Get ready for more growing pains

September 18, 2011
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Behind all the screaming and shouting over tax breaks for “foreigners” and rising hydro bills, there’s a quiet little proposal that has barely gotten any notice in this election.

It’s the Liberal plan to expand the Greenbelt, and if you live in or around Guelph you might want to take a look at it.

The Greenbelt is that 1.8-million acre band of protected farmland and environmentally-sensitive space around the Golden Horseshoe created in 2005.

If the Liberals expand that protected zone into more of Wellington County and Waterloo Region, it could have huge impacts on the growth patterns of a city already wrestling with a booming population

It almost certainly will mean Guelph will have to look inward even more for places to grow. And that’s sure to upset some people.

But the truth is those already griping that this city is losing its small-town feel are holding onto a fantasy that doesn’t exist anymore. Guelph sure is nice. But with about 120,000 residents and more coming every day, small town it ain’t.

I wasn’t around when John Galt chopped down a tree in 1827 and founded his settlement on the banks of the Speed River. But I’m pretty sure from that moment on, this place began to change. And it’s changing still.

Guelph will never be Toronto, or even another Mississauga. But we can’t stay frozen the way we are. We can, though, have a say in how we grow.

City planners keep preaching that we can’t continue to grow outward as we have for decades, and everyone nods their heads.

When we read that Ontario has paved over or plowed under some nine million acres of prime farmland to make room for our growing cities since the 1920s, we’re stunned. The Green Belt, in part, was a response that kind of reckless urban sprawl.

And yet, many of us fight against projects that will pack more people into the urban space we’ve already got.

Plans for a condo development on the former W.C. Wood plant property in The Ward neighbourhood have already got some people grumbling. They’re upset the city appears willing to alter the rules to allow a developer to build higher than the six storeys currently allowed there.

Within reason, these kinds of alterations are going to become increasingly frequent in the future. No one is talking about building skyscrapers downtown. But some of the building rules of the past will have to be modernized, as we make room for an estimated extra 50,000 people in the next two decades.

Growth isn’t always pleasant. There will be parts of a bigger, busier Guelph that you won’t like. More construction. More congestion. More crowds.

We all hate traffic. No one is pretending that what happens to Gordon Street at rush hour is a good thing. Increased drivers and increased waits at stop lights are unfortunately a part of the foreseeable future of a growing city, until we find more effective ways to get people around.

The GO Train terminal currently under construction in the downtown is part of that solution. As our core becomes more packed with people, it should support more public transit.

But instead of dwelling on what may be lost as Guelph grows, what about looking at what we may gain?

Maybe we can finally get crowds big enough to fill the Sleeman Centre. Maybe we can finally get enough people out to support our missing Guelph Royals baseball franchise — and any number of other cultural attractions, struggling restaurants or live events.

Growth also offers a key promise for anyone who owns a home in the city — it’s peace of mind that they can treat their house as an investment, knowing they should get a fair sale price if they ever choose to move somewhere else.

Growth, it turns out, isn’t all bad.

Still, the letters to the editor crying that we’re losing our small-town charm keep on coming. I guess we’ll have to accept that some of us just love to complain. In Guelph, it’s kind of what we do.

 

-Guelph Mercury, Sept. 17, 2011

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