Monday, May 26, 2008

City's nifty online map system

A few weeks ago, I attended the first lesson of a Planning Primer mini-course that is offered by the City of Ottawa to help citizens become more aware of some of the inner workings of City Hall. While I am a City Hall junkie, I tend to pay more attention to transportation issues than planning and zoning ones, so I had almost no understanding of such matters. I found the course was quite informative and gave a good overview of a lot of topics.

But perhaps the most interesting thing they showed us was merely an aside. It's a new online mapping tool that you can use to compare a variety of municipal overlays. (If the expression "comparing municipal overlays" doesn't get your geek on, you might want to stop reading now.)

To get to the map, go to and click on "Maps" on the left, which takes you here. Then click on "eMap". It will take you through a bunch of screens and possibly install a program on your computer, but eventually you'll be brought to the eMap screen. You'll be welcomed by the logo for Autodesk MapGuide, so you'll know whom to curse if the eMap software crashes your browser, as it did for me a couple times.

(click on images for larger screenshots)

So we're brought to a page with a toolbar at the top, a search bar at the left, a layer-selecting feature to its right, and a map of the City of Ottawa on the right side of the screen:

As we zoom in, we get more detail on the roads...

When we zoom in further and click on the "2008 Draft Comprehensive Zoning By-Law" layer, it brings up a bunch of new information. Individual properties are outlined. Bold red lines outline areas with the same zoning. In this particular zoom, heritage areas are shaded in, and not shown are greenbelt and flood plain areas.

The mess of black text is the zoning. Downtown, zoning areas are pretty small, but out in the 'burbs, you can get hectares of the same zoning. In this shot, my cursor is hovering over a property with zoning "R4T[479]". According to my notes from the Planning Primer seminar, the "R" means "Residential" (okay, that one's easy), the 4 means it's the 4th level of density, and the "T" refers to specific zoning provisions (starting at "A", then "B", etc.). The "[479]" refers to specific site exemptions, and according to this page, exemption 479 means it's a multiple use dwelling unit, with provisions for a "rooming house and rooming house, converted limited to 50% of gross floor area of building."

At this point, I tried adding the cycling routes overlay without taking off the zoning overlay, and my browser crashed. But our intrepid blogger sprunges on.

We can zoom in even closer and get to individual properties. This one had an interesting enough shape. You can select the arrow button in the toolbar and click on the site number (alternately, click elsewhere in the zone to select the whole zone to, I assume, get information about that area's zoning).

When you right-click and select "Property Report", it should bring up a PDF with information on that property, including square footage, frontage, depth, ward number, councillor, and even garbage collection date.

Unfortunately, this functionality does not appear to work with my browser.

Other overlays include aerial photos from 2002 and 2005. When we select that overlay, we can see that we're looking at a townhouse development. That explains the odd lot shape.

Turning off the aerial view and turning on the "Topographic Map" overlay, it brings up a bunch more information. In addition to topographic maps, it also shows the outlines of the individual buildings on each site. In retrospect, I should have gotten a similar screenshot of the suburbs and compared the ratio of building-size-to-lot-size to the downtown lots shown below.

Of course, I'm a cyclist, so I naturally wanted to see how it handles the cycling routes. It's a bit dry, but that's Ottawa's cycling network for you. One neat feature is that if you hover over the lines, it indicates what type of cycling facility is designated. Perhaps when the Ottawa Cycling Plan is passed this summer they can add future cycling routes to this overlay as well, such as Albert Street.

Note that NCC-owned pathways and City-owned pathways are designated by different colours (blue and green, respectively). This distinction, lovably brought to you by the City of Ottawa, combines my three favourite pastimes: cycling, politics, and bureaucracy.

(Which reminds me, my copy of Disciplined Minds arrived in the mail today! I should get off the computer and start reading!)

- RG>

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