Urban growth

Planning for urban growth in Ontario

The province is seeking feedback for the upcoming 10-year review of its growth plan
Thursday, March 20, 2014
By Leah Wong

The Greater Golden Horseshoe’s population is expected to boom in the near future. But while urban growth in Ontario is a good thing, unchecked and unplanned growth can create serious infrastructure and gridlock problems for citizens.

In 2011, there were about 9 million people and 4.5 million jobs in the region. By 2041, forecasts suggest the population will reach 13.5 million, with 6.5 million jobs — a 50 and 40 per cent increase, respectively.

To meet the demands of an increased population, Ontario has been planning for future growth in the region through the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a strategy to regulate the growth of municipalities that began in 2006. With the Growth Plan’s 10-year review coming up, the province is seeking public input in determining what indicators should be used to measure whether the plan is succeeding so far, and what changes, if any, should be made to the strategy going forward.

“Growth planning is about looking forward to where we want to be,” Larry Clay, Assistant Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, told attendees of the Canadian Urban Institute’s Growth Plan discussion on March 6. “There’s a need to think about how do we compare to communities that are doing sprawl badly or (compare) to the ones that are doing intensification well.”

The ultimate purpose of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe is to regulate the growth of municipalities by preventing sprawling low-density development, decreasing congestion, preserving agricultural lands and preventing an infrastructure deficit. It encourages municipalities to grow in a smarter way and to allocate land designations based on population and employment.

To see if the plan is on the right track to achieving these goals, the proposed review indicators have been divided into four themes: building compact and efficient communities; creating vibrant and complete communities; planning and managing growth to support a strong and competitive economy; and protecting, conserving, enhancing and widely using natural resources.

Seven of the proposed indicators — achieving intensification, urban growth centre density, major transit station area density, mix of housing types, modal split, commute time by mode and land development — already have methodologies in place regarding  how to measure their progress. Data for the entire region is currently available for these indicators, with preliminary analysis already completed.

However, remaining five indicators — designated greenfield area density, diversity of land uses, proximity of community infrastructure, street connectivity, and major office space — still need to be further developed because of a lack of existing data across the region.

Though the Ministry is seeking input on all 12 indicators — and may add additional indicators in time for the 10-year review — it is currently attempting to resolve the technical and methodological challenges associated with the above five.

When all indicators are finalized, they will create a baseline for measuring the success of the Growth Plan, both at the 10-year review mark and beyond.

This early review of the Growth Plan may prove important, as the first few years of the plan had some challenges.

All municipalities were required to submit Official Plans that conformed to Ontario’s Growth Plan by 2010. However, this mark was missed by many cities. Clay said it has taken too long for Official Plans to get approval, in part because of the number of appeals from private citizens and developers to the Ontario Municipal Board. In fact, many Official Plans have only recently come into effect.

An independent review of the Growth Plan published by the Neptis Foundation in October 2013 looked at what lessons could be learned from the initial implementation of the Growth Plan ahead of preparations for the official 10-year review.

Philippa Campsie, one of the authors of the review, said that one problem with the Growth Plan is a lack of clear language around implementation goals, particularly in relation to the designated greenfield density area. She said that clarifying policy language will help municipalities meet specific targets and that ensure they are striving for more sustainable levels of density.

Refining the goals set out by the Growth Plan by monitoring the indicators will help guide growth within the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. If the province’s strategy succeeds, smart growth will reduce congestion, decrease pollution and continue the growth of the region’s economy.

Leah Wong is the online editor for Canadian Property Management magazine. 

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