Why LUSU’s plan to ‘Fight the Fees’ actually costs students.

Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students have announced a new plan to ‘fight the fees’. Essentially, they are rebranding their annual proposal to vote no to tuition increases or to abstain from the vote at the board of governors meeting by participating in protests or sit ins. Annually, they lose these votes because they are outvoted by the rest of the board of governors and current/future students lose twice because they lose their voice and receive the tuition increases anyways.

The reason I am writing this blog is to show the folly of their plans and to provide a constructive criticism along with contempt as a student who suffers due to their actions. The board of governors typically votes during the summer at their general meeting on the amount of increase they will pass into tuition to help cover the expanded costs of operating the university. These costs are maxed out by the government and for many years it was 8% which is 2.5x times general inflation, currently it is 3%. Tuition rates have increased well beyond inflation and have caused severe strain for students and their financial supporters. I truly believe that the Ontario government and the Federal government need to look for new ways to prepare significant and stable funding increases for universities to cover costs. I would also like to see the Board of Governors move their meeting to during the school year so more students can be present and participate in the processes to which they are subject.

Yet, at the local level there are a number of things that could have been done to reduce the costs associated with the operation of the university and the services it provides to its students if LUSU was able to look beyond their own term in office. When LUSU votes ‘No’ or abstains from the vote at the board of governors they are effectively giving away any and all influence in the decisions on how that money is spent and what mandates we want it to go towards. This voice that students give the individual is wasted and thrown away and does nothing to benefit the university, students or future students.

Looking to the university campus there are a significant number of buildings that were designed, built and continue to operate in a pre-environmental concern mindset. Imagine if LUSU had voted for these fee increases and used that influence to change the landscape of the campus, reducing the number of buildings by combining them into larger structures which not only reduces the environmental impact, it reduces costs in taxes, heating, electricity, maintenance among many more. New facilities are also a huge draw for students and a larger student base spreads that cost over a much larger number of people meaning the individual cost is less. These new buildings influenced by LUSU and the students as to the needs and desires of students with an environmentally friendly and technology conscious mindset could help guide Lakehead for the next 50 years.

A reduction of current facilities into an amalgamated facility also allows for certain other things if the buildings are removed. Increased greenspace, opportunities for future facilities, expansion of facilities. As Lakehead is a school of the north and focuses heavily on the environment and forestry there could be community gardens, traditional aboriginal services or even cultural spaces from the many different communities and countries the international students come from. A modern campus would allow for a multitude of things to happen that could be increasingly beneficial for the student population, Thunder Bay and more.

Working with the university rather then fighting them also brings in a number of other impacts that could benefit student life and reduce the cost to students. Imagine in that new building (s) that LUSU worked with the university to build; it has a grocery store, cafe, among other privately run businesses that increase the offering of services on the campus and reduce the cost. It reduces the cost because now it is not only being shared by government/university and students it is being shared by government/university/students and private enterprise. It also provides employment for students to gain some much needed workplace experience, income and social connection that our university campus desperately lacks. We have 1,200 students on campus that live, study and socialize here. Its a captive audience for businesses lost by poor planning. Foresight, would reduce the cost of operating the university and the cost of university for the students.

As a student I have to question some of the auxiliary fees that I pay that go directly to support LUSU related activities or projects. I pay almost $17 for computer upgrade fees of which I use everyday through the wifi provided by Lakehead, school computers etc and yet I pay $6.66 for LUSU radio that I have never listened to. No private business operates with a subsidy so why is it that LUSU radio can not operate without a student subsidy; is the business plan so ineffective that it simply can not and as a student do I really want to pay for that failed business plan. Answer for me at least is NO. LUSU recently posed the question to students (couple years ago) about rebuilding the pool and the cost associated with that; they posed to students the question if they would be willing to pay for it. As a student who does not use the facility I see no personal benefit but others likely do and as a democratic organization if the student group said yes then that is fine to me. What I do question is: had LUSU considered working with the City of Thunder Bay in finding an operating agreement to use the complex as a facility for gym and pool. Other then a membership there is no cost to LUSU or the students. Whereas now we pay operating, staffing and maintenance costs. Had LUSU worked with the Board of Governors could that building could had been redone on Lakehead’s dollar and influenced other levels of government to reduce the costs. Could students have shouldered 15% of the rebuild cost rather then 100%.

