Planning in Ontario: The Quiet Revolution

June 6, 2016

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Big changes are coming for Ontario planners. Changes to growth planning strategies, proposals for inclusionary zoning, the reform of the Ontario Municipal Board and all the action related to the implementation of Bill 73 are creating a crescendo of new planning activity. Put together, they represent major change in the content and process of Ontario planning. Urban Strategies will be keeping you up-to-date on all these initiatives in a series of blog articles we hope are both informative and speak to the issues involved.

Let’s start with growth planning. And let’s not forget the context – there’s a lot of growth to plan. The Toronto-centered metropolis is the fastest growing urban region in the developed world.

Earlier this month, the Province announced proposed amendments to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and Niagara Escarpment Plan. If implemented, these proposals could be game changers for how we plan for growth in Ontario.

The proposed changes target major city-building issues that Urban Strategies and all planners tackle daily: building complete communities, planning for transit infrastructure, conserving natural heritage, combating climate change, and supporting agriculture. Some of the changes currently making headlines include:

Requiring at least 60% of new residential development to locate in existing built-up areas (up from the 40% target set in 2006);

Increasing greenfield area density targets to at least 80 people and jobs per hectare (up from the 50 people / job target set in 2006);

Requiring zoning along transit corridors to provide transit-supportive densities;

Adding 21 major urban river valleys and 7 associated coastal wetlands to the Greenbelt.

The Province is also proposing changes to how its plans are implemented and helping municipalities conform to the plans. We’re seeing the influence of interdisciplinary policy strategies on planning practice, including Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy and Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan.

Changes to the growth planning framework are being welcomed in many circles. Although overall the growth plan deserves the accolades it received a decade ago as the most interventionist urban management plan in North America, some of the concerns regarding continuing sprawl and inefficient land use anticipated in 2004 have come to pass. New policies may help better protect natural resources and build the vibrant, resilient, and sustainable communities that remain the prime goal of the plan.  And questions have been asked about the impact of the proposed changes on housing affordability, infrastructure costs, and community character. And then there’s the big issue, raised by the Neptis Foundation, about whether the updated growth plan properly grapples with the real employment structure of the region.

This summer, the Urban Strategies team will be taking a close look at the proposed changes and sharing our thoughts on how these new directions could impact planning, development, and quality of life in Ontario. Stay tuned for more blog posts!