Sunday, June 5, 2011

The wasteful development of our farmland, our birthright, continues.

Upper Cornell is a New Urbanist medium-density plan in Markham, Ontario.
In the mid 1970s I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources out of the Richmond Hill office. At lunch many of us would sit at picnic tables and "chew the fat" along with our sandwiches. A popular topic, and one often discussed in some depth, was the rapid and massive loss of rich farmland that we all saw being bulldozed as we drove to work.

According to Ontario Farmland Trust:

"In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone, more than 2,000 farms and 150,000 acres of farmland were lost to production in the two decades between 1976 and 1996. This represented approximately 18% of Ontario's Class 1 farmland."

I now understand why the loss of GTA farmland was such big topic of conversation. The dramatic loss of Canada's birthright, Canada's farmland, was a shocking story unfolding right before our eyes.

Which brings me to a story in my local paper, The London Free Press, by Debora Van Brenk. The Strathroy-Caradoc Township council appears ready to approve the loss of 80 acres of good Southwestern Ontario farmland for the construction of 214 suburban homes.

From the description in the newspaper, this is not Class 1 farmland but it does have its own set of advantages. It is light, well drained soil that has come into its own with this spring's heavy, day-after-day rainfall. The paper quotes renter Larry Cowan who farms this land: "In a year like this, we'd like to have 500 to 600 acres" of this light soil.

Cowan is not just an area farmer but he's a former director of the Ontario Corn Producers' Association and a Strathroy-Caradoc Township councillor. He defends the development, telling the newspaper: "You can't stand still."

It may surprise Mr. Cowan but the construction of 214 suburban homes on 80 acres is standing still when it comes to the world of urban growth in 2011.

These numbers reflect yesterday's low-density approach to housing. Housing from a time more than hundred years past often had a higher density and realized their high density goal with greater style and aplomb.
  • Mount Brydges:  2.675 homes per acre
  • Oak Park (New Urbanist development near Oakville): 22.5 homes per acre. (Oak Park encompasses 204 acres supporting a dense urban neighborhood with 4,600 homes on a radial grid planned for 10,000 residents.)
  • Traditional town house blocks have as many as 36 homes per acre.
  • New Urbanist suburbs weigh in at an average of 15-30 units per acre.

2.675 homes per acre; All too sad. Talk about standing still. These numbers are not even back to the future.

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