As 2011 marks the fifth anniversary of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (“Growth Plan”), the provincial government has released an overview of the Growth Plan’s progress to date. Five years into its 25-year plan for managing growth, the report provides insight into how the Growth Plan’s policies are starting to shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Canada’s largest urban region and Ontario’s fastest growing area. Recognizing that much work is still to be done in partnership with municipalities, community groups and the private sector, the report focuses on the impact of the Growth Plan’s policies on the following four areas:
- Curbing Urban Sprawl
A stated objective of the Growth Plan is to help municipalities reduce urban sprawl by ensuring that any new land designated for future urban uses will be planned in a way that makes more efficient use of infrastructure, is more compact and offers more opportunities to walk or take transit.
A significant supply of land is already designated for future urban development in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. According to the update, through increased intensification, higher densities and more mixed-use development, the Growth Plan policies will ensure that these lands are available to accommodate growth long into the future. Comparative scenarios with and without the Growth Plan suggest that the Growth Plan could help to conserve as much as 800 square kilometres of agricultural and rural land from urbanization by 2031.
- Revitalizing Downtowns
The Growth Plan identifies 25 existing and emerging downtowns as urban growth centres and sets strong policies and minimum density targets for these locations. Although some centres are at different stages of development, all 25 centres are planned to be a focus for regional services and public institutions, and have been recognized in municipal official plans.
- Creating Complete Communities
The policies of the Growth Plan support the development of complete and liveable communities with a better mix of housing, jobs, parks, shops and services in close proximity to one another. As a result, a shift towards a broader range of housing types is occurring within the Greater Golden Horseshoe and significant increases in higher density housing forms are being seen. Moreover, with the growing demand for downtown residential development, infill and redevelopment in the built-up area of municipalities are also increasing.
- Increasing Transportation Choice
Improved access to public transportation is another stated Growth Plan objective. The Growth Plan emphasizes the need for more transportation choice, resulting in more efficient use of the road network and reduced gridlock.
Comparative scenarios with and without the Growth Plan (which take into account the Greater Golden Horseshoe’s anticipated rapid population growth) demonstrate that the Greater Golden Horseshoe will have better performance in transportation conditions for the travelling public with the Growth Plan.
The report also provides an update on the Grown Plan conformity status of the upper and single-tier municipalities, which are required to bring their official plans into conformity with the Growth Plan. Almost half of the lower-tier municipalities and all of the 21 upper or single-tier municipalities have adopted conformity-related official plan amendments. However, most of these adopted official plan amendments are currently under appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board. Not all appeals, however, are Growth Plan related.
Whether the Growth Plan meets all of the stated objectives remains to be seen. Future success, however, will certainly require collaboration between municipalities, community groups and the private sector.