RAIC poll reveals municipal candidates’ views on architecture and urban design

Candidates in Ottawa’s urban wards are far more likely to indicate support for policies aimed at improving the city’s architecture and urban design than candidates in suburban and rural wards, a poll suggests.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), the national professional association which advocates for excellence in the built environment, asked mayoral and council candidates for their position on five questions related to design quality, the environment and heritage.

Of the eight mayoral candidates, only two responded – Bernard Couchman and Anwar Syed. Of the 128 candidates for city council, just 38 expressed their opinion.

“It’s regrettable that there’s so little apparent interest in architecture and urban design from the mayoral candidates, given this the capital of a G8 country,” said Allan Teramura, FRAIC, RAIC regional director for Ontario North, East and Nunavut.

The vast majority of respondents (30 of 38) were in urban wards. Suburban and rural wards yielded just four responses each. A second mailing, directed to them, pointed out that good design can enrich suburban life as well and that the protection of agricultural landscapes is a heritage issue.

“There’s a very high level of interest in these issues in urban wards, with most candidates providing strong statements of support,” says Teramura. “It’s possible there could be a half-dozen or so councillors with an interest in design. It’s still a minority, but it’s a start.

“I understand that many people get involved in municipal politics because of issues in their immediate community, but in an amalgamated city, councillors have to be prepared to understand and deal with issues far from where they live,” says Teramura. “This is a challenge for both urban and rural councillors.”

The RAIC asked candidates to state whether they agree or disagree with the following statements, and six ofo the incumbents who replied are David Chernushenko, Peter Clark, Mathieu Fleury, Katherine Hobbs, Bob Monette and Marianne Wilkinson.

• On design quality: while a number of landmark buildings have been erected in Ottawa recently, they are all built by federal institutions. While even very small municipal projects across Canada regularly receive major awards and international media coverage, the City of Ottawa’s generally do not. We believe this can and must change.

Ottawa, as Canada’s capital, must show national leadership in the quality of the architectural design of projects built here. If elected, I will advocate for making achieving architectural design excellence a top priority for City of Ottawa projects.

• On the hiring of architects: in many jurisdictions, commissions are awarded on the basis of the outcome of design competitions in order to foster design excellence, but also to support talented emerging practices. The result is better design, greater public awareness of the value of design, and better value for money spent.

When the City of Ottawa invests in public buildings, architectural design quality should be the primary consideration in preparing procurement strategies for design services. I would support the use of design competitions for significant municipal projects.

• On the environment: buildings are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. The RAIC is sponsoring the 2030 Challenge, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the built environment by 2030.

Attaining carbon-neutral status for all Ottawa buildings by 2030 is a key priority for me.

• On heritage: Ottawa has a rich architectural heritage, and often this inheritance is unnecessarily at risk. Today, this is particularly true for postwar buildings and environments.

If elected, I will be an advocate for Ottawa’s built cultural heritage.

• On urban design: For many years city streets have been designed to give priority for motor vehicles. Today, to make alternate means of transportation such as walking, cycling and public transit more appealing, and also to improve the quality of life generally, many cities are rethinking these assumptions. The “Complete Streets” movement is one example.

If elected, I will support initiatives to rejuvenate our urban streets and spaces, and make them more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Teramura notes that Ottawa is undergoing many changes today. Important issues affecting Ottawa’s urban landscape are being debated, including the possibility of building a new main library, increasing pressure to intensify mature neighbourhoods and the continuing development of LeBreton Flats. With the events of Canada’s sesquicentennial coming soon, the spotlight will be on Ottawa, nationwide.

“While I would not expect new candidates from rural or suburban wards to have many strongly held opinions on issues that primarily affect the downtown, I would have thought that incumbents would, having had a few years of grappling with them,” said Teramura. “And yet there was relatively little response from these candidates.”

Responses were received from candidates in nine urban wards (7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18); four suburban wards (1,4,6, 22) and one rural ward (20).

For more information, please visit www.raic.org/resources_archives/media_releases/2014/poll%20results_e.pdf