A green too far
Preserving farmland continues to be a goal of rural communities but who must sacrifice a comfortable retirement for the betterment of the whole? Elbert dissects Ontario's approach.

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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December 16, 2004: The final town hall meeting on the proposed Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt packed the Caledon Community Complex, just north of Brampton, last week. Many of the locals at the microphones were landowners and farmers, visibly unhappy at being caught in the proposed million-acre greenbelt, a swath of farmland and natural landscape sweeping well beyond our cities clustered on the western shore of Lake Ontario.

These citizens are being asked to give up the expectation of future financial gain from one last crop of houses. For what?

Presumably to break the pattern of urban sprawl. But our province’s “Places to Grow” agenda enshrines sprawl.

First, depending on whom you talk to, there are between 100,000 to 200,000 acres of mostly good farmland already designated for sprawl in existing municipal official plans. The greenbelt proposal leaves another 175,000 acres bordering development boundaries out of the greenbelt – enough land to keep sprawling for another two generations – most of it better quality farmland than the proposed greenbelt lands.

Second, our province has announced a policy of giving priority access to infrastructure money to those cities with a proven track record of growing fast – in other words, the best sprawlers on farmland get first dibs. Breaking the pattern of sprawl requires a different approach to infrastructure policy. Cities should get first dibs if they deliver on higher density, redevelop brownfields, match jobs to homes and maintain greenbelts within their own boundaries.

Presumably, country folk are being asked to forego the expectation of a financially secure retirement for the greater good – a noble experiment purporting to create stronger communities, healthier Ontarians and a better quality of life. But no policies have been set in place to create a greenbelt economy or community of interest.

First, travelers will be the biggest “beneficiaries” on bleary-eyed mornings and tired evenings as they commute from leap-frog sprawl in Brant, Simcoe and Wellington counties to their jobs in Toronto and its satellite cities.

Second, the proposed greenbelt policies welcome 400-series highways, gravel pits, dumps and assumes the continuation of the oil economy – a great way to fire the imagination.

Third, there are no policies to ensure the emergence of a thriving greenbelt economy. Without public investment the greenbelt lands will offer only one certain future: folks with money will buy up farms and turn them into 100-acres estates – a gated, and private, paradise.

Fourth, the proposed greenbelt is too far from urban cores to fire the imagination of big city residents. To appreciate means knowing. A million acres will take lifetimes to know. Size of green space doesn’t matter the way quality and accessibility do. The Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt is a green too far.



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