What if you built a town, and no one came to live in it?
The year 2000 promised to be the new age for humanity. Large airports were expected to be turned into space ports to accommodate incoming flights from distant planets. Community developers and recreationalists were planning on a 20 hour work week with more time-off than we would know what to do with. Strange new devices known as computers were to help reduce our workload.
This far-off distant future world would still need cities for people to live in. Future cities designed and built with a purpose.
Welcome to Townsend, the city “designed with you in mind”. (according to the town slogan)
In 1976 the government of Ontario bought up large parcels of land between Jarvis, Simcoe, and Hamilton for this new city. The city would be capable of supporting over 100,000 people in comfortable, well designed urban homes. Trees would line the streets, a community centre would be the hub of the city, and people would be able to relax with only working 20 hour work weeks.
After much contemplation of city planners, community developers, and public meetings the first phase of the Townsend project came to light. The farms were cleared, and streets were laid out in a fashion which would appeal to the new urbanites.
Construction started in 1978 and a set of government buildings were built to house the mayor, and other administrative operations such as town planning, and steering committees.
The project was coming along nicely and over 5,000 people moved into this city of the future. Designed and built by the people, for the people, using the newest in layouts for comfort.
Then something happened. Something unforeseen, perhaps even tragic overcame this new city of the future.
Spaceports did not get built. The large factories to build spacecraft parts did not get built, and the future came and went without the second phase of the town being built.
Townsend lay by itself, somewhat isolated from surrounding towns by endless farmland. The contemporary city buildings lay abandoned for many years.
Visiting the farm today (2012) paints a different picture than the modern metropolis that was planned over 3 decades ago.
A small road sign points to the town, and a long, empty road with vacant land on each side guides you into the town. As the town approaches, a large divide in the street gives an aire of class and regal disposition.
A large community centre, now a retirement home sits at the roadside, The parking lot filled with cars, and the odd person milling about near the entrance.
Passing the retirement home, a small quarry which has been turned into a park lay on one side, and small sub-divisions line the street.
The contemporary government buildings are now in use by a mental health facility, and plans are afoot to create a golf course in some of the unused farm land.
A little more than a kilometre of well-planned roads, and sub-divisions end abruptly at farmland again. The small town seems to start and end abruptly.
Exploring some of the few side-streets will also bring the visitor a surprise. The streets come to an abrupt end, and lead off to farmland into the distance. Even a water tower with the letters “Townsend” imprinted on it lies in the distance.
Although there are no abandoned buildings here, Townsend is a modern ghost town. Filled with the echoes of a time when the future promised to hold space travel, unlimited manufacturing jobs, and planned urban living surpassing anything we could have imagined.
This tiny town is a remnant of a past that did not materialise and a way of life that still seems futuristic.
Many of the residents will still talk of the greatness their tiny town was to achieve and the dream that was Townsend, Ontario. A town “built with you in mind”. Sadly, you didn’t arrive.
Townsend Retraced. (2005). Retrieved July 02, 2012, from http://www.townsendretraced.ca/project.html
BROWN, R. (1993). 50 Even More unusual things to see in Ontario. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press.
Spaceport of the Future (1957) James R. Powers