Southern Ontario Overview
With urban sprawl currently stretching from Oshawa to Hamilton and Niagara, and with growth estimates projecting approximately 4 million additional Ontarians for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) by 2031, healthy watersheds, intact wildlife habitat, and prime near-urban agricultural land are all being threatened by on-going urban sprawl.
There is a common myth that environmentalists are opposed to growth - Earthroots recognizes that this growth is happening and that the challenge is not to stop it, but to affect where and how it will occur in order to minimize its effects on the environment. For this reason, Earthroots' Southern Ontario Campaign focuses on the promotion and implementation of Smart Growth principles in the GGH.
In contrast to urban sprawl, Smart Growth is aimed at creating compact, complete, people-friendly communities, where everything a person requires can be reached either by foot, bike, or public transportation. Smart Growth aims to focus growth in areas that have already been developed, intensifying, improving, and revitalizing our existing communities in order to preserve and protect the green space and natural resources that surround them. With this framework for development in mind, Earthroots is working on a number of different objectives to ensure that future development in the GGH will not be business as usual.
Integral to implementing Smart Growth is adequate protection for green space surrounding urban areas. Ontario’s Greenbelt seeks to provide protection for sensitive natural heritage features like the Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment, with a focus on protecting local agricultural land, wildlife habitat, and important surface water and groundwater systems. While the Greenbelt legislation is a good first step, the level of protection actually being offered to these areas being compromised by gaps and loopholes in protection. As the Greenbelt legislation nears its first review in 2015, our current campaigns are focused on improving protection for Greenbelt areas, as well as researching and monitoring what is happening on the ground within the Greenbelt and evaluating the effectiveness of existing Greenbelt policies.
Specifically, we are researching and reporting on issues surrounding cumulative groundwater usage on the Oak Ridges Moraine; evaluating the effectiveness of Greenbelt policies in protecting wetlands and their surrounding hydrological systems, in collaboration with Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), Ontario Nature (formerly Federation of Ontario Naturalists), and Ducks Unlimited; fighting a controversial, precedent-setting golf course development on the Oak Ridges Moraine in Aurora (the Westhill Development); and examining the arising issue of groundwater being diverted from within the Oak Ridges Moraine protected area to service new developments outside of the Moraine.
Other objectives include advocating for stricter protection and for the expansion of Ontario’s Greenbelt, as part of our work with the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance; encouraging public transportation improvements and for a moratorium on highway expansion in the GGH, as part of our work with SHIFT Ontario; and engaging in environmental education in Ontario’s classrooms to raise awareness about urban sprawl, Smart Growth, and Ontario's Greenbelt.