On January 16, 2006 the Provincial government released its policies to manage population and employment growth for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Growth Plan policies are a response to the negative effectives of urban sprawl which include the loss of prime agricultural and environmentally significant lands, inefficient public infrastructure and the ‘inconvenient truth’ of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

One of the key policies of the Growth Plan is that by the year 2015, 40% of all the population growth and employment must occur within the existing built-up areas, and the remaining 60% of growth may occur on vacant land (excluding significant natural areas) at a rate of 50 people and jobs per hectare (1 hectare ~ 2.5 acres).

According to population projections in the Provincial document ‘Places to Grow’, York Region is estimated to have 1.3 million people by the year 2021 compared to 730,000 people in 2001 (20 year projection). This represents a growth rate of about 28,000 people per year. Based on provincial policy of 50 people and jobs per hectare an additional 118 square kilometers of vacant land will be developed by 2021, which is greater in size than Richmond Hill with an approximate area of 100 square kilometers. Assuming the same population rate of growth continues to 2031 another 57 square kilometers of vacant land will be developed.

The question that arises: Is 50 residents and jobs per hectare sustainable? According to the Urban Development Association, Mississauga will achieve a density of 46.7 residents and jobs per hectare when fully built out, which is close to the provincial objective. Yet Mississauga is considered to be a ‘sprawl’ community. The City of Toronto has a density of 66 per hectare and more recent developments such as the community of Cornell in the Town of Markham has a density of 82 per hectare at maturity.

Given that the province desires to support the development of more compact, energy efficient, vibrant, transit supportive communities, the minimum density of 50 people and jobs per hectare may not be enough to achieve those goals, since municipal planners treat the minimum standards as maximums.

Cornell illustrates a different approach to land-efficient planning. Cornell exceeds the provincial density with 82 people and jobs per hectare, it is a mixed community integrating residential, and employment lands, open spaces, infrastructure and transit services. The development is a model of efficient land use that is self sustaining by providing residents the opportunity to live, work and play within the community.

The looming crisis with increasing energy prices, traffic grid lock, pollution, rising infrastructure costs and global warming should be key factors in designing and planning our communities. The decisions made today will determine whether future generations can sustain the quality of life we now enjoy. If you have questions or comments, please call me at 905-771-2517 or email vspatafora@richmondhill.ca.