If Smithville were a spaceship, a newly formed group would argue its green space is one of its most crucial components.
“It’s the life support system,” said resident Scott Antonides, using the spaceship analogy to describe just how important protecting green space in town is. Loss of green space would spell doom. But as Smithville expands, questions are being raised about the preservation of green spaces against the need for development.
At the Township of West Lincoln, staff are currently working out the details of the expansion plan in a motion known as Official Plan Amendment 63 (OPA63), which determines, among other things, the natural heritage systems.
The Official Plan allocates just under 30 per cent of land to be set aside for woodlands and wetlands, which would prevent development. And for some residents of Smithville, that allocation is the minimum they would like to see to protect the environment, promote health and for future generations to enjoy.
A loose collection of environmental campaigners called Community for Responsible Growth is raising awareness of the importance of green spaces. To save the planet and our health, they say, preserving green space is a no-brainer.
The loss of natural spaces would lead to a loss of biodiversity, and Smithville has already lost enough, they say.
“There’s been a loss of habitat all over,” said Linda Sivyer, who used to hear owls that are now long gone. And, as she points out, it’s not just Smithville that expanded at the expense of green spaces. It may just be several acres here, but it’s happening across the province and the country. “That’s frightening to me,” she said.
As for the health aspect, Sula Anne Kosacky, a reverend at Smithville United Church, points to the myriad health benefits that green spaces provide. “Proximity to green space gives a world of psychological and emotional benefits,” she said.
She points to a study in the journal “BioScience” by Daniel T.C. Cox et. al. It says: “evidence suggests that the availability and quality of neighbourhood green spaces are associated with greater well-being … and lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress.”
Physical well-being is also improved with access to green space. After all, says Kosacky, nature invites people to walk outside, increasing exercise and decreasing obesity.
Kosacky subscribes to ecotheology, which examines the link between religion and nature. She points out in Genesis, God gave mankind dominion over the Earth. But that’s led to a degree of abuse over the planet. “We now have a responsibility of stewardship rather than privilege of dominion,” she said.
And the campaigners hope that responsibility will protect these green spaces well into the future. “I’m concerned about the next generation,” said Karen Parker. “We desperately need to protect these habitats … you can’t grow a tree overnight.”
“In 10 to 20 years, what will we be proud of? A few more houses?” asked Loretta Shields. Or green spaces for our families to enjoy and us to walk our dogs?
Antonides thinks we as a society may end up digging up the asphalt we laid down over our green spaces and will look back with regret that we ever covered them up. “We would regret removing another forest,” he said. “I would regret it the day it was done, but as a society we would look back and consider it a big mistake.”
At a meeting on Aug. 11, OPA63 will be presented to council, and in the meantime, township staff have been hard at work reviewing the plan after a public hearing was held on June 27.
During that hearing, Mayor Dave Bylsma highlighted the friction between development, and the environment and natural heritage. “There’s always a tension,” he said
Director of planning Brian Treble said staff would take all views on board and review the policy before reporting back, and the plan may or may not change.
Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News