One of my first official duties as President of the GCA was to say a few words of congratulations to GNAG and the Glebe Report as we celebrated their 40th birthday bash on June 21st. Both organizations had their roots in the GCA, which is just a little bit older (kind of like big sister status). I read about the histories of the three groups and their contributions and activities over the years at the same time as I was gathering statistics about our neighbourhood and thinking about membership issues.
This led me to think about the difference between a neighbourhood and a community. I’ve always defined a neighbourhood in terms its physical boundaries and a community in terms of its human interactions. But this thinking was challenged when I attended the City’s public workshop on infill housing at the community centre on June 27th. As some of you might know, mature neighbourhoods throughout the City are seeing more and more infill development. In some cases these add variety, diversity and interest, in other cases, infill developments push the extent of every rule possible and are completely out of keeping with the character of other nearby homes. Allan Teramura, an architect who presented at the workshop on behalf of the GCA, Old Ottawa South, Ottawa East, Rideau Gardens and Dow’s Lake community associations, showed a number of examples of infill housing, some of which were nice and some, well, not so much.
But why was I bothered by the ones that didn’t fit in? Was it just the look of them? We’re all entitled to our own sense of style after all, why should that be any different in the style of house we decide to build? I started to rethink my idea of a neighbourhood as only being defined by its boundaries. In fact, I think what is also important is the amenities, if you will, house design provide in a neighbourhood. Let me give you an example: walk down any street in the Glebe and you will see a number of large trees (though sadly we are losing some of our ash trees), houses more or less the same distance in from the sidewalk (front yard setbacks), open porches where people sit by times and share stories of the day, a good sightline from your own porch of who else is on their porch, cars parked to the side or in-between houses (rather than in front-of-house garages). These design characteristics contribute to the human interactions which make our community a great place to live. Not all infills respect that.
The City is undertaking a study of infill developments to ensure they make a positive contribution to the character and quality of mature neighbourhoods such as the Glebe. They are looking for ways to allow development while having compatibility with the established neighbourhood. I think this study and any resulting recommendations will be incredibly important for us. Done right, we will continue to have a lovely neighbourhood with new housing stock that reflects diversity in design and fits in with existing characteristics of the Glebe. Done poorly, the face of our neighbourhood, and the human interactions which build our community, could be negatively impacted.
Is this an issue that interests you? The GCA planning committee is contributing to this study and we would like to encourage more Glebe residents to be knowledgeable about the issues and involved in the process. You can read about the Urban Design Guidelines for Infill Housing to learn more, but you can learn the most by being involved! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
So, when is a neighbourhood a community? In my opinion, when it creates the space for people to come together in organizations like the GCA, GNAG and the Glebe Report, that in turn provide more opportunities for the meaningful human interactions that make the Glebe such a great place to live.
See you in the ‘hood!