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Thinking about the Guelph beyond 2051

This week's Market Squared considers, perhaps for the first time, the needs of Guelph beyond our current 2051 time horizon.
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At committee of the whole on Monday there was the annual presentation of the external audit. As a media colleague noted to me during the break, there are many municipalities where the delivery of the external audit is a prelude to the revelation of maleficence and corruption, but in Guelph the process is as stolid as taking up the math homework.

Make no mistake, this is good news. This week’s committee meeting also came on the same day that S&P released their new framework for awarding their credit ratings, and under this method, the City of Guelph is rated AAA, and that’s as high as one gets when the agencies are handing out letters.

Social media comments often paint Guelph as an administration on the brink of financial collapse, but according to outside sources, we’re actually doing pretty good.

But that’s short-term money stuff, and I’ve been thinking more longer term, all the way out to the year 2051.

It was a stray line from Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise committee chair Dominique O’Rourke that made me think about the future. During the presentation of the updates to the Water Supply Master Plan and the Wastewater Treatment and Biosolids Management Master Plan, O’Rourke asked Environmental Services GM Jennifer Rose about planning for beyond 2051.

The year 2051 is the time horizon for a lot of city plans, and that makes sense. When these plans started to be developed, 2051 was more than 30 years away, and 2051 comes conveniently at the halfway point of the century, which makes it a good place to stop and take stock. I wonder though, are we treating 2051 like a checkpoint, or the finish line?

Consider the discussion about water. Guelph is one of the largest communities in Canada to depend exclusively on ground water, and anyone that remembers the 2006 election knows how Guelph feels about the idea of a pipeline to Lake Erie.

The report made it clear that getting to 2051, with all the additional growth that Guelph needs to absorb, is not going to be easy. Our conservation efforts have begun to plateau, which might suggest that we’ve reached the limit for what we all as individuals are able to do, but we’ve still got to get 50,000 people inside the city limits and they all might sometimes need a glass of water.

So what happens after 2051?

I mean, it’s unlikely that Guelph is going to stop growing, right? People are still going to move here in 2052, and people already here will likely still be having babies and thus increasing our population from within. Those people will still need land for homes, commercial space for new businesses, and water for basic needs, and answering those concerns are not going to be any easier three decades hence.

I’m sure this thought has occurred in the minds of planning staff at city hall, but the phrasing out here in the community makes me worried that the vision post-2051 is a completed Guelph, which is illogical and irrational because cities are never complete.

Guelph, which has been around for nearly 200 years, has existed in the blink of eye when compared to places like London or Athens, and as good as our planning staff is, I’m sure they’d have hard time thinking outward to the end of the century, or the millennium.

We’re already seeing the push-pull of growth in this city still 30 years out from our next benchmark. There are certain areas of town where building towers and going for the highest density possible is fine, and there are other, more established areas of town where changing one property seems to threaten the cultural adhesion of an entire neighbourhood.

What happens when all of Guelph is an established built-up area?

The line was uttered on Tuesday that we’ve “found all the easy water” when in comes to servicing Guelph, but what happens when we’ve found all the proverbial hard water? Or worse still, what if there isn’t the water we think (hope?) to find?

And what about traffic? We know that there’s no appetite in Guelph for making more and bigger roads, but there’s also no appetite for people to use transit more, so what happens when Guelph becomes nearly impossible to navigate? Honestly, there are some portions of town at certain times of day that are already impassible.

As we look at the struggle to get to 2051 it should remind us that there’s still a city that will need to be administered post-2051, and if we’re struggling to get that far despite the meticulous series of master plans laid out before council, are we perhaps giving short shrift to the Guelph that will exist in the second half of this century?

It’s no one’s fault that we’re not thinking past 30 years into the future right now, but I fear that not thinking about it now will present us with certain challenges as we get closer to 2051. Think about the world of 1992, and maybe how much better off we’d be if someone prepared us for a global pandemic, the climate crisis and the return of the Nazis! I mean someone other than Hollywood, of course.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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