Someone will probably try and say that it is impossible for students and the organization to work together since their goals and aspirations are so different. I would say to that person that they are wrong since Georgian College Student Association did just that. They put their money where their mouth is and put up cash to get a real voice in how it is spent within the organization. Their cash multiplies because they are working with other levels of government to fund the things that they want. They do not get to fund one project on their own they fund four because they are stretching their dollars. They do not get everything they want just as LUSU would not if they decided to go down this road. The influence would be much greater and we would see more student oriented items within campus.

Until LUSU and the Canadian Federation of Students get their heads out of the sand their doing more harm then good for students.

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Looking to City of Thunder Bay Budget 2017

2016 has quickly come and gone and it is time for the City of Thunder Bay departments to bring together their wants/needs/deferrals and dust off the projects that got put on the shelf a long time ago. As Thunder Bay departments look to the future I think its necessary that those on City council take a step back from the political posturing (Councillor Verdiramo) and really try to deal with Thunder Bay’s realities. Council last year deferred projects and items that will come back to make this years budget process even harder. The decisions that we make today are going to effect us going forward. We need to make the right decisions in order to truly create the city that people will want to live in and move to. Some of the items below aren’t going to be directly related to budgetary concerns but as the minds of Thunder Bays departments come together it could lead to policies that improve and help to direct the city going forward.

Policies:

  1. Density Targets – The Province of Ontario is setting new and increasingly dense targets for communities in Central and Southern Ontario to address the concerns of urban sprawl, transit and more. While Thunder Bay isn’t a part of this new plan its time that Thunder Bay adopted these guidelines and policies to help create the density it needs. Thunder Bay has a density of 330.1 people per square kilometer which is incredibly low for a community of this size. It means that our services are stretched longer and cost more and that the people that live in the community are less healthy. Adding to our density will work towards helping improve the life of our community and stretch our dollar further.
  2. Humanity and Clean&Green – As Thunder Bay moves forward and plans/builds new facilities I believe that it is time to provide a safe space for everyone. We continue to see groups of marginalized people like those of the LGBQT community face daily challenges. As a small means of solidarity; I would like to see the City of Thunder Bay develop a policy that includes gender neutral bathrooms in the design as a mandatory component for city buildings. Additionally I would like to see the city establish electric power stations at its new facilities to help facilitate the expansion of electric vehicles within the community.
  3. Green Buildings/vehicles – Many of the City of Thunder Bay’s facilities are older and are built for a time before climate change. Its time to look at creating a plan to reduce the footprint the City of Thunder Bay has and creating modern, efficient buildings that cost the city less and produce less harmful effects for the environment. The city of Thunder Bay as an entity created 30,078 tonnes eC02 and used 4.280 million litres of fuel throughout 2015. As we look forward we need to consider the types of vehicles and units we use; if there are legitimate environmentally friendly options for the city to use instead. Every penny that fuel costs rise cost transit $44,000 and with the projected costs only to go up we need to make these decisions now.
  4. Investing in Technology – Technology has become an important part of how we as a society function and operate. There are always new and emerging ways to make the job easier, quicker and reduce the negative effects on individuals bodies. Thunder Bay Police Service is one institution that could easily benefit from additional technology. Many officers are still stuck writing tickets by hand and stuck for extended periods of time writing multiple copies. Cruisers are small but they can be adapted to work for the officers benefit. Printers that double as a head rest are just one example. Instead of taking 45 minutes to write 3 copies of the same paperwork it could be done once on a computer and have the officer onto the next call in significantly less time.
  5. Modern Parking lot Codes – Thunder Bay is obsessed with parking and the opportunity to park as close to the establishment as possible. This is not only unhealthy for the user as it promotes a lazy lifestyle but for the environment as well. The modern parking lot acts as reflective shield bringing large amounts of water to the storm sewers and catch basins. Whereas green space would catch this or a portion of the water the asphalt deflects it. Requiring those who plan to develop parking lots or fix established ones in Thunder Bay to change how they create this space. If a business wanted to create a 200 stall lot under the old standard they would see this happen but if we introduced new rules it could develop more greenspace. Requiring 20-20% of land to be used as green space for shrubs, grass, trees etc would reduce water flow to city sewers and provide green spaces within the community.

