I was looking to find the source of a couple of Jennifer Keesmaat’s tweets on the Greenbelt:
I found this article: Has Toronto’s Greenbelt done more good than harm? Written by Tom Curtis who calls himself a “Toronto-based real-estate policy professional.”
In doing some investigation through LinkedIn and piecing parts of the article, I found that “Thomas Curtis”, was a Senior Policy Advisor with the Realty Management Branch at the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure until May of this year. Like me, he is unemployed so I am not going after him on that. Also his education and experience is London-based, so he referenced his experiences from there. Curtis touches on how the Greenbelt Act is currently under its 10 year review. So is Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, better known as Places to Grow. You cannot address one without the other. He failed to mention the precursor to this legislation, the Provincial Policy Statement, which was updated this past Spring. These are the critical flaws to Curtis’ article.
Flaws aside, he is highly critical of the Greenbelt Act.
Meanwhile, Greenbelt legislation has been introduced, premised on controlling the GTA’s urban growth boundaries. This, along with municipally-enforced density and height restrictions, heritage building protections and NIMBYism, impedes any effort to balance the supply of housing stock with demand. The result of this imbalance has been extreme and it is highly visible: hyper-development and Manhattanization of the downtown core, rapid gentrification of neighbourhoods, severe overcrowding of the transit system, and skyrocketing rents and property values.
There is a balancing act that must take place when any policy is developed. Development, transportation, community development and environmental issues are all taken into account. While the legislations, with the adherence of Toronto’s Official Plan to directs the city to build up instead of out, there are other factors that should be addressed.
In 2005, the Neptis Foundation wrote about the Greenbelt’s shortcomings in its report on the draft of the Greenbelt Plan. In it of note with respect to addressing urban sprawl, not much has changed. We are still speaking of such issues as traffic congestion, the environment and development pressures.
I have been critical in how we have developed our tower neighbourhoods. The housing market is skewed towards young single adults who are part of the creative class. Families who want to live downtown need to make rational economic choices and sacrifices. Condos are smaller in size. Newer developments either have limited or no parking spaces, so does one sacrifice closet size or having a vehicle at all. Even decisions about how many children to have come into play.
Second, gentrification may not be a bad thing at all. it is inevitable that neighbourhoods cannot stay intact without necessary change. But when it comes to social justice issues, therein lies the problem. New immigrants maybe attracted to the city, but can they afford living in these revitalized neighbourhoods. Black communities tend to remain stable and are pushed out of necessity. Do planners, urbanists, developers and policy makers have an understanding of cultural issues?
Third, overcrowding of the transit system has absolutely nothing to do with the Greenbelt plan and everything to do with the underinvestment into our transit infrastructure. The City and the region have simply not kept up.
While Curtis clearly doesn’t understand planning legislation, let alone theory, both the Greenbelt Act and Places to Grow need some growing up to do. I have proposed three areas that need to be reviewed in addition to planning legislation.
- Regionalization. I will continue to say this until I am blue in the face. in order to address planning, health, transportation and infrastructure issues, the Province must establish a regional governance structure for the Greater Toronto Area to tackle these issues. It is not solely a Toronto issue. Professionals and policy makers must come together as a starting point to discuss how to make this region resilient. Official establishment of a regional government should also be a discussion point. There are pros and cons to regional government, but it is worth raising if we are going to move forward as a region.
- Social Justice. Many in the Greater Toronto Area are very familiar with Hulchanski’s Three Cities with Toronto report. Policies like the Greenbelt Act and Places to Grow, ignore what happens when cities become more dense. As I mentioned earlier, we need a greater understanding of mobility patterns of new immigrants and specifically of Caribbean, African, and Latin American communities. Is there a difference in how different ethnicities live and why aren’t planners addressing these when developing newer or revitalizing communities? Are we measuring these relative to the intended goals of the Greenbelt Act?
- National attention to urban issues. In order for those two policies to work, there needs to be attention paid to cities, namely in the form of national housing and transportation policies. Housing affordability is a major factor in the decisions of home owners and condo dwellers. Part of the onus is on the homebuyer as mentioned, but something must give. Land use transportation connections are the premise behind Places to Grow, Greenbelt, PPS and Official Plans. Proper transportation infrastructure is sorely needed for this region. The federal government needs to play its part. Brent Toderian and RIchard Florida called for a department for cities at the federal level. The NDP released their Urban Agenda earlier this month calling for better governance, social and built infrastructure. Mind you, I believe it lacked teeth compared to what the Federal Liberals released in 2002.
Tom, I think you need to brush up on your planning and politics before criticizing legislation. Or is he just angry at his former employers?