Saturday, January 28, 2017 9:00 am ·  0 Comments
My first introduction to the power of urban planning came courtesy of a trek I made as a teenager hitchhiking down the west coast of the United States and spending some time in Portland on route to California which was my desired destination. To say, it was in a state of deep decline would be an understatement.
Interestingly, since that time Portland has become something of a prototype on how to create a truly liveable city. By creating an urban growth boundary, for instance, not only did it protect farm land, it forced the city to grow up, rather than out. By curbing sprawl, ridership on public transit increased. Eventually, the downtown core completely regenerated itself. And today, local residents walk far more due to an interconnected trail and park system.
Of course, none of this would have happened had it not been for the visionary and courageous leadership of Republican Governor Tom McCall who dared to tear down a riverfront freeway to create a waterfront park now bearing his name. Just to put it in context, prior to this bold move General Motors and Mobil Oil had purchased the Los Angeles public transit and dismantled it as a successful ploy to increase automobile sales. Their total fine. A little over $5,000. Less than my grandmothers house!
I mention this for the simple reason that at the end of the day the biggest decision facing any municipality is this: is the top priority for the planning department to ease traffic concerns, such as is the first consideration for new school construction i.e. how to move parents through who are idling their cars. Or is it about trying to imagine and implement a city that is liveable in the truest sense of the word?
Starting with the positive, there is much that Oakville is doing right, largely because it had such a good hand to begin with. The downtown core has somehow managed to retain its quaint charm, unlike many other ‘villes’ that have been swallowed up by suburbia. And it has managed to not just survive, but thrive despite the arrival of mega malls.
Having access to the GO Train (Oakville & Bronte Stations) is also a huge asset for many local residents, especially for those that are required to commute to other destinations. Not only does this ease traffic congestion, decrease the amount of smog, but it lowers stress levels of those taking the train as they are spared the trials and tribulations of having to contend with major traffic highways.
And for any people following the proceeds at city hall, Council has repeatedly demonstrated a very strong commitment to preserving green spaces despite strong opposition from some developers, along with the Ontario Municipal Board which increasingly appears to have devolved into an instrument for developers to circumvent guidelines established by the province.
If there is one issue I have it is that much of the growth in recent years has been low density, sprawling nature that is bad for the overall health and wellbeing of the community, and bad for tax payers’ pocket books. I say this not as a judgement on council, or even developers for that matter, because at the end of the day ‘the enemy is us’.
What I mean by this is, so long as we equate the good life with suburbia, there is very little a council can do, especially in the absence of strong provincial leadership such as Governor McCall who strongly enforced an urban growth boundary, which gave Portland no choice but to Grow Up. That is the starting point, and on this all else rests.