Budgetary concerns:

  1. Printing Office – One has wonder if Thunder Bay needs to own and operate its own printing unit. Can things be done by the private sector for less cost? do we need to be printing as much as the city does? While I don’t want to see people lose their positions or their income one has to ask if there is a need for this under the city umbrella
  2. Staffing – Without knowing the direct operations of the City of Thunder Bay its hard for me to truly provide either a criticism or a positive on this topic but for many companies staffing amounts for 90% of their operational costs. This leaves little for other items and can handcuff corporations now and into the future. Conducting a review whether it is necessary to cut or add positions has to be a necessary evil. A review starting from the top and working down is just one step.
  3. Infrastructure upgrades benefiting urban sprawl – in 2018 the city has 750,000 projected for the NW Arterial route for property acquisition. Then additionally a projected cost somewhere in the tune of $20 million for the road itself. This infrastructure project only benefits those who live in the fringe of the community and make it easier for their suburban lifestyle. This project should be scrapped and the money reallocated for other infrastructure projects. Additionally as the expansion of road projects gets further from the cores we should start to consider additional factors like does it support urban sprawl, could transit/multi-use better suit the space etc.
  4. Development fee – Building in Thunder Bay continues to expand on the fringes of our community. A recent decision by council to increase the size of Neebing ward by 120 units means additional cost beyond revenue for the city. Its time to require development in the fringes to pay for their cost. I propose a distance based fee with the 2 downtown cores as the anchors. As the development gets x distance from the core the cost to develop increases. While developing in the core itself could net the developer a rebate on their building costs; building in Neebing or Mcintrye could cost someone 15-20% of their development costs through a fee which could be put towards infrastructure.
  5. EIRP – Simple enough, it needs to continue and potentially expand to work with Confederation College and Lakehead University to address some of their costs. Both institutions bring in youth and huge sums of money into the community. Making them more profitable and their image better only serves to benefit the community today and tomorrow.
  6. Proper Funding – Its hard to come to the community and say its going to be this percentage or this percentage. Its much simpler to let the department heads deffer projects because of variance issues at the end of the day. Its time to forgo this practice and properly fund the departments and stop dealing with the fires of variances as they arrive. Thunder Bay Police Service Chief J.P. Levesque continues to come to council with the budget they require and then council cuts it. At the end of the day we end up in the same place. When I budget I do so for my expenses and then a contingency for those issues that arise and the City of Thunder Bay should too.

 

References:

http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=3558004&Geo2=CSD&Code2=3543042&Data=Count&SearchText=barrie&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&Custom=&TABID=1

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/Strategic+Plan+2015/docs/Implementation+Plan.pdf

http://www.thunderbay.ca/Assets/City+Government/Finance+$!26+Budgets/docs/Budget+2016/2016_TAX_CAP_I$!26O.pdf

 

Victoriaville: The Future

The City of Thunder Bay is looking for input into what the citizens would like to see happen to this space. Since its inception it has polarized the citizens and for many is the reason that the Fort William side of town has gone into a decline. Much has changed since the days of old and the city itself has changed. The question still remains as to what do we do with the Victoriaville Mall and how do we move forward?

I think we need to take a step back and come to an agreement that no matter what decision we make whether to tear it down or to keep it up; the area will not boom like people seem to predict. Thunder Bay is a much different place then when the mall was created and we as a society have changed as well. This idea that if we tear it down everyone will come rushing back into the area is a fallacy and it just wont happen. Fort William downtown still struggles with a bad reputation, high crime rates and lack of a real draw. I know personally that if they tear down the Victoriaville Mall; I will still have no draw to go there.

