May 13, 2009

Help create a vision of Erin's future

As published in The Erin Advocate

When an important decision has to be made, everyone should have the chance to say what they think. When it is something that will affect the lives of kids in Erin, their ideas should get some attention.

Right now, the mayor and town councillors are trying to decide how Erin will grow for the next 20 years, and they want some advice. There was a meeting last week at Centre 2000, and about 40 people came to share their ideas about the future. That was good, but since 11,000 people live here, it is not enough.

I am inviting the students of Erin to get involved in creating the town's Master Plan. When I say Erin, I mean the whole town, including Hillsburgh, all the farms and rural homes, all the small hamlets and Erin village.

A Master Plan might sound complicated, but what we need right now is very simple – answers to just two questions. 1) What do you really like about your town? and 2) What would make it a better place?

You can answer in different ways. Write only a few sentences, or write as much as you like. Take a photo of something interesting in your area or send in a copy of a picture you already have.

I am hoping that people will cut out this article, show it to their kids and encourage them to respond, make copies for people they know, send it to the schools and help generate some energy for the project. By next week, the column will also be on my blog:

The Town has hired a company, B.M. Ross, to organize this "visioning". Once we decide the type of town we want, they will make detailed plans for future growth. The project will take two years and cost us about $420,000. No more new homes will be allowed until it is done.

The project manager is Matt Pearson, a very friendly planning expert who was the host of last week's meeting. He wants us to email our ideas to him (with photos attached, if you want). He will be creating a website (it's not ready yet) dedicated to the Master Plan. Many of our comments and pictures will appear on the site.

"Erin is very brave to do this," he said. "It is risky, because you don't know what you're going to get at the end."

His email address is: If you don't use email, send your letters to B.M. Ross, 62 North Street, Goderich, ON N7A 2T4.

We need to imagine ourselves living here 20 years from now. Here are some more questions to help us think about the future. You don't have to answer them, just use them for ideas.

What should it feel like to live here in 2031? Will we take good care of our river, our forests and our air? What would make you want to stay – or to move away?

Should Erin have a few thousand more people, or stay about the same? If we grow, should new houses be large, medium or small? Should we have townhouses, and more apartments to rent? What about homes for senior citizens?

Do we need more stores, and how big should they be? Should we allow large factories, so people don't have to drive to Toronto, Mississauga or Brampton for their jobs?
Do we need more doctors or police officers? Do we need to give more help to people who are in trouble?

Do we want more schools, or larger ones? Do we need more parks? Do we need more restaurants and entertainment? Do we need more roads, or better ones? Should we have bus service? How about more trails and bike paths? Do we have enough places for sports and recreation?

If we get more of everything, will we still be a small town? Will we be the same as all the big towns, or can we be someplace special?