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A startling glimpse into the uncertain future

This week on Market Squared, we stop looking backward, and we start looking ahead to what might be making the news in 2020
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It’s 2020 and I still don’t have a flying car. Instead, I have concerns about what might happen at city hall over the next 12 months.

First is the matter of the building right across the road from city hall on Wilson Street, the Market Parkade. You may have missed Tony Saxon’s article on the subject before Christmas, but when asked about the use of the new parkade, Terry Gayman  general manager of Engineering and Transportation Services and City Engineer said, "we view it as performing right on target with our expectations."

That surely comes as a surprise to people like me who go past the parkade on a near daily basis and see it’s half-empty. This multi-million project was sold as a key that would unlock the potential of downtown, but it’s starting to smell like magic beans, especially as double parking and people sitting on free, on-street spaces continue to be a problem.

Perhaps a new business would attract more people downtown long enough to use the parkade. Perhaps a nice legal cannabis retailer?

Guelph made the cut twice in 2019 with Ontario’s retail cannabis license lottery winning a proposed store downtown, and then another proposed store for an east end plaza. Neither ended up coming to fruition.

It was also before Christmas that the provincial government announced that they were sandbagging their lottery system in favour of a much more direct application process. It’s strange that it took the supposedly pro-business Progressive Conservatives so long to let the proverbial bull loose, but 2020 might be the year we finally see a pot shop in the Royal City.

Of course, drugs, even legal drugs, still carries a stigma, and a retail cannabis store, despite marijuana’s legalization, still has a certain reputation in some quarters. For the more than recreational drug users in Guelph, 2020 is going to an important year because a lot of the promises made at all levels of government will be put to the test.

Mayor Cam Guthrie will be calling another round of engagement for his task force on homelessness and safety with the expressed purpose of developing supportive housing. The last time that city council tried to make that a priority it ended rather messily as the mere hint of development galvanized a neighbourhood with the usual concerns and worries that come with such a project.

None of that’s to say their concerns were illegitimate, but it is a symptom of Guelph’s growing NIMBY problem. This isn’t just a concern about homelessness, but a concern about almost any area of housing.

In 2019, practically any new development with a height over four storeys saw vocal objection as council, and vocal objection on social media where any mid-to-high rise development was seen as another warning of the end times. Not an apocalypse mind you, but an end to the way we think of Guelph and its small-town vibe.

To many in this city, there’s no greater insult that the invitation to compare us to places like Mississauga or Brampton. Of course, this is adding insult to injury because it seems that in a town so desperate for housing, there’s actually very little support from the community to build more of it.

With pressures from the top to create more housing for more people moving to Guelph, and pressures from below to create more housing for people who can’t otherwise afford it, some residents in Guelph are going to have to deal with their NIMBY feelings, and the city is going to have to find a way to gently help them get on board.

Perhaps the fate of the Guelph Innovation District lands will offer opportunities to arrive at some solutions that can satisfy all sides. The topic of the G.I.D. has been coming up in closed meeting agendas lately, which assumes that an announcement might be coming soon on a buyer.

If we’re talking about building, then we also have to talk about Development Charges and the new Community Benefit Charge. How the latter will be applied, and how much the city will be able to collect, is still an open question, which is no big deal because it’s not like key city building projects like the South End Community Centre, the operations campus, and the new main library will depend on those answers.

But all these concerns listed so far are kind of immediate in nature, and there’s one item that council will be dealing with in 2020 that will have longer term implications: the review of council composition, and the present ward system.

The system you voted under in 2018, is the same system you might have voted under in 1997, when Guelph barely had 96,000 people and there really wasn’t much of a city once you got south of Kortright.

Will city hall be bold enough to recognize how much Guelph has changed in the last 20 years? Stay tuned …