Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Smarter Growth" is Good for the Environment

As you may have heard, the Region’s Planning Department held a “Smarter Niagara Summit” last week. Since I am the co-chair of the Smarter Niagara Steering Committee, I made sure I participated.

What is “Smarter Niagara” you ask?

Well, it really encourages “Smart Growth” in Niagara. “Smart Growth” is growth based on more sustainable development choices in an effort to ensure a healthy environment, sustain a strong economy, create vibrant urban centres, and combat urban sprawl.

The “Ten Principles of Smart Growth” for Niagara include:

  1. Create a mix of land uses for employment, stores and homes;

  2. Promote a more compact “built form” so neighbours get to know each other (instead of each other’s cars);

  3. Offer a range of housing opportunities and choices;

  4. Produce walk-able neighbourhoods and communities;

  5. Foster attractive communities and a sense of place;

  6. Preserve farmland and natural resources;

  7. Direct future development into existing communities to take advantage of existing community assets;

  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices;

  9. Make “smarter” development predictable and cost effective; and

  10. Encourage plans developed with strong community involvement.

The most striking presentation of the Summit was given by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Toronto.

First, Homer-Dixon updated the participants on the latest and worsening climate-change data and predictions. Then, he challenged municipal leaders to play a significant role in shaping humanity's response to global warming. He said that we must start planning now for extreme storms, prolonged droughts and oppressive heat waves.

In fact, Homer-Dixon said that half of changes needed to deal with global warming must be made at the local level. He suggested that cities need to link global warming with planning, infrastructure, public facilities, and emergency preparedness.

What could this mean for Pelham? Homer-Dixon suggested that all public buildings make use of renewable energy sources. He also suggested that municipalities increase the requirements of future storm water collection systems so they can handle more frequent and extreme weather. He encouraged transit and municipal planning that makes more efficient use of land.

Because of the high price for fuel, Homer-Dixon suggested that production should be closer to consumers and that employees should be closer to work. This “buy local” and “work local” approach could mean more employment options in Pelham.

In essence, “Smart Growth” could mean that Pelham becomes more of an environmentally sustainable community.

Please see for more information about the Smarter Niagara Summit.