Planning education reaches far beyond the classroom. As practicing planners, we need to make sure that residents, business leaders, and city councillors understand planning concepts such as the need for increased density in urban corridors, growth management strategies and travel demand management. In this post, I’m going to introduce some videos that introduce people to planning concepts and issues.

Planning Discipline

Our amazing Dalhousie School of Planning alumni, Byung-Jun Kang and Uytae Lee, produced this video in partnership with the Licensed Professional Planners Association of Nova Scotia. It gives beginners a brief glimpse into the field of planning, and might be useful for conversations and presentations to the general public. We also use it on our School of Planning website to help potential students understand what kinds of work they will do when they graduate from our programs.

Housing

My colleagues on the HOUWEL project at the University of Amsterdam produced these videos on housing choice among young adults as part of their five-year study of housing markets and welfare state transformations (2012-2017). There are three in the series, and they use simple animation to illustrate  declining ownership and limited wealth transfer trends among young adults. These would be useful in conversations about the need for different housing types, affordable housing options, or changing demographic trends in international cities–although they may be less useful for countries without a solid history of social welfare and public housing. These are great examples of research dissemination for those of us developing grant applications that incorporate knowledge transfer strategies.

 

For students interested in Indigenous housing or engagement issues, this CBC News video profiles Ryerson University planning professor Shelagh McCartney and her students, who travelled to Nibinamik, a First Nations community. Their goal was to help the residents envision new housing to replace the substandard units that were built after a fire destroyed the original log homes built by the founding members. The piece focuses on the lack of cultural sensitivity in designing homes that reflect the needs of the people, but I would argue that there is a lot to be discussed in terms of the type of consultation used during this project, the role of governments, and the lack of a planning framework in which to situate the project. As a journalistic piece, it definitely takes an editorial stance on this complex issue.

Environmental Planning

My friend Sarah Church, a Postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, recently produced a video on water quality featuring interviews with farmers, local residents, and water quality experts in Indiana. Common Ground, Common Water is great primer on why we need to protect drinking water and aquifers, and shows examples of rain gardens and bioswales for those who are new to this area. I’m teaching an introduction to planning this fall and might use this resource during the week on environmental planning. It’s another example of research dissemination for faculty members.

Urban Renewal

I love using Remember Africville (1991), a 35-minute National Film Board piece that documents the destruction of a historic African Canadian neighbourhood in Halifax in the early 1960s. Featuring gut-wrenching testimonies from Africville residents from the 1980s and TV interviews with contemporary planners and city mayors, the film portrays the systemic racism that contributed to residents having little say in the demolition of their homes, church, and community and their forced relocation to newly built public housing. This year I paired this bleak film with Mulgrave Park (1961), a 12-minute promotional film made by the NFB and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that demonstrates the hilarious optimism of the federal-provincial public housing projects that supposedly replaced Africville and other low-income neighbourhoods.

Social Planning

It’s often more difficult to find videos related to social planning or equity approaches to comprehensive planning. The One Baltimore approach is a unique example of applying an equity lens to the planning process. Incorporating resident ambassadors who worked to gather feedback within their own communities, a team lead for each city district, and consultation with 25 community groups, Baltimore’s Sustainability Plan revision process is a model for inclusion and addressing systemic inequities among African American communities. Interviews with the resident ambassadors are particularly inspiring. The video would be useful in a class on community engagement, or a theory class on participatory or collaborative planning processes.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Mobile Food Market video explains their pilot project to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved, low-income areas in the Halifax Regional District. I used it in a class on environmental justice, where we discussed the lack of shops and services in neighbourhoods with low-income or visible minority populations. Understanding that changing existing zoning can take a long time, mobile services like this present a quick, though temporary, fix.

There are a lot of great videos out there profiling interesting, challenging, and controversial projects, programs, and strategies. I’ve found that using these videos brings the issues to life and provokes strong feelings in the students–this term my students have channelled that energy into brief in-class written responses. These videos are useful in undergraduate teaching where students are still learning about planning practice and thinking about where they want to work in the future. But they’re also appropriate for members of the public (our friends, community and family members) for whom planning is a mystery!

 

Social justice issues have been headline news in the past year, from the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017 to the #MeToo movement, from Standing Rock to BC’s refusal to implement the Kinder Morgan pipeline. It’s a critical time for young people to learn about equity and justice issues, and what they mean for planners.

