Where to Live Now: A data-driven look at Ottawa neighbourhoods

Where to Live Now: A data-driven look at Ottawa neighbourhoods

What does community have to do with buying a house? Do people really want friendly neighbours, or do they just want the most square footage for their buck?

In The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier and Smarter, Montreal psychologist Susan Pinker cited a 2010 study conducted at Brigham Young University in Idaho that analyzed relationship data for more than 300,000 people over nearly eight years. She discovered that people who were integrated into their communities had half the risk of dying during that time as those who led more solitary lives. In Pinker’s analysis, integration meant simple interactions such as exchanging baked goods, babysitting, borrowing tools, and spur-of-the-moment visits — exactly the kinds of exchanges we saw grow when COVID-19 forced us all to stay home.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

For this year’s real estate feature in the Spring/Summer 2020 print edition, we crunched the numbers to find the neighbourhoods where we think you’re most likely to find such opportunities for engagement. Using data available through the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS), we chose six indicators that we believed would attract those looking to connect with the people around them. Omitting rural areas, we awarded points to each neighbourhood according to where it landed in the ranking. (In the event of a tie, we used a secondary indicator of the same theme to refine the ranking.) You’ll find the ten neighbourhoods that performed the best according to those six indicators listed below, along with resident profiles and notable destinations in each ’hood — though many have been forced to adapt to COVID-19, most are offering delivery and/or take-out, and we are hopeful they will resume normal operations once it is safe to do so.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

We also built a site to look at the whole city — for that, head to our new Ultimate Neighbourhoods micro-site, where you can scroll through all 84 urban and suburban ONS neighbourhoods, and used additional indicators such as parks and diversity, to get to know the city and take a virtual stroll through the streets via Google Streetview. Our team normalized the ONS data and developed tools so you can choose the indicators that matter to you, and see this data reflected in your own customized ranking.

Using WalkScore, this indicator gives top marks to areas that do not require a car to do daily errands, while the lowest scores indicate an area where almost all errands require a car.

Coffee Shops
Number of coffee shops per 1,000 people.

Grocery stores
The percentage of residents who live within a 15-minute walk of a grocery store.

Public transit
The percentage of the population whose main mode of commuting (between home and work) is public transit. Reported for population aged 15 years and over.

Housing mobility
The percentage of people who moved in the past year.

Housing suitability
Refers to whether a household is living in suitable accommodations according to the National Occupancy Standard, which calls for a dwelling to have enough bedrooms for the size and composition of the household.

Carlingwood West – Glabar Park – McKellar Heights
OREB codes: 6001, 6002, and 5201
ONS boundaries: Ottawa River, Transitway, Carling Avenue, Woodroffe Avenue (south of Carling), the Queensway, Carling Avenue, Woodroffe Avenue (north of Carling)

A catch-all name for a neighbourhood that includes Woodpark, Glabar Park, McKellar Heights, and a sliver of Lincoln Heights east of the Transitway, Carlingwood West might not be the first ’hood that comes to mind when you think of community. It doesn’t have a village-scale main street, and there is a lower concentration of coffee shops than in the ByWard Market or Centretown. Where it does excel is in factors related to getting around. It ranks high for walkability, and everyone in Carlingwood West lives within a 15-minute walk of a grocery store. One might bump into neighbours while picking up some takeout on Carling Avenue or enjoying an evening run along the Ottawa River. It also has a higher-than-average proportion of residents who commute by transit, at 27.1 per cent. When Stage 2 of LRT construction wraps up — the current target date is 2025 — the neighbourhood will have one station within its borders and two just beyond its edges.

The appetite for knocking down older houses hasn’t engulfed Carlingwood West yet: more than four out of five houses were built before 1980. Apartment towers are clustered in the northwest corner of the ’hood, while the southeast corner has seen a spate of new house construction.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

What’s there?

2140 Carling Ave.
Easy access, lots of parking, and those lattes and snacks make this a community hub.

Bukhari Restaurant
1846 Carling Ave.
One of Ottawa’s few Yemeni restaurants offers halal Arabian specialties, such as lamb mandi.

