A Big Reason Canadians Are So Happy (And Why It’s In Danger)

Photo by Eric McGregor

In a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks number six for happiest country in the world.

We Canadian’s have much to be happy about, particularly in comparison to developing nations and those with oppressive regimes. A big reason Canadian’s are of a more positive mental state is because we live in a country “where pines and maples grow, great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow“. Canada is renowned for it’s natural beauty. Nature provides for us a retreat from the bustle of urban life.

Studies show nature relaxes us and improves mental and physical health. The research data indicates that people only need to look at gardens and plants and their stress reactions are healthier than unlucky folks who don’t see nature.

However, according to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and other wildlife protection organizations, nature is at risk due to rapid urban sprawl. (For those unfamiliar with the term, urban sprawl is the outward spreading of a city and its suburbs to automobile-dependent developments on rural land).

At the current rate, natural forests and farmland nearly double the size of Toronto will be converted to asphalt and concrete by 2021.

Urban sprawl annihilates wildlife and farmland, pollutes our waterways and forces over dependence on automobiles. More cars and trucks mean more smog, more commuting, more stress.

It also decentralizes the city and weakens the downtown core. Municipalities with carefree urban sprawl developments often have downtowns that are slowly dying. They are no longer a central place of entertainment and commerce, and the local businesses suffer economically.

Urban Sprawl also means more taxes for everyone. As new suburb developments extend further and further, so must the city’s electric power distribution, water and sewage systems. Garbage and recycling trucks must service the new areas, as do the public transit routes. There is increased pressure on fire departments and police stations as they must cover more territory, and the list goes on.

Everyone pays for urban sprawl, but only a few will benefit.

In contrast, cities and counties that respect the boundaries of natural habitats are more likely to enjoy vibrant downtowns and an environment which encourages local business. A city where people want to live and work. This mindset of urban planning is known as smart growth.

Smart growth is realistic in it’s assumption cities will grow, but offers a mix of alternatives to urban sprawl which includes:

  • Incentives to reclaim older buildings and re-develop “brownfields”, which are abandoned industrial parks.
  • Offers pedestrian friendly, community-oriented living areas with houses of many different types and costs.
  • Provides robust public transit services and bike routes which offer an alternative to driving.

Smart growth takes the long view of environmental and economic sustainability. It resists the quick gratification of urban sprawl. It preserves some nature and the animals that reside there for our children and their children to enjoy.

Now that’s something to be happy about.

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