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What Burlington’s fall from 9 to 31 best city in MoneySense rankings tells us:

stop overintensification/congestion, enhance quality of life, protect the city we love

Insight & Analysis — MoneySense magazine has just released their list of Canada’s Best Places to Live for 2018, and Burlington has dropped again for the second year in a row, down to #31 overall out of a list of 415 cities across Canada.

Last year we came in at #9 overall, and in 2016 we ranked in the #2 spot.

Looking only at mid-size cities, Burlington is the sixth best “mid-sized city” in which to live in Canada, down from the number one spot.

So why the big drop?

Here’s a summary of the rankings, what’s different, and some thoughts on what we need to improve to make our community better for all residents.

What’s different:

The number of cities ranked for comparison fluctuates. The survey in 2016 had 219 cities in their ranking. That year we ranked second overall. Last year, 417 cities were ranked, and we dropped to ninth overall. A similar number of cities are ranked this year (415), but we dropped to #31.

There have also been some changes to the category components and weightings versus previous years, making it hard to do a pure “apples to apples” comparison with our previous years’ results.

Median wait times for medical procedures is now in the mix, for example.

The method for tracking population growth has changed, so cities earn more points the faster they are growing, versus the former method of counting a city’s growth rate related to the national average. MoneySense considers population growth an advantage, as it assumes that if more people want to live in a city, it’s a positive reflection on that location overall.

Though some are arguing growth alone accounted for the rise of neighbouring municipalities (Oakville shot to #1 in Canada, Milton is #6, Halton Hills is #10) and the drop for Burlington, that doesn’t bear up under further analysis.

The high-ranked cities were touted for various reasons by MoneySense, but growth wasn’t one of them: “There are lots of intangible qualities that make a city a great place to live that can’t be measured. But we believe there are plenty of important characteristics that can be captured by hard data. A liveable city should be prosperous, but affordable. Safe, yet easy to get around. And it should have the type of weather that draws you outdoors.”

In addition, growth is ranked 8 out of 10 in importance and weighting, with other factors like wealth, affordability, health care and weather still considered more important (see full list below). A change in a criteria ranked 8th in importance would not on its own explain a drop to 31.

MoneySense also included an important caveat that growth must be properly managed.

Stated MoneySense: “While it’s true fast-growing cities can face challenges, we believe those difficulties can be absorbed and addressed if local leaders are effective….If the municipality is doing a bad job of handling that growth, it’s likely to be reflected in other areas of the ranking.”

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton has as the header on his Facebook page a graphic touting the fact that in his terms he has controlled growth, and slowed it down as compared to the previous mayor. From MoneySense: “Burton says the key to Oakville’s success is maintaining a small-town sense of community, even as the city’s population breaks 200,000.”

This small-town sense of community is exactly what Burlington residents feel we are losing with the overdevelopment downtown and in our neighbourhoods.

Criteria and weighting

There are 10 categories the rankings consider. They are listed below in the order that they have the most weight and therefore importance (according to MoneySense):

  1. Wealth & Economy (including employment rate & average household income)
  2. Affordability (of housing/rental units)
  3. Access to health care (# of doctors, specialists, and procedure wait-times)
  4. Weather (less rain = better)
  5. Commute (more points for the % of people who walk, bike or take transit to work)
  6. Crime (the lower the crime rate, the better)
  7. Taxes (including provincial sales tax and property tax)
  8. Population growth (growth is good – if managed properly)
  9. Culture (% of people working in arts, culture & recreation + engagement in community)
  10. Amenities (restaurants, bars, and reasonable access to theatres, airports & universities)

Check out the complete rankings here: Money Sense Best cities in 2018

We need to do better

Changes to the criteria aside, it’s hard to argue that we have taken a big hit in our ranking. Our city, including our current mayor, has often referred to this ranking as a source of pride over the years, whether to attract new businesses or encourage new residents and festivals to come here.

While we are all still very proud of the wonderful city we live in, it’s worth taking stock of what pushed us out of the top 10 all the way to #31 this year, and think about what we could do better. We want to move in a direction that gets us back where we belong.

