Burkhard's Blog: Population forecasts cause havoc with growth planning

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Land-use policies and growth forecasts are subjects that often lead to yawning, bewilderment and deep sleep. But they’re also central to determining the future of our neighbourhoods, our towns and cities, and our rural areas.  It’s a bit like going to the dentist.  You may not like it but have to do it.

More than 15% of Canada’s population lives in the Greater Toronto Area, and the region will only continue to grow. The Province’s Growth Plan and the Greenbelt are our best opportunity to shape this growth in a sustainable way, with walkable communities that have vibrant main streets, higher-order transit, and food grown close to home.

But how do we get there? A critical component of planning is trying to predict the future: how many people are coming to the region, where they will live and work, and what type of housing they will need.  If the numbers are wrong, or if any of the predictions don’t fall into place, even the best laid plans won’t work.

Ontario’s planning regime has fallen victim to poor methods, questionable numbers and faulty predictions. Indeed, a recent report by former Director of Community Planning for the Region of Waterloo Kevin Eby paints a picture of unmet forecasts and excessive urban sprawl.

Eby found that many municipalities use out-dated forecasting methods, almost 20 years old, that aren’t up to the job.  The existing prediction methodology looks back at what was done before and then projects exactly the same into the future.  But this makes no sense given how much GTA growth patterns have changed in the last 20 years.  Why would city planners still use tools from an era before smartphones?

We need a new, standardized approach to break the pattern.

But it gets worse - just like the dentist telling you a simple toothache means a root canal.  The report found that population projections vary significantly among different government agencies.  One forecast has Toronto’s population growing by 1,038,000 by 2041, while the other predicts only 695,000.  An almost 50% difference!  For Durham region the numbers show a 45% difference in projections, in Niagara 58% and in Waterloo Region 53%. New figures will come out as part of the 2016 Census data and urban boundary expansion should be frozen until that time. After all, the Census is our best data set and should be the basis for any forecast. 

The Province is undertaking a massive review of its growth and land-use plans.  Former Toronto Mayor David Crombie led an expert panel that recommended many well-received changes to improve the Growth Plan and grow the Greenbelt. The Province seems game to make those changes, but without a standardized approach to forecasting, the vision won’t become reality. Eby’s recommendations could make the difference between a smart, sustainable GTA or the cost and congestion of continued sprawl.  Let’s make the right choice.

 

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BURKHARD MAUSBERG
      -- CEO

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