I’ve always loved the electric atmosphere generated at a contentious City Hall meeting, no matter the issue. Due to other more pressing duties in my life, I can’t commit massive chunks of time to the civic beat these days but I did pop in last week for long enough to hear the engineering department’s dissertation regarding the upgrade of the one lane bridge on Niska Road. A seven hour juggernaut is a high endurance test but to their credit, plenty of people stuck it out for the duration. The only time I have spoken on the record at City Hall was in defence of the environment, regarding the lack of respect shown toward it by a well known slumlord in town. I’ve never become one of The Usual Suspects in the crowd though, those same people that show up with a sheaf of notes and make identical arguments time and again. If everyone gets to say their piece that wants to, that’s a good sign of a working healthy democracy, even if you have heard it all before. Most cities of this size wouldn’t commit seven hours to a discussion about a bridge. You’d be lucky to get seventeen minutes.
The result of the final vote was as expected; the decrepit temporary bridge that replaced the original one that collapsed will be removed and the road brought up to modern standards, as it should be. The city would be remiss not to fix it. To try and preserve it on quasi heritage grounds is a ridiculous notion. Anyone who drove to the meeting needs to accept this. Judging by the number of cars outside of One Carden last Thursday, that would be the majority. If you know someone who cycled the full 7km into town and back to attend, I’d love to meet them. They will probably be quietly happy that a bike lane is to be included in the redesign, even if it means the surviving cedar hedgerow that became full fledged trees will disappear. They are big and lovely now but far from “natural”.
The main resistance toward the makeover concerns a possible secondary scenario beyond trees that isn’t in the cards yet. It’s the burning question: will a future council cave in and allow development on “conservation” land? There is a bit of a subplot here, in that the established residents understandably like the area the way that it is. In their view, the beautiful vista of the subdivision with it’s streets lovingly named after creatures that regularly get cleared out to build houses must be preserved as is. Niska Road itself has sprouted a gaggle of monster homes and none of them seem to have an overtly heritage tone. It’s a pure Monuments to Conspicuous Consumption vibe. Did any of these folks give a toss when the Hanlon Creek Business Park was getting rammed in? Do people only fight alleged crimes against the environment when it might decrease the value of their three car/four toilet house?
The neighbourhood will only need to be concerned about a future development if fresh pipes and ducting are stuck in the ground when the new work happens. If you spot an electrical and water service upgrade in the fine print of any plans, a subdivision will appear sooner rather than later. If not, there is no need to worry for now. Fresh incomers and their SUVs will not be arriving any time soon to increase the number of seconds it takes to exit the driveway for a trip to Costco or to a far flung heritage trail somewhere for some nordic pole walking. No big pipes, no problem.
Thanks to the tweeting prowess of Guelph Politico Adam Donaldson, the essence of the meeting was conveyed to many of those (like me) who couldn’t stay for the full event. In Adam’s Twitter feed you’ll find the best point of the evening, made by a non driving grade eighter named Tia Carey. She said “how can you say you’re in favour for safe access to nature and then have cars drive through it?” If it was such a critical area, the road would be closed outright; but it won’t be, because it isn’t. When the engineers of old decided to construct a crossing at that particular spot, they couldn’t have predicted a future in which everyone can go anywhere in their metric tonne or two apiece machines where a path exists for them to do so, single lane or otherwise.
This former backroad’s destiny was sealed the day the first bridge opened, inadvertently creating a remote-ish community that owes it’s entire existence to the automobile. The main draw up the other side is a giant store that by design encourages people to fill their machines with massive quantities of products far in excess of what one actually needs to exist. Everyone loves a bargain, real or imagined. In this century, all roads lead to consumerism. And in that neck of the (former) woods, you’re pretty much stuck without a personal set of wheels. Until the day when that is no longer the case, more roads and bridges are to be expected along with epic special meeting nights in the council chamber. Make sure you pack a snack next time.