Capital cities cooperate more closely

“The LRT success has led the cities to talk to one another about interprovincial transit links and how to deal with buses.”

• Miguel Tremblay

By Robert Frank

Ottawa and Gatineau are drawing closer to one another daily.

“We’re starting to see the two cities move toward the Washington, D.C. Area (DCA), model,” observed FoTenn Planning + Design partner Miguel Tremblay. “It won’t happen overnight, but I see the gap closing and witness more synergy.”

Projects that straddle provincial lines have already started to bridge the two cities together, he said. Transit coordination could further revolutionize the relationship.

“Thanks to the new light rail (LRT) network, Ottawa and Gatineau are talking to one another about integrating interprovincial transit,” Tremblay said, akin to the DCA Metro subway system, which links Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia suburbs seamless in a single mass-transit network. “Ottawa’s environment-friendly, transit-oriented development plan contains provisions that could eventually enable integration.”

The LRT has already prompted a development boom in proximity to the new line, as well as along its feeder arteries.

“Streets once characterized by low-rise residential or single-storey retail will now witness buildings up to 24 storeys because they are located on transit priority corridors,” he explained.

Tremblay is optimistic that newfound openness to integration could enable Quebec’s fourth-largest city to gain from the same economic drivers as Ottawa has.

“Both Ottawa and Gatineau mayors now sit on the National Capital Commission (NCC) board as non-voting members,” Tremblay noted. “The LRT success led the cities to explore interprovincial transit links.”

Investors need to understand that Gatineau’s processes are very different from Ottawa’s, though.

“Approvals take longer and are less predictable,” he underscored. “Ottawa is about transit and heritage. In Gatineau, the environment looms large. Planning committees meet in camera and you have to be prepared to be prepared to work in French there.”

“Their geographic juxtaposition of both city cores across the river is a best-case scenario,” Tremblay concluded. “There is already extensive interplay. People live in one city and work in the other. Barriers are dropping quickly. We’re starting to see overlap between developers, the community, tenants and residents. Some of that is the market. Some of it is employment. Mass transit will add more to that.”

“Gatineau’s apartment market is really healthy, he added. “More and more people are coming from Ontario to rent there for its affordability and proximity. If you work downtown, you’ll be better off. If you rent in some Ottawa suburbs, you could be in store for a two-hour bus ride. The potential is tremendous.”

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