I LOOK OUT over the Credit River valley and the Niagara ­Escarpment from my home office. It’s early May and soon leaves will have burst open. But for a few days, there is an ephemeral green tinge to the maple and beech, ­basswood and birch trees that cling to the cliffs that drop down to the engorged river below.

I’ve lived on the Niagara ­Escarpment in Southern Ontario for most of my life (plus 16 years in Calgary and about two in Latin ­America). Fortunately for me, ­provisions included in the Niagara Escarpment plan and, more recently, in the Greenbelt Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, protect my village from the modern world. Try to get a building permit if you doubt my word. But the area where I reside is within the Greater Toronto Area. Not far away, cars speed by, housing developments rise from prime agricultural land and aggregate producers blast away at rock that is hundreds of millions of years old.

Growing up in Toronto’s urban shadow, I figured it was just a matter of time before farmers’ fields and craggy hillsides would be paved over for ­housing or dug up for aggregate. It was an epiphany when I read a report that talked about countryside as “a ­permanent feature, rather than vacant land waiting for some form of higher development.”

Fortunately, others are getting this message too. There is a move afoot to protect our agricultural lands and the farmers who steward them, and to keep natural areas intact. People are coming to understand that sprawling cities and shiny new highways are not proof of a burgeoning economy. There are ways for our economy to develop in tandem with our countryside. What we need is the political will to take the first steps toward implementing these mutually beneficial solutions, many of which appear on the pages of this issue of Alternatives.

Because of my rural roots, this ideas-laden issue of Alternatives Journal is special for me. The University of Guelph’s Stew Hilts has teamed up with Melissa Watkins and Ione Smith to deliver a menu of approaches just ­waiting to be implemented. Maureen Carter-Whitney has some advice for Calgary on how to use greenbelt ­experiences from around the globe to get a handle on its unbridled growth, and Deb Curran weighs in from ­Victoria, BC on the policies and bylaws that need to change if our near-urban lands are to remain healthy and productive.

Mairon Bastos Lima nudges urban areas to allow for a selection of street food that not only gives consumers healthier choices, but can help local farmers too. Of his Toronto experience, he writes, “My options included chicken sausage, veggie sausage, Polish sausage, Italian sausage or German sausage. A very international city, indeed!”

There’s a description of innovative Okotoks, Alberta; Waterloo’s ­Mennonite community; citizen monitoring on the Oak Ridges Moraine and many more ideas that will lead us to a ­countryside that reflects what is surely the highest form of development.

Countryside Is An Option. C.I.A.O. 

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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