At work the other day, a couple of the school kids started calling me Shaggy.
I get it, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. I guess Shaggy and I both like to eat a ton of food and go on interesting adventures. Same hairdo as well. So inevitably, two kids turned into 20 addressing me as Shaggy. I rolled with it.
“So, if Shaggy is scared of so many things, you must be too,” said one youngster. These first graders are with it.
It would be too embarrasing to explain my biggest fear in life is actually getting a needle. Yuck. So I took the opportunity to give them an answer relatable to their outdoor programming.
I told them that, as Shaggy, my biggest fear is humans building their houses too close to natural “houses,” meaning to places of environmental significance. There are so many people in this world — more than 7.7 billion of us — and we all need a place to live. That has me scared for our wildlife.
Toronto and southern Ontario are booming in population growth. You can see it in the recent urban sprawl and filling in of urban boundaries. Toronto’s population is spilling over into Niagara, and it appears Niagara-on-the-Lake is trying to accommodate.
I am not anti-development. It’s expected and required, and a logical progression for a growing human population.
But what are we to do other than adapt and play smart? How about development with stronger environmental intention? That comes in the form of more scientific fuel being thrown on the fire of decision-making.
There can be a happy-medium scenario for upcoming urban developments in NOTL and beyond, where investors can complete their objectives while making small compromises for the environment. The project gets done, but maybe it gets moved somewhere slightly different, or perhaps reshaped for less of an impact on the ecosystem.
I’m not naive. I understand geographical location changes everything in real estate. Good luck telling someone with waterfront property to simply “build back somewhere over there, because of the environment.”
There are strong provincial laws and processes that oversee and protect NOTL’s green spaces, such as areas designated as Provincially Significant Wetlands, or forest plots that get protected because they contain rare tree or bird species.
My issue (and fear) with this system is that it is sometimes too literal. There are no “but what ifs” to consider for environmental areas deemed of lower significance. I think these areas often need a second or third look of sorts before certain developments should proceed on or near them.
Some of the natural areas we’ve lost in NOTL were small in acreage, but they nonetheless were better than nothing, providing an animal refuge, a stopover, a connector, and a free coolant for the neighbourhood.
If we try to keep our remaining few green spaces, we are also investing in our town’s cultural image. What does a cruise into downtown NOTL look like without hints of natural health? Some greenery, some trees, some stands of forest? As we lose our pockets of greenery and fill them in aggressively, I dare say our town not only loses important natural features, but also character and originality.
As Shaggy, I’m scared NOTL’s urban expansion could erode both the natural and cultural heritage of our town. It would be wonderful to see a new caliber of focus and professional input that could help prioritize the environment and work with property owners and developers.
This is the stuff that keeps me up at night, worrying about making everyone happy, humans and wildlife alike, and wondering how better to explain this fear to the next generation standing in front of me at work.