Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ontario's Growth Management Challenge

The Provincial government of Ontario is currently considering dramatic growth management legislation. Entitled the Places to Grow Act, it would give the Provincial government the authority to oversee regional planning in the high-growth areas of Ontario--notably the "Golden Horseshoe" region that stretches around northern and western Lake Ontario.

Like the United States, Canada has a decentralized system of land use and transportation planning. Municipalities have quite a bit of autonomy to institute policies relating to these areas of metropolitan development.

With autonomy, however, comes a propensity for uncontrolled growth. Municipalities institute polices, approve residential and commercial developments, widen roads, and engage in other planning efforts that can have affects on neighboring cities and villages. The lack of coordination is a major contributor to sprawling-type of development.

Of course, effective regional planning, often requires competing municipalities that share a common future to give up a degree of autonomy--a prospect that is politically controversial.

Ontario's Places to Grow legislation will give the Provincial government a significant amount of power to enforce growth boundaries and demand municipalities develop in a way that comports to provincial interests.

One point of controversy is the Provincial desire to encourage high-density development rather than the low density sprawl that is indicative of the exurban fringe of Ontario's urban areas.

A move toward more high density development is certainly essential to control the environmental consequences of growth and to insure more metropolitan efficiency. However, many current municipalities are nervous as to how this might affect their current urban landscape.

For instance, according to the Barrie Advance, Provincial restrictions on growth could limit the amount of land available for new development. This may drive up the cost of land, pricing some out of the market.

The Globe and Mail reports that in Toronto, there is a fear that higher densities will disrupt the historical character of its neighborhoods, while further out on the exurban fringe, says that environmentalists want more restrictions on growth to sustain important Rouge River watershed. Similarly, farmers contend that the proposed law will do little to save greenspace in the province.

Ontario--like many other provinces and states in North America--is marked by numerous conflicting constituencies. How the province manages their disparate interests and whether it can be successful in mitigating urban sprawl should be closely watched for those people concerned with the issue.

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)