Conclusions and Emerging Issues

This paper has argued that understanding and anticipating social change are fundamental elements in the exercise of developing rational, efficient, and equitable planning strategies. We have examined the social processes influencing the Central Ontario Zone, provided examples of the outcomes of those processes, and illustrated the role of these changes in shaping the future form and growth of the Central Ontario Zone. On the basis of this review, we can extract the following generalizations.

  • The defining feature of the social character of this Central Ontario Zone is the very rapid rate of growth in population (and, thus, in economic activity and development). Moreover, the overwhelming source of that growth is external, notably immigration. If current levels of immigration continue, growth will continue; but immigration is subject to much greater uncertainty than the other two components of regional population growth. If immigration levels decline, the growth rate of the Central Ontario Zone will decline, unless foreign migrants are replaced by greater numbers of domestic in-migrants, which is highly unlikely.
  • Even with a steady flow of immigrants, the overall growth rate will decline gradually in future decades as the population ages. Current forecasts of growth in the Central Ontario Zone, therefore, seem too high.
  • The demographic transition has produced markedly unequal age cohorts, ensuring that the demand for housing and other services will fluctuate widely over time. Declining fertility also means that the number of new households entering the market will decline sharply over the next two decades. The fastest-growing age cohort in the next two decades will be the over-60 population.
  • The fragmentation of households and families has led to roughly 50% more households, and thus higher dwelling needs and land consumption rates, than was expected in the 1950s.
  • As is obvious, immigration has also transformed the social fabric and ethno-cultural character of the Central Ontario Zone's population almost beyond recognition, raising questions about our collective ability to adapt to the differing needs of culturally distinct groups.
  • The combination of smaller households and higher immigration, with extensive economic restructuring, has meant an increase in income inequalities and an even more marked increase in the degree of income polarization within the social landscape of the Central Ontario Zone.

Linking these trends to questions of urban form, and the mandate of the Smart Growth secretariat with respect to new planning strategies for the Central Ontario Zone, the review outlined in this paper suggests that:

  • Within the Central Ontario Zone population growth will continue to decentralize, but within that framework, most growth will tend to concentrate in or adjacent to existing urbanized cores and around outlying urban nodes, especially those in the north and west of the Zone. There is little evidence that slow-growth portions of the regional hinterland in the southwest and northeast will see a significant turnaround, at least not without massive up-front expenditures on infrastructure, both physical (for example, highways) and social (medical infrastructure).
  • Overall, the pattern of growth within the Central Ontario Zone is likely to be one of concentrated decentralization, rather than dispersion.
  • Almost certainly, population densities will decline in many established neighbourhoods, even with the addition of new housing, because of smaller household sizes and the increasing consumption of housing space. This at least raises the opportunity for further infill development.
  • These social changes will act to both encourage and discourage the reuse of older (brownfield) sites, given the demographic structure, and the opportunities and relative pressures for intensification will vary decade by decade. On balance, however, given current conditions, most of the above trends will tend to favour suburban and exurban development on greenfield sites.
  • Within the urbanized core, some municipalities have been very successful in attracting considerable residential population through redevelopment and infill.12 Outside Toronto and perhaps Mississauga, however, the potential for such repopulation elsewhere in the Zone seems relatively limited.
  • Population growth in the City of Toronto represents roughly 15% of total growth in the Central Ontario Zone. On its own, this infill process is unlikely to sharply reduce the overall demand for greenfield locations. Moreover, a significant proportion of that population increase does not represent planned reuse and intensification of brownfield sites but rather intensified occupancy of existing housing space, often in low-income neighbourhoods, including some new immigrant communities.13
  • The most rapidly growing age cohort in the next three decades, the over-60 population, poses another question. Will older people age in place or relocate elsewhere; and if so, where? On balance, they are not as likely to move to inner-city locations as to outer exurban and hinterland locations.
  • Pockets of poverty continue to exist in their traditional locations, the inner cities, but others have recently appeared in the older and newer suburbs, and in the rural hinterland, often tied to the availability of low-cost housing.
  • These trends, in combination, are likely to widen the gap in social infrastructure across the Central Ontario Zone.

The challenge for the Province then seems to be twofold: (1), the challenge of accommodating and servicing rapid growth, in a context of increasing social and cultural diversity, widespread employment decentralization, and highly variable demands for services and housing; and (2), attempting to meet stated objectives in developing "place-space" strategies for smart growth in the Central Ontario Zone.