Pookie’s Thai
2280 Carling Ave.
This spot in a strip mallis the neighbourhood go-to place for pad thai and other Thai specialties.

OREB codes: 5102, 5104, and 5105
ONS boundaries: Churchill Avenue North, Richmond Road, Woodroffe Avenue, and Carling Avenue

Like Carlingwood West, Laurentian is a bit of an amorphous neighbourhood, encompassing parts of Carlingwood, Laurentian View, McKellar Park, and Highland Park. Whatever you choose to call it, Laurentian has a somewhat split personality. On the northeast, near Churchill Avenue and Richmond Road, it has the crunchy-granola vibe of neighbouring Westboro. In the middle, it attracts families with amenities such as the pottery studio and indoor pool at Dovercourt Recreation Centre and the McKellar Park tennis courts. And the stretch of Carling Avenue just east of Carlingwood is popular with seniors: 28.2 per cent of residents in that small pocket are aged 65 or over as opposed to the Ottawa average of 15.4 per cent.
With this diversity, what vaulted it to second place in our ranking of community-friendly ’hoods? It has high walkability, lots of coffee shops, and easy access to grocery stores. Roughly two in five people walk, bike, or take transit to work (a number that might rise when the Cleary LRT station opens). And residents are somewhat more likely to stay put here than in other Ottawa neighbourhoods: 36.7 per cent have moved within the past five years, compared with the city-wide average of 39.6 per cent.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

Meet the Neighbours in Laurentian

Alecia O’Brien lives with her husband, Craig, their children, Evan, Chloe, and Sophie, and their dog Chewy. They moved to Highland Park in 2019 after spending nine years on the other side of the ‘hood, near Carlingwood Mall. The initial draw was its greenspace and playgrounds, access to the 417, and proximity to shops and schools. She wanted a community hub of some sort, which she found in the library, Carlingwood Mall, Dovercourt, and the YMCA. Needing more space, they recently moved into a 1960s-era home in Highland Park.

Tricia Ross lives with her partner, CJ, and her children, Thompson, Sarah, and Jack. She first moved into the neighbourhood in 1991 when attending Algonquin College, living in an apartment on Carling; two years later, her family moved into Woodpark for two years before moving to their current home — a four-bedroom, two-storey home on a quiet street near Byron and Woodroffe — where they have been for 19 years.

Outside your house, what’s your favourite place in the neighbourhood?
Alecia: Woodroffe Park – because of its new play structure and awesome zip line; Dovercourt Community Centre, for programs and summer camps; the St. John A. Macdonald trail for winter activities. And Equator Coffee, for the best Australian latte in town.

Tricia: Woodroffe Park. It’s a hub for connecting with new neighbours. It’s where we meet up with people, chat with seniors, and talk about the issues that are important to our community. The renewal of Woodroffe Park was the result of some these conversations.

Is it easy to connect with people in your neighbourhood?
Alecia: Community hubs have made meeting people very easy for my husband and me. There is a ton of Facebook groups too, and the schools have active parent councils.

Tricia: Social media has been a great tool for communicating with our neighbours. The Carlingwood Community Association hosts many events — families who are new to the neighbourhood often volunteer so they can get to know others.

OREB codes: 4201, 4202, and 4203
ONS boundaries: Ottawa river, O-Train line, the Queensway, Holland Avenue (south of Scott Street), Scott Street Parkdale Avenue (north of Scott Street)

Call it beautification or call it gentrification (with all the moral connotations those terms imply), there’s no doubt that with every passing year, sleek condos and infill houses replace a few more small houses in Hintonburg-Mechanicsville. As a result, the ’hood has experienced more resident turnover than some others on this list: 54.5 per cent of locals have moved in the past five years versus the city-wide average of 39.6 per cent. All that churn — and the damage to informal social networks it implies — knocked a few points off the area’s community-friendliness score. 

That being said, the ’hood still has a lot of factors in its favour. Since locals are almost twice as likely as the average Ottawan to walk, cycle, or take transit to work — and with easy access to both the Tunney’s Pasture and Bayview LRT stations — the chances of striking up random chats with neighbours are higher than in more car-oriented areas. If they want to continue that chat over lattes, there’s no shortage of choices, as everyone in Hintonburg lives within a 15-minute walk of a coffee shop. And on weekends, one can bump into neighbours at Orpheus Musical Theatre, the Great Canadian Theatre Company, or the Parkdale Market.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

What’s there?

