This election, vote for smart urban planning in Hamilton
The idea of urban sprawl may seem progressive to some. On the surface, this may seem necessary. After all, the Municipality of Hamilton is in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, one of the fastest growing regions in North America.
Pushing the urban limits and building more housing might seem like the natural solution to accommodate the growing population. It could also give people better access to job opportunities and improved lifestyles. This is the agenda adopted by many politicians who advocate urban sprawl. But does sprawl really lead to better, more developed cities?
The expansion of urban boundaries leads to the development of agricultural land and natural areas such as wetlands, marshes and forests. The Golden Horseshoe may be home to a large and growing population, but it is also home to approximately over 800,000 hectares of farmland and protected green space called the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is home to most of Canada’s prime agricultural land.
Yet, according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario is losing about 71 hectares of farmland every day. Most of this loss is due to urban sprawl. In the long term, this trend will lead to economic instability and food insecurity. The Greenbelt is also home to important ecotypes like the Oaks Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment, and is home to 78 of Ontario’s 200 species at risk. Habitat loss and fragmentation in these areas results in the loss of native species at risk such as Jefferson Salamander, Snapping Turtle and Hooded Warbler.
Finally, the loss of wetland and marsh habitats in the Greenbelt affects natural water filtration and storage processes. This means that over time, our soils will become dry and barren, our cities will be more vulnerable to flooding, and our water sources will be more polluted.
However, the loss of the Greenbelt is not the only concern here. Urban sprawl focuses on residential housing or the use of a single area, so there is often a lack of infrastructure needed to support residents. In sprawl conditions, workplaces are farther from homes and residents may not have access to public transportation. This means more cars on the roads and a corresponding increase in air and noise pollution.
Suburban areas that favor single-family homes also have a higher carbon footprint per household compared to other housing types. Ultimately, sprawling communities are poorly planned, less sustainable, and cost taxpayers a lot. A better solution is to focus on affordable, family-friendly housing in urban centers. This can be done through a mix of housing types, from duplexes and townhouses (the so-called missing middle dwellings) to high-rise buildings.
The effects of urban sprawl have not gone unnoticed. Ontario has released several policies in recent years to help stem the problem. Some of them include Greenbelt Plan (2017), Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017), A Place to Grow (2017), etc. These policies aim to provide sufficient affordable housing and an integrated transportation system while protecting the Greenbelt. More locally, local Stop Sprawl movements have sprung up across Ontario. The Stop Sprawl movement in Hamilton in particular has been very successful so far.
Over the past year, community protests, petitions, tireless campaigning and a public inquiry prompted Hamilton City Council to vote against boundary expansion as part of Hamilton’s 30-year growth plan. . Hamilton’s growth plan will instead accommodate population growth by developing gray areas (underutilized land), intensifying along transit lines and making zoning reforms that will add thousands of homes to existing neighborhoods.
While this is a step in the right direction, we need to keep the momentum going. Currently, the Stop Sprawl movements in Halton, Peel and York are pushing for the same kind of reform. It is important to raise awareness and campaign against urban sprawl. More importantly, with provincial elections looming, we must elect government leaders who will support responsible urban growth.