Take a Walk: On The Greenbelt

If you ever look at an aerial image of the Greater Golden Horseshoe area in Ontario, you’ll notice something that is pristine and untouched – that’s Ontario’s greenbelt. 

Greenbelts are undeveloped and protected lands surrounding urban areas. Ontario’s greenbelt surrounds the most populated area in Canada and consists of more than 2 million acres of protected farmland, forests and wetlands.

The greenbelt serves multiple functions that benefit both human, wildlife and environmental health. Greenbelts restrain urban development and sprawl, to protect land that is used to produce local food, fresh air and clean water, among many other essential ecosystem services.

With exponential pressures in the current economic landscape, there has been ample discussion surrounding the development of the greenbelt in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. Much of this discussion has stemmed from the perceived need to build housing in response to the elevated housing prices and unaffordability.

Consequences resulting from developing on the greenbelt vary from environmental, economic and social damages to society. These consequences impede the standard of living and well-being of inhabitants and the natural built form. Some of the most drastic consequences of developing on greenbelts revolve around loss in farmland, wildlife, habitats and recreational space.

Loss in farmland poses as a severe consequence of developing on Ontario’s greenbelt. Farmland in close proximity to urban communities is frequently cited as the most productive in supplying food for growing populations, but at the same time it is also noted to be land that is most vulnerable to development. In recent years it has been reported that Ontario has seen a loss of approximately 1,897,000 acres of farmland since the second half of the twentieth century, approximately 18% lost to urbanization. This loss in farm land can be primarily linked to the increase in development, intensification and suburbanization occurring over that period of time.

The greenbelt can be used as recreational space for a variety of activities inclusive of fishing, hiking and cycling. Diminishing recreational space can be seen as a loss in informal and formal space for inhabitants to pursue activities and interactions with the natural built environment. Losing recreational space can disturb the well-being of inhabitants. There is a positive relationship between green space, health and happiness in inhabitants. There is public value in recreational space and this can often contribute to providing social benefits pertaining to entertainment, health and wellness.

If Ontario’s greenbelt were to be consumed for the purpose of increasing housing stock, the land would be also transformed, modified and essentially stripped down of its diverse natural layers. Development on the greenbelt would increase the risk of losing habitats that foster a diverse range of wildlife. With the loss of habitats there are severe consequences to the inhabiting wildlife. Severe consequences can include wildlife being displaced or destroyed, and therefore contribute to reducing biodiversity. In addition to the impacts of habitat loss on wildlife there is also effects on humans. One of the most profound impacts of greenbelt development for humans is the loss of valuable ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems. These services contribute to supporting humans and the natural built form. These benefits provided by ecosystem services are often either very difficult or impossible to replicate. Some of the many ecosystems services in Ontario’s greenbelt include watershed management, climate regulation and carbon dioxide sequestration. With the loss of habitats due to development of the greenbelt there will be a decrease in the amount and value of ecosystem services.

Ontario’s greenbelt offers a variety of benefits to all living beings and produces unreplaceable services. It’s hard to imagine bulldozing over one of the largest greenbelts in the world to make way for development. So let me ask you now. Would you like to be somewhere you can enjoy the natural heritage and inhale fresh air? How about a place that is untouched and free from the turmoil of urban life? Then take a walk on the greenbelt, and witness the exchange of social, environmental and economic benefits that naturally support societal well-being. 

By Earth Restoration Service Blog Writer Lela Pacitti

Images from Wikimedia