Ottawa is an ever-evolving city that has seen a steady, multi-faceted growth pattern from industry to housing to transportation. The city limits have progressively expanded over the years, with the greatest growth occurring in 2001 with the amalgamation of all the municipalities of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton into one city.
Ottawa At Home reached out to four people with influential roles in the growth and development of the National Capital Region to get their impressions – past, present and future.
As Executive Chairman of the Trinity Development Group, John Ruddy makes an impressive imprint on both commercial and residential development in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa. John grew up in Ottawa, but started his career in Toronto. With the birth of his second daughter in the early ‘90s, he felt the draw to move back home to raise his family.
Seeing a business opportunity for the big-box anchor retail market concept in Ottawa, John is credited for bringing the first of this successful form of commercial development into the Ottawa area. South Keys was the start of many such projects for Trinity.
John has seen a steady growth pattern in the capital and says growth in Ottawa is more organic than in some other Canadian cities. “Ottawa is the most stable from a growth perspective; it doesn’t have the highs and the lows in the retail market.” However, he does see traffic challenges and experiences the effects of a busier rush hour, which he believes will be greatly alleviated with the new transit system.
Trinity has moved progressively into multi-use development and has cleverly positioned itself for great success in Ottawa. As an instrumental partner in Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group with the development of Lansdowne, and a major player in the success of bringing CFL to the capital, John has established his ability to enhance quality of lifestyle by creating growth opportunities for sports, entertainment, shopping, dining and housing.
Another project that John is involved with is Bayview Station, strategically located across from Lebreton Flats. Bayview Station will bring a multi-use development to the heart of the new transit hub where both transit lines connect. He is a firm believer in higher density development and states: “Mixed-use intensification creates less strain on municipal services and transit and will create all kinds of opportunities in Ottawa.”
John continues to believe in the lifestyle opportunities in Ottawa. His professional time is divided with business travel to various cities, but Ottawa is home. “Ottawa lifestyle is improving with a greater variety of things to do – culturally, sports and entertainment-wise,” says the man who is credited with playing a strong role in generating this improvement.
Shirley Westeinde has watched the growth of Ottawa since the 1970s when she and her husband John settled in Kanata from London, Ontario. Kanata provided the Westeindes with an idyllic setting to raise their three children, and Shirley was a happy stay-at-home mom. That changed abruptly when John left his job and started Westeinde Construction in 1978. Shirley went to work for the general contracting business (an industry devoid of women) in a time before faxes, cell phones and the Kanata high-tech boom. She became the first and, to date, the only female president of Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).
Westeinde Construction has since been sold, but the multi-faceted business branched out and provided opportunities for the Westeinde children who continue to make a mark on the growth and development of Ottawa. Sons Jonathan and Jeff, founders of Windmill Development Group, are instrumental in the Zibi re-development project on Lemieux Island. The multi-use site is groundbreaking, and a further example of inner-city growth, bringing the Gatineau region into the expansion of the capital area.
Shirley was a promoter of the amalgamation of Ottawa-Carleton, and a highly-respected volunteer who speaks about the positive influence the merger has had on affordable housing. “I was very involved with affordable housing and it was a challenge to get things done with 11 different cities.” She praises Councillor Marianne Wilkinson and former John Mlacak for playing a strong role in respecting the community aspect and the original flavour of the Kanata area.
She sees the private sector making a greater impact on growth and development in the capital, which is also contributing to increased lifestyle opportunities. She credits Mayor Jim Watson for his vision for the city, plus the benefits of having several highly-respected colleges and universities in the region. “We are fortunate to have Algonquin College and its restaurant program turning out so many talented chefs.”
The downtown condo she and John now live in offers an impressive vantage point from which to observe the growth of the city. With views over Lebreton Flats, Zibi and spanning as far off as the parliament buildings, Shirley feels that she continues to share in the experience of a growing capital. “I see concrete evidence of the footprint we have left on the city, with office buildings and hospitals, and feel a sense of pride when I walk around the ByWard market and see buildings we have developed flourishing.”
