Newmarket and York Region environmentalists came out in force to discuss protecting the Greenbelt at the Old Town Hall last night.
York Region KAIROS and Climate Action Newmarket-Aurora organized the evening with speakers to highlight the history of the environmentally protected area and its benefits in response to the Ford government's decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for development.
Alliance for a Liveable Ontario co-ordinator Franz Hartmann told the hall full of people that despite the government's direction, there is reason for hope.
“I have lots of hope. I can tell you people across the province are waking up to what’s going on, and we’re organizing,” he said. “We want you to join us.”
More than 100 people attended the event, which included four speakers and breakout discussions about Greenbelt issues. The changes to the Greenbelt are impacting York Region, with lands just west of Newmarket now slated for potential housing development.
Climate Action Newmarket-Aurora volunteer Leslie Yeates said they were pleased by the turnout. Participants came from across the region, including Newmarket, Aurora, Georgina and King City.
“There’s so much enthusiasm,” she said. “You could hear the buzz, so much energy and people have ideas they want to talk about.”
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor was the introductory speaker and addressed the importance of the Greenbelt and climate action.
“Thank you for being willing to take the time to have the conversation,” he said. “To want to see a better community here in Newmarket. To want to see better communities throughout York Region and the GTA, to support the right kind of housing options and transit-oriented development and to help us build a sustainable community.”
The Greenbelt is a necessary mechanism to halt urban sprawl, Hartmann said. He added that building in that way is much more expensive and environmentally destructive than intensified development within existing urban boundaries.
“The Greenbelt is being sacrificed, not to help us deal with housing, but to help those who make money from sprawl,” he said.
Other speakers included Michael Wilson of Georgina’s Clearwater Farms, who discussed agriculture in and around the Greenbelt. After that was a presentation by Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition executive director Claire Malcolmson, who spoke about the state of the lake, its watershed and its environmental threats.
Yeates said the event largely garnered participants already invested in environmental causes but said it is important to get them talking and communicating with political leaders.
“We hope they take away more information on all our speakers, share it with their friends, and the people take steps, wherever they are. Little steps, big steps,” she said. “Whatever they can do.”