The decision on what to do with this half filled building that has struggled to bring in business and customers is an extremely challenging one. On one hand if we keep the building as such then we run deficits and spend millions for repairs to a facility we may not need. Yet, if we tear it down the question becomes the next steps for the space, the people who lose their businesses and employment. The larger picture must also be considered in this decision. The decision to invest millions in the waterfront redevelopment was not done on its own; it was done with the implications it would help the surrounding area and the investment would incite other investment.

The City of Thunder Bay needs to look to a much larger plan then simply the space that Victoriaville occupies and create a plan to bring life into this area again. This means dealing with issues such as public intoxication, businesses supporting potentially illegal or antisocial actions and beautifying the area. We have a gentlemen in Mr. Habib who has taken the time to present his vision for the area in order to bring life back to this part of town. It is going to take a vision on a grander scale to address the issues facing this part of town and it is a multifaceted one. Looking to modern urban design principles, the realities of the city and its population along with a multitude of potential tax policies will be important.

The City of Thunder Bay cannot take this on their own and they need to introduce private partners to the plan. Residential development or having people live in the area is an important part of improving the area and bringing in other investments. Council can work with developers to create multi use facilities that build on each others success. There are a number of buildings that can be torn down to introduce these new spaces for developers to establish themselves. Toronto is one community that succeeds because they build on each other. Bottoms floors are rented out to things that the community would need like grocery stores, gyms and cafe’s while upstairs are residential areas, the people who work and use these areas. Thunder Bay needs to look to this vision beyond just the Fort William area but specifically for the plan of the Victoriaville Mall how to best create mutli-use facilities.

To the idea of what to do with the Victoriaville mall; I really hope that while the city gets input from the citizens as a whole it places more emphasis on those who work, live, and play in these areas. As someone who hardly uses this area my opinion should have less value then someone who would lose a business, employment or a recreation space due to this decision. I hope that the city looks to a pedestrian facility where people can come, sit and relax while taking in the area. A space for vendors to provide food, meals and allow for a community connection. I hope that the city takes into account aboriginal features as this area does have a larger Aboriginal population.

I guess my thoughts on this topic are that we cannot expect a miracle to happen either way. We need too look beyond this area and make the effective investments that improve life and the users of the space should have more say then those from Neebing, McIntrye or even the north core who haven’t used the space in 30 years.

Mr. Habib vision: http://visitfortwilliam.ca/NeighbourhoodNews/Avisionfordowntown.aspx

Thunder Bay in 40 years

Its hard to truly say what Thunder Bay will look like in 40 years and what we can expect of not only our city but our leadership. It’s likely that city council be more gender equal and we will see more representation of minority groups like First Nations; both of which would be positive advances from where we are today. Yet, there are also concerning factors for Thunder Bay that cannot be ignored and today’s leaders need to start laying the groundwork for. It’s often tough to look beyond that 4 year stretch and make decisions that will have little to no impact on your term in council today but these decisions need to be made none the less. Thunder Bay is continually faced with tough decisions when it comes to budget seasons and the future holds no different. Infrastructure deficits, pressures on emergency services and more all play a big factor in how Thunder Bay functions as a city and how it operates. For Northwestern Ontario and Thunder Bay they face the additional challenge of out migration and economic issues associated with the geography of the territory. As city council struggles today to make ends meet I believe its time that we start to look at what exactly are our core responsibilities as a municipality, how we can improve our city through urban design and how we can address the future challenges.

Thunder Bay stands at 108,359 people according to the 2011 census a decrease of 0.7% over the previous census in 2006. It has a population density of 330.1 per square kilometer and has a median age of 43.3 years old. While I have lived in southern Ontario for the last 3 years, I have seen a lot of similarities between Thunder Bay and Barrie but there are distinct differences between the two in the statistics. Barrie has a population of 135,711 per 2011, an increase of 5.7% over 2006, its population density is 5.3 times higher then Thunder Bay at 1,753.10 and its average age is 37 or 6.3 years younger then Thunder Bay. It’s right to wonder what these numbers mean for both communities but the simplest answer is that Barrie will have a much easier time attracting economic development to its community, supporting that development with services like transit and providing quality of life to its residents. Thunder Bay on the other hand due to its sheer size, its aging and declining population will be forced to make significant cuts to services necessary for its citizens.

