A bold vi­sion for the Golden Horse­shoe

Growth Plan leads to shift in how On­tario de­vel­ops


It’s been a decade since the On­tario gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced its Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horse­shoe (GGH). It’s a frame­work and vi­sion for the fu­ture of a re­gion that cov­ers al­most 32,000 square kilo­me­tres and in­cludes large cities, rapidly grow­ing sub­ur­ban mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, mid-sized cen­tres, small towns, vil­lages and ru­ral ar­eas.

Ten years on, the Growth Plan has largely been a success story, hav­ing spurred the cre­ation of com­plete com­mu­ni­ties across the GGH that of­fer a mul­ti­tude of op­tions for liv­ing, work­ing, shop­ping and play­ing in vi­brant ur­ban cen­tres.

The be­lief is that these com­mu­ni­ties can pro­vide a greater choice of hous­ing to meet the needs of peo­ple at all stages of life, while aim­ing to re­duce grid­lock by im­prov­ing ac­cess to a greater range of trans­porta­tion choices.

The Growth Plan has led to a shift in the way On­tario’s cities are be­ing built. A greater pro­por­tion of new res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment is now be­ing con­cen­trated in ex­ist­ing ur­ban ar­eas, an ap­proach known as in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion.

This type of growth en­cour­ages the de­vel­op­ment of den­sity in des­ig­nated growth ar­eas, build­ing up, not out, re­sult­ing in mixed-use projects that com­bine hous­ing, re­tail and com­mer­cial uses. These com­plete com­mu­ni­ties of­fer home-seek­ers a va­ri­ety of hous­ing types to choose from, from high­rise and mid-rise con­dos to town­homes and more tra­di­tional de­tached and semi-de­tached houses.

And much of this denser de­vel­op­ment is oc­cur­ring in ar­eas that are served by tran­sit and cycling in­fra­struc­ture, help­ing to ease con­ges­tion and mit­i­gate green­house gas emis­sions (Markham and Vaughan are two ex­am­ples of tran­sit-ori­ented growth ar­eas in the GGH that are well aligned with the province’s Growth Plan goals).

“There’s huge de­mand from the pub­lic to be lo­cated in truly liv­able com­mu­ni­ties,” says Franz Hart­mann, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Toronto En­vi­ron­men­tal Al­liance.

“They want to be close to the places they can shop and hang out with­out need­ing to drive.”

This cre­ates a benev­o­lent cir­cle: more peo­ple mov­ing to these com­mu­ni­ties means a crit­i­cal pop­u­la­tion mass is es­tab­lished that can sup­port a broader range of shops and ser­vices, along­side other es­sen­tial neigh­bour­hood ameni­ties like com­mu­nity cen­tres, parks and pub­lic art.

“The Green­belt is not just a plan­ning tool . . . It’s also an eco­nomic pow­er­house that al­lows us to eat well and live well.” BURKHARD MAUSBERG FRIENDS OF THE GREEN­BELT FOUN­DA­TION CEO

All of it makes neigh­bour­hoods eco­nom­i­cally vi­able and sus­tain­able for the long-term. And the more com­pact they are, the more ef­fi­cient these ar­eas are for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to ser­vice.

“Build­ing in­fra­struc­ture for com­plete com­mu­ni­ties is a lot less ex­pen­sive than build­ing in­fra­struc­ture for sprawl,” Hart­mann says.

Burkhard Mausberg, Friends of the Green­belt Foun­da­tion CEO, agrees. “The Growth Plan is en­sur­ing we grow smarter and stop paving over farm­land, de­stroy­ing wet­lands, and cut­ting down trees to build ever-sprawl­ing car-de­pen­dent neigh­bour­hoods,” says Mausberg, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion was cre­ated to pro­tect the Green­belt, and com­ple­ment the province’s smart growth pol­icy.

Rep­re­sent­ing a to­tal area of nearly two mil­lion acres, the Green­belt is among the largest and best pro­tected of its kind in the world.

“The goal was to pro­tect pre­cious coun­try­side and wilder­ness from un­nec­es­sary de­vel­op­ment,” Hart­mann says.

“And it’s suc­ceeded — it’s stopped bad ur­ban sprawl from en­croach­ing on valu­able lands.”

The Green­belt en­joys strong pub­lic back­ing. A re­cent sur­vey re­leased by Friends of the Green­belt Foun­da­tion found 90 per cent of On­tario res­i­dents view the Green­belt as one of the most im­por­tant con­trib­u­tors to this province’s fu­ture, a sen­ti­ment that’s no doubt been shaped by the cor­re­spond­ing con­sumer shift in re­cent years.

“There’s wonderful sup­port for lo­cal food, and for the farmers who grow that food, many of whom live and farm on the Green­belt,” Hart­mann says.

In­deed, the Green­belt grows 55 per cent of On­tario’s fruit and 13 per cent of its veg­eta­bles, ac­cord­ing to Friends of the Green­belt.

All told, the re­gional agri­cul­tural sys­tem gen­er­ates $9 bil­lion in land­based ac­tiv­ity each year, more than oil and gas ex­trac­tion, min­eral ex­trac­tion, forestry and fish­eries com­bined, notes Mausberg.

It also pro­vides 160,000 jobs via the 856,000 acres of farm­land and 5,500 farms con­tained in the Green­belt, with agri­cul­ture far and away the most sig­nif­i­cant use of the lands.

“The Green­belt is not just a plan­ning tool,” Mausberg says.

“It’s also an eco­nomic pow­er­house that al­lows us to eat well and live well.”

The Green­belt is a key com­ple­ment to the province’s smart growth vi­sion, but it faces threats as it en­ters its sec­ond decade of ex­is­tence. None greater than the push to have some of its lands re­leased for new green­field de­vel­op­ment (that is, de­vel­op­ment where none has been be­fore). Mausberg says there are cur­rently more than 600 such re­quests to­talling thou­sands of acres.

What could that look like? New high­ways, pipelines, hy­dro cor­ri­dors and sprawl­ing, car-de­pen­dent sub­di­vi­sions, ac­cord­ing to re­search by the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion, that could frag­ment nat­u­ral and agricul- tu­ral sys­tems and en­able leapfrog de­vel­op­ment out­side the Green­belt’s bor­ders — the type of sprawl these plans were specif­i­cally in­tended to pre­vent.

Mess­ing with the Green­belt would be a mis­take, Mausberg says, break­ing up valu­able agri­cul­tural lands and threat­en­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the lo­cal sup­port sys­tems that ser­vice farmers, vet­eri­nar­i­ans, equip­ment re­pair shops, seed sup­pli­ers and grain deal­ers.

“The sur­round­ing in­fra­struc­ture needed to do suc­cess­ful farm­ing will dis­ap­pear if the land is frag­mented,” Mausberg says.

Keith Cur­rie, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, agrees.

“You have to pro­tect the en­tire sys­tem,” he says, not­ing that farm­land is al­ready un­der enough pres­sure from devel­op­ers who’ve leapfrogge­d the Green­belt and are snap­ping up sites on the other side to de­velop into grandiose es­tates. That’s the case where he lives in Colling­wood.

“They’re buy­ing land to put up 8,000 square-foot-homes, and they don’t want any­body around them,” Cur­rie laments. “That’s def­i­nitely not right for growth.”


The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horse­shoe has en­cour­aged in­ten­si­fy­ing de­vel­op­ment of des­ig­nated growth ar­eas.

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