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Ontario must stop unchecked urban sprawl

In Simcoe County
Nov 11th, 2013

A study by the Neptis Foundation finds that Ontario’s policies to stop sprawl are working only in some regions

Toronto Star Editorial Nov 11 2013

Governments can sometimes create visionary plans that win international acclaim but make little difference in reality. It’s too bad, but that’s the outcome of Ontario’s 2006 award-winning growth plan that promised to curb urban sprawl across the greater Toronto region. As the Star’s Sue Pigg reports, an 18-month study by the not-for-profit Neptis Foundation concludes that in many municipalities, development of car-reliant subdivisions has barely ebbed. Given the region’s strangulation by gridlock, this is alarming news.

Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe was created to manage the unchecked development that experts predicted would consume an additional 107,000 hectares of land across the region by 2031. That’s unsustainable growth for the environment, transit and the municipal debt needed pay for infrastructure like roads, sewers and schools.

Unfortunately, the plan that was supposed to solve this rapid expansion only succeeded in regions like Toronto and Waterloo, where its goal of intensification was embraced. Indeed, according to Neptis researchers Rian Allen and Philippa Campsie, worries about those 107,000 hectares has now become reality, with all that land now designated for development. The failure of such a highly touted growth plan is a serious problem that deserves the immediate attention of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

After all, Wynne is promising to fight gridlock — and its $6-billion-a-year drain on the economy — across the Toronto and Hamilton region. What’s the point of selling “green bonds” to pay for new transit if sprawl continues its rapid march from Halton Region to York Region and Simcoe County? Wynne should revisit Ontario’s growth plan and create new targets for development that force municipalities to build within existing boundaries and not eat up green space. As the report points out, there’s just too much wiggle room in provincial policies to make the changes stick.

As well, minimum standards for intensification (which limits sprawl) are not properly followed, allowing many regions to avoid building on already developed land. That’s a problem, and it must be addressed with tougher rules. Some regions, like Toronto and Waterloo, have embraced the growth plan. Others, like York Region, haven’t yet adopted the policies in their “official plan” so they aren’t technically required to follow the policies. While the report says York does follow the minimum standards (40 per cent of all new residential development each year must be located in built-up locations), its massive expansion will contribute to sprawl.

Ontario is conducting a 10-year review of the plan in 2016, but the province should use the new report to focus on necessary changes. Gridlock across the region is already so harmful to productivity, and personal lives, that it’s downright disheartening to learn that it’s only getting worse. Good intentions aren’t enough.

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