NU Grocery
1130 Wellington St. W.
Eco-conscious shoppers flock to this zero-waste store to buy produce, dairy products, cleaning products, and more.

Feline Café
1076 Wellington St. W.
Coffee and tea, baked goods, and free-roaming rescue kitties looking for cuddles and a new home.

5b Fairmont Ave.
Just about anything could be happening in any given week in this DIY arts space.

Old Ottawa South
OREB codes: 4403 and 4404
ONS boundaries: Bronson Avenue, Rideau Canal, Avenue Road, Rideau River

Old Ottawa South is one of the most stable downtown neighbourhoods on this list in terms of mobility: 37.9 per cent of residents have moved in the past five years, slightly less than the city-wide average. That continuity likely helps sustain this ’hood’s wide range of local events, including block parties, a backyard youth Shakespearean theatre company, and at least one annual house-to-house Christmas dinner. Locals are less likely to bump into one another at the bus stop than other Ottawans, since only 16.3 per cent commute by transit, compared with the city-wide average of 20.6 per cent. However, roughly a third walk or bike to work — perhaps making use of recreational paths along the Rideau Canal and Rideau River.

Condo development has been slower to take off here than in the nearby Glebe because of factors such as height restrictions, land prices, and local resistance. However, new multi-unit developments are in the works beside Southminster United Church and on Bank Street land between Aylmer and Euclid avenues. Those new residents will live a stone’s throw from the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library, the Ottawa South Community Centre, and other neighbourhood gathering spots

Photo by Dwayne Brown

What’s there?

Mayfair Theatre
1074 Bank St.
This cinema runs a mix of recent Hollywood movies, foreign films, family fare, and art-house and indie flicks.

Oat Couture
1154 Bank St.
This unique spot serves gourmet oatmeal by day, then transforms into the Montgomery Scotch Lounge by night.

Table Sodam
1200 Bank St.
This restaurant is usually busy with diners tucking into bulgogi, braised pork ribs, spicy rice cakes, and kimchi fried rice.

OREB codes: 5102, 5001, 5002, and 5003
ONS boundaries: Island Park Drive, the Queensway, Carling Avenue, Churchill Avenue NOrth, Dominion Avenue, Ottawa River

If time travellers from 1980 landed in today’s Westboro, they’d feel lost. Glass condo towers line formerly low-rise Richmond Road. On side streets, ultra-modern infill mansions sprout like gold teeth among postwar houses: while two-thirds of Westboro’s houses were built before 1980, roughly a quarter have sprung up in the past 20 years. Westboro’s healthy vibe likely draws newcomers, who can nosh on vegetarian fare at Pure Kitchen, pick up flowers at Tivoli, check out the latest offerings at MEC, and still have time for an evening run beside the Ottawa River. All this walkable fun doesn’t come cheap. In mid-February, the least expensive property for sale here was a small unit in the Metropole condo tower near Island Park Drive and Scott Street listed at $459,900; the priciest was a Metropole penthouse listed for $2.99 million.

And Westboro’s evolution hasn’t come without controversy. Particularly contentious was the move by Ashcroft Homes to knock down part of the 19th-century Soeurs de la Visitation convent to build a nine-storey apartment tower. On the bright side, locals’ intense feelings for their ’hood mean that if residents don’t run into their neighbours at Farm Boy, they’ll likely bump into them at a community meeting

Photo by Dwayne Brown

Meet the Neighbours in Westboro

Lisa Hayden lives with her husband, Jonathan, and two young children. Eleven years ago they relocated from Saskatchewan to be closer to their families, buying a semidetached house that was built in 1978.

Heather Smith Fowler lives with her husband, David, and son, Colin. They moved from Toronto 30 years ago when David was starting a new job with Canada Post and have been in their one-and-a-half storey home ever since. Built in 1947, their place is now one of the few original houses on the street.

