Owen Sound desperate to increase population: but at what cost? Assessing human Geography

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If you live in Owen Sound, odds are you probably do not care about being next to a Costco or Walmart, or being near any of the 400-series highways. If you did, chances are you would have left town a long time ago. If you do live in Owen Sound, you probably care about different things – simpler things. You value family time, perhaps fine arts or culture, the outdoors, living right next to one of the greatest lakes in the world, and most importantly, a close-knit community lifestyle. One does not come to Owen Sound in hopes of large-scale mingling – however, local politicians and residents alike are trying so desperately to transform Owen Sound into something unrealistic.

The population of Owen Sound: a hot topic for many in the city, including politicians, who say they would like to see the population increase to 30,000 inhabitants over a 13-year span. This population growth rate of nearly 43% would be favourable, the mayor says, to establish growth in the City of Owen Sound (read more here). However, what a population boom will not address is the considerably lacking job force for city youth with individual financial struggles (student loans, cost of starting a family etc.)

Many residents of Owen Sound, and area, are taking to social media to spread fear about the future of their city. Time after time, the same issues are beckoned, yet no one has reasonable solutions to follow their fear-mongering posts on social media outlets. The most important question to be asking now is whether an increase in population will solve present-day problems within the Sound.

Local south-western Ontario town, Newmarket, is a thriving teller of how population is only a number, when it comes to a town’s economic success. A low population did not keep many successful industries from being established in town. Notable business leaders such as Ted Rogers, of Rogers Communications, and Robert Simpson, of Simpsons department store chain, have chosen historical Main Street, Newmarket, to open their first storehouses. Of course, the development of highway #400 eventually aided the growth of the town in subsequent years.

Owen Sound’s history as a booming industrial port-side community is rich, as is its future. However, focusing on population growth is not how the city, or city residents, should be preparing for Owen Sound’s new age of prosperity. As the past reality of a steaming port community fades, a new economical niche must arise. Instead of droning over population growth – or lack thereof – there is a greater urge to remain optimistic.

Owen Sound must prioritize for the sake of its citizens’ happiness and longevity. Perhaps we should be considering expanding the local environmental industry by attracting environmentalists, building an environmental sector and establishing an ecotourism niche. Or, considering Owen Sound’s vastly aging population, invest in the healthcare industry. Neighboring Georgian College offers today’s youth the opportunity to actively learn about healthcare and pharmaceutical practices that will, in turn, place Owen Sound at an advantage. Why not utilize the college’s existence by working with the students, providing them with jobs within the city after they have completed their studies, and foster a successful future in  healthcare? It is ever so important to realize that an aging population is not a burden to a City’s success.

Who says that the longevity of a city is determined by how many citizens it has? In my opinion, the happiness and contentedness of the current tax base should be considered — It has the ability to move mountains.

Ostensibly, the reason many chose Owen Sound as a place to start a family, retire, or simply vacation in is because of the intact sense of community and great connection to the natural environment (innumerable trails, delicate and rare ecology, stunning geography and important geological features) – and, admit it, compared to the rest of Southern Ontario, those features are fairly hard to come by.

As the old saying goes, “build it, and they shall come,” it is also worthy to note that “Rome was not built in a day.” It is time to pull up our sleeves, Owen Sound, and reject decisions that do not in full, or partially, address the needs of this community. It is time to attract our new neighbours with features that makes them want to stay, and not force them into coming just for the sake of adding to the population base.

Joseph Gentile

Photos used throughout the article are content of Joseph Gentile.