Corp Comm Connects


April 12, 2017
Andrew Cohrs

Doubt remains among experts as to whether the province has done sufficient monitoring and analysis to support proposed amendments to the Growth Plan, expected to be released this spring. While support for increasing intensification rates continues, the conversations revolve around where it should occur and how much should take place.

“The devil is in the details, and [the province] has ignored the details... An increase in density ‘just because’, without any background or analysis other than more density is better? When you say it that boldly, it sounds pretty silly, right? ” Malone Given Parsons principal Matthew Cory told NRU.

Released last week, the Malone Given Parsons report, Getting the Growth Plan Right, offers an analysis of the effect of proposed Growth Plan amendments in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. This includes mapping greenfield areas that have been built or planned, and demonstrating the potential effect of increasing density requirements on greenfield areas. Its conclusion suggests that the province has not collected sufficient data or modelled the impact of proposed changes.

Cory, who co-authored the report, said the purpose of the analysis is to get an accurate measure of how much land is available in order to ensure that the conversation around proposed amendments are evidence based.

“We said about 50 per cent of [greenfields] are built [or planned] and the reaction we got from [the province] was ‘No, only about 5 per cent are built’ and that’s what started a lot of [conversations] because the data  was so poor... You can just look through Google maps and see that is not the case.”

Cory said the province did not have sufficient data or mapping and relied primarily on the 2010 Pembina report, Driving Down Carbon, to justify increasing greenfield density and infill targets. He calls the report a playbook for the province’s proposed changes. However, he says the province has been unable to demonstrate the type and mix of built form the proposed changes would support.

“We support the Growth Plan, obviously. Its good planning to plan proper density around transit and its good planning to make the most effective and efficient use of servicing infrastructure. But it’s not good planning when you just make up numbers and you don’t understand what the outcomes will be and you’re just gambling on the future on the basis of that.”

Neptis executive director Marcy Burchfield agrees that the province has not collected adequate data to back up its proposed increases.

“It is shocking the lack of information that has gone into the review of the plan and the information that has been collected over the 10-year period that the plan has been implemented. It’s really not much... The province is lacking information and at the same time trying to change plans.”

However, Burchfield does say that increasing the intensification target is reasonable given the considerable investments being made in transit. But the amount the targets increase should be based on evidence.

Likewise, Ryerson City Building Institute executive director Cherise Burda, who co-authored the Pembina report, told NRU that while neither the province nor the municipalities have undertaken sufficient monitoring, there is plenty of evidence to support the creation of more compact communities. She says the focus on Growth Plan policy discussions needs to be shifted to prioritizing intensification within the built area and within existing greenfield communities.

“If you are able to increase the intensification then you are taking pressure off the greenfields. This whole debate about what the density number in the greenfield should be is actually a distraction when the focus really needs to be on that intensification... The evidence is on the ground, we are sprawling.”

Cory says despite the province’s efforts to intensify, proposed greenfield densities will result in the highest densities ending up on the fringes of greenfield areas.

“The fact that a lot of existing communities are already done at 50 [people and jobs per ha] or thereabouts, then the residual [land], in the approach [the province] is proposing, would have to make up the difference... The math just tells you, when you have all the land data and you run all the numbers, you have to be at 130 to 300 people and jobs per ha at the very furthest outer edges of the greenfield areas. Meaning you’re going to be putting the density in the wrong place,” he said.

But Burda and City Building Institute research manager Graham Haines disagree. Haines told NRU that to meet proposed greenfield targets, development occurring in greenfields needs to move away from the form that has typically been built there— sprawl—and intensify existing communities.

“One hundred per cent of what happens in the greenfield doesn’t need to be traditional greenfield growth. This is a 25-year plan and to hit 80 people [and jobs per ha] that might involve infill of greenfields we have already planned or already built. So to say over 25 years we are only going to build new greenfield communities and none of what we’ve planned or built over the last five years can ever get infilled is maybe a little bit facetious.”