Wise Futures – Looking Both Ahead and Back

The “lake district” of eastern Ontario is anchored in the area north of the limestone plain, in the Canadian Shield, in Frontenac, Lennox and Addington and Hastings counties. This Lakeland has not been fully developed as “cottage country” and “retirement country”. But it will be! Are we ready for it?


Short-term problems and demands are stronger forces for municipalities than are future, long-term issues. But success in meeting annual budget demands does not equal wisdom in future planning. Muskoka, and later, the Kawarthas suffered as rapid development outran planning. Natural riches, beauty, sustainability and natural capital all suffered.


Ensuring retention of natural capital should be a fundamental of planning where the primary attraction of a region is natural riches such as lakes, rivers and the naturally rich matrix of landscapes containing and supporting them. Beautiful lakes and rivers were the most valuable features of Muskoka and of the Kawarthas. This was the natural capital – in commercial terms these were the machinery that made the business produce. In developed lakelands rich landscapes are difficult to find. Muskoka and the Kawarthas are now developed beyond their sustainable capacities and our Lakeland will be next.


The Greater Toronto Area population is projected to increase by 44% to over 9.2 million in the next 25 years. Those additional people will be looking for recreational properties and we are well within their geographic reach. Populations of Ottawa and of Kingston will add to the demand. Demographic aging will also produce a flow of folks hoping to retire in a lakeland. Young professionals with maturing incomes will want early access and time-sharing will allow them to have a few weeks in Lakeland.


Do we have planning underway to guide such development and to ensure sustenance of our natural capital? For example, the time-sharing urban population is unlikely to engage in community stewardship such as lake associations. Time-sharers, and some cottagers, will drop into the area for one to six weeks and will devote time to recreation, not to safeguarding natural riches. Without insightful planning well in advance, the natural capital, the analogue of a factory full of machinery, will fail to support the enterprise. The development may go ahead, as it did in Muskoka, but the factory and the machinery will degrade, eroding the foundation of the enterprise. The historic dependence on Provincial Ministeries to sustain the natural riches is no longer viable. Both operating and staff budgets for both MNRF and MOE make that unmistakably clear.


New forms of planning will be needed. Derivatives of urban planning do not mesh with the fundamentals of lakeland planning. Improved models of lake development capacity will be needed as will programs to support privately owned forests and other components of the watersheds of the lakes and rivers. Data for planning will need to be obtained directly from lakes and rivers and monitored for trajectories that approach ecological tipping points. This will be a new kind of planning that is both prescriptive and adaptive and will require new forms of cooperation at all levels from provincial to county to township to lake association. Have we begun?


Almost certainly, participation by the people on the land will be vital in monitoring changes and in showing workable direction for planning. Evidence is growing that alienation of the people away from planning ventures can be caused by exclusion of traditional cultural elements from plans for the future. Plans that eradicate vestiges of community and social structure may alienate the input needed for adaptive planning. Looking into the past may be vital to moving forward.


It will be extremely unwise if we do not accept the administrative and the moral responsibilities to ensure that development is not allowed to degrade and destroy the last untrammeled lakeland area in southern Ontario. Such valuable natural riches are irreplaceable and although our economic systems of accounting fails to capture their true value, the way we are attracted by the natural riches clearly shows their value to be exceptionally high.


Neither haste for monetary gain nor failure to plan for the longer term are acceptable moral excuses for wasting our natural capital.

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