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Lots of Places to Grow
19/08/2004

In the eye weekly that came out today, John Sewell takes a pessimistic look at Ontario's new strategy for dealing with growth in the "Greater Golden Horseshoe Area". The Province's "Places to Grow" documents are available at http://www.placestogrow.pir.gov.on.ca/scripts/index_.asp.

As Sewell points out, the document says "Overall, most municipalities have sufficient land designated to accommodate urban growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe for the next 15-25 years, even without implementing compact urban form measures as described in this discussion paper." In other words, if we want to know what another 15-25 years of sprawling development would look like, we should simply allow those approved lands to be built upon. The government's document, according to Sewell, does not propose to reverse any of those approvals.

Now, there would seem to be several different ways to rein in sprawl. One way is simply to prevent construction beyond a certain limit. Another way is to require development to be more dense and diverse. A third way is to apply new costing models that reverse the financial incentives to sprawl.

Then there is the demand side. I live in an older Toronto neighbourhood, where I can walk, cycle, or take transit to absolutely everything I need. Although I'm open to accepting the idea that there are those who desire the opposite, I think there are more people who want to live this way than current building patterns suggest. Over the past several decades zoning rules have prevented the sort of density that results in walkable neighbourhoods, not to mention the sort of diversity of use that can produce something worth walking to around the corner. Taking a look at 905-area developments suggests that nothing much has changed.

Replacing these sorts of rules and putting in place measures that can help encourage density and diversity are a good start. Serious reform of property taxes that align them with the expense of delivering services across sprawling areas -- instead of what we have now, which is the exact opposite -- is also necessary.

Of course there is another way to rein in sprawl. Just wait for the prices of fuel and energy to go up. But that would be a rather painful way to do it.

For further reading, I'd suggest James Bow, who is part way through a multi-post series on this subject. Part 1 and Part 2 are online.


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