City councillor sets out her views on intensification and what it is doing to green space - bludgeoning it in her words.

By Pepper Parr
June 21, 2016
A colleague mentioned article he had read in Urbanicity, a newspaper (in print) published in Hamilton that had an article by Burlington’s Ward councillor Marianne Meed Ward.

“She nailed it” said the colleague. What you think?

Meed Ward wrote about Intensification and Green space.

opinionandcommentIntensification’s war on greenspace – and what we can do about it.

You’ve probably heard the word “intensification.” Likely in the context of defending a massive new residential over development. Possibly as a fatalistic response to the legitimate desire to protect farmland.

In simple terms, the word means putting more people into less space.

Intensification is supposed to usher in a utopian era of urbanism, saving communities from suburban, car-dependent sprawl while protecting green-space at the same time.

The problem is, intensification has become a war on urban greenspace that threatens to degrade the very communities it creates.

“Intensification” is being used as a bludgeon to justify every new development of any scale in any area, while removing almost every tree, shrub or blade of grass in the way.

This must stop.

For starters, let’s rid ourselves of the word “intensification.” Intensification is a plastic word that means whatever people want it to mean. Instead, we need to talk about the kind of neighbourhoods people want to live in, as our city grows and changes.

It turns out people want to live in traditional neighbourhoods, built before the supremacy of the car: places like downtown Burlington. New communities aim to mimic these historic neighbourhoods. Planners call it “traditional town planning” or the “new urbanism.”

Residents believe the developer has focused solely on the positive nature of the aesthetic – they are concerned about density and the intrusion of anything other than single family homes.

Residents in this community, west of Brant street didn’t like the level o intensification the developer had in mind and they were able to beat back the proposal.

The key feature is walkability. But walking has to be pleasant (that’s one reason urban greenspace is important.) And walkability has to mean more than getting a bag of milk, picking up your dry cleaning, or visiting a “parkette” with a bench and a toddler slide.

If you have to get in your car to visit a park large enough to play a game of pick up football, or drive to a big-box store surrounded by parking to get groceries or hardware, or drive to another city to work, or get on a yellow bus to go to school, we haven’t achieved walkability.

All we’ve done is add more traffic.

Trouble is, the intensification we’re getting is almost exclusively residential, with token retail (if at all) that doesn’t come close to satisfying daily shopping needs.

Mapleview Mall - parking north east side

Is this the only solution we have to placing stores in our communities?

We won’t build truly walkable communities until we address the commercial side of urban development, and wean ourselves off of the big boxification of shopping, schools and employment. Resi¬dential and commercial uses are still very much separated, with big box retail, office and employment sequestered on barren, clogged and treeless roads surrounded by seas of parking, far from neighbourhoods.

We won’t build walkable communities until people can work and go to school close by. I hear regularly from resi¬dents who’d gladly take a pay cut (and some have) to walk to a job in Burlington. At a recent proposed school clo¬sure meeting, a father spoke movingly about the impor¬tance of walking his kids to school – it was their time to connect. Other parents said they’d gladly keep their small, old school within walking distance, than go to a big, brand new school far away.

Finally, we won’t build truly walkable communities until we make walking pleasant. That means beautifying our city, and adding urban greenspace. Trouble is, new developments sprawl all over their sites taking up greenspace; the taller the building, the more sprawl, with development virtually covering lot line to lot line, especially in downtown areas where land is at a premium. We end up with the equivalent of a vertical suburb, with no greens¬pace. “Amenity areas” are counted as balconies and party rooms.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward had her daughter Miranda, a grade 9 student, shadowing her all day. The workshop was the end of a 12 hour day. The young lady does not have a campaign manager.

Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward with her daughter Miranda. The Councillor is expected to challenge the current mayor Rick Goldring for the chain of office in the 2018 municipal election,

Even in our newer “smart growth” neighbourhoods that were supposed to be the antidote to suburban sprawl, there’s almost no greenspace around homes, virtually no room to plant a backyard tree or the space to grow the root system for a large boulevard tree. New townhouse developments have even more asphalt and less greenspace. To compensate for the lack of land to absorb stormwater runoff, we build underground cisterns.

We must do better. Here are just a few steps we can take to fight intensification’s war on urban greenspace:

• Value urban greenspace as much as rural. The province has protected rural Burlington via Greenbelt legislation; our job is to protect and add to urban greenspace. We shouldn’t trade off one for the other. City folk need greenspace every bit as much as rural folk.
• Aim higher than green roofs, low flow toilets, geothermal heating and the like for sustainable urban development. As important as these are, they don’t replace the need for actual trees and urban greenspace.
• Revise zoning to require more setbacks, trees, permeable land, low impact development, and onsite passive greenspace in urban redevelopments.
• Take parkland dedication on redevelopments as land, rather than fees as we do now. That would instantly add urban greenspace.
By shifting the conversation from “intensification” to community, we create neighbourhoods where people want to live. I hear regularly from residents who’d gladly take a pay cut (and some have) to walk to a job in Burlington

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11 comments to City councillor sets out her views on intensification and what it is doing to green space – bludgeoning it in her words.

  • Fred Thompson

    There is an accelerated Provincial mandate to increase intensification of development through infill, especially along major arterial corridors. It’s a good thing that we have a higher gov’t authority dealing with this mess the local councillors continue to rot out by inaction. This councillor in particular is spewing a reckless rhetoric which only hurts the natural evolution of our city and places an overwhelming burden in the form of high tax rate increases. She has neither the competence nor the experience to be speaking about the issue. We have been at a critical growth management crossroad for awhile and this self professed urban planner thinks we are still living in the 1950’s. Higher taxes for everybody; thanks MMW, let’s stifle responsible densification and have everyone write bigger checks to City of Burlington. The best solution for these types of lefty wingnuts is for her to step aside, to allow smart people to manage the intensification and growth issues.