Within the province, population and economic growth are overwhelmingly concentrated. The nine major urban agglomerations in the Central Zone alone accounted for more than 87% of all population growth in the province during the 1990s. Add the three other principal urban nodes (the Ottawa, Windsor, and London CMAs) and the figure is nearly 100%. The rest of the province is not growing and, given its truncated age structure, will likely witness further population decline in the future.

Within the Central Zone, growth is decentralizing at a strong pace, despite the relative success of some municipalities to attract redevelopment and infill. Given the costs, the difficult administrative hurdles, and length of time involved in redeveloping brownfield sites under current conditions, and the potentially limited demand for those sites as the population ages, the pace of decentralization will likely continue. This is not necessarily a bad thing, provided that the rate is not excessive, that development is carefully coordinated with transportation and service provision, and that it avoids certain sensitive natural environments. Decentralization will, however, require more innovative planning policies and substantial infrastructure investments, and may also make it more difficult to attain current intensification targets.

What might the current planning panel do in response to these trends?

  • First, it must incorporate into any new strategy some recognition of the importance of social and demographic processes and the uncertainty of future growth estimates, especially the immigration component. And it must acknowledge increasing diversity by making the strategy both flexible and inclusive. To assist in these continuing reassessments, there should be a mechanism in place for monitoring social and demographic trends and the contribution of migration and immigration to regional growth.
  • Second, it must make realistic assessments of what it is possible and not possible to achieve through physical planning. If a more balanced mix of jobs and housing is desired, then the province will have to employ a wide range of approaches including legislating a wider variety of dwelling types and prices within each new suburban development, and a ensuring greater mixing of employment lands and housing.
  • Third, the increasing diversity of household types, and the variable number of workers per household, makes the spatial matching of labour and housing supply much more difficult than it used to be, and even then the matching was partly illusory. Higher energy costs, real-cost vehicle pricing, differential road pricing, and improved transit, would help reduce the jobs-housing imbalance, but would not in themselves be sufficient.
  • Fourth, if more compact and higher density development is a desired goal, the Province will have to be more aggressive in providing incentives and in regulating development where it is not wanted or required. It should insist that municipalities restrict scattered housing and leapfrog developments.

Moreover, as noted earlier, net residential densities are not the primary problem; instead, the major problem is the declining densities of commercial and employment lands and other non-residential uses. For at least a decade the density of new suburban development, measured in dwellings per hectare, has been increasing, despite the effects of demographic thinning and the mandated increases in non-residential space (such as parks). We now have the highest suburban residential densities on the continent. Many of our newer subdivisions, as currently built out, however, seem to have lost one of the principal features of earlier suburbs, flexibility in built form over the longer term.

At the same time, if the government wishes to lead growth in particular directions, it must be proactive in its investments. It must be willing to make up-front expenditures in infrastructure, notably in social services, roads, transit, and underground services, as directional incentives. Failure to do so is why (and where) Ontario lost the transit battle during the 1970s and 1980s in the older suburbs. It must use its taxing and regulatory powers to discourage unwanted development; and use tax incentives and other tools to redirect growth to other locations, where the degree of coordination between land use and transportation can be improved. It could also level the playing field in property tax levels to remove any incentive to excessive rapid and inefficient decentralization, and to reduce regional equalities in service provision. And, it must do so without unduly restricting the supply of buildable land and thus avoid contributing negatively to regional job creation and the affordable housing problem.

In terms of social services and infrastructure, a number of other initiatives are worth considering in response to the above trends.

  • First, given the overwhelming contribution of immigration to the growth of the Central Ontario Zone, it would not be unreasonable for the Province to argue for a substantial increase in the level of federal funding for the settlement costs associated with new immigrants. This support might include a per capita infrastructure package (both hard and soft infrastructure) to help accommodate newcomers wherever they locate.
  • Second, efforts to influence the direction of future growth in the Central Ontario Zone, and to mitigate the tendency to increasing social polarization, would be facilitated by an aggressive policy with respect to affordable housing.
  • Third, the rapid aging of the population, particularly in the periphery of the Central Ontario Zone suggests the need to rethink policies on the provision and funding of social services and health care facilities in those areas.

Finally, balancing the need for flexibility in responding to rapid social change and increasing diversity, with the need to design, or at least influence, the direction and shape of development in the Central Ontario Zone in an efficient and equitable fashion is a difficult challenge requiring innovative thinking and proactive, long-term policies.

12. Over the last 10 years, the City of Toronto population has increased by 18,000 persons a year on average. This is impressive, particularly since it is a net figure; that is, it indicates the degree to which the population added through new construction (redevelopment and intensification) exceeded the loss of population in other neighbourhoods.
13. An example of this process is in St. James Town, where the population increased by 20% during the last census period, without any increase in the number of dwellings.