As the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson is a self-proclaimed “just-do-it” man who gets things done! “When I came on as mayor in 2010, Ottawa was a stable market in growth and development, but things were slow to get done – there was talk but not a lot of action,” says the much-loved politician.
That has all changed. Now, LRT is well underway, the Innovation Centre has opened, galleries have expanded and the city is flourishing and growing. The mayor says transit is one of the most significant influencers in the capital right now. “When a city reaches one million in population, it’s time to redevelop transit.” He affirms that we have reached capacity in many areas for transportation on the streets, declaring, “LRT is good for the environment and quality of life.”
He seeks to avoid urban sprawl and applauds developments like Lansdowne and the Rockcliffe air base redevelopment, Wateridge Village, another multi-use community within the city limits. Not being a fan of bedroom communities, he encourages growth and development inside the Greenbelt, and hopes that the Lebreton Flats development will serve the city well, pointing to Lansdowne as an example of good urban planning.
Mayor Watson sees Ottawa as exceptional from other Canadian cities with the stability of the federal government supporting a consistent local economy. He cites the Greenbelt as a challenge for growth and development, while also contributing to the city’s unique identity.
Another identified challenge is the struggle of small, long-standing businesses with increasing rents in desirable, established neighborhoods versus the influx of big, national-based corporations with deeper pockets. Mayor Watson continues to see value in the established areas and applauds the influence of rural communities, hoping that they can maintain their charms while the National Capital Region continues to grow and expand.
As a man-about-town, he has noticed a vast increase in the Ottawa entertainment and fine-dining scene stating, “When I arrived in Ottawa in 1980, Swiss Chalet was our version of European cuisine, now we are world class!” He touts the example of the Ottawa 2017 world-class culinary event Canada’s Table that sold out in 12 minutes, as strong evidence to support the fact that we have come a long way since the days of fast-food, fine dining.
As one of Ottawa’s most respected architects, Barry Hobin has a diverse portfolio that ranges from new home construction, high-end luxury homes, condominium buildings and offices to churches, schools and community centres. It is difficult to find an area in the city that has not been touched by Barry’s talents. Most notably to date is the newly opened Innovation Centre.
Barry started in the late ‘70s when design in local architecture didn’t seem to matter. “General designs were stolen from someplace else with design seen simply as a ‘product’ to be sold to civil servants. Our government buildings were devoid of community context, and have virtually destroyed the city. For example, Place de Portage, Tunney’s Pasture and Booth Street were all campus architecture efforts at odds with the granular of the city,” states the passionate architect.
Being a relatively risk-averse city, Barry sees the architecture in Ottawa reflecting this mindset, but notes change is easing its way onto the landscape and a savvy market is welcoming the transformation. It is equally important in a government town for the business community to embrace this thinking. “People want vibrant places, not government campuses that go to sleep at 4:30 pm. and the government is starting to get it. There are now more leased government buildings, and newly- built offices are more pleasing work places,” he offers.
Barry promotes the idea of multi-use development and is amazed by how much development land is still available within the Greenbelt. The world of design is now driven by a better informed and more sophisticated consumer. Architects like Barry are ready to answer the call for improvement and embrace the challenge to provide good design in well-planned communities that combine lifestyle with commercial services. He and his firm, Hobin Architecture, have played a strong role in the development of the touted multi-use projects like Lansdowne, Zibi and Lebreton Flats.
When asked to compare Ottawa to other Canadian cities, Barry views the capital as a unique and very livable city. He thinks its greatest attribute is its size and notes, “It really is not a city at the level of Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto. Yet, the livability of the city makes it very desirable and easy to navigate. It’s an extremely walkable city, with a small-town feel and yet we can easily connect to Toronto or Montreal. From a personal business perspective, I can accomplish much more in my day. I work close to home and am accessible to all the services I need.”