Places to Grow - 10 years later

September 28, 2015

I was interviewed last week for a documentary on the 10th anniversary of provincial Places to Grow legislation.

Many communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe had been expressing their aspiration to grow in a more compact and sustainable way but it wasn’t until Places to Grow and the Growth Strategy came into effect they were given the planning tools to begin to push back against urban sprawl.

In Guelph, the legislation served to help shift the debate from a pointless and polarizing no-growth/pro-growth battle to one that engaged the community in a conversation about how we wanted to grow. A no-growth stand only served the interests of the status quo – more sprawl.

Places to Grow has also served as a platform for innovation – an opportunity to align economic development strategies with urban growth plans, an opportunity to redevelop brownfield sites to revitalize downtown and an opportunity strengthen the financial sustainability of municipal governments by increasing the value of already serviced lands over more greenfields.  Some communities took the opportunity to make investments in transit and cycling infrastructure. Guelph took the opportunity to grow district energy to begin the transition to more efficient and low-carbon heating of homes and buildings.

Places to Grow was, and remains, an opportunity. You have to embrace those opportunities to reap the benefits for your community.

That doesn’t mean there still aren’t ongoing issues to be resolved in the quest to protect farmland and natural areas while building healthy urban environments. For those cities embracing the opportunities, I expect we will see parts of our communities become much more vibrant and liveable, with robust assessment bases to support local services, while other areas will become increasingly marginalized and a drain on public coffers.

Yet, the policies that inform urban planning are not static for long. They evolve to meet community and social needs. So I suspect more opportunities are on the way.