Urban sprawl threatens greenspace – solutions to make the environment a better place

by Andrew Dunbar,
Sir Sandford Fleming College

Urban sprawl is responsible for consuming large amounts of land and is built around automobile dependency. This can be seen globally as many cities are expanding outwards to smaller surrounding towns. Streets lined with malls, large superstores surrounded by parking lots and winding suburban subdivisions of single-family homes. These are all signs of urban sprawl. Locally, Ottawa’s increasing population is very much affecting the development of suburban areas surrounding the city and is beginning to reach Mississippi Mills and the surrounding area.

I was born and raised in Carleton Place, which is a prime example of a small town displaying many signs of urban sprawl that are increasingly evident. Understanding the characteristics, causes and consequences related to urban sprawl can provide insights to potential solutions on how to develop and maintain more sustainable communities within the Mississippi Mills area.

City Population

(2016)

% Change from 2011 to 2016 Private Dwellings (2016) % Change from 2011 to 2016
Mississippi Mills 13,163 6.3% 5,292 9.4%
Carleton Place 10,644 8.5% 4,278 7.7%
Beckwith 7,644 9.4% 7,644 11.4%
Ottawa 934,243 5.8% 373,756 5.8%

(Statistics Canada, 2016)

The chart above displays some intriguing and very telling data of how many of the small suburban towns in the area are growing and expanding at a greater percentage than Ottawa. It’s interesting to note that the average provincial population change for Ontario was 4.6% and the national average for Canada was 5.0%. These higher-than-average increases in Mississippi Mills and surrounding areas can be attributed to urban sprawl.

So, what can be done to combat and slow urban sprawl? Here are some solutions Mississippi Mills and the surrounding area should consider:

Education is one of the biggest problems when it comes to urban sprawl or lack thereof. If cities and towns are educated about urban sprawl and its negative implications, they will be more likely to prevent the irresponsible consumption of large amounts of land with poorly designed urban spaces. Some problems include farmland and forests being transformed into housing developments and shopping centres, an increased number of commuters and a lack of public transit resulting in increased pollution, higher taxes, and local businesses being affected by competition with large retail stores. We are more likely to act on these issues surrounding urban sprawl once we have become aware of them.

‘New urbanism’ is a movement that originated in the United States but has since become popular all around the world over the past decades. New urbanism promotes walkable and diverse neighbourhoods that are environmentally friendly. There are some key principles in the new urbanism concept.

These are to develop alternatives to sprawling, single-use, low-density development patterns of the post-WWII era which can be seen throughout towns in our area. New urbanism solves the negative implications of urban sprawl’s economic, health and environmental impacts on communities. This is done by focusing attention on inner cities and towns instead of suburban areas, creating growth without the pollution and greenspace destruction that comes from urban sprawl. Bike lanes and the addition of greenspaces within city and town cores are also upsides to new urbanism.

Considering how we develop communities and how we construct homes is critical in minimizing the effects of urban sprawl.

Restoring and updating existing cities and towns is crucial in order to protect the natural environment and reduce urban sprawl. Building new homes up and not out reduces residents’ ecological footprint. Living in a multi-floored apartment or condo building is a better use of space than a large single-family home.

Many apartment and condo buildings are beginning to be constructed in towns such as Carleton Place and this trend should continue throughout Mississippi Mills as opposed to tearing down forests to construct vast suburban areas. Green infrastructure and eco-friendly buildings should also become mandatory for all new construction projects. This could include ideas such as green roofs or walls (plants and gardens on roofs or sides of buildings), solar panels, rainwater collection, geothermal heating, smaller home floor plans and sustainable materials.

Smart Growth is planned economic and community development that is specifically designed to combat urban sprawl with a focus on preventing worsening environmental conditions and land use patterns. We need to consider the composition, structure and function of our cities and really focus on the principles of smart growth. Some principles of smart growth include mixed land usage, affordable housing, walkable neighborhoods, encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions and preserve open and natural spaces and critical environmental areas.

Mississippi Mills and the surrounding area can be a solution to urban sprawl through community involvement and action. We can push and advocate for more sustainable and environmentally friendly development plans and methods. We as a community can challenge our local government to consider development options that promote smart growth and new urbanism. If we as a community draw enough attention to urban sprawl our local government is more likely to agree with us and do something about this issue.

If you’re interested in discussing your concerns about urban sprawl, you could contact your city or town’s planning department and address these concerns and ideas. You could also attempt to contact your city or town’s mayor or city/town councillor about the current vision for expansion in your town and how urban sprawl is being viewed.