Monday, October 28, 2013

A WALK THROUGH THE RINGS

You can learn much by walking. It is not only a physical exercise, but an opportunity for meditation on the huge issues dominating life. And it is the best way to observe things, especially how things change.

I live in a wonderful town, Newmarket Ontario. Recently, Money Sense magazine declared Newmarket to be one of the ten best places to live in Canada. Such things as median income, employment rates, schools, traffic, and other "quality of life" criteria were taken into consideration. Residents of this historic town have known of Newmarket's excellence for some time.

For me, walking from Newmarket's historic heart reveals how the town grew. Like a tree, there are rings of growth. The oldest part exists along the Holland River and Fairy Lake. The old Main Street is the core of this area, and the lovely homes and buildings, many proudly displaying plaques of the original owner's name and year of construction cluster around the core. Many buildings pre-date Confederation.

As the walker moves east, changes are evident. Many homes in the next outer ring are of the "post war" style, simple bungalows on large lots with corner stores and laneways behind houses. Move further out and the "surveys" of the 60's and 70's come into view: larger homes, many multi-story and with shorter and shallower front yards are the style. Then, the streets become a jumble of cul-de-sacs and crescents as the 80' and 90's emerge. Now, the new millenium arrives and houses become huge structures on postage stamp sized lots. And in the future ...? Will a walker find younger, stronger, fast growing rings decades from now?

The town is currently involved in a process which will determine how the town will grow in the next eighteen years. In that time, Newmarket will add upwards of 21,000 new residents. Where will they live? How will they get around? What will our town look like in 2031? To deal with all of this, a plan, known as the "Town of Newmarket Urban Centres Secondary Plan" has been formulated and was discussed at a public meeting at the new town hall. In a nutshell, the plan identifies areas where growth will occur and will need to be managed, with new streets, new transit, new infrastructure, and new buildings to house people and allow them to conduct their businesses. The plan is ambitious, wide-ranging, daunting, expensive, and will completely change the face of Newmarket forever. 

Many people voiced concerns about the draft plan. Some of the main growth areas in the plan involve the Yonge Street and Davis Drive corridors. Several developments include provisions for the construction of high rise mixed use buildings, some going as high as ( potentially ) thirty stories. People raised genuine concerns for the appearance of such construction, the problems with density impacting traffic ( already bad in the corridors ) and safety of pedestrians, school children and seniors. People who live in quiet neighbourhoods voiced concerns about the shadows of high rises looming over their homes. And people quibbled about the difference between "absolute" height limits and "bonus" limits. Developers were regarded as though they were sharks circling our town, ready to devour it and all who live there.

For me, I share the concerns of residents .... to a point. Unfettered growth is dangerous, and, to be sure, developers are motivated by one thing only: profit. Those who voiced concern about the greed and lack of concern for quality of life must be listened to. But some people are undoubtedly motivated by "Nimbyism" ... the "not in my back yard" syndrome.  I would certainly be concerned if one of these towers were build overlooking my yard. But Nimbyism is narrow and selfish. It is motivated by only thinking and being concerned about oneself and one's own interest, without paying any attention to the greater good. It denies growth and believes that one can put a halt to growth permanently and, thus, preserve the status quo forever. Nimbyism is utter nonsense. Growth is coming, whether Newmarket likes it or not. The population estimates are based on trends. But what if the projections are wrong? What if more than 21,000 people choose to live here before 2031? What then? Will Newmarket drown in a chaotic mess of poor development and lack of services? Will we stagnate in a town where it is impossible to even get around? Will current respectable neighbourhoods become over-crowded ghettos as middle class people move out to quieter places like, say, Sharon or Holland Landing?

The fact that Newmarket has a plan is encouraging. The fact that the plan is public and allows for public input is laudable. And, most importantly, the fact that the plan allows for future generations of Newmarket residents to prepare for further growth is not only appropriate, it is truly visionary. Thirty story towers are not going to be built in the next five or ten, or even fifteen years: but twenty or thirty years from now? The need for them may well be pressing. For a group of residents or for the current town council to put permanent caps on growth, handcuffing future town councils and preventing them from managing the changes that they will face looking forward to the next hundred years would not only be short-sighted, it would be destructive and plain stupid.

One wonders how the townspeople of Newmarket in the 1840's ( the time when my beloved Grey Goat was built as a well-to-do farm house ) might have felt about the construction of the homes and businesses that comprise the current core of the town. They would probably be horrified to think that their little settlement of a few dozen souls could grow into a town of a couple of thousand people. Imagine how they would react if they could see Newmarket today? They would probably cry havoc and try to prevent the changes that allowed the growth to occur that created today's town.

Similarly, we in the present cannot allow our immediate concerns to cloud our judgement. Certainly, common sense has to prevail. Appropriate priorities need to be established and adhered to. But Nimbyism cannot ever be allowed to stop the inevitable.

Newmarket, like the venerable old maple trees that grace the front yard of the Grey Goat ( probably a hundred years old, at least ), will grow new rings. We must accept that, and embrace the growth. It will happen no matter how we feel about it now. We can't stop it. So, let's plan for it and do the right thing. Let's grow tall, strong and smart and grow with vision and hope for a better future.



2 comments:

  1. Would have been nice of you to ask to use my photo in your blog. Best regards, Marc Mantha

    ReplyDelete
  2. Will a walker find younger, stronger, fast growing rings decades from now?Lacrosse Helmets

    ReplyDelete