‘Overtourism’ in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL)

It’s the top “planning” issue of 2020. Or so it might seem based on the pulse of local newspaper articles and editorials. But I’m not sold nor am I overly sympathetic.

Over the years, I have perused and collected hundreds of “planning-related” articles from the Niagara Advance dating back to the 1950s. The one posted above (from 1980) is an example of one such article.

“Overtourism” is not a new “issue” at all but I sense that a lot of people don’t realize that until they move here and start living day-to-day lives. For at least the last 80 years (and likely since Henry Ford started mass producing the Model-T), people have been complaining about tourists clogging up the Old Town grid and every single council and administration of the day has paid homage to the issue but side-stepped the cause of the problem.

Not one of these councils has tried to tackle the root cause – the private automobile. Instead, they have consistently focused on the side-effects (lack of parking, congestion, noise, etc.). They’ll prohibit parking here, charge for parking there, and charge even more elsewhere, knowing full well nothing will improve or be resolved but they have to be seen doing something. It’s akin to re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic. The problem of course is that eventually the ship will take in too much water and sink. We’re starting to see that this decade on account of increased day-trips from the GTA and local residential growth within NOTL. Driving and being able to park wherever one wants is everyone’s guilty pleasure: when it comes to this “issue” people don’t like to look in the mirror.

The issue of course is not tourists – it’s their cars. It’s how they get here and how they leave here that is the problem. It’s a simple equation – reduce the number of vehicles entering Old Town (or whatever geographic limit) and there will be a reduction in noise, congestion and parking deficiency.

Nobody wins with the following image:

Old Town. A Wednesday afternoon in mid-November 2020

Part of the allure of colonial Old Town is its’ soft edges and comfortable, dated streetscapes. In the above photo, the vehicles dominate those soft edges and obstruct views of the building facades – those 1820’s heritage buildings that everyone so loves. Some vehicles are so large now that the average human can’t even see over them.

You might say, “but the business community relies on those vehicles, they need all that parking for their customers.” Wrong. The business community also loses when people can’t get to their stores or struggle to find convenient parking. This may sound elementary but cars don’t buy things – people do.

There are many tools a municipality can use to reduce congestion and collect (parking) revenue while maintaining a healthy supply of tourism. Often, a combination of tools is required. The town hasn’t even begun to look at them.

In 2020, for whatever reason (COVID maybe?), some residents in Old Town decided they’d had enough and started talking about “sustainability”. https://www.residentsforsustainabletourism.com/. This is admirable but it is also sad that a grassroots organization has had to grab the reins and provoke/beg? its own municipal government to start addressing the “issue”.

Let’s just hope that if and when action is finally taken, people understand what that “issue” really is.

Leave a Reply