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paradigm shift

Banksy, "Parking" L.A. USA
Like many others in the city, I find myself riding through Dundas Valley on my bicycle along the Rail Trail, enjoying the changing seasons, stopping to rest at a bench, maybe taking a lunch and eating it on a sunny hilltop.

Yesterday, returning to the city across a newly-paved extension of the trail at its eastern reaches, we see train cars parked on the other side of a fence. The trail here parallels the train yard until the path veers to the right and joins the city street network.

Those trains, or trains like them, once ran on tracks where we now walk and ride bicycles. There is a long history of trains bringing people between cities and towns, and farmer's produce to market here. The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (TH&B, also sometimes referred to as "To Hell and Back") was incorporated in 1884, but by 1998 the track between Hamilton and Brantford had been removed and the rail bed transformed into a crushed gravel multi-use path for non-motorized users.

Things change. Predicting the future is an imprecise science. In 1966 planners projected Dundas, Ontario's population at 43,500 by 1990. In the 2006 Census, the population was stable at 24,702. At McMaster University around the same time (1969) planners projected parking needs at 7,057 spaces by 1980: In 2007 there were 4,714 parking spaces on the main campus, with actual daily demand at much less than that (October peak demand was only for 2,803 spaces).

So when we talk about transforming a place from its current or historical use, re-visioning its purpose, we take risks. But the benefits accrue from careful planning, and trends that open doors to new possibilities. Just as rail service declined along this corridor as an interest in trails was growing, parking demand shrinks as a generational demographic shifts away from single-occupancy car use. It is at this intersection we realize an historic moment is upon us. Less parking, especially in a former wetland currently known as McMaster's Lot M parking, means restoration is well within our reach.

The future is not storing the maximum number of cars but creating a living laboratory where students and faculty conduct research and teach how to restore wetlands.

This is the future, and it is here before us, waiting for the commitment to make it real.

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