Sunday, February 06, 2005

Greenbelt in Toronto?

The McGuinty government in Ontario is pushing one of the most ambitious "smart growth" initiatives ever seen in North America. The Standing Committee on General Government held several public meetings this past week to get public comment on the Greenbelt Act of 2004.

The act would add 1 million acres of protected land to the Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario surrounding Toronto, limiting suburban sprawl and protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine--an important groundwater recharge area stretching north of the Greater Toronto Area.

If the act is passed, over 1.8 million acres around Toronto will be protected from future urbanization.

The main opposition groups tend to be farmers who argue that the boundaries for protection often divide farms and restrict landowners' ability to sell their land for development.

Many environmental groups have supported the McGuinty plan, but not without reservations. One of the largest coalitions--Ontario Greenbelt Alliance--includes local environmental and conservation groups and larger advocacy organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

They are arguing that the amount of protected acreage needs to be increase and fear that the act could allow large infrastructure projects--like roads--to be built within the supposed areas of protection.

Furthermore, groups like the Ontario Nature Federation, believe that the plan has too many loopholes thus allowing land to be exempted from protection. There is also an exemption for mining activities in protected land, which frightens some environmentalists.

Given the fact that McGuinty's Liberal Party has a healthy majority in Ontario's Legislative Assembly it is likely that the Greenbelt measure will be passed in spite of criticism from both the Tories and the New Democrats.

Regardless, the issue of sprawl in Ontario is a serious public policy subject on many levels. A recent Statistics Canada report identified the region's urban growth as contributing to the exponential decline of farmland; while the Ontario College of Family Physicians has just published a report indicating that sprawl in Ontario can negatively affect public health.

Below is a map from the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance that shows their recommendation for expanding the protected areas proposed by the Greenbelt Act. You may click on the picture to get to a larger version (registration with flikr may be required).

Greenbelt Plan

(Linked with Outside the Beltway)