Kanata North’s landscape is poised for a transformation over the next two decades that could see its sprawling parking lots replaced with a grid of streets populated by residential buildings and restaurants — and serviced by self-driving vehicle shuttles.
Billed as the largest technology park in Canada, the technology park was designated a “Special Economic District” in the City of Ottawa’s latest official plan.
The status opens up zoning rules that had restricted what could be built in the area dominated by 1970s office towers – aimed at building a community that will attract talented workers, international investment and allow experimentation with technology itself which is developed in towers.
Jamie Petten, CEO of the Kanata North Business Association, said landowners and businesses want to meet the expectations of current employees and future hires.
“The focus is on building a community that serves every line or generation of talent,” she said.
“What we miss the most, obviously, is this next generation of early-career talent, those coming out of college and looking for that first start in their career.”
Petten said they were looking for shorter commutes, places to build relationships and a life beyond their careers.
While 28,000 people now work at the tech park’s 540 companies, there are still 1,000 vacancies on its global job board, according to the trade association.
Petten said the new community includes the launch of satellite campuses of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, as well as places where these students can “live, work, play and learn.”
2,000 housing units to come
Don Herweyer, the city’s director of economic development and long-range planning, said staff recognized there was nowhere nearby for newly recruited tech workers to live and build their community, which led to the opening of planning rules.
“That’s quite significant for a lot of professionals starting out in their careers, so a lot of them were living downtown before the pandemic and would commute to Kanata North and it affects the ability of those companies to attract talent,” said he declared.
The plan includes 2,000 new residential units at the two transit hubs located along March Road, Station Road and Terry Fox Drive. Planners expect the density to help supply restaurant and retail clientele to the lower levels of apartment and condo buildings.
“To make it a true 24-hour place to live, you need that core of 1,000 [residential] units in each hub,” Herweyer said.
There is already a proposal for a 30-story apartment building attached to the Brookstreet Hotel which references the new Special Economic District in its application to the city.
Shauna Brail, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Management and Innovation, said this kind of relaxation of planning rules and focus on scaling up is part of a larger trend.
“It’s never too late, I don’t think, to make an effort to reformulate a plan for a neighborhood that’s already a success,” she said.
Toronto has relaxed its planning regulations to transform the King and Spadina industrial area in a mixed-use, residential neighborhood that has drawn thousands of residents, she said.
Brail said some of the elements of Kanata North’s new plan align closely with what Amazon was looking for when it scouted locations for its secondary headquarters. Ottawa was among several North American cities that bid, although Amazong chose New York and northern Virginia.
She noted, in particular, access to highways, an international airport, proximity to universities and a pedestrian community.
‘Place-making’ in car parks
Providing these amenities will not only require changes in building height, but will transform sprawling parking lots into a denser network of streets.
Herweyer said the change won’t be immediate, nor will it be dictated by the city’s planning office. He said landowners and developers could incorporate private streets, sidewalks and pathways into their new projects.
“It’s really place-making,” he said. “Break down these large, massive sites and over time have a finer grid of streets and connections that will connect you to these destinations or transits, or the opportunities to meet or congregate.”
the Recently opened Hub 350 will be an economic focal point for a neighborhood where investors and new hires will interact, and the area around the Brookstreet Hotel presents another opportunity for event and entertainment spaces, Petten said.
She said the new streetscape will also serve as a 5G proving ground for local start-ups, as well as established park players like Nokia, Ericsson and Ciena.
“There’s a strong interest in creating a walkable community here in the tech park. One that’s connected and one that showcases all the good work that’s done here on a daily basis,” Petten said.
A key part of this for Petten is the establishment of a pilot program of connected autonomous vehicles within 18 months, with the aim of moving people within the technology park and possibly to and from the future Moodie LRT station.
Legget Drive has already been outfitted with sensors to help autonomous vehicles navigate the test track.
Brail, who teaches urban studies, said using self-driving vehicles and 5G to distinguish Kanata North “makes perfect sense” given the concentration of work already being done there.
She said self-driving vehicle testing will be important nationwide, but warns that combining it with scaling up and more pedestrian activity could lead to conflict.
“You have a conflict with a non-autonomous vehicle as well, it’s just that it’s a conflict we know of,” she said.
Put away the “cookie-cutter”
The trade association said both private and public investment will be needed to bring these grand concepts to fruition.
“Partnerships are key. Ensuring that our existing group of businesses here in the park, their leaders, landowners and property developers have a strong voice in the future of what this technology park looks like,” said Petten said.
Recently elected MP for Kanata-Carleton, Jenna Sudds, helped shape this new planning regime through the City of Ottawa’s Official Plan in her role as Councilor for the region.
“For me, it’s all about dynamism,” she said.
Sudds said the policy’s success will depend on the tech park’s ability to maintain its buzz after the workday.
To support these changes, the city is currently consulting on a pilot “planning permit” project, scheduled to be rolled out in 2023, which will simplify and speed up planning applications.
Sudds, who was the trade association’s founding executive director before being elected councilor, said the new policy will shift the focus of City Hall to leadership for the business community and residents.
“It’s no longer cookie-cutter policies that all the other business parks have, but it’s an opportunity to go out into our community … to draft what those parameters are now. So the power has definitely changed the other way,” Sudds said. .
Sudds said the federal government will play a role in funding research at the park, including for the development of self-driving vehicles.
Brail said the city’s work is not done with this plan and will need both “champions and critics” as it attracts the investment needed for transformation.
She warns that there can be growing pains when people move into the neighborhood and find they have needs that weren’t in the original plans.
“The goal is to be proactive, but you also have to be prepared to be reactive,” Brail said.
“You have to be prepared to do things at the last minute or after the fact.”
Ottawa morning8:22Kanata Nord is poised to become more than just big tech