Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welcome to Sprawlville!

With the release of the 2006 Census, the town of Milton, Ontario attained the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing municipality in Canada. In seven short years this small rural town has more than doubled in population, and its rapidly hollowing historic core is now surrounded by an all too familiar accretion ring of mono-culture housing developments and big box stores.

(Note: the above satellite shot is already a few years out of date)

Still, from my little house smack dab in the middle of what the real estate people like to call 'Olde Milton', things don't look so bad. The creek still flows past my front door, the Fall Fair is still the big event of the year, and strangers still smile and make eye contact as you pass them in the street. And yet every day it seems another farm gets paved under and another business moves out to the edge of town.

The unprecedented speed of this transformation from small town to sprawling bedroom community is troubling, but it also provides a unique opportunity to examine some fundamental issues.

Why is it that a small old town can work so well, but a large modern town becomes dysfunctional? What lessons can we learn from the past, and what can we do to ensure our future? Is there any way to make a town like Milton more sustainable, more resilient, and less dependant on fossil fuels? What is Milton doing wrong and, more importantly, what are we doing right that we can build on and perhaps teach to other communities?

Is it too late, or can Milton survive as a livable town?

This blog will be a chronicle of my efforts to answer some of these questions. Through video, maps and photos, I will show you what life is like in a town that is in many ways the perfect case study for the effects of sprawl.

I'll show you how to get from my house to the new Loblaw's Super Centre on a bicycle without getting hit by a truck. I'll explore the different neighbourhoods, old and new. I'll take you down the creek and up the escarpment to put the town into its geographical context. I'll take you on a bus ride. I'll find the best places in town to get local food. I'll talk to seniors and newcomers and business owners about how the changes in town have affected them. I'll show you the Mill Pond and the Farmer's Market and the solar-powered laundromat.

I'll even show you my vegetable garden if I can get it to grow any actual vegetables.

I am not an urban planner, nor am I a trained environmentalist. I'm just a local with an abiding interest in living lightly on this earth and a passion for my adopted home town. I hope that by documenting how things work here, we can all find ways to make our communities a little more livable and sustainable.