Skip to content

LETTER: Alternatives to Sprawl: The Guelph Innovation District?

'As a community, we ultimately get what we deserve. With restrictive zoning and parking minimums, this is all that can be built in these areas,' reader says
Stock image

GuelphToday received the following Letter to the Editor from reader Jason Szewc in regards to the sale of the Guelph Innovation District: 

With the sale of the Guelph Innovation District complete, the comments of negativity flood in. This is rightfully so as new development in Sound End Guelph over the past 20 years have been cookie cutter houses and strip malls. People are angry that green space has been removed for these ugly developments. But as a community, we ultimately get what we deserve. With restrictive zoning and parking minimums, this is all that can be built in these areas.

Why did we get the South End so wrong? The houses, restaurants and businesses in the south are ultimately just boring. There is no destination and no visual appeal. Some recent developments in the city are more deliberate. Take the Bread Bar building, the façade is visually appealing and is built at the human scale. It is designed with Royal City Park front and centre. Or the Junction, it was designed to blend into the existing neighbourhood and pay homage to the railway line. Even Fusions own Metal Works development is visually appealing, compared to most condo developments in the city. (However, controversial)

Why are the community groups in the Exhibition Park and Two Rivers so active? Their neighbourhoods were created before the automobile, at a scale for walking. Their communities exist in the public realm. The houses are built with front porches and all the buildings are varied and interesting. The neighbourhood is the destination. Could we try and emulate these in this new community?

We have a housing affordably crisis and an environmental crisis. This parcel is possibly the best located in the entire city for an environmentally planned community. It is only a 15min bike ride to downtown or a 10 minute ride to the University Centre. It is also walking distance to one of the prettiest and environmentally sensitive parks in the city: Yorklands.

We have a housing mismatch in this city. Empty nesters in single family homes looking to downsize in Guelph don’t have much option. Either move into a small condo in the sky or stay put. They choose the later. If they had more options for types of housing. i.e., the “missing middle.” a housing shuffle could occur, freeing up single family homes for single families.

Cities all over the world are facing these exact problems. There are already real-world examples in similar sized cities like Guelph: Vauban in Freiburg Germany. This planned suburb puts public transit, walking and biking before the car. There are shops and small business intermixed with housing. (Just like we have in Exhibition and the Two Rivers.) If we built in the same density as Vauban with only two-, three- and four-story buildings. It would be possible to house 10,000 people in this district with 100 acres left for greenspace. (Density of Vauban is 134.9 residents/hectare).

I am not asking for a car free utopia, or even this tight of density this would be naïve. We just need to experiment with different types of housing that will serve all in our community.

If Guelph is truly environmentally conscious as it says it is, we need to put words to action and put forward a potential solution to urban sprawl.

We should see this as an opportunity to request from the city and the builder to create a community that we want to live in. Fusion Homes has purchased the “Innovation District” we as a community should hold them to account to ensure this development is truly innovative.

Jason Szewc