Outside your house, what’s your favourite place in the neighbourhood?
Our street, all of the parks, and the river.

Heather: Our yard and garden — it’s where our children played when they were young, where my husband and I relax with our friends, and where I find a way of expressing myself creatively. My second-favourite would be on our friend Bettina’s front porch. It’s the place for impromptu get-togethers with the neighbours.

Is it easy to connect with people in your neighbourhood?
It’s been easy to connect with a lot of the people in our neighbourhood, and we have a particularly close community on our street. It seems to me that we have landed on a street where people are invested in building a supportive community. We have shared gardens, impromptu potlucks and, above all, a support for one another that can be called upon in any season, any time.

Heather: I’m convinced we live on the nicest street in the ’hood. We’ve been lucky enough to have had great relationships with people who have helped us in every stage of our lives: a nurse who gave me reassurance when the kids were babies, a neighbour’s daughter who babysat, contractors who helped us with various home maintenance issues. I once had a neighbour bring me lunch every day for four weeks when I was pregnant and on bedrest! And now we have the loveliest group of women who meet regularly to talk about books and whatever is happening in our lives.

Sandy Hill
OREB codes: 4003 and 4004
ONS boundaries: Rideau Street, Highway 417 and Transitway, Rideau River, Rideau Canal,

In Sandy Hill, every block or two seems to bring a change in vibe. On the western edge, there are condos, the Ottawa Mission, rooming houses, uOttawa buildings, and student housing. To the north, mansions built by Victorian VIPs line narrow streets. South of Laurier Avenue East and east of King Edward Avenue, houses generally increase in grandeur closer to the river, with a row of embassies and other large houses along Range Road. South of Mann Avenue, there’s a cluster of community housing. And south of that is one of downtown’s most hidden ’hoods: Robinson Village, a few blocks of houses near the Rideau River accessed by a single road. It hit the headlines earlier this year when residents protested the proposed construction of four multi-storey buildings that would add more than 300 housing units to the small enclave.

Sandy Hill residents often connect in the shops and restaurants along Laurier Avenue East. But — and perhaps not surprising for an area with a high student population — this is one of the city’s most transient neighbourhoods: almost two-thirds of residents have moved within the past five years

Photo by Dwayne Brown

What’s there?

uOttawa Minto Sports Complex
801 King Edward Ave.
Local residents can buy memberships to the university’s 8,000-square-foot gym and fitness facilities, which includes an Olympic-size pool.

Allsaints Event Space
315 Chapel St.
This former Anglican church now houses event spaces and the Working Title Kitchen + Café.

Strathcona Park
25 Range Rd.
This park includes Odyssey Theatre’s outdoor summer stage, a play structure, recreational paths to other riverside parks, and the Adàwe Crossing bridge.

South Keys – Greensboro West
OREB code: 3805
ONS boundaries: CN rail line, Holly Lane, Walkley Road, O-Train line, Hunt Club Road, Albion Road, Tapiola Crescent, Johnston Road, Conroy Road

One of the most suburban ’hoods on this list — its best-known landmark is a sprawling shopping centre, after all — South Keys-Greenboro West made this list based on two factors in particular: housing mobility and transit use. Simply put, residents here are much more likely to commute by transit and much less likely to have moved recently than their counterparts in other neighbourhoods. Transit commuting stands at 29.2 per cent, well above the city average of 20.6 per cent. When the LRT Trillium Line Stage 2 extensions to the airport and Riverside South open, the area will have two LRT stations (Greenboro and South Keys) and rail access to additional parts of the city, which may increase transit use. On the other hand, the proportions of those who walk or cycle to work are less than half the Ottawa average — not surprising, given the distance from downtown and the general unpleasantness of walking or cycling along the two major roads, Bank Street and Hunt Club Road.

Aside from commercial development along Bank Street and Hunt Club Road, South Keys-Greenboro West is almost completely residential. However, sociable pet lovers can commune with like-minded humans at the hugely popular Conroy Pit dog park, a 10-minute drive away.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

Meet the Neighbours in South Keys – Greenboro West

Tara Lockhar lives with her husband Nathan, children Grace and Cameron, and their dog, Kingston. They moved to the ’hood in 2007, but she grew up in the area, and her mother still lives there, so she knew what she was getting: a quiet neighbourhood near shops with parks and bike paths. She likes the short commute downtown and the older houses.

