July 19, 2004

New vision seeks to manage growth for sustainability in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe

A discussion paper released for comment last week by Ontario Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal David Caplan outlines a plan for managing growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe over the next 30 years or more. In "Places To Grow: Better Choices. Brighter Future," the provincial government presents a strategy and the necessary tools for managing economic and population growth within the fastest-growing region in Canada.

The comprehensive framework outlined in the paper is aimed at managing the region's growth in a way that will foster vibrant communities, support a strong economy, and enhance environmental sustainability. It provides direction for provincial and municipal decisions on a range of growth-related issues, including: urban development and land use planning; capital investment planning; housing, transportation and environmental infrastructure; and economic development.

"Years of poor planning and leadership have left a legacy of uncontrolled urban sprawl, traffic congestion, environmental decline, and loss of greenspace and farmland in the Greater Golden Horseshoe," said Caplan. The province's plan "signals a new era in community planning, which incorporates land use, economic and environmental considerations," he added.

Over the next 30 years almost four million people will settle in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, an area extending from Peterborough to Barrie acrpss to Kitchener-Waterloo and around the end of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls. It includes the cities of Toronto, Hamilton and Kawartha Lakes; the regional municipalities of Halton, Peel, York, Durham, Waterloo and Niagara; and the counties of Haldimand, Brant, Wellington, Dufferin, Simcoe, Northumberland and Peterborough.

This projected growth will place intense pressure on the region's resources and infrastructure. If current patterns of development continue, by 2031 commute times are projected to increase by up to 45%, automobile-related emissions will increase by 42% and new development will consume more than 1,000 square kilometres of valuable farmlands - about double the current size of the city of Toronto.

The discussion document was developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders from other levels of government, the private sector, and environmental and community organizations. It sets out a vision and strategies for focusing future development within existing urban boundaries. Efficient land use, intensification and compact development, says the paper, are the cornerstones of sound growth management. By directing growth to areas best able to support it (termed priority urban centers), it will be possible to build on existing investment and infrastructure, contain urban sprawl and protect the areas that provide food, green space and natural resources.

The overall goal is to develop a network of well-managed urban centres that can strengthen the economy of the entire region, form the building blocks of future growth, provide a framework for future infrastructure investments and reduce pressures on the region's environment.

The paper cites a number of successful case histories in which municipalities have already carried out planning initiatives incorporating intensification and compact development in their downtown cores: among these are Cobourg, Toronto, Markham, Brantford and Kitchener. It notes that the emphasis on strong downtown cores and regeneration of brownfield sites is in keeping with best practices in urban economic development.

The province envisions a new approach to infrastructure planning and investment which will optimize the use of existing infrastructure, set priorities for the next ten years, focus investment on priority urban centres, and co-ordinate long-term plans across regions and with other levels of government. While the paper addresses all aspects of infrastructure investment, it gives special focus to two key areas: transportation and water.

Proposals in these two areas are aimed at ensuring that investments in transit and transportation infrastructure will support the convenient and accessible movement of people and goods throughout the region. It describes strategies for planning, financing and maintaining sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure to ensure that it can support development in priority areas and steer growth away from areas that provide food and natural resources.

Building on government initiatives such as the Greenbelt Task Force, the Planning Reform initiative, and the Rural Strategy, the discussion paper outlines directions and a range of strategies for accommodating growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, while protecting and enhancing the region's valuable resources, including natural areas, agricultural land, and water and mineral resources.

This approach of linking decisions on growth with the protection of renewable and non-renewable resources, green spaces and natural systems will ensure that planning and investment decisions reduce stress on the environment. Maximizing efficient use of infrastructure and promoting compact development will reduce the pressure on Ontario's resources and provide a better balance between economic expansion and the protection of its natural systems.

The discussion paper lists a number of key actions to ensure the plan is implemented effectively, including:

-aligning provincial policies and establishing strong partnerships with municipal governments and other stakeholders to ensure the government's investments and decisions help manage growth wisely;

-clearly defining roles and responsibilities through a legislative framework;

-seeking out and promoting the right mix of fiscal and regulatory tools to create real incentives, remove barriers and provide strong direction to facilitate stronger, more compact urban centres and better transportation choices; and

-regularly monitoring progress, to assess implementation efforts and review the impacts on communities and quality of life.

The government is seeking public comments on the discussion paper, which may be downloaded from the dedicated Web site, www.placestogrow.pir.gov.on.ca. Written comments may be submitted through the Web site or by regular mail to: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Smart Growth Secretariat, 777 Bay Street, 16th Floor, Toronto M5G 2E5. Comments are due by September 24, 2004. This input will help shape the final version of the plan, to be developed in the fall.

Also, starting this week and continuing to the end of July, public information sessions will be held in communities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Dates and locations include: July 20, in Kitchener; July 21, in St Catharines; July 22, in Oshawa; July 26, in Barrie; July 27, in Hamilton; July 28, in Toronto; and July 29, in Markham. The sessions will consists of an informal open house period from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., at which copies of the discussion paper will be available and staff will be on hand to answer questions. A presentation will be given at 7:00 p.m., followed by a question and answer period. More information on the sessions is available on the Web site noted above.

"For the first time in our history, we have the basis of a plan to manage population growth and economic expansion in a rational, intelligent way, instead of trying to catch up to it after the fact. This is our chance - maybe our last chance - to build the future we want," Caplan stated.

Initial response to the discussion document from a number of representatives involved in environmental, transportation and planning activities has been generally favourable.

"This plan will provide the clarity that we are all looking for," said Jim Faught, executive director of Ontario Nature and a member of the Greenbelt Task Force. "We need to grow better so that we can protect our natural environment. The plan will help us get there."

"The draft growth plan reflects a good fit with the goals of the Greenbelt Task Force. The plan shows comprehensive thinking and long-term planning," said Burlington mayor Robert MacIsaac, who heads the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt Task Force.

"I am extremely encouraged by the direction that the government has shown with this discussion paper," said Michael Roschlau, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Association. "Public transit has to be a top priority if we want to ensure future quality of life in the Golden Horseshoe."

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