The 2018 Winter term marks the second time I’ve taught a Social Justice course at the Dalhousie School of Planning. The course is somewhat of a novelty at a school that largely focuses on urban design and technical skills such as GIS, which is probably one reason students seem to like it. For me, social planning is such a critical component of a planner’s work that I’m not sure how it can be absent from a planning education. This is undoubtedly due to my training at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, where social planning and environmental planning/ sustainability were the two foundational sub-disciplines.

Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice”, is one of the authors assigned in the course. Bullard was our keynote speaker at the Over the Line symposium last fall.

At Dalhousie, the social justice course overlaps with social planning on some aspects, and forges new ground in others. The course focuses on a particular issue each week:

  • Environmental justice
  • Sustainability
  • Ethnicity and immigration status
  • Gender
  • Community engagement
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Urban redevelopment
  • Equity plans

I was fortunate enough to work on the Over the Line symposium last fall with Ingrid Waldron, which helped raise the profile of social justice in the region. Through this I was able to get in touch with a number of people who agreed to be guest speakers in my course this term. They have really brought the issues to life for our students.

Kelly Poirier, Amber Walker and Leticia Smillie gave students an overview of the Mobile Food Market for residents of underserved communities. The project touches on issues of land use, difficulties in attracting major grocery stores to low-income communities, and historic discrimination in some areas (e.g. North Preston, East Preston). Walker, a planner at Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Smillie, a planner at the Halifax Regional Municipality, described how the project is being evaluated so that it can be expanded beyond its six pilot locations.

Rebecca Moore, a land defender from the Mi’kmaq community (Pictou Landing First Nation), told stories from the front lines: protesting the proposed Alton Gas project and a drilling project in Quebec that threatens water quality. She explained the legal context through which Indigenous people can protest projects that threaten human and wildlife habitats and the treaty rights we share under the 1762 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. She also described the role of the Mi’kmaq Nation in the formation of the United States: the Treaty of Watertown established an alliance between the US and the Mi’kmaq and St. John’s Nations, and was the first treaty signed in the US after independence was declared in 1776.

Roberto Montiel, who works on a Local Immigration Partnership at Halifax Regional Municipality, discussed how Indigenous peoples tellt he story of Canada’s past while immigrants play a key role in its future. He discussed the pilot Dialogue project that HRM launched last year. As a partnership between the Mi’kmaq Nation, HRM, and immigrant service providers in the region, immigrants who have been in Canada for less than six months attend an event hosted by the Mi’kmaq community to learn about the history of Canada. Montiel described the common ground between the attendees as natural, as many immigrants had come from countries that had been colonized or communities that had been oppressed. The event had interpreters, in this case speaking Arabic and French, the most commonly spoken languages in the group. One of our students, whose family immigrated from Syria, volunteered to be an interpreter herself, as she is fluent in English, French, and Arabic. Montiel is hoping the project can expand beyond the pilot stage in the future, and in the meantime is busy building partnerships between HRM and immigrant service providers as part of the Welcoming Cities initiative of the federal government.

This 1991 short film will be shown along with a very optimistic 1961 film depicting the new social housing community of Mulgrave Park.

This week I discussed equity issues related to gender, from the Time’s Up movement and the “unfounded rate” in Canadian cities to David Schwimmer’s sexual assault PSAs (upon student request we watched one of them in class…they are cringe-worthy). I discussed a few ways planners might engage LGBTQ communities. We discussed the work of Women Transforming Cities and will be using their guide to community engagement in next week’s class. I will use other resources too: we’ll be watching National Film Board film Remember Africville and a CMHC film on the construction of Mulgrave Park (1961) in our class on urban redevelopment. The two films tell opposite sides of the urban regeneration story, which are still entrenched in modern urban redevelopment projects.

The class always includes a 30-minute written response to our guest lecture and a discussion of the readings. The Masters students lead a discussion and write a 5-page summary of the readings and seminar. Students’ written responses have really improved even a month into the course, with strong thesis statements, clear structures and argumentation. Initially they were worried about the practice of weekly writing, so I think this has really removed the fear and allowed them to be more reflective than usual. They’re able to write in a more personal, narrative way than they often do for class assignments. They are preparing to choose topics for their final papers, due at the end of the term.