Mark Fisher lives with his partner, Claire, and his three children, Andrew, Caroline, and Fiona. Mark and Claire moved to the area in 2007 as a newly married couple with a young son, looking to get away from the bustle of Bronson. Their search for an affordable community close to amenities and downtown brought them to South Keys-Greenboro West.

Outside your house, what’s your favourite place in the neighbourhood?
Tara: the park or the bike paths. The Greenboro library is also very nice.

Mark: Our kids are very active in competitive sports, so we most frequent Sawmill Creek pool for competitive swimming lessons, John Leroux’s World KarateFIT Centre, and KaliAndrews Dance Company.

Is it easy to connect with people in your neighbourhood?
Tara: We are lucky in that we have a great group of neighbours on our street. We get together at each others’ homes, and our kids play together on the street, at the park, and at our homes. My husband taps all the neighbours’ trees for maple syrup each spring. I have pretty much lived here my whole life — my dad taught at the local school — so I have a lot of connections. There are actually quite a few people who grew up here and moved back to raise their families.

Mark: Yes, especially as younger families move into the area. I have also made many connections through my work as the school board trustee for Zone 11 (River/ Gloucester-Southgate) that includes the schools near my home.

ByWard Market
OREB code: 4001
ONS boundaries: Rideau Canal, Ottawa River, Rideau River, King Edward Avenue, Rideau Street

When it comes to community, the ByWard Market is a neighbourhood of extremes. On one hand, it ranks near the top of all Ottawa ’hoods when it comes to walkability, availability of coffee shops, and access to grocery stores. It’s rich with restaurants, galleries, and other meeting places. On the other hand, it’s one of the most transient communities in the city: almost three in five residents have moved within the past five years. Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhood is also a study in contrasts when it comes to other factors not considered in our data analysis. It’s an area where shelters sit in the shadow of luxury apartments and where rowdy bars have barely closed their doors before produce vendors arrive at dawn to set up stalls. It also extends beyond what many people think of as “the Market” to a quieter residential area on its northern tip.

Proximity to Global Affairs Canada on the north, Parliament Hill to the west, and the office buildings of Centretown and the Market partly explains why the Market has one of the lowest proportions of driving commuters in the city (28.9 per cent) and one of the highest percentages of people who walk to work (46.1 per cent).

Photo by Dwayne Brown

Meet the Neighbours in the ByWard Market

Jose Antonio Gomez lives with his wife, Chiara, and four-year-old daughter, Sienna. Attracted by the parks in the north end, as well as access to shops and New Edinburgh, the couple moved from Centretown in 2011 and have been in their condo for seven years.

Olga Balan lives with her partner, Dumitru, and her children, Vivienne and Maxim. They moved into their ByWard Market condo from Europe in 2013 because they were looking for a nice family home.

Outside your house, what’s your favourite place in the neighbourhood?
Jose: The parks, the bicycle routes, the restaurants, and Rideau Centre.

Olga: The parks, cafés, and shops.

Is it easy to connect with people in your neighbourhood?
Jose: Yes. There’s a great sense of community and a lot of young families, so we were able to blend in very quickly. We really love living here.

Olga: In my humble opinion, it is very easy. I believe it all depends on personality. In my case, being a parent makes it super easy. Since we moved here, I have met so many wonderful people in the ’hood and I made many friends. People before were complaining about the lack of families with children. However, during the last years, that really changed as more young families with children moved here.

Lindenlea – New Edinburgh
OREB codes: 3301 and 3302
ONS Boundaries: Lisgar Road, Maple Lane, Acacia Avenue, Beechwood Avenue, Rideau River, Ottawa River

Over half the houses in Lindenlea-New Edinburgh were built before 1950, making this leafy ’hood a favourite with house buyers seeking vintage charm. Beechwood Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare, is within easy walking distance for most residents of this compact neighbourhood, increasing the odds of running into neighbours at pubs and stores. Rideau River parklands to the west and Ottawa River parklands to the north are popular spots to meet for a stroll or let the kids blow off steam. Most summers, riverfront Stanley Park hosts the free Lumière Festival, drawing families to the park to make lanterns.

