Getting the change made.

Suggestions from a 16 Year Old for Community Resilience in Rural Ontario

One of the 14% of Ontarians who live in a rural community.

How can I make my community more sustainable? That’s the question that many of us have been asking ourselves more and more as of late. Seeing all of the current natural disasters that are affecting tens, if not hundreds of millions of people across the world that are directly or indirectly caused by climate change, it’s a question that should be asked, and acted upon, as everyone wants to do their part to help prevent these types of disasters creeping up onto their own doorstep.

I know for myself, that’s a question that I have asked myself many times and, since I’m one of the 14% of Ontarians that live in a rural community, I decided to look a bit into how rural communities could transition to become more sustainable and low carbon. So below I’ve compiled a few thoughts and ideas on how rural communities can transition to become more sustainable low carbon communities.

While it looks likely that there will be a shift in where development occurs in Simcoe County in the coming decades, with more being directed toward Built Up Areas (BUAs) and Designated Greenfield Areas (DGAs), rural living will continue to be a presence and demand solutions to make it more sustainable.

From Point A to Point B

From my experience as a 16 year old living in a rural community, I’ve realized how important it is to be able to have accessible transportation. Whether it is going to school, work, or a friend’s house, I had to find a way to get there, but the only method of transportation that I had access to that wasn’t walking for 4 hours into town was to get a car ride from my parents.

Not only is it very polluting to travel such distances multiple times every day in a car (transportation accounts for 24% of all GHG emissions in Canada), there’s also the accessibility problem where those who can’t drive, especially those who are not fully independent, are either heavily or fully reliant on someone else for their transportation needs (many youth and older folks).

As the population of rural Ontario becomes increasingly older (the median age in Ontario is 6 years older than urban Ontario), it is important to try and come up with solutions to the transportation problem.

Since rural areas transportation needs are inherently different than urban or suburban areas transportation needs, a lot of the time, fixed route transportation is infeasible for many rural communities.

Because of this, one possible solution is microtransit. In short, microtransit was designed for lower density and rural areas in mind.

Microtransit vehicles are generally smaller vehicles such as minibuses, or vans which cater better to a smaller population and are also more environmentally friendly.

Depending on the needs of the community, these vehicles can be run on either fixed routes or flexible routes.

In regards to the flexible route model, many microtransit providers will utilize apps and technology for the booking process and the route making so that the most efficient routes can be used when picking up and dropping off multiple people.

In general, the smaller vehicles and the flexibility of microtransit can be an accessible and more environmentally friendly option of public transportation transit for rural communities.

Photo of two people in the front of a car. One is in the driver's seat and the other in the passenger's seat. Both are facing away from the camera, which seems to be in the back seat. Both people appear to be men. Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash.

Micro transit can be an extremely useful option to supplement transportation in rural areas.

However, it should not be seen as a service that enables rural development, rather it should be used only to support accessibility goals where and when needed.

Retrofits

As I mentioned earlier, the population of rural Ontario is getting increasingly older, but one thing that is also getting older alongside the population are the houses.

In general, older houses aren’t as energy efficient as newer houses, so one thing that can be done to make these older houses more energy efficient is to retrofit them!

Making buildings more green is very important as buildings make up 18% of Canada’s GHG emissions. A non-comprehensive list of retrofits that homeowners could consider is improving the home’s insulation, installing energy efficient windows, air sealing your home, etc. There are also several organizations that will help fund your retrofits such as the Save on Energy Affordability Program.

This chart is slightly misleading. The largest category, oil and gas, comprises emissions associated with production activities, such as mining, upgrading, etc. If we consider the whole range of activity associated with oil and gas use we need to lump in a significant portion – almost the entirety – of that marked as coming from transportation. Portions associated with buildings, heavy industry, agriculture, and more would also be included.

Less Rural Sprawl

Just like urban and suburban sprawl, there also is rural sprawl.

Rural sprawl is the low-density grouping of houses isolated or distinct from the urban periphery, and is commonly seen in many townships in Simcoe County, such as Severn, Ramara, and Oro-Medonte. These are often characterized as ‘estate’ style communities.

Rural sprawl creates many challenges, such as forcing it to be reliant on cars for transportation, as public transportation is hard to design around such low-density rural communities.

Instead of continuing rural sprawl municipalities can opt to develop in existing settlements, as opposed to sprawling out and ruining more greenspace.

Getting the Change Made

Although there’s definitely many more ways that we can make our rural communities more sustainable places, they all require one thing in common – action from our municipal governments.

As mayor and council are the ones who hold the policy-making power in our communities, they are the one of the keys to facilitating the change that we need to see within our rural communities.

As it is usually easier to get in touch with members of our municipal governments, it also makes it easier to influence policy making, so try and communicate with a member of your municipal government such as your councillor (if you need tips on how to engage with municipal governments, make sure to check out our wonderful youth advocacy toolkit).

Finally, one of the most important things that everyone should do is to make change through the power of voting. As Ontario’s municipal elections take place on October 24th this year, it is important that everyone voices themselves through their vote.

Now that you’ve heard some of my thoughts, what are some of your thoughts on how rural communities can transition to become more sustainable? Let me know down below in the comment section.

Cheers,

Weiqi

Weiqi Xu

Weiqi Xu

Weiqi was SCGC's 2022 summer student. He is currently is attending Twin Lakes Secondary School in Orillia.

After high school, he plans to continue being involved in environmental work and plans to play the piano vigorously and to also pursue a career in STEM.

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