  • Hans

    I agree with Steve and would add that “intensification” should be recognized as a FAD with consequences that will last longer (unfortunately) than most other fads.

  • Steve

    Lets face it, the term “intensification” is just an Orwellian word for, overcrowding.

  • Carol

    When you look at those houses “west of Brant” which were likely built in the 1930’s and ’40’s, some in the 50’s, do you think those magestic trees were there, the shrubbery and the landscaping? Probably not, but over the years they have filled in the neighbourhood to give it that stately effect. I live in the east end of Burlington, around New Street, and I always marvel at photos taken during the development of the area, where nary a tree remains, and the lots look like a geometric design. Yet years later, after careful planting and nurturing, these neighbourhoods have taken on a character of their own which is indeed worth preserving. Likewise, I believe intensification along main thoroughfares and public transit meets the needs of the ever-growing “single society”. Let’s face it, with increasing numbers of divorced, widowed and selectively single people, modest, affordable living space with plenty of opportunity for social interaction meets their needs (Don’t, however, get me started on the notion of “affordable”. That is an entirely different, but very critical, debate). I believe, when these new higher density developments are built, over time, people will fill in the spaces between them with not just green, but many colours, where people can rest and breathe. For heaven’s sake, we’ve got an entire waterfront, a greenbelt and an escarpment, all within mere kilometres of where we live. We must be the envy of many.
    The only thing I don’t understand is why we are going from urban sprawl to high-rise in one fell swoop. Is there nothing in between?
    Why do we like travelling to Europe so much? Because the cities are high density, not high-rise. High density gives us no choice but to greet the people we meet and interact with them, but high-rise gives us a good excuse to park in the underground and let ourselves get sucked up to the 20-somethingest floor, without even making eye contact with another soul.
    I think we can do better than that.

  • Shannon Gillies

    I agree with Mr. Mulkewich and Chris. There’s absolutely no reason that intensifying the population of specific areas of our city needs to mean demolishing urban parks and trees. There’s nothing in the definition of “intensification” that says it means covering every inch of a lot with a built structure.

    I often travel along Dundas Street through Burlington to Oakville and am saddened to see all the land on the north side, once productive farmland and beautiful forests, now destined to become large single-family homes where all amenities will be located south of Dundas, accessible only by car. This is the result of our urban boundary being extended to the 407 and it’s only a matter of time before the boundary is pushed beyond that. This is what suburban sprawl looks like. It’s ugly, it’s terrible city planning, it destroys trees and wildlife habitats, and it’s unsustainable.

    Has intensification in Burlington been done well so far? Not always. I agree with Councillor Meed Ward that one of our goals should be to create truly walkable neighbourhoods where walking is pleasant and where walking makes sense. However, if we want grocery stores and hardware stores to set up in areas where we can walk to them, we need the people living here to support them.
    Jane Jacobs said, “You can’t rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.”

    Some of the most densely cities in the world are the most wonderful to walk through. Intensification is not the enemy of walkable communities; it’s key. But it needs to be done right. Chief Planner of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat and Former Chief Planner of Vancouver, Brent Toderian are both vocal advocates for walkable, sustainable communities created through smart city planning and “density done well”.

    I disagree with the statement, “the taller the building, the more sprawl”. In fact, the opposite should be true. Tall buildings (and well-designed mid-rise buildings) don’t belong everywhere, but they do belong in some areas as we move forward to accommodate population growth.

    We can intensify our downtown (and other areas throughout Burlington) in a way that preserves (or creates new) urban green spaces. Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that intensification is a dirty, nature-hating word, and figure out how to do it right.

  • John

    Journalist Meed Ward, true to her style, has run the straw man argument up the poll to see if it flies.
    Councilor Meed Ward, true to her style, has ignored all relevant facts, confirming her ignorance of economics, development and city building.

    Her own home ward is the subject of considerable intensification, yet the residential development’s are almost sold out before they are built, sometimes before they are approved.
    Apparently these are the kinds of neighbourhoods people want to live in, they have changed the conversation and are speaking loud and clear, she is just not listening.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Marianne will have my vote too, if she ever decides to run for mayor.

  • Chris Ariens

    Agree with Walter. We’ve got to stop talking about (and fear mongering) about quantity and start discussing quality. And that quality has to include Councillor Meed-Ward’s reflections on greenspace and building of community (including local schools, local business and local food production) as key tenets, integrated with our transportation network, as well as aiming for higher and more productive uses of valuable urban land than just the storage of cars. And the incentives have to be in place for the business sector to be partners in this journey to quality. We’ve got to end the cycle of strip malls killed by the new shiny boxes at the edge of the city which in 15 years will become the new dead malls.

  • Yes that article is exactly right! Glad to get it on the internet someplace!

  • astheworldturns

    Marianne Meed Ward for Mayor!! She would have my vote!!

  • Walter Mulkewich

    Intensification is about building a better community and a better neighbourhood with more connectivity. And, if done well, does not represent war on greenspace, but rather will include more community accessible greenspace, common areas, and meeting places. We need to carefully define what we mean by greenspace in the new twenty first century urban environment so we can have a twenty first century conversation.