Ontario must protect Greenbelt as population pressure increases
‘We need bold policies to grow in a more sustainable manner that protects our vital assets (farmland, water and natural areas), reduces urban sprawl and encourages development of more complete communities.’
By STEVE PARISH & DAVID CROMBIE Toronto Star
Some interests in the development industry are using high housing prices as their Hail Mary pass to build on the Greenbelt. In recent weeks, this narrative has been widely dismissed by experts. It has been proven that there is a significant amount of under-utilized land (125,500 hectares according to the Neptis Foundation) in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH).
The reality is that we are experiencing tremendous pressure from population growth and we need bold policies to grow in a more sustainable manner that protects our vital assets (farmland, water and natural areas), reduces urban sprawl and encourages development of more complete communities.
As the primary population centre and economic engine of Ontario, the Greater Golden Horseshoe is projected to be home to 13.5 million people by 2041. Single-use, auto-dependent subdivisions cannot sustain us all.
We know that continued suburban sprawl is not the answer. It’s time to correct our growth patterns and take proactive action. The province is accountable and equipped to set this new course for sustainable development. Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet are currently reviewing improvements to the Growth Plan, Greenbelt Plan and associated legislation to curb sprawl and build compact communities.
The proposed changes include increasing intensification targets for municipalities and building higher density developments supported by a wide range of transportation options. Some critics argue these steps are going too far too fast, opting to focus on the challenges of implementation versus the economic and quality of life opportunities needed for communities to thrive.
The bottom line is that we must use land more effectively and create livable communities. This has the added benefit of reducing capital and operating costs for infrastructure, encouraging a greater mix of housing types and building a strong economy and good jobs. This cannot be achieved without intensification, by relaxing density targets, or freeing up the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is an essential tool to contain urban sprawl.
We believe the province must seize the opportunity of this review and not be persuaded to alter its course. The choice between smart growth policies presented by the province or building over the Greenbelt is clear.
Public support for the Growth Plan is stronger than ever. A public opinion poll released in December 2016 found that 8 in 10 people supported the Growth Plan, and identified the top benefits of the plan as protecting farmland and sensitive natural areas, and maximizing the use of existing infrastructure.
It’s clear that the public understands the importance of decisions being made, and the consequences that no action will have on their futures.
We ask the premier and cabinet to consider the following:
– Take strong, timely action.
– Solidify intensification and density targets.
– Close loopholes that undermine Growth Plan objectives. Premier Wynne recently assured voters that the government is “committed to growing the Greenbelt, not shrinking the Greenbelt.”
– Continue to show commitment to the Greenbelt by protecting omitted strategic natural resources, such as the headwaters of Carruthers Creek, a sensitive recharge area currently vulnerable to development.
These quick-win, impactful changes can be made immediately. Other matters will take longer, but those objectives need to be clearly identified, with aggressive timelines established for completion.
Develop a comprehensive approach.
It’s important that these reforms provide a transparent and integrated approach to planning and growth. Clear direction with overarching policies and a uniform land needs assessment process is needed so that each region is treated fairly.
Provide local flexibility.
Within a clear framework, allow local flexibility in order for communities and local governments to realize their visions.
Should we make the wrong decision, we risk a planning and growth crisis in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The sustainability of our communities must come first. The province is in the final quarter and it mustn’t fumble, as the final outcome rests in its hands.
Steve Parish is the mayor of Ajax.
David Crombie, a former mayor of Toronto, is Chair of the Advisory Panel on the Coordinated Land Review of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.