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If we don't want to live like Mississauga, then how do we want to live?

This week's Market Squared wonders whether there is a cure for NIMBYism
hipster in deep thought stock
Think on this, Guelph: If we can't develop the Rolling HIlls, where can we develop?

Reading this, you’ve likely never been to the Rolling Hills area of Guelph. No bus goes there. No amenities await you there. No shops or services. It’s just acres and acres of land occasionally dotted by above average sized homes. 

You know, a working class neighbourhood. 

Of course, how the residents of the Rolling Hills community want to brand themselves is entirely up to them, but the planning meeting Monday on the close of phase 2 on the Clair-Maltby plan became an outstanding example of NIMBYism in the worst way possible. 

First, let’s not dismiss the idea that people have a right to be concerned about massive changes happening in their own backyard. Also, community feedback was requested, and, indeed, required, for this to be a positive and progressive process. 

And there are some problematic aspects to the proposed map. A possible north-to-south road passes through areas marked green and labelled “Does Not Permit Transportation Infrastructure.” Granted, it’s the path of least resistance, but there’s some serious environmental explaining to do on that account. 

There’s also the random area reserved for high density building in the south east corner of the site, and the fact that there’s no land for a high school reserved in an area that will house 17,000 new people is concerning, so there’s room for improvement obviously. 

Still, almost none of that was spoken to by delegates at the public meeting. Instead it was all about the specialness of Rolling Hills, most of which will be protected as reserve lands, while the rest will be designated for low density residential development. 

In other words, nobody’s talking about building a mall, transit hub, Burj Khalifa, or some kind of super collider in their backyards. 

The fact is that this day was always coming. Guelph only has certain set boundaries, we can only build so much within it, and the Clair-Maltby area is largely undeveloped, albeit for good reasons. (A lot of the Paris Galt Moraine is based along there, for example.)

You may hate the idea, but with an open space this big within our boundaries, the City can’t not build on it. So the argument has to be made on the basis of how best to develop the land, and, “No thanks, we don’t want to,” is probably not going to fly. 

The argument was made that Rolling Hills is too special to be touched, and while it may be to its residents, to say that to change it is akin to redeveloping the Old University Neighbourhood or the Exhibition Park area is a bit disingenuous. You may have noticed that there’s not a lot of empty space in the centre of town in order to plan big. 

Now, there are plenty of NIMBYs in the town, and even small changes bring out big opposition, but rarely does one get a say on how a whole area of town is developed from the ground up, and rarely do about 50 households have such incredible influence on acres and acres of land development, like they do right now. 

It’s a big responsibility when you consider the implications, especially with those aforementioned environmental concerns. I think a lot of people would argue that much of the land in Clair-Maltby should remain green, but doesn’t everyone in Guelph deserve to enjoy it? Are the Rolling Hills residents, in essence, arguing that they should be allowed to enjoy that space on their own? 

The word Mississauga was thrown around a lot at the meeting. You know, “we don’t want to live like Mississauga either.” 

Nobody wants to live like Mississauga, even people in Mississauga. They let development run wild there for decades until it became the epitome of a bedroom community with no character or culture to call its own. 

The irony is that people keeping moving out from the GTA to escape the utter sameness of places like Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, and other areas of Peel and Halton Region. Having said that, right now our south end is teetering close to being Mississauga-ish. 

If that is the concern then we’re all agreed. We don’t want Clair-Maltby to be a line of similar-looking subdivisions of single detached homes and big box stores and strip malls full of brand names. We’d like to have a unique character, and a healthy mix of different kinds of development. 

Agreeing on what we don’t want is easy though. It’s another thing though to reach a consensus on what we all want, and more than that, what is best for the City and the land. 

Yes, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered concerning Clair-Maltby, and yes, we should provide healthy inquiry and commentary to the process, but every inch of Guelph is looking to be reshaped in some way in the decades to come, and Rolling Hills can’t be the only exception.