It’s been a real pleasure teaching a course that adds so much value to a planners’ education. I intend to keep the course small (fewer than 35 students) to enable deep discussion and reflection, which tends to disappear in the larger classes. Hopefully there will be a good mix of students in the years to come as well, as it’s open to all Dalhousie students in third year or higher. The interaction of students in economics, management, and planning this year has really contributed to the discussions.

It’s a bad week for chief planners. Following last Tuesday’s news that Halifax chief planner Bob Bjerke lost his job, Toronto’s chief planner announced yesterday that she’ll be stepping down. Jennifer Keesmaat has been chief planner and executive director of the city’s planning division since 2012 and will be vacating her position at the end of September.

In an interview with CBC, Keesmaat admitted that she always planned to review her career options after five years in the public service. Before working for the City in its highest-ranking planning job, she was a planning consultant. She is also very involved in the Canadian Institute of Planners, in recent years spearheading an effort to maintain the national organization rather than have just provincial/territorial licensing bodies. She is known for speaking her mind, even when that puts her at odds with Mayor John Tory. In particular, she championed a seven-stop LRT line to replace the aging Scarborough RT and advocated for the removal of the Gardiner East expressway. Many cite her as responsible for maintaining the agenda of sustainable planning in Toronto through the Ford and Tory regimes. Critics have said she’s too outspoken, too interested in stating her own opinion rather than giving more neutral advice, and takes to Twitter to engage in debates (we’ve seen a lot of this recently, but Keesmaat has been doing it since 2012).

Keesmaat certainly possesses many of the characteristics necessary for such a high-ranking position in Canada’s largest city: she’s media-savvy, determined, smart, engages the public in more transparent decision-making, and tackles issues that appeal to younger generations, such as sustainable transportation. She is the city’s first female chief planner and was just 42 years old when she got the job (it was a young administration–Mayor Rob Ford was only 43 at the time). Christopher Hume portrayed her as a novice in the Toronto Star, writing that she “quickly found out that the chief planner’s role is to advise not decide”, but I’d argue that she already knew exactly how planning worked at a municipality the day she was hired. The fact that she obtained the position of chief planner despite her inexperience as a civil servant, and kept it despite disagreements with those in power, demonstrates her political savviness. As we know from Halifax and Vancouver, it’s not unusual for chief planners to be ousted when their vision for the city conflicts with those of other powerful figures.

Many have expressed their support for Keesmaat should she run for public office, but she seems to excel at planning. Let’s hope she brings more of her expertise to Toronto’s critical infrastructure projects.

Public housing developments across Canada have been targeted for redevelopment for a complex set of reasons: designed in the 1950s and 1960s through federal-provincial urban renewal funding, their management has been a sore spot for the municipalities in which they are located. Many actually tore apart existing street networks and concentrated the poor in small areas, resulting in more isolated communities that were inward-looking. Most were designed without critical social infrastructure like community centres, schools, shops, and playgrounds so that young people had nothing to do. And most critically, most were sited in inner city neighbourhoods that, in the 1960s, were considered undesirable by the middle and upper class households that were fleeing the city for the suburbs.

Now of course, things have changed: most of these communities, like Regent Park in Toronto and Uniacke Square in Halifax, are in central neighbourhoods now considered to be highly desirable. Regent Park is in the middle of a twenty-year multimillion dollar redevelopment that, like many others of its kind, aims to replace only some of its public housing for very low income families. The main thrust of this type of redevelopment is better design (e.g. reinstalling the pre-existing street network, introducing mixed uses such as shops and services) fuelled by income mix: integrating market rate housing with some lower priced units.

A couple of months back, I introduced my readers to Mulgrave Park, a public housing community in Halifax which was the basis for my fourth year urban design studio this term. Beginning in September, students have been working with the Caring and Learning Centre and the Phoenix Youth Centre to redesign and reprogram some of the social and open spaces in the neighbourhood. I’d like to summarize the work they did as well as my own success in imparting some key policy and planning lessons.screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-12-47-pm

Students began individually, working on a historic analysis of the site, then proceeding to an individual design or programming element where they were encouraged to coordinate with each other towards a cohesive set of solutions. For the last four weeks of the term they put their ideas together into a comprehensive set of design/programming recommendations for the community. For their final presentation, they used posters to present their ideas to Crystal John from the Caring and Learning Centre and Maurice James from the Phoenix Youth Centre, and two of their staff members. They answered questions about feasibility, budget, and funding opportunities for their projects, which for the most part the clients really liked. The posters were also left in the Centre so that residents could see them and make comments on them with Post-it notes, with the intent to incorporate comments into their work. At the end of the term, the students submitted a final report to our clients which introduces the site characteristics, the rationale and criteria they used to develop their ideas, and a summary of all the concepts with maps and drawings.

