The New Urbanism – Can We Get It Right?

How can you tell the warmer weather is here? I’ve been spending more time in the garden and out around town, much to the neglect of this blog.  After watching the Prime Minister’s Pinocchio show in Ottawa and the big smoke in, well, The Big Smoke, our Town of Innisfil looks more like a municipal Shangri-La.

There are lots of initiatives working their way along that will transform our Town as “the place to be in 2020”.  And, like every other municipality, Innisfil is driven by the provincial directive to make room for more people and commercial activity. The urbanization of Innisfil Beach Road is nearing completion, set for development of a town commercial core, planning for designation of Cookstown as a Heritage District is in its second phase, a Transportation Master Plan outlines a plan for further road development,  the Friday Habour resort is well under way and Tanger Mall has broken ground for major expansion.

Innisfil’s population is projected to almost double. New housing developments are progressing in Alcona, Cookstown, Lefroy and Stroud. Beyond these urban neighbourhood settlements, signs proclaim “25 acres for sale, prime development” or “45 acres for sale, future development”. The reality is that significant portions of Innisfil were earmarked for development years ago. Much of what we currently view as ‘rural’ will gradually slip away to become the new ‘urban’ over the next 10 years.

Yet residents are eager to retain the best aspects of rural life in our new urban environment. But is it really possible? An article published this weekend by Mark Cullen suggests an intriguing new way to mix urban and rural. It’s worth reading in its entirety: “Organic farm puts focus on food in new subdivision” (Toronto Star, June 1, 2013).

A development now under construction in on the edge of Chelsea, Quebec puts an organic farm and market in the midst of clusters of houses. A foundation funded by 1% of the sale and/or resale price of homes ensures that the farm will continue to be supported financially. Residents in the village have the opportunity to participate in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program to buy seasonal produce from the farm and can volunteer to participate in its activities.

Considering that Simcoe County recently adopted a Food Charter (see Food Partners Alliance) and has asked member municipalities to endorse it, this remarkable innovation in Quebec should give local planners and developers some pause to reflect.

Consider the recent housing developments, especially in Alcona, that present a sea of rooftops without any trees, or little intermittent green space. Is this the best we can do? Are we preserving enough open space within urbanized areas? I have some doubts. As mechanized farmland disappears on the fringes, should we be partially replacing it with micro-farms entirely within settled areas?  Our zoning plan and Official Plan are both undergoing scrutiny. Perhaps there’s still time to review and consider new approaches, and new rules to enable real innovation here and throughout Simcoe County.