My Take and My Plan to make Burlington better

Ranking lists are limited in value by what they measure and the weight given to each. However, when we trumpet that we’re Canada’s best mid-sized city, it can create complacency where we rest on our laurels and take things for granted, instead of driving to improve the quality of life for all our residents.

We’re clearly at a tipping point with this sudden drop, and instead of making excuses, we need to take positive action to ensure we’re focused on the things that are important to making our city thrive.

With the recent decisions by the current mayor and council approving overdevelopment, we’re headed for congestion, lack of housing affordability and lost greenspace.

We’re at a crossroads, and we now have to work harder to protect the city we love.

Our top priority must be managing our growth better, avoiding the overintensification of recent decisions by this mayor and council, for example the 18 storey building across from City Hall, and up to 30 more highrises downtown in the new Official Plan. There are overdevelopments proposed or approved across the city, from townhouses at 2100 Brant St., Dynes Road, and Georgina Court, to highrises in Alton, at Appleby Mall, Lakeside Plaza and Plains Road. Residents support scaled back projects, but we’re getting overdevelopment.

You want a voice in shaping development in our city, but residents have been tuned out and ignored as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who just don’t understand planning.

We have to get growth right, which includes amending the new Official Plan to scale back overintensification, and sticking closely to the existing Official Plan with new applications.

We also must ensure that as we grow and change, we retain our small-town feel, community character and quality of life, not detract from it. That means we protect and enhance our community amenities, like parks, community centres, and seniors programming; protect and add trees, trails and green space; improve traffic flow and light synchronization with emerging technologies; protect and add to rental housing; use planning tools to add affordable housing, and make job attraction a priority to reduce commute times and allow more of our residents to work in Burlington.

Read more about my plans for managing Burlington’s growth in a responsible way, for protecting the character of our neighborhoods and downtown, for making it easier to do business here, for improving the effectiveness of City Hall, for restoring respect for residents, and for ensuring we have the amenities and greenspace we need for our young people, seniors and families to thrive and live healthy lives.

Visit my website and explore my vision, my plan, and how you can get involved: mariannemeedward.ca.

We know Burlington is one of Canada’s Best Places to Live. Let’s get the leadership we need to put us back on top where we belong. Vote for change on October 22nd, for the mayor who will put residents first.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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  1. I see no construction towers building out of context condominiums in downtown Oakville along Lakeshore Road.. This council and last have ruined Burlington. The Lakeside proposal is the latest example of terrible planning. This council has to get the boot. Last time we all voted them back in, this time there will be big changes.

  2. Dropping from 9th to 31st “best city” should come as no surprise as Residents have been telling council and the O.M.B. for years only to be ignored. The Burlington we knew and loved has gone. never to be retrieved.

  3. Presently in Vienna and the market squares/downtown areas have no higher buildings anywhere than 6 storeys. They are magnificent, ornate, unique, and are managing the lower height buildings without the cry by “our developers” of we need to go higher to make it pay. We are so greedy that we are loosing the beauty of the history that has kept our downtown what everyone wants to preserve. On another note, spending some time in Amsterdam which is “well known” for their bikes. Well it is not a pleasant experience for the bikers, traffic or pedestrians. As some of the locals call it, “a holy nitemare”! The bikers have no respect for traffic lights or pedestrians – it is something that we should thoroughly study before implementing bikes in our downtown streets where there are very small sidewalks with now accepted patios between the sidewalks and road, and only two lanes for traffic. We have been in 13 cities in three countries so far and the picture of what Burlington is trying to adapt needs much more study on before calling the present plans for the OP “an oops”. Our chance is now to do it right and lets hope the mighty dollar by the City is put aside to do it right!!

  4. Please correct me if I am wrong… hasn’t Burlington met it’s provincial intensification goals already… I mean a while ago???
    How do the mayor and other councillors JUSTIFY the continued intensification???

  5. Does not sound at all like your solutions will improve the rankings in this survey when you compare Burlington to Oakville as an example. We will have less growth they will continue to have more as they are building tall buildings in various places. Also they have a wealthier population closer to toronto so shorter commune time, same weather, less affordable housing than us. So how will controlling new growth improve our ranking I would not thinks os. What else are you proposing to get us back into top 10?

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