I've always had a bit of a soft spot for fringe groups . But the government needs to clamp down on at least one fringe movement which is just too far out there.
I'm referring to the next generation of sprawl spilling out from suburbia the monster home frontier of "the fringe." These are the 1-to-5-acre McEstates along traditional sideroads through farm country, frayed ends hanging off the sides of once-seamless rural fabric.
One of the first planners to put the fringe on the map of today's unsettling population trends was Tom Daniels, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the 1999 classic When City And Country Collide: Managing Growth In The Metropolitan Fringe.
From Wednesday to Friday (October 4 to 6), Daniels attends the Niagara Escarpment's Leading Edge Conference, an info swap on sustainability, sprawl and enviro monitoring taking place in the former fringe land of Burlington.
Daniels, who won accolades as a problem solver when he was director of land preservation in Pennsylvania, says the move to country estates is North America's third large population shift of the last century, after relocations from country to city and city to suburb.
The ability of a significant minority to get away from it all and take it all with them as members of the landed gentry on the outskirts of exurbia is at a high tide, Daniels argues. In Ontario, pressure from this group will define the political landscape of at least three iconic areas, the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Greenbelt, for at least a generation.
A rash of quick-buck opportunities has dramatically increased the number of people with more money than brains or responsibility. This includes hordes of retirees who can buy country dream homes with the financial windfall from selling their city digs.
Some call the rural estate boom the orthodondists' rendition of Versailles. Well-to-do city dwellers move beyond city limits for lower taxes while they drive downtown to freeload on city amenities.
The fringe is the most recent one-night stand in the search for fulfillment. I'm talking here about the open road of ceaseless activity that leads to peace and quiet without calm and centredness aka the North American Dream.
Therein also lies escape from the city's diversity and challenges, as the fringe real estate slogan about "location, Caucasian, location" suggests.
Daniels has identified a score of government subsidies whereby those left eating the dust in old cities and suburbs pay for the highways, sewers, utility hookups, fire stations, hospitals, schools, garbage collection and cell towers of thenouveau fringe riche.
Eliminating such subsidies is job one of what's called the "smart growth" planning movement, and is a big part of Daniels's menu.
"Identifying the problems caused by sprawl is rather easy,' he says from his office at the U of Penn. "The real work and hard choices arise in the search for fair and effective solutions to growth.'
Rare among planners and smart growth experts, Daniels understands both the problems and solutions flowing from the fact that FringeWorld mostly takes over from FarmWorld.
A moment's reflection (conceding this may be a lot to ask of some politicians and developers) tells us the fringe is where local food comes from. A legacy of the long-ago days before 1970 when cities got their food locally, fringe land is typically some of a country's best farmland.
About a third of North America's most productive land is about a day's horse ride from town.
But "we have to do a lot more than preserve farmland. Farmers also have to be able to make a living," Daniels says, and when [they can], they join the resistance to further sprawl. "If there's active, viable farmland and farmers see a future, they will keep the land open; that's the number-one predictor of growth that has been well managed," says Daniels.
His remedy, which he administered in Pennsylvania and which has since been adopted in about 25 U.S. states, is to have governments pay farmers for the lost opportunity to sell their land for uselessification.
In this scenario, known as "purchase of development rights" or "conservation easements," taxpayers pay a big chunk of the difference usually about $3,000 an acre between what the land is worth as a working farm and what it's worth as a commodity on the unreal McEstate market. "Generally, it's the leading farmers who step up to the plate for this," Daniels says.
But that's not his only tactic. While Ontario is struggling now with a debate over limits to property rights the right of farmers to sell to developers he sees a day when there could be much more stringent restrictions.
"The right of free movement will increasingly become the focus of growth management issues," he predicts, "as [planners] consider growth limits or population caps to protect residents' enjoyment of a quality environment.'
Let the howling begin.