Candidate for Regional chair talks of a doubling of our population; Woodruff says our heads are buried in the sand

opinionandcommentBy Greg Woodruff

October 23, 2014



That is a doubling of our population. I would like to share with you my experience while running for the Halton Regional Chair. Could the population and elected officials please pull your heads out of the sand?

The government of Ontario is insisting via “Intensification” that hundreds of thousands of new residents are housed on top of us. In a recent meeting Colin Best chastised me because I was only sighting the short term figure of 250,000 more people and thought we better prepare for 500,000 more. That is a doubling of our population. This is the only comment I’ve heard throughout the entire campaign which shows engagement on the massive transformation imposed on us by the Ontario government.

Do I think radically transforming stable communities via Intensification is a good idea? No. I think it’s totally unfair, wreck-less and undemocratic. But since the decision is above the pay grade of the Regional Chair; let’s do this transformation in a way that retains our character and standard of living. We need to stand up and negotiate with the Ontario government for the tools and funds we need to pull this off. However, the reality is they are not asking us about increased density – they are telling. They have all the legal authority they need and a guaranteed mechanism via the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The OMB is not a court deciding what is “fair”. It’s a body designed to overrule the entire municipal government if the City attempts to block a development. The Mayor, Councillors, City Staff and master plans all become instantly and totally irrelevant when the City looses at the OMB. Forget “Controlling Growth” you can’t even “Direct Growth” if the OMB decides against you. This is why developers have proposed a 28 story building in down town Burlington in a space clearly marked for 8 stories maximum. They don’t think the residents, City Council or City Staff have any say in the matter at all.

Unless we get vice-like control of the development process the City can direct nothing and the city will become a grey congested mess. If any developer can descend on any chance piece of land and slap up a massive building how can you plan transportation and transit? The increased density will be scattered around making transit planning impossible and the car will remain as the only practical way around. The city will end up with business all concentrated in a few areas then endless apartment blocks in others. It’s not as if Halton will suddenly fold. It will just be a grey area filled with massive roads.

I’ve heard little about what to do from candidates. The whole place is going to undergo a massive change in the upcoming years and the election is the most important mechanism for residents to shape a brand new city. Where is the debate on this topic? Worse yet mistaken ideas are often repeated and go unchallenged.

A mistake I’ve often heard is that to attract business into an area you need to increase the local population. The local population doesn’t matter – the population in a businesses “Trading Area” does. This is a function of how quickly and conveniently a resident can access a business. People make choices based on “time” not “distance”. It’s important because when you make an area congested with traffic the “Trading Area” will shrink.

Though a business will get access to 600 new customers in a new development it will loose access to 6,000 others. It doesn’t matter if people walk, bike, take buses, rail or drive, but the speed of movement matters greatly. Larger businesses aware of the phenomena will jump out of the congested area and cluster around each other. Single owner businesses attempt to populate store fronts for a while, but the lack of surrounding larger stores will sewer them eventually. This phenomena is well on it’s way in Aldershot. Checkout Clappisons Corners if you doubt this analysis.

Another often repeated mistake is that “active transit” and buses will solve our transit problems. Places with high rates of non-car transit have massive investments in public transit. The cities of Europe have subways, pedestrian only paths, dedicated bike lanes, etc and still have tremendous traffic and congestion. None of these mitigations are even on the drawing board in Halton. I didn’t hear a word from any candidate on how to create these alternate methods of transportation. Remember a 100% increase in the population means 100% more cars unless you provide alternate methods of transport.

The campaign process has left me horrified at the level of denial. This increased density is coming and every elected official better have a plan and ideas on how to manage it. My preferred notion is “horizontal zoning” where high value commercial space is required at ground level. Every approved building without this forever deepens our transit woes. This is only one piece of what needs to be a comprehensive and forward thinking plan. Please ask your Councillor “How do you intend to deal with the massive increase in population mandated in Halton?” Please factor in the responses when voting.

Greg Woodruff is a candidate for Chair of Halton Region


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