The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Places to Grow) is a key part of an historic initiative by the Ontario Government to redirect the pattern of urban growth in the Toronto metropolitan region. Its aims are to prevent further traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, the over-consumption of farmland and natural resources, and generally to provide a basis for a strong region and economy in the future.
Neptis research on the region strongly supports the government's growth management activity, as well as the well-conceived goals and the policy directions in the Plan. Yet quantitative research also indicates that the Growth Plan, as it now stands, seems unlikely to achieve its own objectives. This specifically applies to four aspects of growth that are foundations of the Plan.
1. Intensification: The Plan stipulates that by 2015, 40% of all new residential development must be constructed in existing built-up areas. Research indicates that the amount of new residential development that would be shifted from farmland to genuine intensification is likely to be insufficient to produce the Plan's desired outcomes. More fundamentally, the proposed intensification measure itself is flawed. More direct and effective measures are recommended.
2. Urban Growth Centres: The Plan identifies 25 Urban Growth Centres, representing a mix of well-established centres, underperforming centres, not-yet existing centres, and the declining downtowns of some smaller cities. Few have transit in place. Under present conditions, they are generally not attractive for office development. A wide array of new regional and centre-specific implementation initiatives will be needed if this goal is to be achieved. Not the least of these is a comprehensive plan for investment in transportation infrastructure, which is now absent.
3. Greenfield Development: The Plan requires that future development on greenfields accommodate 50 persons plus jobs per hectare by 2031. Since this target is to be averaged over each upper- and single-tier municipality, substantial areas of greenfields can be built at densities lower than the target, potentially undermining the Plan's basic goal of reducing automobile use. In addition, the target appears to be unenforceable. Other, more effective, measurements and targets are suggested.
4. Growth Projections: The Plan is founded on population and employment projections that assume minimal change in current growth patterns. Neptis questions the wisdom of entrenching what are very nearly business-as-usual growth projections in a plan that is intended to promote and encourage substantial change. The Province is urged to model alternative land use and transportation scenarios in order to better understand the potential costs and effectiveness of different growth and investment options.
Neptis research shows that the Plan needs to be revised and strengthened by other, more effective and precisely targeted measures -- if it is to fulfil its goals. Given the momentum of current growth patterns and the volume of conventional greenfield development that is already approved, only very bold action will noticeably alter the future of the region.