Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apples and Oranges

The budget deliberations have sparked a lot of emotion across the board. On the one hand there are increased parking rates and bus fares that have people incensed, and on the other hand there’s the proposed 5.67 per cent property tax hike that comes along with the budget presented to council a few weeks ago. Admittedly, that’s a tough hit for people on fixed incomes seeing as how we’re barely coming out of the worst economic downturn since the soup lines and dust bowl era. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, we’re better being in Guelph than anywhere else, right? Right?

Well I found a conscientious objector on Ian Findlay’s Ward 2 Blog as I was scouring the net looking for Guelph-related political topic material last week. A letter was posted entitled, “What Guelph Really Needs,” and for the most part it was the typical plebiscite about how Guelph doesn’t have enough shopping and how the City is apparently unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

If I sound harsh towards the letter writer and his intentions, that’s only half true. Mining underneath there’s a truth that parts of Guelph look dangerously like bedroom communities, and in general our city needs more balance in its commercial space, but that’s not what got me. It was this, the second line from the letter: “You say we should take BMA’s suggestion and compare ourselves with Barrie – there’s no comparison, nor is there with places like Cambridge, Norval, Halton Hills, and shortly Fergus. We are falling that far behind the times.”

The letter writer’s right, there is no comparison between Guelph and places like Norval and Halton Hills, but he does seem woefully misinformed as to why. Of course, if the writer, who only identified themselves as “BA,” was really informed on the subject he or she would then know that Norval is technically part of Halton Hills and not a community that stands apart from it. Now that I’ve had my snooty moment, let’s look deeper at why BA (Baracus?) is wrong. What makes me know better? Why I’m from Georgetown, of course. DA-DA-DA-DUM!

(Georgetown is the biggest part of Halton Hills, a community of nearly 55,000 made up of Georgetown and surrounding districts like Acton, Stewarttown, Limehouse, Hornby, Glen Williams, and yes, Norval.)

To kick off, let’s start where BA started: transportation. “Massive sections of this city have no grocery store within any type of reasonable area – and these areas do not have bus service,” writes BA. “The closest corner store, also not within walking distance may not have what they require. And, heaven forbid they don’t drive – cab fares are in excess of $30.00 to get them to Guelph’s ONLY 24 hour grocery store.”

BA raises a good point, and it’s a point that would be further solidified if it hadn’t been for the previous mention of Halton Hills. You know what passes for public transportation in Georgetown? The GO Bus that leaves from Guelph for Brampton every three hours and the GO train that leaves Georgetown for Toronto twice a day. And B.A. may complain about four grocery stores being centralized in the south end of Guelph, well there’s only four in the whole of Georgetown. And if you live in the west end of town you’re screwed because all but three of those stores are in the far east end, and the other one is practically in Milton.

So if you’re a senior, a person of limited means or a person with limited mobility, you’re screwed if you want to do a little thing like go grocery shopping or go to Zellers to get a new pair of shoes, you might be out as much as a $30 round trip by taxi, or at least $15 if you don’t mind the 45 minute to an hour walk one way. You would think an area where services are spread so thin (Halton Hills covers 275 square kilometres), would adopt some kind of public transit service, but the truth is they don’t want it. You see, public transit matters most to two types of “undesirable people”: the poor and the immigrants. No one will tell you that to your face, but it’s understood that that’s the reason.

Mobility is a large issue in terms of making sure that we have a vibrant and liveable community, and I think that’s the point that BA is trying to make. However, the answers to Guelph’s problems won’t be found in Halton Hills, and on the surface of it, I’d rather that Guelph did not look like big box havens like the outlining areas of Cambridge. There’s room from improvement, but the backwards slide in making Guelph another bedroom community is a slippery slope.

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