By David Crombie
The Greater Golden Horseshoe is the fastest growing region in North America. Long considered the engine of the province, it is home to 70 per cent of the people in Ontario and generates two thirds of the province’s economic output. By 2051 the population of the Horseshoe will grow from 10 to nearly 15 million.
Growth is good, but the old response to how to deal with such extraordinary growth —enabling never-ending sprawl — no longer works for us. The world has changed, and sprawl is now a destructive, irresponsible force, threatening our future by exacting a social, economic, environmental and financial price we can no longer afford.
Sprawl has already done enough damage. It has destroyed vast areas of our world-class farmland and threatens to gobble up even more. It has cut through wide swaths of our forests, wetlands and river valleys and severely degraded our priceless water resources, greatly diminishing and damaging our ecological health and wealth.
It has led to tens of billions of dollars spent on new highways that only created more problems instead of solving them — causing even more congestion and lengthening our daily commutes – and the proposed new ones are undermining our $60 billion regional transit plan. And sprawl has dramatically and tragically failed one of our key needs — it’s not meeting the challenge of providing housing that most people can afford.
Changing our thinking
We need to change the way we think about how we build our cities and towns and do things differently. Fortunately, more and more people are beginning to do just that.
Our economic growth, environmental health and community well-being are not separate pursuits — they are interconnected and interdependent. We need to build more compact, communities with housing people can actually afford, and where they can walk and easily take transit to get to work, schools, health clinics and stores.
With more people moving to the Golden Horseshoe we need more farming — not less. We should be listening to our farmers, paying attention to what they need to keep their farms productive and provide the food security that’s so vital to us all.
Protect what we’ve got before it’s gone
We need nature and greenspace within easy reach too and to protect our globally significant water resources. All of these needs are about being more respectful, protective and appreciative of the extraordinary health and wealth-giving powers of this region — and taking care of what we’ve got before it’s gone.
What we don’t need are huge new highways wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars, which will scar our land and quickly become congested and spew more pollution and greenhouse gases – undermining our efforts to combat climate change and literally dooming our children and grandchildren to a future of car dependent sprawl.
A year of decision
This year is a watershed year for dealing with these needs and concerns and demonstrating what we truly value. Voters will have two opportunities to have their say — the provincial election in June and the municipal elections in November.
Whatever the outcome of those votes, in the Golden Horseshoe we need all levels of government to focus on these issues and think them through — and act to protect what we have so we can grow, not sprawl — clearly the best long-term economic development strategy for Ontario.
Choices will be made by citizens and governments alike. In the coming years when we’re dealing with climate and sudden, volatile events, the choices we make — or fail to make — will matter not just for us, but for generations to come.