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2005 05 01
Decentral Planning
imageJohn Lorinc has a provocative article in the May 2005 Toronto Life, in which he raises some important questions about what the provincial government's proposed "Places to Grow" legislation might mean for Toronto. A quote from the article: "The new rules... allow cabinet to trump local councils, including Toronto's, on fine-grain planning decisions—from waste management to community design.

"Leaner Pastures" (pp. 37-42) traces the recent history of provincial efforts to work on urban sprawl in Toronto, then compares this approach to the way that Vancouver's Greater Vancouver Regional District operates. (The comparison is somewhat misguided—anyone who has lived in Vancouver will tell you that the region's transit system and sprawl-control measures are nowhere near as good as the author suggests.)

The key question for those interested in community planning comes near the end, when he asks whether the province should have the power to ram though development that local communities aren't interested in seeing—one of the key measures of the proposed legislation gives the government power of veto over community development plans. Though the measure makes sense in that it could, properly wielded, compel municipalities to think greener, Lorinc seems to think the reverse is more likely. He leaves off by looking ahead to possible provincial interference in Toronto's official plan, characterized here as a progressive strategy "designed to promote mid-rise development on suburban avenues, protect neighbourhoods and reduce car use in favour of transit."

The broad question the article asks is what role the province should have in regional development. Lorinc writes in favour of local control, but it's hard not to agree with the assumption this legislation represents: that, left unchecked, suburban municipalities don't develop intelligently. I tend to agree with Lorinc, though, even if I don't share some of his specific concerns. Perhaps I've read too much Orwell and Philip K. Dick, but the farther out of local communities' hands planning goes, the more I start envisioning a future in which some provincial variant of the Comintern can decide that a few more raised expressways are just what Toronto needs to solve its many urban ills (with new signage allocations for our existing albatross: "The Gardiner Expressway and Homeless Shelter"). More seriously, I wonder if province-directed regional plans will discourage innovation at the local level, and what will happen if the legislation passes and a less environmentally conscious government than Dalton McGuinty's wins an election and takes up these new powers.
[email this story] Posted by Jeremy Keehn, The Walrus Magazine on 05/01 at 03:47 PM

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