As the population keeps growing, we continue losing valuable green space and agricultural land due to development. Urban sprawl is happening everywhere and we definitely have played a part in it but we’re also affected by its consequences.

Urban sprawl is responsible for the fragmentation of natural areas, the destruction of wildlife habitat, increased reliance on cars, traffic congestion and major increase in pollution.

Urban sprawl is a big problem which is going to be extremely challenging to solve. Understandably, a great number of families prefer suburban life, with lower home prices, large lots, low taxes and tranquility. But on a large scale, this model of the past, which feeds urban sprawl, is no longer viable for our planet (source: La Presse). This will take a huge mindset shift from all of us.

At the same time, we already crossed the bridge and settled into our suburban life. How are we going to make things better at this point?

This article “Québec nourrit le réchauffement climatique” is bringing the idea of discouraging people from moving off island by charging us more to use the roads to go on the island of Montreal. Are citizens of Vaudreuil-Soulanges going to be the ones paying the price in order to slow down urban sprawl? As the cost of living keeps increasing everywhere, this would only put further financial strains on families. This doesn’t seem to be a viable solution to me.

What are some of the solutions?

Rethink the workplace
Perhaps one idea would be for more people to work from home. The workplace needs to change and businesses need to encourage employees to work remotely, even if it’s only a few days per week. The technology is here, there’s no real excuse! This would definitely take many cars off the road.

Carefully Planned Densification
Housing developments need to be redesigned. I know, it’s not always a popular idea but having densification in certain areas would also help reduce urban sprawl. Developers shouldn’t simply build homes the same old way they have done in the past and towns need to be more flexible. They need to be community minded, think outside the box and be ready to innovate. Densification doesn’t need to be negative:

  • Allows for the preservation of natural spaces and agricultural land
  • Reduces environmental footprint
  • Provides much needed and more convenient housing and proximity services
  • Can result in reduction of dependence on cars and create more walkable neighborhoods
  • Makes public transit more affordable and efficient
  • Makes town infrastructures more cost effective
  • Creates a stronger sense of community
  • Makes it more attractive for businesses therefor can potentially increase economic benefits

Densification needs to be very strategic and it’s not an excuse to destroy the environment or sensitive areas but it can be done successfully with proper planning. With the future hospital, Cité des Jeunes road would be strategically an interesting area to bring this concept (as long as we have all the needed resources of course). There are many current obstacles such as the lack of infrastructures and traffic but now is the time to plan for the future.

This doesn’t mean we want to keep adding population indefinitely. We still need to respect the maximum capacity which our infrastructures and resources can sustain.

Public Transit
At the moment, public transit such as buses is too costly to properly serve our area because there isn’t enough population and too much territory to cover. Having more densification in specific areas would help to finance more efficient public transport.
Our region needs better public transport, it’s clear! But my guess is that the Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) is probably resisting in putting this forward since logically, it will only encourage further urban sprawl. Would this be why there is no real plan to bring the REM across the Ile aux Tourtes bridge?

Over 86,000 cars cross the Ile aux Tourtes bridge on a daily basis (source: Transport Quebec). The population of Vaudreuil-Soulanges is set to increase about 40% over the next 15 years (source: Institut de la statistique du Québec). With the new hospital planned, the need for proper public transit will only increase. Knowing all these facts, we need to keep putting pressure on all levels of government to make sure that the REM is planned for the new Ile aux Tourtes bridge in 2030. Louise Craig (Hudson resident) and I have created a Facebook Page called Le REM dans/in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, please feel free to follow the page for more news regarding the REM.

Improving our public transit system with a light train system like the REM may or may not promote urban sprawl but it’s clear that it will help reduce the number of cars on the road if it’s more reliable and convenient than cars. At this point, we have very few worthwhile options.

Control growth and protection of land can be done through legislation. By creating proper bylaws to facilitate and encourage developers to create innovative sustainable developments, it will play a big part in developing our town in a smart sustainable manner. We don’t have to develop at all cost, we have input on how we want to do it.

Citizen Participation
In my opinion, citizens should be consulted before changes happens which makes it more acceptable and easier to opt-in. It’s normal to resist to change (its human nature) which is why we all need to work together to create a unified vision. These kinds of changes are not possible without the perspective of everyone with a vested interest. Building a future for our community needs to be a joint effort.

In 2020, we will start our sustainable development plan project which will help us define a vision and actions needed to get to where we want to be in the future. Citizen participation will be vital! Please keep an eye out for more information on this very soon.

Going Forward

We can’t go back in time but we can make sure we do better in the future. We all play a part in creating change. Municipalities need to rethink how they develop and reduce the negative effects of urban sprawl.

This video may seem a little long but it’s really interesting and well done, I encourage you to watch it.