Yesterday afternoon the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) unveiled its latest report, entitled “Strategic Regional Research: A Region in Transition.” The report comes as a result of Strategic Regional Research’s (SRR) belief that governments in the Greater Toronto Region are planning to follow an old industrial model that cannot respond to the ever-changing needs of developers, employers or employees.
The report says that the key to solving the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) transportations problems is a comprehensive planning vision that links transportation and employment. It found that the GTA’s serious levels of congestion can largely be explained by complex commuting patterns.
As of the release of this report more than 500, 000 jobs in the GTA are located in isolated offices parks beyond the Region’s transit networks. Many of these office parks are built on former industrial sites, set aside in the post war era, that were never designed to accommodate such a large workforce. As these clusters continue to thrive and their workforce expands, even greater stress is placed on already congested employment areas and the transportation areas the serve them.
Over the next 30 years, SSR believes the GTA can create another 500, 000 jobs, many of which will be housed in buildings that have not yet been built. The quality of life for those workers will be dramatically impacted by where those buildings are built and the transportation and infrastructure policies implemented today. If the GTA continues to see jobs concentrated in locations that do not have adequate transit service these areas could become less attractive to potential investment and employment opportunity.
The report recommends bringing together planning, economic development and infrastructure investment. SSR asserts that this is critical to preserving the competitiveness of the GTA and quality of life for commuters. It details potential policy solutions and describes what can occur to avoid making the mistakes of the past.
Three critical issues:
•Provincial policy promotes a comprehensive vision for intensification and connectivity; however, there currently exists a disconnect between regional and municipal policies affecting the location of distribution of employment.
•SSR believes that approximately 100 million square feet of office space, accounting for approximately 500, 000 jobs, is not connected to the GTA’s network of high order transit. There is currently no planning to address this issue.
•The next 30 years will see the creation of 500, 000 new jobs. There is currently a lack of coherent strategy for where the 100 million square feet of office space needed to house the jobs will be located.
“At present, there are two starkly different choices for the region’s workforce with dramatically different expectations for the quality of working life,” says Iain Dobson, a founding partner of Real Estate Search Corporation (RESC) and one of the report’s authors. “One is for jobs located in mixed use, pedestrian friendly, well connected areas like downtown Toronto and in locations adjacent to the subway; the other is for jobs located in isolated, low amenity office clusters beyond the reach of higher order public transit. Ways must be found to bring the positive attributes of both areas to the other.”
Dobson makes it clear: governments, developers and the private sector must work together to build transit and develop the economy in GTA. Further, this must be done in a non-partisan and non-bordered manner. Glenn Miller, a vice president with the CUI and co-author of the SSR report, makes the point that years ago Swiss politicians on the left and the right concluded that the environment was too important an issue to be divided among partisan lines. He believes transit and employment fall into the same category. All it would take is for local councils and governments of all levels to put aside their differences.
But do they have the political will to do so?
Only time will tell.