Ottawa parents gain support for more natural spaces

Have you ever seen the monoculture grass on the sides of streets and thought - why can't that be flowers and pollinator habitat?  I had that thought for a few years, especially when I learned that a friend of mine (who ran a daycare) had planted a pollinator paradise of native plants and milkweed for monarchs and due to a bylaw complaint, was told to cut it all down or face a fine. It took a few years (and a few more bylaw complaints from neighbours) before we were able to gather a mass of passionate and motivated individuals to act on this bylaw (Lesson learned #1: simple emails to our councillors were not sufficient to move the needle towards a change that would be equitable to all residents of Ottawa, not just ones that had sympathetic councillors.)


Along with Ecology Ottawa and the Envirocentre, two significant environmental organizations in our city, we worked with Councillor Rawlson King to bring a motion to Ottawa City Council. The motion was brought to the Transportation Committee by Councillor Laura Dudas and presented on May 4 by Councillor King (who we primarily worked with). There was some very interesting insight about "neighbour wars" (e.g. complaints councillors frequently see between two neighbours) but overall councillors were in agreement with the motion and were glad to see that the bylaw was *finally* being updated. For Our Kids parent Raewyn Khosla delegated at that meeting and provided some great answers to questions from the councillors. The motion has now passed city hall and we can't wait to see what the new bylaw draft looks like in 2023 (Lesson learned #2: city bylaws don't change quickly).

Why did I want to make this happen? Because urban cities NEED better green space and there is SO much climate benefit to planting (especially native) plants wherever we can. During our research it became apparent that planting native plants wasn't just good for pollinators, it improved the soil quality of the green spaces, helped to keep the water in the water table and not overwhelm our stormwater systems, captured carbon, improved access green space and supported mental health (not only by seeing the beautiful plants but also planting them, and building community by chatting with neighbours!).

Here is the strategy we employed:

  1. Identify key people who have expertise we don’t and find people who are passionate about this change.
    • We met a few times virtually to flush out what we wanted to ask, which councillor made sense to work with and started drafting a letter to the councillor

    • We chose a councillor that was on the environmental committee who we knew was active in the community and would appreciate the value of the bylaw change 

  2. Schedule a meeting with a city councillor (one of our parents was a constituent in their ward) and explain what we would like to accomplish and how we hope to help. [the "how we hope to help" was key]

  3. Provide a detailed letter to a councillor.  
    • Connect the dots between why the action is important and how it aligns with the city’s climate action plan. Here is our letter

    • The letter went through many drafts in collaboration with other local environmental groups including Ecology Ottawa and Envirocentre (relying on their expertise with the municipal system) 

  4. Provide a substantial resource document like this one that can help city staff with their work.  
    • We highlighted other cities that have successfully implemented this bylaw or something similar.

    • We also met with experts across Ontario as well as other municipal governments and asked if they would be willing to provide advice or support to city staff. We included the contact info in our resource document  

  5. Follow up a few times with the city councillor. We were also prepared to launch a petition if there appeared to be resistance to the idea to show that the support of this bylaw was city wide (we didn’t need the petition in the end, nor our "jingle" - see below)

  6. Delegate at any city council or sub-committee meetings where the motion would be presented.

We hope this helps anyone who may be wishing to naturalize green spaces in their cities! Don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions!

Let it Grow.. Let it Grow.. Don't Mow it Down anymore....

Let it Grow. Let it Grow.. Walk away it's one less chore...

Please let me.. help the bumble bees..

[Yes we even drafted a jingle - though we haven't yet made our Frozen music video yet!]

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