Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Preservation of Community Worth The Fight

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Living in the somewhat insulated environ of a rural Ontario town, it can be easy to forget that many of our problems – or perceived problems – are relatively minor when compared to those experienced by residents of larger communities.

Not that the issues faced by rural residents aren’t important, but many of them aren’t unique to us either. Decaying roads and bridges, stresses on municipal services, ever rising tax bills; these are all issues that are faced by most every community.

And while it is important to discuss and address the issues, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to forget how fortunate we are to be living in a community like Meaford.

At the same time, while our members of council no doubt tire of hearing what must at times seem like an endless line of residents complaining about one issue or another, the fact that Meaford residents care enough to engage with the community to raise awareness and expect action, bodes well for preserving the lifestyle afforded those of us fortunate enough to live here.

I have been reflecting on this for several weeks. Over the holidays in late December, I found myself in my old stomping ground, 90 kilometres south-east of here, in Barrie.

It had been a few years since I had spent any time in the city that when my family moved there in 1983 was not much larger than Owen Sound is now. I have fond memories of Barrie in the 80s and 90s. High school dances, days at the beach, afternoons at the record shop downtown, getting that first job.

Barrie was a community that I loved until it began growing up all around me and swallowing up every bit of community character in exchange for strip malls and dollar stores. And while that alone was enough for me to run for the hills and the safety of a real community like Meaford, what really hit me on my recent visit to Barrie was something quite different.

I took some time while in Barrie to make a stop at my old high school. As I wandered around the property I was stunned that all of the first-floor windows had been covered over with heavy gauge metal screens to thwart would-be vandals. There was a security camera with its red blinking light at the front entrance, and the stains of recently removed graffiti adorned the red brick walls around back.

My old high school looked more like a prison than the place I had spent so many wonderful days in my youth. Incidentally, the elementary school across the road looked even scarier, though I didn’t bother exploring it at all – I was already feeling ill.

The sight of that high school hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I was both sad for what was happening to my old home-town, and extremely happy that I had moved to Meaford six years ago.

I have spoken to friends in Barrie since that visit, and what I have heard from them is disheartening. I hear apathy. My old Barrie friends seem to have accepted that what may have shocked me, is merely the price of progress, the cost of a community ballooning from a population of 27,000 in the early 80s to well over 150,000 less than 30 years later.

The residents of Barrie it seemed, through the small snapshot I saw that day have lost their fight.

Communities don’t have to accept the slow degradation of their town or city as an unavoidable side-effect of “progress.”  Nobody needs to accept that with “progress” and increased population, comes a deterioration in quality of life, or even the aesthetics of a high school, or a plaza, or a neighbourhood.

For me, the prison-like screens on the windows, and what appears to be an ongoing and likely never-ending task of removing spray paint from the brick walls reinforced my belief that if you want to preserve the character of your community, residents must remain vigilant.

So while many of the issues we face in Meaford are shared in every surrounding community, some are not, and no politician or municipal administrator should make any resident feel guilty that they are willing to fight to preserve this little oasis, and protect it from the downside of “progress” – even if it means that they are “just too friggin’ much.”

 

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