To return to the question posed at the outset — how does the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe look in historical perspective? In some ways, it looks quite promising. It has avoided most of the missteps of the region’s past planning failures, and it has put several ideas that have been discussed in the region for much of the last generation — nodes and corridors, reurbanization and intensification, mixed-use greenfield development — into a planning program that most of the region’s municipalities have accepted.
To celebrate the plan’s accomplishments, however, is a little premature. The Growth Plan itself may be worthy of praise, but this history has shown quite clearly that impressive plans can quite easily become unimplemented plans — in which case their impressiveness ceases to be of much use.
History has also shown that plans can be killed if the political winds turn against them. Regional plans take years, even decades, to be successful, and for this they need to survive multiple elections, perhaps even changes of government from one political stripe to another. The one successful regional planning program in the region’s history, the MTPB’s metropolitan plan, lasted remarkably long, and it did so because it was, especially in its early years, outside the political fray. That the key elements of the plan have already survived a transition from Conservative to Liberal government — aided, it appears, by continuity in the civil service — is most promising. And now, in October 2007, the party that introduced the plan has won a second majority government. But it is hard to predict how this will play out. The recent election was won with scarcely a mention of Places to Grow, but urban development can quickly become highly politicized. Presumably political opposition to the Growth Plan will develop at some point, and future governments might be elected on a platform of scrapping it. Will the plan be deeply enough rooted in municipal planning authorities to withstand such opposition?