If we were to look at the data for population for the City of Thunder Bay it has decreased at a range of roughly 4% between 1996 and 2011. This mean at a population base of 109,000 people the City of Thunder Bay would lose 4,360 people every census. Given that 40 year span and 8 censuses between now and then if the city continued to lose at that rate it would lose 34,880 people or in 2056 be a population center for just under 73,500 people. Factors such as increasing median average age will also play a factor in decreasing populations and the large size of older individuals (65+) in the City of Thunder Bay will also affect the numbers in a negative way. Items such as Aboriginal influx into Thunder Bay will have a positive correlation on this total population as Aboriginal people are one of the fastest growing and youngest demographics in Canada.

For the city to potentially lose 34,000 people would be devastating to the city’s tax base and to the services that rely on them. Many services would either be diminished or drastically cut that they would be a shell of their original self. In a 60 year period Detroit lost 64% of its population and it is suffering from poverty, addictions, crime and corruption and its services have been slashed and burned. To lose almost 30% of your population would be just as drastic and have huge implications to the city and its residents. So the time to act is now to prepare ourselves for the future and make sure our feet are firmly planted going forward. We continue to feel the effects of the Orval Santa’s regime where their 0% tax increases were loved by the populous but are being felt on the roads, parks and under our feet in the sewers. Thunder Bay needs to look for new ways to address these issues and make some tough decisions.

I truly believe that if we want to support the programs we have today that we are going to have to let things go.

Councilor Ch’ng has been an effective fighter for more infrastructure money and we need to see others get on board with this. We cannot let our infrastructure get further behind because every day we do we fight the interest clock and changing values/ideals. Infrastructure investments are beneficial to those surrounding them and they provide an economic boost to the city. Infrastructure like parks, roads, disaster prevention all play an important role in improving the life that citizens of Thunder Bay have come to enjoy. Making smart investments with our infrastructure resources is also an important factor which means reducing the sprawl of Thunder Bay and investing in the cores/established areas. Thunder Bay needs to continue to infill its established lands and build up; it cannot let residence slow down or fight density. Making sure we are investing the proper amount into this field will held to address unknowns like the gas tax refund cities get. What does transit and infrastructure funding look like if the gas tax is gone or severely reduced? If we find a way to pay for these items now we can provide the flexibility for a lot of other items going forward.

That being said there are operations within the city that need to be done by the private industry to get these costs lowered or eliminated from the city’s books. We need to look at centralizing city operations and the number of individuals that we employ with the corporation. Its much tougher given that Thunder Bay is very reliant on the 3 levels of government for a vast majority of its larger employment centers but if the statistics are right we need to make these changes now. If we can find ways to reduce the organization in scope and size starting at the top we can avoid the issues now. We can avoid the nightmare scenario of Detroit where someone comes in and makes the decisions to cut or we have to do it whether we like it or not. Thunder Bay needs to have administration in my eyes sit down and really plan out the future beyond its long term projections and we need to make these decisions matter to the future. Using the seventh generation principle of the Iroquois “applied to relationships – every decision should result in sustainable relationships seven generations in the future.” The decisions council and people make today affect tomorrow and well down the line.

Event Center

The Thunder Bay Event Center wasn’t and never has been about a AHL team, tourism or how much money a facility could make. It has been about investing in the community that we call home and taking pride in our city. Thunder Bay currently has an arena that is 60 years old and doesn’t meet the needs of the people today, going forward or 20 years into the future. Councils of past have deferred this conversation until almost at the bitter end (Major renovations required in the 2020 range). Every year we delay we are one year closer to having to spend millions on a facility that can’t accommodate those with physical or mental handicaps. It grows harder for an older population to access and doesn’t meet the desires of an environmentally friendly young generation. Businesses are being left to wait for an answer from the city and the electorate to if they will have their major boost. We are left with a decision to make on whether we need to build this center or not and I believe the answer is yes.

