“Sprawl begets sprawl,” director of engagement and digital strategy, Megan Hunter from Friends of the Greenbelt said when questioned about the immediate concerns of transit, housing, and community within the Greater Toronto Area.
Urban sprawl is a concern that has persisted in Toronto and its surrounding areas for generations, and the need for sustainable transit planning is imperative. Luckily, the province is taking charge through a careful assessment of four land protection plans including the the Niagara Escarpment Plan (1985), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2001), the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) to develop a better planning strategy for transit and community planning.
In December 2015, the government report entitled Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2015-2041 was released. The report was led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie, and it has popularly been dubbed the Crombie Report since then. This 171-page document has 87 recommendations on how to protect important lands and plan future communities, while considering important factors such as transit and housing. The report predicts the population across the GHTA will increase from nine million residents to 13.5 million by 2041. In order to create more high-density and transit savvy communities, planning strategies must be implemented to ensure sustainable building practices.
The Friends of a Greenbelt is a non-profit foundation that has been advocating on behalf of the Greenbelt since its inception in 2005. “The report achieves the vision for growth planning,” Hunter said. “It preserves ecological areas and prime farmlands and it doesn’t entertain dividing parcels of land or making the Greenbelt smaller.”
The report targets specific objectives to help implement better transit strategies including intensification and density building, developing infrastructure near transit corridors, and abolishing leap-frog developments.
The Crombie Report focused heavily on the importance of intensification and density targets in the GHTA. Currently, the minimum requirement for developers is to meet a 40 per cent intensification target when building. This indicates that 40 per cent of building in a specific municipality must have mixed-use development (that focuses on building upwards) to help create high-density communities. Five out of 15 municipalities on the outliers of the region under the Greenbelt do not currently follow the trend, including the Kawartha Lakes, Simcoe, Wellington, Brant, and Holimand counties.
The report emphasizes that 60 per cent intensification would be more effective for sustainable transit planning. It also advocates to use incentives to ensure municipalities follow the minimum requirements. “Intensification targets aren’t being met yet. These communities have been allowed to do that when they don’t need to do that,” Hunter said.
In addition to intensification targets, the report also touches upon density requirements. As of 2006, according to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the municipality must ensure developers build for 50 people and jobs per hectare. Currently, eight regions do not comply with these standards. Despite this, the Crombie Report suggests raising the density requirement to 60 people and jobs per hectare. Interestingly, Toronto exceeds the standard and meets 100 per cent intensification and density targets.
The same standards can be applied to transit. Research from the Crombie report indicate that running a bus needs about 50 people and jobs per hectare to avoid putting strenuous financial strain on each municipality.
“Density looks different for different types of communities. Planning can create a local character that matches commercial and residential needs,” Hunter said.
Building around transit corridors and focusing on density and intensification targets also avoids “leap-frog development”. This type of building causes housing projects to pop up along the Greenbelt boundaries that leave residents isolated, without any alternatives to transportation. It furthers sprawl and draws away from sustainable development practices.
By implementing mixed-use neighbourhoods, building high-density and well planned communities, and building near transit corridors, the Greenbelt can continue to exist and transit can become the primary mode of transportation in the GHTA.
“The whole idea with the big house with three cars has a lot of repercussions that weren’t considered,” Hunter said. “It isn’t good for health, you don’t have a cultural, vital community and there is a lack of transit. People are starting to see that.”