OTTAWA — Ottawa’s South March Highlands proved to be a favourite among voters in the Great Places in Canada competition after it was named the first People’s Choice Great Public Space winner, the Canadian Institute of Planners announced Thursday.
“It really was a chance for people to get more involved in promoting their favourite place,” said Amanda Kutler, a Member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.
The 1,000-hectare highlands was nominated by Mitch Briseboise, a Kanata high-tech worker from Renfrew. The area is one of three people’s choice winners. The others are Osbourne Street in Winnipeg, Man., that won the People’s Choice Great Street, while the community of Woodfield in London, Ont., won the People’s Choice Great Neighbourhood.
A 20-minute drive from Parliament Hill, South March Highlands is a unique area of wetlands and mature forest that is home to an estimated 650 species.
The City of Ottawa owns half the land, while the rest is privately owned by companies like KNL, a partnership of developers Urbandale and Richcraft, who are looking to develop the area.
Last year, KNL clearcut trees on its portion of the highlands near Beaver Pond to make way for a subdivision. Plans, though, are currently stalled as the city and developers try to resolve concerns about how much stormwater the area’s wetlands can absorb, with the added issue that the wetlands were designated politically significant last year.
Supporters, like Briseboise, hope the highlands’ popularity will increase pressure on the government to preserve the area; a win in the publicly chosen category should only encourage them.
The competition, which is in its second year, is hosted by the planners institute to recognize the work of professional planners across the country. It allows Canadians to nominate their favourite places in one of three categories: great street, great neighbourhood or great public space. People’s choice winning locations were decided from the results of a four-month-long online vote, which amassed more than 200,000 e-ballots. The three grand winners were then chosen by a panel of professional planners.
Other top honours went to Queen Street in Fredericton, N.B., for great street, Osbourne Village in Manitoba for great neighbourhood and Cape Forchu Lighthouse in Yarmouth, N.S., for great public space.
The panel judged a short-list of 21 finalists based on criteria such as promoting social and economic activities, having a memorable or unique character and reflecting local culture, history and planning.
“So many great places were nominated,” said Jill Collinson, one of the judges. “We had quality entries from big cities, small towns, and all spaces in between. Urban, rural, commercial, residential, green space, historic, modern — there was a bit of everything.”