"The Best Version of Ourselves" Philip Mills, Habitat Waterloo Region CEO

Posted in In The News

Philip Mills, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region CEO

The Best Version of Ourselves

"I may be alone in this but I’m still working on losing my COVID 15. It’s actually a few 15s, which may be why I’m still working on it. But it’s important. I want to be healthy. I’m certainly not old. I have a family I love. I want to be the best version of myself for them and part of that is being around for them.  

I think we all have these parts in ourselves. We want to be the best version of ourselves, whatever that means to each of us individually. 

The work that needs to be put in to becoming the best version of ourselves often seems to come with some sacrifice. It takes a little pain and some adjustment to help us reach this goal. If not the pain of the exercise that I don’t really want to do, then it’s the changing of the foods that I eat. As they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. When you’re trying to lose some weight, that saying always seems more poignant.  

As a region we are faced with a lot of big issues - from housing to opioids to the environment. There are a lot of areas we are trying to address in order to become that best version of ourselves.  

The struggle with the region is much the same as it is with me trying to lose a little weight. It cost us something. There is give and take that happens. We feel like we have to make a sacrifice. We get to have our cake or eat it, but we can’t have both.  

With housing there are loads of competing factors. We have a countryside boundary to protect, a local economy to sustain, rising costs for cities to operate, and an affordability crisis in housing. It’s a fine balance and we can’t do it all. At least that’s usually how it feels.  

I don’t think that has to be the case, however. There is always that elusive win-win. Can we find a win-win to balance it all without much of the sacrifice? Something that allows our region to be the best version of itself with the least amount of sacrifice? 

Simply put, yes, we can.  

The solution is urban infill – the repurposing and rethinking of our urban lands. Increasingly dense walkable neighbourhoods allow us to have our cake and eat it too. Everything from creating mixed use land where it was once only commercial, to developing vacant land with density, to transitioning zoning to allow single-family lots to become multi-family dwellings within the urban cores.  

To be clear, this isn’t a magic bullet. It is more like when you find some low-calorie snack that is actually worth eating. It gives us more of the good and less of the bad.  

Adding to urban density does so much for us as a community. First and foremost, done right we can have more homes. I could stop there, because to be frank that should be enough of a reason to do it, but the beauty of well-planned urban infill is it does so much more.  

When we densify a plot of land, we increase tax revenue for the city. This means more income for city services and programs that support a healthy and thriving community. That impact continues for years to come. It’s not a one-time influx, but ongoing support to a better community. 
And there is still more. Urban infill happens in, well, urban areas. More homes and residents in our urban core means more folks to patronize our local businesses. With more folks going to local restaurants and shopping in the core, the economic impact is multiplied here.  

We can see an increased tax base and increased revenue for local business, all by increasing affordable housing within the core and leaving our countryside boundary intact.  

If you’re counting at home that’s a win, win, win, win. Not only do we get to have our cake and eat it too, but the cake also has no calories! 

I don’t think it’s controversial to say people need homes they can afford. I think that’s a value we all would hold. The question so often comes down to how. What sacrifice do we need to make to get into the best shape of our lives? With a strong focus on urban infill, we can see massive results, the best version of ourselves and region, without ever even needing to hit the gym. Who wouldn’t be supportive of that?"

Philip Mills 
CEO, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region 

Philip Mills, CEO

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