Smart Growth meeting lays foundation

Mar. 8, 2003- Duane Borden The Hamilton Spectator

Recently, Mayor Rob MacIsaac hosted a Citizens Smart Growth Forum. According to a February Spectator article, "the forum would provide residents with an opportunity to respond to such immediate issues as the proposed mid-peninsula highway and the preservation of the city's urban-rural boundary."

"Participants will help make an impact on some of the most important decisions facing Burlington today," Mayor MacIsaac says. "The main concept behind smart growth is to manage urban sprawl and to create communities that offer access to parks, shops, neighbourhood centres, and amenities that are close to homes and transit. Continued growth, and the proper management of that growth, is essential for Burlington's future prosperity."

Last fall, members of the Burlington Sustainable Development Committee (SDC) attended an information session on curbing urban sprawl hosted by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON).

A most informative booklet, produced by FON, titled A Smart Future For Ontario -- how to protect nature and curb urban sprawl in your community was distributed to all attendees. The SDC subsequently distributed copies to the Mayor and City Councillors.

To quote from the booklet: "If we do not plan smarter, there will come a time when our environment cannot sustain itself ecologically with an ever-larger population using more and more natural resources. Each region's natural systems can withstand only a certain level of human intervention and abuse without one or more parts collapsing. The Golden Horseshoe is rapidly reaching its ecological limits to growth. The strains are being felt already in reduced green spaces, traffic gridlock, unhealthy air quality from motor vehicle and industrial emissions, and polluted beaches from overloaded sewage systems."

FON suggests that building more highways does not and cannot relieve congestion in the long term. Road planning must be carried out as an integral part of smart municipal planning, and transportation networks need to be planned at a regional scale. We cannot afford to repeat past and even current practices of building new highways to allow vehicles to reach their destinations more quickly, and then letting new, sprawling communities sprout up all along the new highways.

Development can and should be planned around key transit nodes such as bus terminals and train stations. Moderate and high density housing with offices, retail stores and nearby services should be concentrated at strategic points along regional transit systems. This development pattern ensures a higher degree of transit use and less car use than would be the case in sprawl areas.

The FON believes that the preservation of farmland is critical to the future of Ontario. Food production near major urban centres helps promote our food self-sufficiency. Farmlands provide important wildlife habitat and allow rainwater and snowmelt to percolate into the ground, recharging groundwater supplies and preventing downstream flooding.

Reinvesting in the physical infrastructure of existing communities assists in maintaining our quality of life. Redevelopment of abandoned industrial lands -- or brownfields -- can help reduce development pressures in the countryside and reduce infrastructure costs. Rehabilitating existing buildings can help boost the local economy and boost civic pride. By cleaning up former industrial lands, and developing them for housing and other uses, pressures to develop rural areas can be reduced.

According to the FON, smart growth gives people more options about where and how they live in a community of their choice. A mixed and adaptable housing stock meets the needs of evolving households. Affordable housing is necessary to ensure that urban areas remain vibrant and that people can live close to their workplaces. Each community needs to provide a range of housing options for different incomes, ages and family needs.

The following is the vision FON has for a smarter, nature-first Ontario.

  • We enjoy clean air, clean water, clean and fertile soil and abundant natural habitats, all of which benefit both wildlife and people.
  • A high priority is placed on protection of healthy ecosystems and watersheds, with well-functioning woodlands, wetlands, waterways and populations of native plant and animal species.
  • In settled parts of Ontario (largely in the south), an ecosystem-based web of core natural areas is fully connected by natural corridors and protected for the long term through municipal land-use plans, co-ordinated at the regional and inter-regional level.
  • An integrated transportation network -- public transit, roads, and provision for bicycling and walking opportunities allows people choices for travelling seamlessly both within and between urban centres.
  • Residents of all urban areas (towns and cities with more than 10,000 people) have access to convenient, affordable public transit, so that automobile use is dramatically reduced and air quality improves significantly.
  • Inter-regional transportation, while still relying on highways as one component, involves a revival of rail, both for passenger travel and to haul freight. Towns and cities across Ontario are linked by light rail and bus transit connections, which allow travel that does not necessarily pass through downtown cores. An inter-regional transportation authority is established to oversee and implement the system.
  • Communities are walkable and bikeable, with most daily needs for moving around the community met within a short distance from home, regardless of transportation mode used.
  • Every resident of an Ontario community has access, by either public or private transportation, to a natural area within a short distance in the community, to learn about and enjoy wild nature.
  • Communities are planned so that there is attractive, compact, affordable housing available to all.
  • Farmers and their farms thrive, protected from urban encroachment through firm urban boundaries, and with provincial and federal farm policies that encourage and promote environmentally sustainable agricultural enterprise.

 

The Citizens Smart Growth Forum is a positive step towards fulfilling one of FON's main premises, "Community participation is critical to the creation of smart new developments within existing urban borders. Consensus has a chance to be forged when all concerned parties are part of the process of community development."

Monthly meetings of the city's Sustainable Development Committee are open to the public. For information, call 905-335-7600 ext 7933 or by checking the city's Web site at www.city.burlington.on.ca under City Services.


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