December 23, 2009

Erin could be an oasis in Ontario landscape

As published in The Erin Advocate

Is resistance futile? Is the charming small town about to be assimilated by the urban monster as it stretches out its tentacles? Is it already too late?

The answer to all three questions is "No" – for now, at least. When people in Erin look to the south, they have good reason to be skeptical of development. High-traffic routes are plastered with fast-food joints, car dealerships, shopping centres and gas stations. The subdivisions seem endless.

Are there any role models we can look to, places that have preserved their small-town charm and local economy in the face of urban sprawl?

If you ask people why they moved here, whether it be to a small village house or a huge recreational farm, most will say it was to escape from that urban environment. Many define Erin by what it is not – in other words, not like Brampton, Milton, Georgetown or even Orangeville.

Some have told me they will move away if Erin village becomes more urbanized, which is sad perhaps, but not as sad as living passively in an uncomfortable environment. Maybe they will only have to move to Hillsburgh.

I've been reading up on highway development and attending community liaison meetings as part of the Town's Settlement and Servicing Master Plan (SSMP) process. Naturally, people have different ideas about how to resist the undesirable aspects of development.

One strategy is to oppose virtually all change. It will be too expensive, too disruptive for some residents and local businesses, too much of a threat to our white, middle-class culture. Are we willing to pay the price of doing nothing: polluted water, traffic congestion, an exodus of seniors, lack of local jobs and valuable land sitting idle? Do we accept, with resentment, only what is forced upon us?

Change will come – just look at the last 50 years. Wouldn't it be better to choose the changes we want, resist the negative trends we see in other towns, and create something special? It may seem idealistic, but if we come up with a vision that reflects the common values of the community, good things are more likely to actually happen.

That is what the Town is trying to do with the SSMP. After a series of consultations, our well-paid consulting firm is now going to write a proposed vision statement. They will be studying an environmental report from Credit Valley Conservation, and coming up with a Problem/Opportunity Statement that will be discussed at a public meeting in March. To find out more, and to add your views to the mix, go to and click the "Defining Erin" link.

Gone are the days of an unquestioned need for development. In 1864, 200 Erin residents packed the Sportsman's Hotel to demand that the county gravel the road to Guelph – better to pay tolls than be stuck in the mud. Back in the 1870s, did anyone question the value of running a railroad through Erin? Did anyone regret the transformation of our economy, or resent the flood of weekend tourists coming to Stanley Park?

Erin is a desirable destination, but not as a place for huge numbers to live. I do not think a 400-series highway east of Guelph will be justified in the next 30 years, but no matter what is done, traffic will always expand to fill the available capacity. We may need County Road 124 widened to four lanes, plus a four-lane route south on Winston Churchill, east on Olde Baseline and south on Mississauga Road. This would move traffic down to Mayfield Road without a fresh cut through the escarpment, linking it to the proposed "Halton Peel Freeway" that would go to Highways 401 and 407.

Now that Erin is a well-known destination, a bypass for through traffic will be beneficial, helping our tourist trade and industrial growth, while protecting key areas from excessive traffic.

In this century, if we are both smart and fortunate, Erin will become an oasis in the Southern Ontario landscape. Within the protected Greenbelt there will be no "urban sprawl", and our tightly limited urban areas will have the opportunity to become even better living spaces.

We need a small number of new homes (including the affordable variety), better shopping, better social services, better recreation facilities and more light industry to provide jobs and tax revenue. It is not too much to hope for, and certainly worthy of a concerted community effort.