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Published on Sunday, May 7, 2017
By Victor Doyle, RPP, MCIP
For the last 5 years, elements of the development sector have invested significantly and intensively in mounting a multi-faceted communications campaign to undermine the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan. The campaign is comprised of:
• the commissioning and/or funding of reports and publications conveying incomplete, selective and/or inaccurate information;
• rhetorical opinion pieces released through various media, presentations and conferences; and,
• intensive lobbying of elected representatives and senior executives at both the provincial and municipal levels - relying on materials based on the reports/publications described above.
The key plank in the campaign is that the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan have constrained the supply of land for and/or the supply of ground related housing - and that this is largely responsible for increased housing prices in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Repetition of such claims in the absence of the real and complete facts has seemingly led to their acceptance - not only in individuals and the public - but also in the financial and real estate sectors, certain academic institutions and the federal government. The campaign is misleading and thus irresponsible for it is significantly contributing to instilling uncertainty and a profound anxiousness and frenzy that is leading to ill-informed blame on the plans, calls for pause, pulling back, or worse, changing direction.
The Niagara Escarpment Plan (1985), Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2002), Greenbelt
Plan (2005), Growth Plan (2006), Regional Transportation Plan (the Big Move - 2008)) and Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (2009) are the cornerstones of Ontario’s vision and regional growth management framework for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH).
They result from the cumulative efforts of the last generation, involving innumerable civil society organizations, members of the public, municipalities and provincial governments led by all 3 parties. They are demonstrably non-partisan and reflect a common understanding of the impacts and continued threats that urban sprawl poses to the region, province and country.
They are therefore a shared vision as to how to move forward to protect, manage and sustainably prosper from one of the world’s most well-endowed landscapes. These internationally recognized and award winning efforts, despite ample room for improvement, have led to the GGH consistently being viewed as one of the world’s most successful cityregions.
The claims that the plans are constraining the supply of land and ground-related housing are ill-founded. The available facts and evidence, including the vast inputs to the Crombie Commission, are clear:
• The Plans are absolutely the right direction to follow
• The evidence is irrefutable that the Plans do not go far enough to address the impacts of urban sprawl and provide for a truly sustainable future
• There is more than sufficient approved land and planned and existing ground related housing supplies to accommodate projected growth to 2031 - and likely 2041 - and any claims to the contrary are not borne out
Following is a two-part brief entitled: The Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan -
Setting the Record Straight. It cites the key evidence as to why we need to strengthen the Plans - the “Case for Action” - along with the key facts on the supply of land and ground related housing - which provides the “Room to Act” in moving forward to strengthen the Plans.
Following a comprehensive, two year review, the Government of Ontario is on the verge of releasing new a Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan (the Plans).
However, there has been, and continues to be, claims that these internationally recognized and award winning plans have led to a shortage of land for ground related housing, which is restricting the supply of ground related units, which in turn is driving the rapid increase in housing prices in the region. These claims ignore many of the other accepted drivers of the increase in housing prices (which this paper does not explore).
Moreover, these claims are based on incomplete, selective and/or inaccurate information about the measured, incremental and responsible approach the Plans take to shifting our planning framework over the coming decades. They also misrepresent the Plans approach and extensive municipal efforts to ensure an adequate supply of land and planned units for ground related housing – all while also ignoring the rationale that gave rise to these plans in the first instance. Following is a factual overview of the key information and evidence.
The Province of Ontario has been engaged in regional planning for the Greater Golden Horseshoe for over 50 years. These efforts have taken on an extremely heightened emphasis over the last generation (25-30 years) given the well documented, devastating impacts that low density urban sprawl was/is having on our health, environment, resources and economy.
Entering the 21st century, this renewed emphasis culminated in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conversation Plan (2002), the Greenbelt Plan (2005), the Growth Plan (2006), the Big Move (2008) and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (2009).
Notably, these efforts were initiated and/or supported by all 3 main political parties - together with the vast majority of municipalities and leading civil service organizations. They are thus demonstrably non-partisan and reflect a shared understanding of the impacts and continued threats that sprawl poses. They also comprise a shared vision as to how to move forward collectively to protect, manage and prosper from one of the most well-endowed landscapes and most successful city-regions in the world.
Before considering the primary issue around the supply of land for and planned supply of ground related units, it is critical to explore the underpinnings which gave rise to the Plans and which are conspicuously absent in the campaign to discredit them. Further, it is paramount to consider the evidence compiled to inform the review of the Plans.
Indeed, despite our best efforts in enacting and implementing the Plans, the evidence provided by our leading civil service organizations, academia and provincial ministries to the Coordinated Plan Review Advisory Panel (led by David Crombie) is irrefutable. Low density urban sprawl continues to have devastating and debilitating short and long-term negative impacts on our health, environment, resources and economy.
The evidence clearly provides the case for why the Plans have to be strengthened and enhanced and why our resolve to implement them needs to be even more determined.
In their seminal report from July 2014, the Chief Medical Officers of Health for the GTHA concluded that low density, car dependent urban form (“urban sprawl”) is a key contributor to a significant increase in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This is leading to premature deaths and increased hospitalizations and illness - which are collectively costing Ontario billions of dollars in health care costs. Moreover, these are trends they predict will continue and worsen.
More specifically, the report concludes that car-dependent sprawl has contributed to a dramatic rise in chronic diseases (eg. diabetes, heart disease, obesity) – including premature deaths. For instance:
• Air pollution: 712-997 premature deaths /year and 2,812-3,939 hospitalizations /year in the GTHA
• 12,500 new cases of diabetes annually in the GTHA alone – with Ontario wide cases predicted to increase from 546,000 cases in 2000 to 1.9 million cases in 2020
This is leading to a dramatic increase in health care costs
• $ 1.4 billion/annually in direct health care costs
• $305 million annually for the 12,500 new cases of diabetes in the GTHA – which at year 10 amounts to $3+ billion/year
It is for this reason the Report supports more compact, transit supportive urban form which supports active transportation. It views this as “preventative medicine” which can help address the projected significant increases in health care costs - rising from the current 40+% to 70% of Ontario`s budget in the coming decades.
Water is Ontario’s most precious resource and an unparalleled economic advantage. However, urban sprawl has led to severe degradation of our rivers/streams/wetlands - with virtually all our inland lakes and rivers in the GGH at capacity in terms of receiving any further sewage effluent.
The Watershed Report Cards from the region’s Conservation Authorities rank surface waters in the urbanized portions of the region as being “Very Poor” (red on map below) or “Poor” (gold on map).
Moreover, modelling from various Conservation Authorities predicts conditions to worsen.
The Credit River Conservation Authority’s study in 2007 modeled effects of urbanization on the Credit River watershed if we continue current planning and development practices (red = severely degraded, pink = degraded on map below). This is based on the amount of land that has already been approved to accommodate growth to 2031 - let alone from accommodating the forecast growth between 2031-2041.
Further, much of the region’s groundwater within urbanized areas is also degraded, while several major aquifers are experiencing significant depletion (mining) (see pink areas on map below). This is leading to increasing numbers of sewage and water pipeline proposals which simply perpetuate outward sprawl and are not fiscally sustainable over the long term.