April 2023

Special Edition: Urban Canopy and Greenspaces


Welcome to this first issue of the PEN Newsletter, a continuation of the Peace and Environment News that connected our local community as a print publication since 1985. Going forward, the Peace and Environment Resource Centre (PERC) will deliver this newsletter to arrive in your inbox at the beginning of each month, to keep you up to date on grassroots organizations and individuals acting to address social and environmental issues affecting Ottawa's communities.

This first issue is a special edition to raise awareness about urban canopies as greenspaces in Ottawa as part the Neighbourhood Canopy Regeneration Project, an initiative of CAFES in partnership with PERC. We gratefully acknowledge funding from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

First, Some Background

Urban canopy and greenspaces are increasingly recognized at critical elements of everyday city life because of their benefits for mental and physical wellbeing, their contributions to urban ecosystems, and their potential to help address climate change.

Urban Tree Canopy—“The layer of tree leaves, branches, and stems from all publicly and privately owned deciduous and coniferous trees, forests, and understory within urban settlement areas which provide measurable coverage of the ground.

Because of their importance, the City of Ottawa has acknowledged the role of urban canopy and greenspace in various regulations and obligations, including:

  • The Urban Forest Management Plan released in 2017, in which the City describes a plan to build its urban canopy.

  • A city-wide tree assessment published in 2019 that found that trees cover 31% of the urban area. The assessment also warned that this coverage is not distributed evenly and there are environmental justice issues that are cause for concern—among its key findings, the City noted that wealthier areas may provide greater access to tree canopy while highly populated areas may have lower access.

  • The Tree Protection By-law that came into effect in 2021 to protect trees throughout Ottawa, though these protections are applied differently for trees in urban and rural settings (you can read more about the By-law in Ecology Ottawa’s article about the Tewin clear-cutting, below).

  • Ottawa’s most recent Official Plan approved on March 1, 2023, which includes several items that will influence urban canopy management including an expansion of the urban boundary and commitments to protecting natural canopies and wetlands. The Official Plan proposes to increase the city’s urban canopy to cover 40% of the city, including the Greenbelt. Notably, as you will see below, this target does not translate to ensuring that that target is reached in each neighborhood, so some areas may benefit from greater tree coverage that others.

  • The City’s recent budget, which includes funding amounts of $1.7 million for forestry tree planting programs to enhance the City’s forest canopy and $725,000 for acquisition of greenspace to build resiliency to increasing temperatures and precipitation levels.

Image Credit: C. Bonasia

Stories from the PEN!

But of course, there are also inspiring individuals and organizations in our community stepping up to engage in urban canopy and greenspace management, and that is what you will be reading about in these stories below:

  • To begin, you can read about the Neighbourhood Canopy Regeneration Project, which aims to build the capacity of neighborhood organizations to regenerate the urban canopy in their communities, in CAFES Ottawa’s article Calling on Ottawa’s Community Green Stewards.

  • Moving on, in An Interview with Catherine McKenney you can read about some of the challenges of maintaining urban trees at the municipal level, and opportunities for collaborative action, in a conversation between Catherine and The PEN.

  • Ecology Ottawa next gives an overview on the recent clearcutting of more than 25,000 trees in the city’s southeast corner 70 Hectares Deforested in Tewin Suburb.

  • With Urban Forests Where Community is Key, Forêt Capitale Forest discusses their work establishing food forests and you can learn about the organization’s processes for establishing and monitoring tree plantings to ensure success.

  • CAFES’s Executive Director, Angela Keller-Herzog, gives an appraisal of the city’s tree management data tracking in No Net Loss of Ottawa Forests and Wetlands -- Reality Check Please, and calls for stronger monitoring of municipal efforts to restore losses of trees and wetlands.

  • In City Parks Need More Tree Cover and Understory Plantings, horticulturalist and landscape designer Jeff Collins draws on his experience as owner of REWILD Landscapes to describe the often overlooked understory plantings that are critical parts of urban ecosystems.

  • And lastly, the Ottawa River Institute describes The Gifts of Old Growth Forest in the Ottawa Valley in an article that is also due for future print in their March 2023 Watershed Ways column.

Image Credit: C. Bonasia


If this topic interests you, there are a number of upcoming events where you can engage with urban canopy and greenspace issues in your community [the following list is not exhaustive]:

  • At How to Start a Community Garden, an online workshop hosted by Just Food Ottawa from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on April 5 & 18, you can learn about the steps involved in starting a community garden, including how to search for land, what is essential when starting a community garden, the support available, tips for organizing and much more!

  • Synapcity and CAFES Ottawa are proud to present an important workshop session on Ottawa's Tree Canopy on the evening of Thursday May 11 at Just Food Farm. You can join them as they discuss neighbourhood and city wide responses to protecting and strengthening Ottawa's tree canopy. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions and share insights during breakout sessions. Stay tuned to Synapcity's social media and newsletter for more information including a link to register.

  • You can also engage directly with the city as it embarks on consultations for developing a new Zoning By-law that will implement the policies and directions in the new Official Plan. The consultation process opened earlier this month with the release of seven discussion papers and corresponding surveys, including a discussion paper on How Zoning Can Regulate Trees.

I look forward to connecting with you again next month through the PEN Newsletter. In the meantime, please use the comments section of the newsletter or email [email protected] with thoughts or questions.

--Christopher Bonasia, PEN editor

Image Credit: C. Bonasia

P.S. If you have an idea for something you would like to contribute to the PEN, we'd love to hear about it! Please email [email protected] with a pitch to tell us what you have in mind.

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