“Places To Grow” in Ontario
In the Friday edition of the local paper, there were no less than five articles over six pages that dealt with the issue of growth in the Georgian Triangle region. “Land Review Sparks Heated Exchange” which discussed Collingwood council’s current review of industrial and commercial lands. There was “Councilors Not Keen on County Growth Strategy” about local councilors reactions to a presentation discussing Simcoe County’s Growth plan. Next up was “More Consideration Over Olde Towne Concerns” in which the article discussed public opposition at a meeting regarding a proposal to build a three storey, 36 unit rental building in Collingwood’s downtown. Stayner and Wasaga Beach residents made their views known to the school board regarding the need for secondary schools in an article entitled, “Board Meets With Community in Stayner” and finally, “Short Term Rental Issues Still A Concern for Residents” about a proposed set of by-laws in the Town of Blue Mountains designed to end short term rentals in residentially zoned properties.
There is no question that issues surrounding growth are on the top of everyone’s mind; not just in the Georgian Triangle but in the world over. Words like smart growth, intensification, sprawl and green space have become firmly established within our daily vocabulary. Some of us just notice the effects such as increased traffic or new stores and homes being built while others spend a considerable amount of time considering or working on the issue.
On Friday, I attended a conference put on by the Georgian Triangle Development Institute entitled Accommodating Growth; A Call for Consensus. Now that’s a tall order “ finding consensus” on the myriad of issues involved in accommodating growth! Essentially, the conference topics were built around the provincial Places To Grow initiative which is a major undertaking and rethink of the way our province will grow in the years to come.
After more than five years in the making, Ontario passed the Places To Grow Act in 2005 and with it, I would say they have raised the bar on planning for the future. The first specific growth plan was released in 2006 and focuses on the Greater Golden Horseshoe area which encompasses Simcoe County. The GGH is home to almost a quarter of Canada’s entire population and it is projected that an additional 3.7 million more people will live in the area by 2031. We cannot accommodate that type of growth in the same sprawling fashion of the past without resultant disaster and so, the plan was developed. The over-arching intent of the plan is to improve quality of life and contribute to prosperity and diversity while protecting out environment. The plan contains four major sections: where and how we will grow, infrastructure to support growth, protecting what is valuable and implementation. It considers where new development must be concentrated, revitalization of downtowns, identification of employment lands, transportation and connectivity, creation of more complete communities and curbing sprawl.
Currently, the regions (in our case Simcoe County), have been charged with developing new official plans that incorporate the new Act and then, individual municipalities must bring their own Official Plans into conformity by the summer of 2009. We can expect to see specific growth targets, delineated areas for development, new tools to promote intensification and stronger means with which to protect farmlands and green spaces. In a nutshell, the idea is that the new plans will make it hard to develop in an unsustainable way but make it easy to develop in a smart way. It will be a huge shift in planning policy directions and I for one, can hardly wait to see it happen.