One of the most interesting challenges the students had while working on this site was the way its original design, typical of urban renewal projects of the 1960s, eliminated interior streets so that the community ended up becoming quite insular. This, combined with the reputation of public housing residents among the rest of the city, has contributed to both social isolation from the city and a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other. Attempts to reduce this isolation can be detrimental to the community (as has happened in the redesign of many urban renewal projects including Regent Park in Toronto), however planners may feel about correcting the wrongs of the past. Another challenge was the physical characteristic of the site as having a steep slope, rendering much of its plentiful open space unusable. These two aspects in particular were constraints that impacted many of the students’ projects.

For the design elements, the students decided to pursue the following options:

  • Redesigning a gravelly, uneven field in the center of the community as a level playing field for kidsscreen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-08-54-pm
  • Removing some unnecessary retaining walls and using plants to improve the appearance of others
  • Adding a second community garden and greenhouse
  • Building a skate/scooter park with lighting for evening use by removing five parking spots
  • Redesigning the existing basketball court so that it has a level playing surface and can accommodate younger kids as well as older
  • Redesigning two of the main staircases into the neighbourhood by making them wider and shallower to accommodate the socializing that happens in these locations
  • Better universal access into and around the site through introducing ramps and level pavement where possible
  • Introducing a boulevard with planting and seating, which can be used for activities like a farmer’s market

The programming elements included:

  • A Paint the Planters program to allow residents to paint window boxes and seed them with annualsscreen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-09-25-pm
  • A program to install seating, garbage bins, bike racks, and an outdoor community events board
  • Elements to increase the perception of safety on the site (glow in the dark paint for the existing murals, a Brighter Nights program, and CCTV cameras)
  • A farmer’s market on the new boulevard, which could also be used for education about nutrition and winter events such as a holiday market
  • Better wayfinding and signage, since many buildings have street numbers that don’t correspond with the residents’ knowledge of the layout, and the internal streets are incomplete
  • Better and different types of lighting, including some solar-powered and LED fixtures, implemented over time
  • Building on the strong social networks and expanding these to allow residents to take advantage of cultural, sports, and entertainment activities around the city
  • Developing a community van that can be used to improve access to grocery stores, medical centres and other amenities

 

You can read the full report here.

Students seemed very keen to learn about aspects of housing policy, see the types of redevelopment that are happening in other public housing neighbourhoods like Regent Park, and figure out how their projects could actually be implemented through different types of funding. screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-08-34-pmThey struggled with the larger concepts such as social justice and how this is manifested through things like redesign, redevelopment and even simple maintenance of the site. In part this is part of the Millennial trend towards skimming the surface of a topic, without diving in deeply. But another part of this is the conflict between redevelopment and preservation of social networks and social capital. While the design of many public housing neighbourhoods was problematic, in many cases it contributed to tight-knit communities with members who look out for each other, improve their neighbourhoods together, and help generate a strong sense of community pride. City living is in again, and that means rising land costs in inner cities are threatening to displace renters, low-income households, and longtime neighbours who cannot afford the high-end luxury condominiums that are usually the markers of redevelopment projects.

When students were asked how they think the course could have been altered, they suggested using a more iterative process to develop their design/programming elements, and beginning to work together on the final report at the same time as their individual designs. These changes would have helped them to create a cohesive whole rather than a package of separate ideas. They felt that their first assignment, the historical analysis, could also have been shortened to allow more time for the design/programming component.

We are hoping that the Caring and Learning Centre will be able to slowly implement the small-scale projects, particularly those dealing with children and youth, through grants. Students were able to find many grants, both local and national, for projects supporting health communities and active lifestyles for children and youth. For larger-scale and longer-term projects, we will continue to consult with Housing Nova Scotia, largely due to the fact that one of the students will be doing his internship with the urban design team there. Crystal will also continue to advocate for the longer-term projects to Metro Housing, who report to Housing Nova Scotia. Hopefully this collaboration results in some real change for Mulgrave Park.

