By Elizabeth Nicoll
Urban sprawl. These two little words have caused quite the heated discussion recently amongst many Haligonians, resulting in a sweeping debate on the future of HRM. As development moves further and further away from downtown, it becomes more expensive for municipalities to function. Increased costs for municipalities never end favourably for the taxpayer. With HRM’s Regional Plan five year review now underway, it can be instructive to look at the urban growth strategies in other municipalities.
The city of Toronto, as well as Ontario as a whole, has taken considerable action towards urban growth planning. Through various Acts, Ontario has identified and designated ‘growth plan areas’, and the development of strategic growth plans for specific communities. These growth plans include decisions on how the land would be developed, how resources are to be managed and where public dollars are invested. This has mainly been a provincial initiative, but there was significant cooperation with the various affected municipalities. To go along with this, the province also has set out the rules for land use planning in Ontario and clearly designates what role each level of government takes. Southern Ontario has also developed a greenbelt to constrict growth. On the municipal level, Toronto has implemented policies which the city is obligated to follow in regard to various areas of planning, such as the usage of green space and land use designations.
Another big city which has been actively dealing with urban ‘growth’ is Vancouver. Vancouver implemented a Regional Growth Strategy in 2011, through ‘Metro Vancouver’, a political and corporate entity which operates under provincial legislation. The Local Government Act establishes the authority for the growth strategy, which provides land use framework for planning related to utilities, transportation and housing. Similar to Ontario, Vancouver’s growth strategy clearly indicates which level of government will help with each aspect of the strategy – for example, federal is responsible to provide funding for airports and ports, and the province aids in transportation planning, education and health facilities.The Stantec report, written by Stantec Consulting, has spearheaded the discussion on urban ‘growth’ in Halifax. The report estimates the total amount of money which HRM could save by centralizing growth is staggering - $670 million over the next twenty years, if 25% of new housing begins in the Regional Centre.The main argument against urban growth planning is that if we constrict growth to a certain area, people will choose to live outside of that area but continue to work in the downtown core. This is undesirable since people will choose to live where property taxes are lower and yet still benefit from services inside the core. It is important that people have a choice to live where they like, but the savings to be realized by focusing our growth on the urban core are too great to ignore, and strategies must be found to address the issues related to growth outside of the urban core, such as an increase in transportation infrastructure, and how these are funded.
The Regional Plan was implemented in 2007, and this five year review is crucial. There has been great progress but evidently much more needs to be done. The Vancouver and Toronto cases show that in order for the Plan to be successful, it will require strong communication and partnerships between many different areas of government and corporations. It is important to note that clear guidelines have been created for land use, transportation, etc. as well as the collaborative governance system that is practiced in these cities. The Stantec report and the Regional Plan is a tremendous start to achieving this, and Halifax’s downtown core has seen many promising developments in the past few years. The future of HRM is exciting, and once we begin to realize the potential we have there will be no stopping us.
Read the full article here.