrations do not mean the end of a good idea. This might be the right moment to ensure that as Gatineau fills out more pockets of land, there is an insistence on requiring commercial services within residential blocks. Gatineau officials are flagging this gap in city planning for successful (read, high-valued property assessments over the long term) residential blocks.
"Walkable neighbourhoods" are still the goal. Climate change, providing city services, and growing traffic congestion all require it. It is clear the notion is alive, and must be expanded. The idea is simple: walkable neighbourhoods require some mixing of commercial services and residences. This is not beyond the planners' capacities, but it does require that all planners buy in and not whittle away at the idea just to squeeze in more paying residential properties.