Our city is undergoing a major transition from its resource based roots to a more diverse and stable economy. We seeing the errors of our ways when we decided that building on the fringes was the best option. The mindsets of city leaders, planners and developers are now about centralizing and supporting the things we already have. The city determined through an impartial third party that the city members supported this and that the marina was the best option. It’s the best option because its supported by the surrounding businesses and fits in the city’s plan to upgrade our community. It’s about improving the image of our community, supporting the businesses and community members that make the city tick. Most importantly it’s investing in us, our community and our people. We take pride in the fact that we have the most hockey players per capita but yet our facilities are underfunded, old and falling apart. We complain about the conditions of our infrastructure… well ladies and gentlemen this is a part of that infrastructure and it has been neglected for too long. We need to proceed with the plan for the event center and invest in our community. Our region is small so busloads of people will not come to the facility but the people that come out to support the Lakehead Thunderwolves will continue to come out. The parents who support their kids through hockey seasons and comes to the games will come and fill the seats of the event center.

This plan is not perfect, it will need some revision and the community should be able to provide ideas for this but we cannot let a minority of people express their thoughts louder than those in the majority and perceive them as right. We need to do what is right for our community today, tomorrow and 50 years from now when they look to a new building. People say a lot of things about this plan and how its negatives outweigh its positives. The fact it will lose money or the fact that we won’t ever be able to truly support a professional team. To me this project gets people so amped up because it has that potential to really bring the community together and be that spark that lights a fire under people. It is a major change from the way the city has conducted itself in the past. It challenges the mindset of thousands of people into a new, greener way of thinking. A downtown location is the best option for not only Thunder Bay but for major sports arenas around the world. We have seen Edmonton, Calgary, Minneapolis all look towards their downtown cores as the best option for their redeveloped arenas. We are even seeing Kanata look and see the error of their ways with the development of the Ottawa Senators home arena so far away from town. This project is about more then simply saying we want to have world class hockey here in Thunder Bay.

It’s not about the money, the AHL or a downtown hotel. It’s about the people of this community and giving them the chance to attend a world class building. It’s about investing in ourselves and making ourselves a stronger community and how we represent ourselves to those around us. Our city needs to have that boost where we invest in the recreational facilities that we as a community enjoy. This is about improving the quality of life that we expect to have in our city. The money issue can be figured out as well as the parking but I believe that this is truly about us as a city.

Lets build it Thunder Bay.

Proposed Changes: Westridge Bus Route

The longer I stay in a community the more I challenge myself to come up with new ways for the community to come together and become a better place to live. When I use Orillia transit I have always wondered what the plans are for the future to make sure the transit service services the proper areas for those who want to use it. Western Orillia is undergoing a massive expansion in the number of residents, businesses operating in the area. A large influx of students has moved and continues to move into the area to attend Lakehead University and Georgian College – Orillia. As the area changes the services need to change with the community and this is where my idea comes in. Large numbers of students who live close to Lakehead (within a 20 minute walk) drive to school and the school is currently focused on finding ways to alleviate the pressure from the single commuters. One means of reducing the number of students who drive to school is to make the transit system more attractive to use. Moving the Westridge route to where the new developments are ongoing would help to alleviate the pressures placed on Lakehead. Currently, the bus follows the main road to the school and for students/individuals who are going to live in the new additions to the subdivision there isn’t a great place to go and catch the bus. They’re stuck in between two bus stops and neither are an attractive offering when having to walk in the snow. This lack of viable options means that students are more likely to drive to school and the city misses out on a real opportunity to increase ridership. I figured that it would be a better idea to bring the bus to them in order to get them to their destination in a environmentally friendly way.

