Finding Ourselves Underwater
Our communities have faced many challenges over the last year. Luckily, flooding wasn’t one of them. Imagine a repeat of the springs of 2017 and 2019 combined with our current personal safety measures.
Yet the memory of the floods of previous years seems to have faded fast. There was substantial momentum to properly prepare our communities for the next floods, but any plans to better protect our neighbourhoods have been dropped since the pandemic hit. And then there’s the fallout from the housing boom of the last year. Those who previously felt that no one would ever buy their flood-prone properties are now able to sell at well over asking price. It’s amazing what a difference a few years make.
Most worryingly, there are vacant lots on the banks of our rivers which are currently for sale. These are presented as development opportunities, ripe for construction. The idea that people are allowed to build on this land shows that both our provincial and municipal governments have ignored some very important lessons.
With prices sky-rocketing, buyers are quite desperate. So our governments should step in, helping those thinking of paying a small fortune for a waterfront property to avoid a major mistake. Otherwise we’ll again find ourselves in a lose-lose situation when the next “flood of the century” comes along in a few globally warmed years. We can pump more tax dollars into assisting our neighbours to protect and repair their homes, despite having already done so twice in the last five years. Or we can allow those neighbours to suffer silently as the damage to their homes mounts. Both are terrible scenarios.
What can our governments do? A long term solution is for the city and province to offer to purchase waterfront properties at a fair price, and then turn them into parks. This would correct a mistake made years ago, as that land should never have been privatized in the first place. By planting trees and other plants, those lots could act as natural sponges, soaking up floodwaters in bad years and avoiding damage to houses farther from the riverbank. And everyone could enjoy the view of the river.
In the meantime, potential buyers of waterfront property should be required to sign a declaration stating that they are aware of the risk of flooding and accept it, and that there will be no financial compensation from the public purse to compensate them. This may make at least a few people considering such a purchase think twice, slowing the bidding wars and price increases for such homes.
Long term planning is key to avoiding a repeat of the floods and tragedies our communities recently lived through. If we don’t learn from history we’re doomed to repeat it. There are better uses for our tax dollars than subsidizing the well off to get a splendid view of the river from their yards. Let’s all go to the park instead.