Friday, April 07, 2006

Places to Grow in the South West

Extending the 403 west from Woodstock makes St Marys and Strathroy magnets for new industries; it also puts Exeter, Mitchell, St Marys and Stratford in closer proximity to a NAFTA highway. The Smart Growth panel of 2003 ignored this suggestion and recommended more reliance on rail and improvements to the 401 between London and Windsor. To spur economic development, better connections were advocated for the Southern Georgian Bay area.
A new regime at Queens Park shelved smart growth and passed the "Places to Grow Act." Targeted is the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) stretching outward from the GTA to encompass Barrie, Guelph, Fort Erie, Hamilton, K-W, Orangeville and Peterborough. The desperate operative words are: densification and transit. To appreciate the sheer size of the new growth area beyond the green belt, visit the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal site.
Other places to grow haven't been identified. If pressure is to be taken off the GGH, then the old Western Smart Growth area -call it the 519 Progress Zone- (see SWEA maps and statistics) stretching from Georgian Bay down to Lake Erie over to Lake Huron is key. The action words here should be economic integration and northern freeway planning.
The latter comprises two elements: a westward extension of the 403 and a new freeway heading north of the proposed 402/403 intersection to track by Wingham, Walkerton and Flesherton and thence across to the 400 near Barrie. This trade corridor brings Goderich, Collingwood, Hanover, Kincardine and Owen Sound plus the broad Saugeen district into the NAFTA sphere. With a wide corridor secured, construction can be staged over decades as an initial 2-laner and then built out to full freeway standard as mid-century needs dictate.
The architects of the Greater Golden Horseshoe reacted to a projected 25-year 3.7 million population growth with a Transportation Strategy. While not having the immediate traffic volumes of the Toronto-centric area, a Strathroy/Hanover to Barrie 400-series corridor deserves attention. Without good GTA and NAFTA connections, farmers and townspeople in Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth counties face economic crisis -while our provincial taxes are used to renew and expand infrastructure across the outer regions of the GGH.

Agriculture is the predominant land use in the south west ...and is a major economic sector, albeit, an ailing one. Ignoring transportation deficiencies and concentrating on traditional agri-businesses is the strategy recommended by a consultant retained by Grey and Bruce counties. Such strategy does not stem the flow of young people taking two-lane highways south to find jobs along the four-laners. Restricted to small local markets and lack of off-farm jobs, farmers go bankrupt and places to grow crops lie fallow. Entrepreneurs locate elsewhere, leaving subsistance farming and tourism to sustain an economically-crippling geriatric demographic
The future of heretofore isolated towns need not be limited by their agricultural roots, low commodity prices ...and ghost rail lines. Local apathy combined with Provincial neglect just leads to depleted population -and re-generation of the Queen's Bush.

Fresh-thinking about highway planning and industry growth north of the 401's western corridor is overdue. First, comes evidence of a willingness of a broad coalition of northern 519 Zone interests to get their act together. Farmer groups, business associations and citizen's groups need to work with mayors and wardens in identifying ideas, projects and resources that will help build their economies from within. Lobbying for the freeway initiative is critical.
Cities straddling the western 401 and 402 corridors cannot be expected to take the lead in such northern strategy. They need to be reminded, however, that they prosper if the broader region prospers. Put another way: Only new trade links can prompt market forces to disperse new industry to places where jobs are really needed .. and in doing so, create the critical population mass to support expansion of world-class educational, medical and research institutions (and yes, arts & culture) in the freeway cities. With many of London's ward councillors having an aversion to both densification and peripheral development, perhaps a few members will entertain the regional growth alternative.
Region-wide investments in industry will keep pace with improving travel and freight efficiencies. Indeed, high-skilled jobs and increased municipal tax bases will not magically appear in advance of connections to wider markets. The latter involves making a persistent case for strategic investments in northern highways. Strategically, transportation planning should always reflect the needs of the regional economy. Participation in the South West Economic Assembly can help set the stage for enabling northern freeways to attract industry and jobs. And, since highways are an integral part of economic strategy, SWEA can best encourage northern participation by championing a 519 Transportation Board. To compete with the economic might of the GGH, forward-looking business, labour and civic leaders in the south-west have to focus on connections rather than separations as the best road to regional cohesion ...and lasting economic traction.

Thus, the seed for freeway expansion has been sown. It has recently been spread via a Wikipedia item on the 403 extension. Unless the impacted municipalities fertilize these ideas, there is little likelihood, however, that they will ever be germinated by Queens Park.
Globe & Mail article on Oct 10, 06 lauds small-towns (mainly east of Highway 10) in their success in attracting Japan-based auto parts plants. Proximity to to Alliston Honda, non-union workforce and great highways are credited. Here's an August 07 article on rural plant locations preferred by Asian parts suppliers.

A Sun Media March 15th article on dismal census results in the south-west foretells a stagnant economy, declining school enrollment and a geratric populace. And while municipalities struggle to present a viable regional economic front, academics do what they do best, form a group (ONRIS) to study the best practices in inter-regional economic innovation.
In September 2008 Sarnia will host yet another gathering of academics, consultants and politicians talking up regional economic development.
Here is a short post on Sarnia sequel:

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At April 18, 2006, Blogger R2K said...

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