My family moved from Toronto to Durham when my sister and I were only six months old. We bought a house in Pickering down near Frenchman's Bay. The house had a huge backyard to play in and overlooked a fallow farmer's field. A crew of ten other kids our age lived within shouting distance of our house. We played in Petticoat Creek Conservation Area in the summer, fall, winter, and spring—always racing home when the streetlights started to come on.
Nowadays, I visit Petticoat Creek with my family, heading to Pickering every two or three weeks. On March 6, 2014, I was in Durham again—but this time in Courtice, to attend the first of three public consultations for the Durham Region Greenbelt Plan Review. At the start of the review we had around 25 participants, but I bet there were more than 45 people by the time we wrapped up three hours later. It was mostly a mix of farmers and concerned citizens, with a few environmentalists and a handful of local politicians.
"If you want to eat tomorrow, protect the land today."
We broke into three working groups to talk about the benefits, challenges, and opportunities of the Greenbelt from Durham's perspective. My group's conversation was thoughtful, constructive, and diverse. A father and son who farm together came and passionately shared their concerns about the possibility of losing prime agricultural land, the impacts of the 407 ETR Expansion, and their experiences watching developers discard quality soil, instead of recycling it. Another farmer said, "If you want to eat tomorrow, protect the land today." Concerned citizens talked about challenges with the plan's implementation, confusion about the boundaries, and development. There was no broad agreement on the challenges, but we listened and valued the importance of sharing perspectives.
We discussed the Greenbelt's benefits, challenges, and opportunities.
The review's resulting report will include all the feedback and discussion from all three sessions, so you'll have the opportunity to learn about the effort in full in the near future. But I can at least tell you what was most interesting to me: everyone in my group championed the benefits of the Greenbelt. We had—in my eyes—100 per cent support for the goals and benefits of the Greenbelt. From protecting farmlands and growing healthy local food, to controlling development, to providing clean water and fresh air—the purpose of the Greenbelt had complete support.
We also agreed that land swaps were not a good solution.
I know there are challenges with the implementation of the Greenbelt. And I know that the list of challenges for Durham is longer than the list of benefits. But it's also important to recognize that those benefits are massively important; they protect our futures and the futures of our children. This is what I think about when I'm down in Petticoat Creek with my kids.
The consultation process is still ongoing with the survey open until April 4, 2014, inviting those with a voice in Durham to share their thoughts and opinions at durham.ca/greenbeltreview.
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