Preserving the past with an eye to the future

Gordon J. Wallace
Gordon J. Wallace
Published on September 5, 2018

Balancing Heritage with Progress

Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario, photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Copyright Queen’s Printer for Ontario, photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

There have been a number of articles lately that I’ve read regarding development, or re-development of land in favour of higher density housing (apartments). Some proposals have been successful, others not – but it prompted me to want to write on the subject a little so let’s see where this goes, shall we.

Here in Waterloo Region there is a lot to be proud of from a historical stand point, settlement along the Grand River in this area goes back two hundred years. But, the curse of being a great place to live is, well, people want to live there. So growth is inevitable, but how do you balance that growth with rising the rising demand and then the expectations of residents both old and new?

The Province sets forth guidelines through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAH) – the MAH sets guidelines through legislation and you can read more about there on the website

Now – the cole’s notes version is that the Province wants to limit urban sprawl, so Regions make plans to align with the Province and in turn cities make plans to align with the Region. Wherever you live (or want to live) you can google “City official plan” and probably find what you’re looking for.

The Region of Waterloo lists these 5 key elements to their official plan:

  • A fixed border between rural and urban areas;
  • Directing growth to make better use of land and municipal services within the built up areas of the Region;
  • Increasing transportation choice, including the creation of a rapid transit system;
  • Protecting our drinking water and significant environmental areas; and
  • Increasing the quality of life of citizens in Waterloo Region

(read more about the Region of Waterloo’s official plan; or google “Region of X official plan” or “X County official plan”)

Some of those points are pretty vague, and probably intentionally so (this is government after all) but the first two points are what I want to focus on.

First, creating a fixed border between rural and urban areas. The key work being “fixed”. This is the not so blunt way of saying “limit sprawl”, we’re going to draw a line in the sand (on the map..) and stick to it. So if you can’t build out you have to build up! This is why you’re seeing the majority of developments in all regions shifting more to semi-detached and row/townhouse style dwellings and an increase in the number of high rise apartment and condo buildings. Now this isn’t a plug by any means but you’ve probably seen at least one or two signs for HIP developments in this area in the past few years – just take a look at their project page to see the number of units I’m talking about.

Second, making “better” use of land and services within built up areas. Better is one of those fun words that can mean whatever you want it to, because better is always subjective. Really what this talks about is that if there is the possibility of re-purposing land for a higher density use, I have to assume that’s the provinces definition of “better”.

Now that’s not to say the province is commissioning a fleet of steam rollers to run through towns but the general direction is to fit more bodies in less space. So what is to be done?

The first is: accept change (at least a little). Growth is inevitable, if you waste your energy fighting it completely you’ll just end the day exhausted and frustrated.

The second: try getting involved with your local historical society:

The more support these organizations have the better they will be able to protect items of cultural or historical importance.

Finally: plan ahead. Knowing where you want to live and how long you want to live there you should always consider the official plans. If you’re moving to what you think is a quiet remote area, or an area with large lots and plenty of green space – make sure you know what the cities official plan is and what services are planned. People generally live along transit routes (remember when rivers were the main transportation routes? of course you don’t but one reason so many older cities are on river banks is exactly that) – with LRT coming through all of Waterloo Region and Cambridge trying (or at least talking) about wanting to connect GO Rail from the GTA those transportation routes will be prime locations for high-density residential housing.

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