7 , 2003: The Ontario Rural Council held its sixth
annual rural development conference last week. Once again
it drew a wonderful mix of folks with a heart for the future
of our countryside.
Speakers and workshop leaders challenged us. Robert Fulford,
former editor of Saturday Night magazine, reflected on our
perceptions of rural and urban: "City moves on; rural
stays put. Cities offer endless surprises. They change everything
without asking your permission. Rural and small towns provide
Beyond perception, there was opportunity to ponder difficult
questions: "Is it true that urban interests are shaping
the future of the countryside?" We explored the tensions
that exist between urban and rural and within our rural communities.
I came away wondering if the difference between urban and
rural communities is often overstated.
We have big issues in common. Consider globalization. It's
the mobility of goods, services, labour, technology and capital
throughout the world. It's the freedom to travel or to surf
the Net. It's the emergence of a cultural bazaar, a blurring
of the difference between domestic and foreign. Globalization
has arrived in our cities, our towns, our villages and our
countryside. Finding our way in the midst of globalization
is a challenge for rural and urban alike.
Stronger local communities can help balance the impact of
the trend to global. Exciting urban neighbourhoods and vibrant
countryside villages can provide a rootedness that steadies
us in the face of change. We, urban and rural, have much to
learn about developing and maintaining distinctive local communities.
How we get there:
1. Enabling community is about the right kind of infrastructure
and polices - not about political boundaries. I'm a fan of
most of the recent municipal amalgamations across Ontario.
The synergies and critical mass created by larger municipalities
creates the possibility of establishing a focus on local community
2. Communities need to emphasize their uniqueness. Much of
rural Ontario is emerging out of dependence on provincial
cost sharing - roads upgraded and bridges repaired only when
provincial grants were available. Rural development followed
a cookie-cutter pattern. If you visited one rural village,
you had seen them all.
3. Local communities need more financial resources. Downloading
responsibilities to municipalities has been a troubling experience.
Adequate financial resources did not come with the new responsibilities.
But the concept of enabling municipalities to set their own
priorities is a necessary step to stronger and distinct local
communities. Talk of a new deal for our cities needs to be
translated into a new financial deal for all municipalities.
It is not just Toronto that needs resources for local community
Distinctive local communities enable us to embrace the global.
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