Growth Plan: You're So Bad

January 3, 2017

The province is reviewing the Growth Plan for our region – the Greater Golden Horseshoe. This planned 10-year review is triggering a round of opposition that is ironically reminiscent of the debate that led to the Growth Plan in the first place.

I was recently mystified by a comment suggesting the Growth Plan was making local governments greedy.  The writer believed they were making too much money from approving condos. Condos are common in compact urban centres.  And a compact urban form is less costly for local governments to provide municipal services. Lower cost means less tax burden for residents and businesses. But money-makers for local government?  No.

The Growth Plan is being blamed for several complex urban issues. Congestion and housing affordability often take top billing.

Congestion

However, increased urban densities make walking, cycling and transit more attractive – especially if you invest in making them safer and more convenient.  Spread people out and more of them will be in cars, more often.

Housing affordability

And while housing affordability is a serious issue, building car-dependent, low-density housing on farmland is not the solution. Almost 90 percent of housing price increases in the Toronto market since 1999 have been caused by four factors: low borrowing rates, higher incomes, higher percentage of income being used to pay for mortgages and parents helping their children purchase their first homes (see Don’t Blame the Greenbelt for Housing Prices).

Have an informed conversation

My community was embroiled in a deeply-polarized debate about growth when the Growth Plan was initially being conceived.  You were either for it or against it. There was no middle ground.

The thing was, we were growing.  We lived – and still do –  in one of the fastest growing regions in North America.  And that spells one thing for all our communities – change.

The real tragedy is when a community gets stuck.  In this instance, we weren’t talking about how we wanted to grow as a community.  This meant we were left with the status quo.  Spoiler alert – the status quo also means change.

So, we embarked on an ambitious conversation as a community.   It was not a planning exercise but rather a conversation about what was important to us.  And it led to a set of principles that guided growth planning for many years.

To have this conversation we had to believe two things: there can be more than one future and that as a community we can evaluate those futures and choose one over another.  We had the conversation well before all the new technologies to engage people were available.  Perhaps that was part of its success.  Maybe face-to-face interactions build stronger community relationships and accountability than Twitter.  Heresy, I know.

Postscript

I met a young woman for a coffee before finishing this post.  She wanted to talk to me about community building.  When I mentioned the opposition to the Growth Plan, she reminded me how limited the debate has once again become.  She spoke passionately about opening it up to conversations about happiness, well being and what really matters to people.  Hope for the future!