Thinking big

There is a great difference between leadership and managing for today.

One of the greater disappointments shared by community builders is how short-sighted politics gets in the way of building something great. Sure, anyone can moan about fiscal accountability or pending legal fights if development is held up, but where is the big plan for the future?

As a quick example, think of Mississauga or Brampton or other cities that have mushroomed in the last 30 years from productive farmer’s fields to homes placed cheek to jowl with a sprinkling of commercial growth along busy roads. Farther out, industry and big box facilities dominate particular neighbourhoods. Missing, of course, is transit that counts.

Perhaps a larger source of folly in Mississauga is Toronto’s Pearson International airport, located a mere 22.5km from downtown Toronto. Absent again is transit that counts.

The same can be said for communities in this area. More time seems to be spent on appeasing the needs of planners and engineers, while addressing the larger issue of how a community will function is missed. Like so many things, no one is really at fault, but everyone is to blame. It is a difficult position to be in because laws set down by the province or the federal government hardly encourage long-term sustainable planning.

It was through that prism that we watched the latest attempt to have a high-speed rail line built between Windsor and Quebec City go down in flames.

There’s no money, it’s not a priority and so on, were the answers offered by top politicians involved.

Such a project is not an overnight phenomenon. If the switch were flicked today to proceed, it could well be 15 to 20 years before such a plan is fully executed. The $20-billion projected price tag is sure to balloon, but spread over the time frame of building it, that amounts to a fractional sum in each budget year. We dare suggest there is easily that much wasted by governments each and every year on superfluous projects of little consequence.

While we won’t pretend for a moment to be in a position of debating the finer points of finance for that rail project, we do know the future will not wait for us. If we are to build a better country, there needs to be some daring manoeuvres that challenge today’s thinking about how communities will function.

A big part of a functioning community, region, province or country is transportation. The emphasis in the last half of the 20th century on automobiles and personal transportation has negatively affected the concept of mass transit.

That madness continues and without a bold new direction, gridlock on major highways, exploding costs to maintain said infrastructure and a continuing surge in fuel prices could leave us in a perilous situation.

It seems to us the infrastructure deficit noted in all budgets at all levels of government would be a cue for questions to be asked about the sustainability of our transportation systems.

Considering the population counts along the Windsor-Quebec corridor, it makes sense to us to invest in rail, and to question present assumptions about affordability. Perhaps the question is: Can we afford not to?

At the very least, proposals of this type demonstrate the dire need for dialogue on how we can make communities more mass-transit friendly. If that means establishing corridors today, so be it.

Someone needs to think big, and it might as well start now.