The provincial government has begun to implement a complex Growth Plan that will guide urban development for the next 20 years, creating new urban hubs and mass transit systems, and fundamentally changing the face of Toronto. Like it or not, this appears to be a ‘done deal.’ However, we still have a say on the details of these new developments – and the details will make the difference between a vibrant, balanced liveable community, or more of the same bad development we’ve seen too often in the past.
This section of my website covers the rationale behind the Growth Plan, where and how Toronto and Ward 5 are expected to grow, and the investment in transit and infrastructure needed to support that growth.
In order to understand the development issues we are facing in Ward 5 today, it is important to understand a little recent history.
By the 1980s, it was becoming evident to many economists, urban planners and government officials that the urban sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was unsustainable. Unfortunately, no provincial or municipal government had the political will to stop the sprawl that they funded and encouraged or to even slow it down. As a result, we ended up building a very expensive and unsustainable living arrangement in the GTA that governments at all levels are now finding difficult to afford and maintain.
It was not until 2005 that the provincial government attempted to deal with this problem in a meaningful way by passing the Places to Grow Act, 2005. All of the details and plans are available at the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure’s Ontario Places to Grow website so none of this is a secret. Unfortunately, the government has not done a very good job in promoting or publicizing this initiative.
The Places to Grow initiative consists of a “Growth Plan” made up of four parts:
- Where and How to Grow
- Infrastructure to Support Growth
- Protecting What is Valuable
Where and How to Grow:
The Growth Plan forecasts that the population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe will increase by 3.7 million between 2006 and 2031.
That’s an annual increase of 148,000 people, or the equivalent of building a city the size of Oshawa every year for 25 years. Furthermore, 20% of these people are expected to settle and live in Toronto, where 30% of the new jobs will be created.
The government’s strategy to deal with this growth – and curb urban sprawl at the same time – is called “intensification.” The government wants to increase the population density of our urban and suburban environments, and it will do so primarily in two ways.
First, it specifies that 40% of all new residential units will be developed on existing built-up land.
Second, it has designated specific areas in Toronto and the surrounding municipalities as “Urban Growth Centres.”
Five Urban Growth Centres have been designated in the City of Toronto. They are located in Downtown Toronto, Scarborough Centre, North York Centre, Yonge-Eglinton Centre, and Etobicoke Centre. These Urban Growth Centres have a target density of 40,000 people or jobs per square kilometer. Compare this to the average density of 4,150 in Toronto. That means many of us will have to learn to live much closer to each other. The hope is that intensification will reduce the costs per capita of providing municipal and other government services.
The Places to Grow Act forced municipalities to amend their official plans. Toronto is no exception, so the City Planning Department developed the current Toronto Official Plan. This plan specifies that three-quarters of the city’s built-up area is not subject to change. That means our existing residential neighbourhoods, parks, ravines, etc., will not be bulldozed to make room for condos and office towers.
Instead, the City has adopted two primary strategies to accommodate the anticipated growth.
First, it is expected to develop the Urban Growth Centres as specified in the Growth Plan. That is why we are seeing condominium towers sprouting up like mushrooms in these areas. They don’t “just happen.” They are deliberate, planned and even mandated by the government.
Second, the Toronto Official Plan calls for the development of “Avenues.” Avenues are important corridors along major streets that will be “re-urbanized.” The objective is to create new housing, shopping and job opportunities in a pedestrian-friendly environment with high quality in-fill townhouses and mid-rise apartment buildings (4 to 11 stories high). In other words, the objective is to create a “main street” in various neighbourhoods. As it turns out, The Queensway has been declared an Avenue in the Official Plan.
The Toronto City Planning website is an excellent resource that provides valuable information regarding city planning and urban development. I encourage those interested in this subject to explore it.
Infrastructure to Support Growth:
It will take more than condos, mid-rise apartments and townhouses to accommodate an influx of 3.7 people over 25 years. It will take a massive investment in transit and other infrastructure.
So the Growth Plan dedicates upwards of $50 billion dollars to build new infrastructure to support this growth. And after the recent provincial election, it should come as no surprise that a substantial amount of this money will be invested in new public transit.
In 2006, the provincial government created Metrolinx to provide integrated public transit from Oshawa to Newmarket to Hamilton and then merged it with GO Transit in 2009. In 2008, Metrolinx adopted The Big Move as its “bold and visionary” plan for the GTA. The Big Move does not include building any new highways. Instead, it will focus on new Light Rail Transit (LRT), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and GO Train Expansion.
Some of the projects have already begun, including the Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Union Pearson Express, and the Union Station Revitalization. Other projects are funded but have not started, such as the Finch West LRT, the Sheppard East LRT, and the Scarborough LRT or Subway (as the case may be). Many projects remain unfunded and in the planning stages. However, this is likely to change with the recent re-election of the provincial Liberal government and its pledge to invest an additional $25 billion in infrastructure.
No LRTs or BRTs have been approved and funded in Ward 5 yet. However, Metrolinx and the City of Toronto are planning a for a primary mobility hub at Etobicoke Centre. A mobility hub is a major transit station where different modes of public transportation are integrated and it serves as a point of origin, destination and transfer (much like Union Station).
The funded and approved LRT projects in Toronto look like this on a map:
If all goes according to the Metrolinx plan, the GTA’s transportation network will look like this after it is built:
The Growth Plan also calls for the additional infrastructure that one would expect with all this growth, such as schools, hospital, parks and recreation facilities, water and sewer lines, water and sewage treatment plants, and the movement of goods through intermodal means.
Potecting What is Valuable
The third component of the Growth Plan is The Greenbelt Plan which most of us have probably heard of by now. It consists of protecting some 7,300 square kilometers of environmentally sensitive watersheds, forests, parks, agricultural lands and rural areas around the GTA.
The implementation of the Growth Plan has already begun.
Although all levels of government will be responsible for its funding and implementation, non-governmental organizations and the private sector will be expected to contribute too.
Whether or not we agree with the plan, there is nothing we can do to stop it short of electing a different government willing to repeal the Places to Grow Act and all of its related components. Given the re-election of the Liberal government, this is not likely to happen for at least four or five years and even then it will probably be too late for another government to change course.