The provincial plan review is an opportunity to bring climate change into planning the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area.
The Greenbelt provides $2.6 billion in ecological goods and services while its forest, soils and wetlands offset the emissions of 33 million cars. But the flip side of urban growth within the Greenbelt is that cities are responsible for the majority of our climate change emissions.
It is clear that smarter city planning can play a pivotal role in addressing climate change. This year, two provincial land use policies, the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan are being reviewed by the province, providing us with an opportunity to improve the health and resilience of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area. The Growth Plan, a provincial land use plan, focuses 40 per cent of future growth within our existing urban footprint while the Greenbelt protects our natural areas and agricultural land, lands which absorb carbon and reduce climate change impacts.
Buildings and transportation are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and these two sectors are directly related to the decisions made in urban planning. Building smarter and getting cars off the roads are two important parts of any climate change strategy.
Research has shown that the quantity of roads per capita declines as urban density increases. Studies throughout the world also indicate that in many cities people are increasingly leaving the car behind and opting to walk, cycle or take transit. The decrease in the number of drivers and growth of transit use has significant implications for urban planning. We can positively influence this trend by increasing urban density around our existing transit (mobility) hubs where people have access to regional transit, local transit, cycling infrastructure and sidewalks. Integrating density and transit will also reduce air pollution and get more of us walking and cycling which is better for our health.
Many municipalities are already planning more resilient communities by enhancing their natural heritage systems, changing and adapting building standards, adopting energy plans and implementing low impact development standards such as disconnecting downspouts and using permeable pavement. Despite all the benefits of planning more resilient communities there still seems to be a reluctance to increase urban densities in many of southern Ontario’s urban growth centres. This needs to change.
Planning for compact communities requires that appropriate infrastructure is in place to support growth (water, sewers, roads) but higher densities also support desirable amenities like transit, safe cycling routes, neighbourhood grocery stores and restaurants. Strengthening the Greenbelt and the Growth plan by requiring municipalities to zone for minimum densities (conditional zoning) along existing subway lines and mobility hubs (combined train and bus stations with cycling infrastructure) will help clarify suitable locations for higher densities. By building up along our transit lines we reduce sprawl, our reliance on the car and create healthier climate friendly walkable communities.
In our report, From Dumb Growth to Smart Growth we made seven recommendations to strengthen the Greenbelt and the Growth Plan. Many of these recommendations will help us reduce emissions and create the kind of cities many of us want to live in. If you support healthy resilient cities, take action now at choosesmartgrowth.ca.