The City of Vaughan is embarking on one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking projects in its history, and you probably know very little or next to nothing about it. This project will increase the quality of life of the cities inhabitants and also re-imagine how the city will grow in the future. The Vaughan Natural Heritage Network is the cities best kept secret. The casino was rightly rejected by Vaughan citizens as the future vision of the city, now it’s time to make the Natural Heritage Network that vision.
Natural Heritage refers to the existing biodiversity that Vaughan is blessed with and has inherited thanks to the protection of past generations. This includes the ravines and river valleys, creeks, meadows, grasslands, woodlots and other natural features that make Vaughan unique within the GTA. The city is currently undertaking a study to understand how this biodiversity can be both protected and connected to form a larger network. Nature doesn’t work in patches of green. For biodiversity to thrive it must be allowed to flourish in a larger, connected system.
Many Vaughan residents live adjacent or close to one of many natural features the city is blessed with. Some newer subdivisions in Vaughan are built around storm water retention ponds, many of us also use city owned and operated parks and open spaces. All these currently disconnected spaces can potentially become part of this incredible system.
The Natural Heritage Network is ecological infrastructure, it is storm water infrastructure and it is recreational infrastructure all wrapped together. The cities natural spaces, storm water ponds and parks and open spaces should all be seen as part of this system.
The Network will be an invaluable and critical piece of infrastructure that cannot be replicated or replaced. This infrastructure already saves the city tens of millions of dollars a year in storm water retention and diversion. The more of the natural heritage we lose, the more taxpayers will pay to replicate this work through buried pipes.
We need to develop our city to incorporate some of this network as recreational lands. The city should also look into creating a cycling and trail system linking the city through this network, promoting fitness and reconnecting citizens to the outdoors. The health benefits of this network are invaluable.
Most importantly this natural heritage network represents our shared history and identity, the network surrounds and flows throughout the city, it connects us.
We need to look at the City of Toronto’s Waterfront to better understand and appreciate what we have. When Toronto built the Gardner Expressway over 50 years ago, we witnessed the harm that occurred to the land fronting Lake Ontario. It was severed from the city. Toronto forgot about the great asset the city was built on as it grew away from the lake’s edge.
It is only recently; through the great work of Waterfront Toronto that the city is realizing the potential of what was lost. Toronto is rebuilding the water’s edge, enhancing the city’s connectivity to Lake Ontario and reaping the financial gains of increased development. Developers take note, protecting the lake front as a connected public space has actually increased the development potential of the waterfront, not hindered it.
Development and the network can coexist and mutually benefit one another. The Natural Heritage Network provides value to surrounding property because of its beauty, increasing property values and tax revenue. A house close to natural heritage sells at a premium. The more of this network we preserve and enhance, the more valuable surrounding real estate assets become.
As the city increases in density, the more important this network will become. In fact it is because of this network that we will be able to create more density, as this open space is already in place.
Vaughan is blessed with something that is the envy of Toronto, a city surrounded by a robust and connected natural network. We are a city in a unique situation, a city that is developing a new downtown while still having the opportunity to protect natural heritage throughout the city.
We can choose to seize a great opportunity by protecting and enhancing this network or we can do as Toronto did generations ago when it built the Gardner Expressway, turning its back to Lake Ontario. Unlike Lake Ontario however, once we lose this network, we will never gain it back.
This city is great at championing infrastructure projects such as Highway extensions, the future hospital or the subway extension. What we tend to forget is the infrastructure we’ve inherited, infrastructure that was here. By understanding the true value of this network we can champion a vision of the city that is sadly lacking.