A recent decision by the City of Hamilton to combat urban sprawl is food for thought in Muskoka.
As reported in the national press, Hamilton City Council voted in November not to designate more farmland for housing over the next 30 years. The reasoning was that, for both environmental and financial reasons, municipalities should be concentrating on building in locations where there is existing infrastructure.
Many municipal governments, including in Muskoka, are updating their own official plans to comply with new land use policies being put forward by the provincial government.
The issue is whether Muskoka should be promoting growth through intensification in municipally-serviced areas, rather than encouraging sprawl in areas valued for their natural environment.
Encouraging growth outside of existing municipal boundaries is not only environmentally damaging, it is also more costly for all taxpayers, and residents in the urban areas end up subsidizing those in the suburban and rural areas. This happens in large urban centres expanding their suburbs and in smaller rural areas that either expand their town boundaries or create new municipally serviced areas. Growth by urban sprawl or new serviced nodes rarely pays for the infrastructure requirements. Such growth is also rarely “affordable” or “attainable” housing as it is not often on a transit corridor.
It remains to be seen how or if local municipal governments, such as those in Muskoka, react to Hamilton’s decision and incorporate it into their own plans as the areas struggle with the housing crisis and the stresses of increased development on the local environment.