Quite the cartoon

Before this day and age, where every show imaginable is on demand, cartoons and kid shows were a Saturday morning routine for many. Oddly, shows from our youth still get airtime. From the Roadrunner and his nemesis Wile E Coyote to Tweety bird and Sylvester the cat, kids are still entertained decades later. 

While we can’t quote dates or age at the time, we recall a cartoon involving a character, deftly painting a floor with such enthusiasm that eventually the individual was painted into a corner. Always a creature of common sense, we remember not understanding how every stroke of the paintbrush brought the dilemma closer, but the painter was oblivious. In that moment, many kids mused how the character might escape the result of their action. What next?

A recent Official Plan Amendment meeting hosted by the County of Wellington reminded us of that old cartoon. This isn’t to say their work or comments are a joke – far from it. Every keystroke and planning document prepared, pushes society and communities closer to that corner where there seems to be no retreat.

The issue of development is hard to master. Accepted practice, current norms, the balancing of economic and environmental interest – all of these factors seep into the conversation around planning. Rarely, if ever, is there room to examine the how and why of expansion to accommodate new growth.

That shortfall in discussion is made worse by implicit pressure from the provincial government to accommodate developer proposals even if they don’t make sense.

The latest mandates doled out from the province propose an increase of 59,000 people and 27,000 jobs across Wellington County in the next 30 years. For greater context, county planner Sarah Wilhelm explained this equates to roughly 22,000 more housing units – some 730 per year. That is akin to adding a community the size of Arthur proper, each year for 30 years. While the footprint will be compressed due to new regulations and intensification, the point is we face significant change in the years ahead.

Understandably, this has upset the Wellington Federation of Agriculture (WFA). A letter this week outlines their issues and confirms points made by WFA chair Janet Harrop. If the county fails to place greater protections on agricultural lands, the countryside will mirror the travesty that has befallen places like Brampton, Mississauga and Milton.

Time has a way of flying by, but we can easily remember observing on the annual trek in the ‘80s to the Farm Show in Toronto that each passing year Brampton grew. Productive farmland was paved over and within that timeframe many of those displaced farmers ended up here. That reality is now on our doorstep.

Adopting something we once referred to long ago as “grow up, not out,” we could tackle housing needs effectively. Harrop’s notion that intensification targets need to jump to 25% from its paltry 15% as currently proposed makes sense. Add in an emphasis on respecting current urban boundaries and pushing redevelopment of brownfield sites before plundering more farmland is critical.

As the process unfolds with this Municipal Comprehensive Review, leaders are tasked with finding the delicate balance between preserving farmland, locating residential development where it makes sense and fostering local commerce to avoid creating bedroom communities. From accounts of efforts so far, it sounds like they are up to the challenge.

Let’s keep eyes and ears open – and avoid getting painted into a corner by accepting short-sighted development.