Westridge Change

Above in red is my proposed changes to the Westridge route that would take students to the university. I purposed these changes based on the positive impact that the transit system more effectively servicing this area would do. Isabelle street alone in undergoing a massive influx of new residents that would be perfectly served by this addition. 5 new town home units are being built which should add another 100-120 residents to this street alone. This road is also connected to 3 massive clearing where developers are preparing to start construction on 3 new sections of the subdivision. Large numbers of people could be served perfectly by this change in the bus route which would increase transit ridership and decrease the parking issues at Lakehead campus. Adding the stops in the subdivision would give people a closer spot to gather for the bus and would better service the subdivision construction further away from the main road. It would add additional time to the route which would need to be accommodated for all route in order to continue running the service on time. Additions to the other routes could also likely be found which would help to service more people to and from these areas.

In future, council would need to look at servicing rotary place and servicing the new Costco that is going to be developed along this route. The proposed changes made here are just one step in helping to expand the active transportation offerings that Orillia has and reduce the greenhouses gases put out by the city and its residents. With how fast the community is changing it might be time today to look at changing the transit system to meet the growing needs of the community and its residents.

Progress vs. Destruction

North of Barrie is a small town named Orillia with 31,000 people that has almost all the same amenities as a much larger city like Thunder Bay with a population of 107,000. Both have experience downturns and expansions relating to resource booms (Thunder Bay) and Agricultural boom (Orillia). There are a number of similarities between the two cities in the thinking of the city planners and those in the community. I find that there is a desire in both communities to keep the community small town feel and avoid excesses of the big city. Thunder Bay has an aging population as does Orillia and they are both home to a Lakehead University campus; along with a college campus. One thing I also find similar between the two communities is their fear of density and a desire to avoid high rise buildings. This was presented in a meeting to council just this past Monday as people demanded council change a plan to introduce a 4 story building in an established residential neighborhood. Issues like traffic, parking, smell, people and noise were all brought to the attention of council who didn’t believe those to be valid enough reasons to stop the development (Thank god). Orillia has shown a reluctance to introduce density and higher rise development as seen through the development of the Westridge space. Row upon row of single family housing packed tightly together to make the developer a lot of money. Only a small space set aside for townhomes and none to date set aside for any high rise buildings. This subdividion plan is seeing massive amounts of deforestation done to the area, geography changes and destruction of farmland as a result. This is as a result of the increasing number of students going to Lakehead University and Georgian College. I am torn between development and saving the environment but the plan for Westridge doesn’t even come close to doing a good job of #2.

This is type of area that we are destroying in order to make way for new homes. Adding additional people yet massive destruction of the areas in which we grow our food.
This is type of area that we are destroying in order to make way for new homes. Adding additional people yet massive destruction of the areas in which we grow our food.

Presented below are a number of photos taken recently that show the deforestation and the destruction of prime farm land in order to make way for new homes. This space will be filled with single family detached units and allow Orillia to continue its urban sprawl outwards. This sprawl will cost the city millions in infrastructure repair, increased services cost and greenspace destruction. The city planning seems to be of the same mindset as those planned in the height of the automobile. Orillia is a challenge in other modes of transport to move from the old part of town to the new West Orillia area. The City of Orillia transit runs the Westridge route every 30 minutes but due to its length it often runs late during busier hours of the day. This causes delays for riders and causes major concerns for those who need to ride the bud in order to get to work. There is no safe connection from the Westridge area to the older parts of Orillia unless you go on the Highway 11 overpass at Coldwater which is a challenging and potentially dangerous task. Even in the winter walking over the overpass is both dangerous and exposes pedestrians to the elements. The plan to develop this area I believe needs to be looked at again and brought up to a new standard one of which helps to reduce the cost to the City of Orillia, Orillia Transit and make the area more walkable and cyclist friendly. As a resident of the area I am a little bit of a hypocrite because I am part of the problem by renting in the area. I want to present a plan which I believe will help increase density, transit usage and make this a better community for everyone to live in.

