We need to think differently

September 14, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Laura Campbell

Ask any person if they want a new subdivision going in next to their house, chances are many will say they aren’t overly keen on the idea. It might depend on what type of houses go in, or specifically, the density of the proposed development. The higher the density, the more traffic, and crucially, the more that  “small town feel” disappears.

But Orangeville isn’t a small town anymore, really. And the question of new housing developments, specifically one behind the Orangeville Mall, will likely be a key issue in the upcoming municipal election in October. Candidates running for Council will need to take a principled position on whether they support or oppose the idea for a very high density (623 units on 44 acres) development off of Hansen Boulevard.

I don’t envy them. People need places to live. But what happens to the community that is already there? Similar proposals in Caledon East that include more apartment-like units, have left citizens scrambling in efforts to scrap the project. Some candidates for mayor in Caledon have easily blamed the Liberal government’s “Growth Plan” for changes in the nature of small towns. But growth beyond the GTA is somewhat inevitable. That’s a good thing for our economy; jobs in construction are well-paying and not nearly as precarious as others (ask me about my life in Academia!).

But there are two major practical issues that stand in the way of an easy decision on this particular housing development. The first is: what will the cost be to the Town of Orangeville, in the long run, to grow the infrastructure to support this? Road safety is a concern, since this would add many more cars to this area. But more importantly are questions around sewage infrastructure – and given the location, right on the edge of town, both Orangeville and Mono would have to deal with the implications of yet more water-treatment-related costs. There is consensus that the flooding on First Street that happens all too often is clearly related to planning decisions made in the past.

The second issue then, is the environmental impact. Increasingly unpredictable rainfall (both too much, or too little) means that upsetting delicate wetlands isn’t a good idea. There are several people who raised these concerns at the Council meeting this past Monday evening. The other is, how much green space must Orangeville residents lose in the name of economic prosperity and growth?   

I don’t have an easy answer. As an environmentalist, I inherently am against the idea of such a development. The government of Ontario’s growth plan has pre-approved areas for development outside the GTA, to meet the high demand for housing over the coming decades. But there will be many towns in southern Ontario, just like ours, that have to decide exactly how we utilize that plan and where it makes most sense to build. Shelburne’s recently rejected sale of Fiddle Park for a subdivision development is an example of citizens engaging with politics at a direct level to shape the nature of growth.

The other thing that concerns me, aside from all of the well-documented environmental concerns, is that there is no sign that any of the new units will be truly deemed “affordable” housing. There are so many people in our town who are being squeezed out by the cost of living here, and I’m not talking about the high taxes, though that’s a whole other problem.

Housing is too expensive. This Hansen development, despite the high-density proposal, won’t be much different. How long until our governments (financial regulators and chief planners, specifically) address this bigger problem? We fumble with it at our peril.

And make no mistake, those who are able to purchase expensive houses at the highest end of their housing budget are just as vulnerable as those who are renting. Most analysts are now confirming that Canada is at risk of a full-fledged financial crisis, as the overall consumer debt rate soars way beyond our national GDP.

We need to think differently. We need to build smaller. Even in the United States, where the current President is waging an all-out war on the poor and the environment, there has been much more of an effort to build differently and for a wider variety of incomes. Why can’t we trailblaze a bit? What about a sustainable ‘tiny-house’ or small square footage housing development? Passive-homes? With a community garden?

These and a myriad of other concerns and ideas will likely be raised at varying all-candidate discussions happening over the coming weeks. One of these will be hosted by the Dufferin-Caledon Climate Change Action Committee. They will be hosting a debate at Westside Secondary School on October 2nd at 7 p.m. I would urge everyone to go and meet the candidates. Go and hear what they have to say about the most pressing issue facing humanity: how do we balance growth with the absolute necessity to change the way we do everything – in particular, how and where we build our homes?

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