What makes for a great place to live?

Benns' Belief

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

A healthy downtown with thriving independent businesses, an excellent library system, well-tended parks, a clean environment, access to arts and culture, affordability, and good civic engagement all strike Advocate publisher Roderick Benns as more meaningful than big box stores. File photo.

My colleague, Trevor Hutchinson, in his column space last month, wrote that maybe we didn’t want Lindsay to become another Barrie as we get set to welcome record growth.

His point was if Lindsay’s population is set to double in less than a decade, we should think twice before we welcome too much sprawl and instead consider growing more vertically for some of our housing options for new residents.

It was interesting to watch the feedback come in on social media. There were the usual declarations from some, such as no one was going to tell them “how to live.” There were others who ridiculed the idea of living in an apartment building or condo, as if there weren’t millions of people all over the world successfully doing just that. Still another guy, with his PhD in Assuming, guessed that Trevor likely had a massive home, with a boat and other toys while he was telling other people how to live.

And then there was the gentleman from Barrie who said they have “everything” in Barrie, like “a Costco and two Walmarts.”

This was the most fascinating comment of all because it revealed how differently we can see the world. For our Barrie citizen, corporate big box stores helped define what a successful city looks like. It is what he seeks in his worldview, perhaps because this signifies convenience and choice.

Or said in another way, “what we see, depends mainly on what we look for,” as British anthropologist John Lubbock once wrote.

As for me, I’d check for a healthy downtown with thriving independent businesses, an excellent library system, well-tended parks, a clean environment, access to arts and culture, affordability, and good civic engagement. Those all strike me as more meaningful than big box stores.

And that’s not to say big box stores couldn’t exist simultaneously, though. Pretty hard to avoid these days when corporations have become as powerful as governments in many ways.

If Lindsay is set to double in size in as little as eight years, as Mayor Doug Elmslie tells us in this edition of the Advocate, then we’re going to need a variety of housing options.

That doesn’t mean current house dwellers need to be forced into apartments. It means offering this as an a more affordable choice for the hundreds of new residents who are crossing the Kawartha Lakes border every year.

There are other advantages to condos or apartments, too. Aside from more cost-effective living there’s also lower maintenance, increased security, and often a great location close to workplaces, restaurants, and public transportation. Even their smaller living spaces – seen as a disadvantage by some – can encourage minimalistic living.

How we define what a successful city looks like will be decided by all of us. So, I want to hear from you – what makes for a great place to live?


  1. Wallace says:

    Here’s 1little thing that makes for a great place to live — not having homeless, drug addicted , meth heads who look like they belong on the set of ‘The Walking Dead’ roaming around town 24/7 breaking into cars, sheds, and homes, while dropping needles on the ground everywhere they go because they have no concern about anyone else but themselves.

  2. Amanda Kleinhuis says:

    I think walkability is a big factor. When you get out and walk places, you get to know your community more intimately, and you get to meet the people in your neighbourhood. When we know the names and faces of our neighbours, and a bit about the lives of those we live near, there is an increased sense of togetherness, belonging, and empathy. As the sprawl takes place, it will be important to build mini-communities. There should be grocery stores and other resources within reasonable walking distance for each neighbourhood. If people are forced to drive everywhere, it will be difficult to build community, not to mention the negative environmental impacts.

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