Half the ’hood’s residents get to work on foot, by bike, or by transit. Even though the area is far from the Transitway and the LRT, three bus routes provide frequent service to the ByWard Market, Centretown, and points beyond. Among the factors that knocked Lindenlea-New Edinburgh a little lower on the list are the fact that it’s a bit shorter on coffee shops than some others and it has a relatively high housing mobility rate: 44.9 per cent of residents have moved within the past five years.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

What’s there?

Fraser Café
7 Springfield Rd.
This cozy restaurant is a popular spot for brunch, lunch, dinner, and wine and beer events.

New Edinburgh Park
193 Stanley Ave.
If you like to let Rover run free, you’ll have lots of company in this small off-leash park on the Rideau River.

Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Dr.
The public is welcome to play in the governor-general’s landscaped grounds, which include a skating rink, a cricket pitch, and picnic areas.

OREB codes: 4101, 4102, 4103, and 4104
ONS boundaries: Bronson Avenue, Ottawa River, Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Rideau Canal, the Queensway

Like the ByWard Market and Hintonburg, Centretown is another highly transient central neighbourhood, with roughly two-thirds of residents having moved in the past five years. And it’s another neighbourhood where car commuting is relatively uncommon, as three-quarters of residents walk, cycle, or take transit to work — opening up opportunities for chance encounters with all those new neighbours.

A surge of apartment construction has added lots of new housing stock to this neighbourhood recently: one in six housing units in Centretown has been built since 2000 and one in three since 1980. If statistics are anything to go by, many of the people in those new (and often tiny) apartments are millennials, who make up 45.3 per cent of the ’hood’s population. And many of the newest buildings offer features that builders hope will encourage younger residents to mix and mingle, including party rooms, pools, saunas, theatres, fitness rooms, and large communal terraces. If they’d rather go off-property to socialize, they can watch a game over wings on Sens Mile, skate on the Rideau Canal, have drinks at an LGBTQ-friendly bar in the Gay Village, hit a gym, or choose from nearly infinite brunch options.

Photo by Dwayne Brown

Meet the Neighbours in Centretown

Glenn Nuotio and his partner, Niall O’Dea, moved into their current Centretown home in 2013 — the two met in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and lived in the Golden Triangle before moving to Bay Street.

Sherri MacLeod lives with her partner Jeremy Fisher; their four-year-old Elsie; their baby Hazel; and their dog Rudy. They moved to Centretown in 2010 — Sherri from Montreal, Jeremy from Cape Breton via Wolfville, N.S. — when Sherri began working as a scientist with the federal government. In 2015, they moved to their current home, where they built a recording studio on their property for Jeremy, who is a singer, songwriter, and music producer.

Outside your house, what’s your favourite place in the neighbourhood?
Glenn: I love its inclusive gathering places — The Manx (for years our second kitchen), Bread & Sons, MAX Ottawa, Hijinx, The Shanghai, Venus Envy, Art House Café, and Pressed Café, as well as Dundonald Park for reading and people-watching.

Sherri: The sidewalk on our block of Flora. Our friendly, sweet neighbours frequently gather there to chat while we watch the kids zoom around, draw with chalk, and catch bugs. I love Red Apron, Falafel Scoop, and Moo Shu for treats to bring home and Fairouz for a grown-up night out. We spend time in McNabb Park year-round.

Is it easy to connect with people in your neighbourhood?
Glenn: Centretown is so walkingfriendly with dwellings and sidewalks just tight enough you have to say hello to each other. Also, my neighbour Dan has his front stoop on the corner welcome to anyone. On warm days, he becomes the unofficial mayor of our block.

Sherri: Our block of Flora has a lot of small kids who love to play outside. We spend time playing on the block after school and on sunny weekends. It fosters a sense of community for both the kids and the adults. We all look out for each other and help each other out — that reminds me, we have dishes to return to neighbours who brought us food when Hazel was born!