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Tempered growth the best option

Compared to the detrimental population numbers in most of the world – a planet of 6.5 billion and counting – growth in the townships seems rather sedate indeed. Still, the growth figures bandied about as Woolwich councillors this week discussed the Waterloo Region’s official plan are a reminder that some dramatic changes are coming.

Over the next couple of decades, by 2031, Woolwich’s population is expected to hit 32,500 residents, up from 21,500 today, while Wellesley will reach 13,000, up from about 10,000.
The largest of Waterloo Region’s four rural townships, Woolwich will still hold that place 20 years hence. With Wilmot and North Dumfries seeing much larger jumps, Wellesley is expected to be the least populous in 2031, when the region’s overall population is forecasted to be 729,000, an increase of 53 per cent over the 2006 census figure of 478,000 (438,000 in 2001).

Such growth in the region is bound to put pressures on available land, especially in the townships where farms are still the norm.

On the growth and expansion front, the region has its growth management strategy in place, calling for fewer greenfield developments and more intensification in the downtown cores of the three cities, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. Attached to that goal is the light rail transit scheme designed to encourage public transit over private automobiles.

While the rail line may eventually extend to St. Jacobs and Elmira, the intensification plan doesn’t particularly apply to the townships, where much of the residential growth is typical single-family suburban homes. In Elmira, the trend is particularly at play – even in the past five years, the town has changed noticeably; with five significant residential developments underway, more changes will come soon – it’s difficult to picture what another 25 years will bring.

Breslau, of course, represents the most dramatic changes in the offing. With plans for some 1,000 new homes and hundreds of acres of industrial land awaiting development, the village is likely to be completely altered over the next two decades.

On the growth front, the township will continue to be squeezed by the need for development and the push to retain the small-town feel and rural qualities that brings new people here in the first place.

Growth brings an increased tax base and, in the case of commercial/industrial projects, jobs and opportunity. But growth also increases demand for municipal services, boosting costs. Then there are the quality-of-life issues.

Unbridled growth, while paying short-term dividends, would ultimately become counterproductive.

We do not have to look far to see the downside of sprawl – the region itself is looking to control the negatives developing in the cities bordering on Woolwich, most notably the western and northern edges of Waterloo and the Kitchener’s west side. The long boom that preceded the current downturn made the region’s economy something envied across the country. As the cities run out of developable land, more eyes will be on the townships – Woolwich’s geography making it the prime space.

That, however, is all the more reason not to rush in, to make sure the development plans for those remaining lands are the most effective for the region and, particularly, the township.

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