This morning I watched a recording of the Brampton Board of Trade (BBOT) mayoral debate that happened on September 29th. Many good questions were asked. Many good answers were given. As I watched, however, I found myself becoming irritated by two of the ongoing subjects: career politicians and urban planning.
In the BBOT debate, and other debates, some candidates have been using the term ‘career politician’ as an insult to candidates or to deny that they are one, separating themselves from others given the accusation. Frankly speaking, I am not fond of mudslinging in politics. I admit that many of the accusations have some merit when one considers the criminal investigation happening in City Hall. That being said, I find it ridiculous that the term ‘career politician’ is being treated as a dirty word.
As far as I’m concerned, a ‘career’ politician is simply one who makes a living in politics. Where is the issue in that? I suppose some people believe that these politicians are only in the field to be in the spotlight and make money, much the same way that one would be disgusted by a person whose aspiration was ‘to be famous’ without any actual inclination towards having a skill or talent.
But it would be a mistake to assume that most politicians are in this profession for fame and glory. When someone is interested in politics it’s because they have a vision for shaping their world, and see the legislative power of politics as a means to achieve it. It’s the same reason I ran during the provincial election, and it’s the same reason that many people are running for office in the municipal election. These people want a better Brampton, and are willing to fight for that future.
The other issue which caught my interest is that of urban planning in Brampton. The candidates’ comments on the subject brought me back to a class I took on urban and regional planning when I was at the University of Guelph. I recall a day when my professor had said, “If you want to look at bad city planning, look at Mississauga, and look at Brampton.” while holding up a newspaper article about Brampton’s lack of decent planning. At that moment I turned to a friend of mine, a fellow Bramptonian, to see his reaction to that statement. Our eyes locked and, in a moment of mutual understanding, we shrugged our shoulders, sighed, and turned back to face the professor. The simple fact of the matter was that, no matter how much we wished to protest, we couldn’t logically refute his statement. Brampton was a mess and we knew it firsthand.
I bitterly joke with people that Brampton is like a sheet of paper: wide, flat, and nothing substantial. Truly, one of the most depressing sights I see in Brampton is driving along Queen Street on a cloudy day. As soon as I go west of the 410 all I see is flat grey sky over flat grey earth. Block after block of parking lots surrounded by short commercial buildings. Then we have the newer areas. What was once prime farmland has now become blocks of suburban homes dotted with an occasional strip mall complete with nail salon, pizza place, and a couple other buildings to give it a false impression of commercial vitality. When I look at these areas all I see is wasted potential. We have used all of this space, yet have hardly anything to show for it.
Then I look at places like Guelph, and can’t help but notice a contrast. With a vibrant economy, friendly communities, and plenty of fun activities, this small city managed to build many urban-esque amenities while retaining a town heart. Living there while I was at university, there were always moments when I would stop and wonder how it was that these two cities could be so different. The answer came to me later in that same university course. It was the planning.
We had been assigned to read Guelph’s Official Plan, their way of tackling the province’s Places to Grow Act. What I read revealed the differences between Guelph and Brampton. While Brampton was annexing farmland to create suburban homes and strip malls, Guelph set strict limits to their expansion, encouraging development to grow up, not out. Brampton’s zoning system keeps residential and commercial entities completely separated, which forces people to become isolated and vehicle dependent. Guelph’s Plan was to mix the two, bringing jobs and homes into the same neighbourhood, including some within the same building. They’ve also designated nodes across the city to become their own community hubs, fostering walkability, community heart and local economy.
You’d think, in a city of our size, Brampton would be doing this, too. Imagine having pedestrian friendly, locally economic hubs in Fletcher’s Meadow, in Southgate, in Castlemore, all over Brampton! And imagine all those neighbourhood hubs being transit connected, allowing citizens better access to our local shops and community events. Instead, such space and opportunities have been squandered to allow for giant parking lots surrounded by big box stores, with only a few dollars for improvements to a downtown where many Bramptonians never venture. Sad to say, as I read Guelph’s plans for the future, I wanted to pack my bags and move there permanently.
Four years have passed since that day, yet much of that feeling hasn’t changed. I want to live in a vibrant city, but I now realise that to move to a different city to achieve that is just running away from the problems I see in my hometown. It’s the flight or fight response. When there’s a problem, do you run from it or fight against it? When it comes to things like politics and city planning, I see that I am becoming more of a fighter. Instead of running away to seek a better future, I’m finding a desire in myself to push for that future to come here, to Brampton. I want to foster a local economy, to build livable and walkable communities, to create efficient public transit. And I want to build it all in my own hometown!
I once read a poster which stated, “As long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done” and I can’t help but feel the truth in that. If we have needs that aren’t being met, then we have to fight until they’re achieved. If that means changing city planning, so be it. If that means fresh faces at City Hall, so be it. If that means making a career out of politics, so be it. What matters is that we don’t run away from the problems our city faces. What we need in Brampton is for people to speak up, bring their ideas for change to the table, and not go down without a fight.
Commentary by Laila Zarrabi Yan