Prime farmland destroyed in order to build new homes. The area was rolling hills but was flattened and the earth stripped. The levels of earth had dropped about 1 metre which makes this area now vulnerable to flooding during heavy rains due to the higher ground around it.
Prime farmland destroyed in order to build new homes. The area was rolling hills but was flattened and the earth stripped. The levels of earth had dropped about 1 metre which makes this area now vulnerable to flooding during heavy rains due to the higher ground around it.

We need to develop more density around bus stops and allow for Orillia Transit to take more vehicles off the road. This means more single unit apartment buildings and condominiums in this area which would be targeted at students and single individuals in the community. Townhomes should be built close to the university with walking paths and bike lanes directly connected to this area to allow students to walk or bike to the campus. This density will benefit Orillia transit with increased ridership and decrease the annual renewal costs of the City of Orillia. It will also bring in additional tax dollars which can be used to repair the roads or pay for increased transit services. The development mentioned before in Thunder Bay is expected to bring in $16,000 a year in tax income compared to the 2-3,000 a single family home would.

Bush that has been deforested and stripped away in order to make it easier to build on. This again was all farmland as of last year and now is dirt and mud which serves no environmental purpose or habitat purpose. Likely will not see homes for another couple of years.
Bush that has been deforested and stripped away in order to make it easier to build on. This again was all farmland as of last year and now is dirt and mud which serves no environmental purpose or habitat purpose. Likely will not see homes for another couple of years.

Increase the amount of natural habitat and greenspace in the Westridge development in order to alleviate the amount of destruction that we are doing to these natural areas. These area’s are natural habitats for animals and serve to help mitigate issues such as drainage. Natural drainage and water retention helps to save the city millions of dollars’ worth of sewers and mitigation projects. These areas also help to increase the value of a home because they can be natural sound barriers and protection from other residential/ commercial areas. It also provides the individuals in the area with a space to help relax and connect with nature. Spending time in the woods has been shown to have a positive effect on people’s mental and physical health. Greenspace is good for the entire community physically, mentally, financially and for the environment in general.

Increase the amount of opportunities for people to get around to other areas of the community by alternative means of transportation. Bike, walking or bus all need to be improved into this region in order to really help make this area a positive space for the community members and the environment. A bridge over Highway 11 is just one project that needs to be proposed and implemented in order to take bikes off the ill designed roadway and onto a safer area. The City of Orillia has started this process by designing multi use trails that connect the length of Westridge road and connects Rotary Place and Lakehead University. It would be great to see these paths continually expanded in order to allow for a more connected community. Bike racks on the front of city transit buses could be just one option to helping move people around. It would be less expensive than building a specifically designed bridge over the highway. For students who live in downtown or come from out of town and may need to park somewhere the City should be looking to make a monthly pass available for people to come and park then ride transit to school. It would be a money generator for the city and take vehicles off the road. The proponents for this construction needs to step up as well.

Old vs new. The green space is where farmland was and shows you just how much has been removed in order to make way for the new development.
Old vs new. The green space is where farmland was and shows you just how much has been removed in order to make way for the new development.

Lakehead University is the reason that this construction is going at hyper-speed and being a diamond level LEED school they should be working with the community more to promote positive environmental designs by city planners and working to promote a healthy community to which they are a part of. Georgian College also needs to step up and help to promote alternative means of getting its students from their homes to its campus. Universal transit passes for students and teachers are just one means of getting students consistently and easily from work, school or play home without a vehicle. Both need to make their voices heard and promote new ways of thinking within the City of Orillia. I would love to see Lakehead University – Orillia continue to add students into its downtown unit and expand its offerings there. I believe that the more students down there the more the community will expand and improve. Lakehead also needs to stick its neck out and ask for higher density housing around its campus in order to reduce the environmental impact it’s students are having on the community. This is a new development and it can be influenced to make sure it’s a modern one but we need people to step up and make these decisions today to truly influence the future positively.

Now I am not against development by any means and I understand that things will change in order to provide what the market wants or what is most profitable. We need to make the destruction we do as limited as possible and allow for us to live within our means more.

Construction #4

Here is a Google Earth photo of the area before the construction started. The area in question is spotted by the photo above and 2 more up.

Destruction Photo for Blog