The weak spot

By John Lorinc

A respectable start, but not nearly enough to ensure that all the talk about smart growth becomes an urban reality.

That’s Ontario Nature’s verdict on the province’s historic growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), which has been approved following almost two years of consultations.

The growth plan includes intensification targets for residential development and planning rules designed to direct jobs to 25 urban growth nodes around the GGH. What has become clear, however, is that the government’s plan falls short of what is required to arrest the loss of farmland, protect natural systems and foster environmentally sustainable development.

“We support the government’s initiative in doing this sort of planning,” says Linda Pim, conservation policy analyst for Ontario Nature. But she is concerned that the growth plan will tolerate business-as-usual development and new highways, does not adequately defend natural areas within the GGH, and relies on controversial population growth estimates. “They could have included policies to protect farmland and natural systems, and they haven’t yet done that,” Pim says.

The government wants 40 percent of all new residential development to go into built-up areas by 2015. But Pim points out that this still allows three-fifths of all new home construction to end up in farmers’ fields. As well, the density targets for such “greenfield” development — and the way they will be calculated — are inadequate for creating transit-friendly communities.

How far short does the Liberal plan fall? No one can say for sure. But in 2003, the Neptis Foundation modelled four growth scenarios for the GGH. That assessment reckoned that as of 2000, almost two-thirds of all new development was taking place in farmers’ fields. Such status quo planning would result in an almost 50 percent increase in the geographical extent of the GGH’s built-up area to 2,887 square kilometres, by 2031. The result would be a further loss of prime farmlands and natural areas.

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