Let’s hold off developing the Upton Farm

Guest Opinion
The Guardian
March 13, 2007

by Dr. Palanisamy Nagarajan

“I think that each town should have a park,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1862, while emphasizing the, significance of preserving some portions of nature herself unimpaired, or “rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or thousand acres, either in one body or several —where a stick should never be cut for fuel — nor for the navy, nor to make wagons, but stand and decay for higher uses — a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.”Perhaps we could consider him as the forerunner of developing the concept of ‘green infrastructure’ and its importance for moving towards sustainable communities.Now, with increasing growth of human activities under the tunnel vision of economic growth and progress, open green space is up for grabs everywhere for the built environment. We tend to over-emphasize the importance of human-made infrastructure, in the form of buildings, roads and utilities, among other things, for the development of modern society. Failure of growing communities to realize the critical importance of green infrastructure — the network of green open space, woodlands, parks and other natural areas that contribute to the dynamism, vitality and sustainability of our communities — is difficult to comprehend.Numerous studies have well documented that open green space in cities beautify neighbourhoods, attract new businesses, retain homeowners or lure new ones, reduce crime, save energy, among other things. The presence of well-developed green infrastructure is considered as an important quality-of-life factor for firms choosing where to locate and for skilled labour force choosing where to live and work. Also, added well-designed green infrastructure facilities, as compared to the conventional human-made grey infrastructure, could be considered as one of the important factors in the promotion of health and well-being of the population.While underscoring the importance of investing in green infrastructure, in January 1999, Maryland Governor Paris Glendening cogently observed: “Just as we must carefully plan for and invest in our human infrastructure — education, health service, care for the elderly and disabled — we must also invest in our green infrastructure.”Rio Local Agenda 21, a seminal document adopted by more than 180 countries at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 1992, forcefully brought to our attention the importance of designing development pathways, striking a delicate balance between environmental protection, social equity and economic development, at the local level leading toward sustainable societies in the 21st century.Bottom-up approach, as opposed to top-down approach, in the decision-making process in achieving the societal goal of sustainability is well recognized.Against this backdrop, one could not ignore some important news items concerning the fate of Upton Farmlands Property, on the western edge of the city, flashing in our media radar screen lately. These are the facts known to us. In June 2001, Canada Lands Company (CLS) received title to the 105-hectare Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Upton Farm property. The CLC already has our city council’s approval to begin the first phase of development for the 105-hectare property.A concerned group of Charlottetown residents has sent a 700-signature petition to Ottawa asking government to leave the Upton Farm as green space. Kirsten Connor, who spearheaded the petition drive, has approached provincial Environment Minister Jamie Ballem to get involved in preserving the Upton Farm as green space. (The Guardian, October 27, 2006). Recently most people who attended a public meeting on the future of the Upton Farmlands Property want the 105-hectare preserved as green space. According to a report in The Guardian of March 1, 2007, “A show of hands indicated they were squarely behind having the area remain park land,” said Charlottetown-Spring Park MLA Wes MacAleer, who hosted the meeting.We are told the first phase of the road work is scheduled to begin this spring, and, to our surprise, some of the streets may be completed by July. The Upton Farm Preservation Network is calling for a freeze on development to allow for the bottom-up approach to decide the future of this farm landscape.

In an era of increasing ecological awareness, one wonders about the fast-track approach in deciding the fate of Upton Farmlands Property. A battery of pertinent questions arises concerning this serious matter. First, how did the City of Charlottetown arrive at the decision to zone the Upton Farmlands Property a comprehensive development area? Did it consult the Upton Farm Preservation Network? If not, why not? If consulted, what was the process of consultation? Did it first decide to develop subdivision there, and thereafter seek consultation? In the first instance, did it consult the stakeholders concerning the alternative uses of this property? Did the immeasurable ecological, economic and social benefits of developing this property as a green infrastructure enter into the decision-making equation?

What is the outcome of the 700-signature petition to Ottawa? What is the role of our provincial government in the development of green infrastructure?

On the whole, in the present context of growing emphasis on ecological, social and economic sustain-ability of our communities, and Rio Local Agenda 21 in achieving these goals, our decision-makers in the City of Charlottetown should put a hold on development of the Upton Farm. Green space is our finite ecological wealth. This wealth belongs to the present and future generations. Once it is transformed into built environment, it is lost forever, with potential consequences. Let us hope all that the decision-makers at all levels would ensure the bottom-up approach in arriving at a fully informed decision.

Dr. Palanisamy Nagarajan is emeritus professor of economics and research associate of the Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island.