Monday, June 8, 2009

More than a Busy Highway

Personal disclosure time: I've absolutely no motive to be charitable about anything the City of Barrie does, because I was made to live in that sprawling suburban labyrinth for nearly thirteen years of my life. I'm thankful that university allowed me to escape, and I never want to live there again. It seems, however, that the Barrie government wants to bring itself ever closer to me anyway, like a zombie cut in half dragging itself across the rocks.

What's happened is simple, understandable as a mere extension of previous policy, and to my mind still indefensible. The province of Ontario has given the go-ahead for the city of Barrie to annex yet more chunks of Innisfil, a town to the south that seems to exist solely to provide Barrie with something to annex, where it will proceed to build a number of new transit-oriented developments linked to downtown and Barrie South GO station by quick, speedy, reliable light rail vehicles.

Hah. Got you, didn't I? What they're really going to do is the same thing Barrie has always done - they're going to drop down some more ill-designed residential subdivisions in virgin land and call it a day. This is nothing new for them. Back when I lived there, I thought I knew the place like the back of my hand. I can't say the same now, as half of the city that exists now wasn't even built in 2001.

That is if you can call an agglomeration of meandering suburban roads, inexpertly stapled to a downtown core more appropriate for a community of 30,000 than 130,000, a "city."

Personally I find this move distressing - in this day and age, suburbs are the last things we should be investing in, when the rewards of densification and new urbanism have the potential to reinvent our way of life in a positive manner - but not unexpected. What really gets me is the way the Toronto Star, where I became aware of this, frames the issue.

"Drive up 400 could get worse," the headline reads. "Highway 400, notorious for its bumper-to-bumper traffic, could get a lot more crowded," says the first line of the story. It's telling that the Star chooses to focus purely on the traffic consequences of this planning decision. Not the social impacts, not the environmental costs, but the fact that drivers on the 400 will have to spend more time on it than before because of more people using it. (God forbid they take the GO train - public transit's for the plebes, I suppose.)

The greatest problem with this is that the consequences will be invisible. All we'll have is more endless rows of houses where once were farmers' fields. Because, really, we don't need agricultural land - we can always buy food from other countries! The concept of food security is just so gauche, isn't it?

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