Let us know you’re coming on Eventbrite!

Book launch postcard-Vancouver

 

The_Population_BombIn this week’s New York Times Retro Report, Clyde Haberman explored the unrealized population explosion predicted by biologist Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb forecasted that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were that England would not exist in the year 2000. Like Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Ehrlich’s compelling writing drew attention to pressing environmental issues of the 1960s in a way that had never been done before. Both books sold in the millions.

Drawing parallels between the human population and the natural world, suggesting that we were far outstripping the planet’s ability to support life, even led Ehrlich to promote Zero Population Growth. The rapidly growing group of young adults vowed to have no children, or at most two to replace themselves, in order to help stop population growth. In India, the government had already begun to promote family planning and they seized on the opportunity to forcibly sterilize millions of people–sometimes even withholding aid or food supplies until people complied. In the US, President Nixon advocated population control and spoke of the dystopian future in store in America.

Undoubtedly, people around the world became more aware of the impact of population on the environment because of Ehrlich’s book and frequent speaking engagements–much like Carson, whose bestselling book led to a nationwide ban on DDT and inspired a movement that led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. But improvements in farming contributing to higher yields, a worldwide decrease in the birth rate except for a few hot spots, and improved health standards in the developed world have mitigated the doomsday effect Ehrlich envisioned. So it turns out that “in the year 2525” man may still be alive…sorry Zager & Evans.

How much fun would it be to do a Retro Report on a planning prophecy? Right now I can think of Vancouver’s postwar highway proposals. Those of you who are familiar with Gordon Price’s PriceTags might know this story–if not, check out the link to his newsletter here which includes a video clip on the Chinatown residents’ protests against the proposed highways. In short, the prediction was that unless a whole network of highways was put in place, nobody would be able to get in or out of Vancouver’s downtown. Teachers out there, a Retro Report might be a great assignment for a planning class!

You’ve spent several few hours of your time attending public meetings hosted by your municipality on the development of a new plan. You had to rearrange your child care and leave work early to attend. Wouldn’t you love to know how your comments on the proposed plan were used?

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A page from the 2013-2014 Implementation Update

You may have heard about the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. Launched in 2010, the Action Plan planning process included a public engagement campaign that allowed residents to crowdsource ideas in an online forum. The Plan has ten goal areas, each with a specific 2020 target. The question asked in the forum was “How can we achieve reach our 2020 targets?” Guided by City staff, who moderated the forum, answered questions, and clarified levels of responsibility in implementation, participants suggested ways in which to meet the targets. Ideas were then reviewed and consolidated by staff, and participants were then able to vote on the ideas. As the status of an idea changed (under consideration, planned, started, completed, or declined), every person who voted on, commented on, or submitted the idea was notified by email. Since 2011, the City has published its progress on meeting the targets. The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan won the 2012 Sustainable communities Award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Five years after participating in the online forum, I still receive Greenest City Newsletters. They contain information about events in the city (e.g. Bike to Work Week, the BC Commuter Challenge, the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline) and ways that residents can help meet the goals, such as using a rain barrel for collecting water to be used for lawns and plans. At the bottom of each section, they site the relevant Greenest City goal: Green Transportation, Climate Leadership, Clean Water. And each newsletter has dozens of links to City initiatives and programs.

Just last week I received an update that the City was already meeting its Greenest City 2020 goal for transportation mode share: 50% of all trips in the City are now made by walking, cycling, or public transit. This is a major increase from 40% in 2008. There are almost 100,000 bike trips per day in the City. Vancouver has done a lot to mainstream cycling, including designated cycling routes with signals at bike height and installing protected bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, Hornby Street, and Union. Many of these changes have been introduced through pilot projects, which were carefully evaluated before becoming permanent.

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A screen shot of the May 2015 newsletter

In the past few years I have visited many universities in Canada, the US and Europe, and I often get to speak to local planners and scholars in urban planning. Every one of them has been amazed at the Greenest City newsletters. Not only was the planning process itself innovative, but the way in which the City has kept in touch with participants on how the plan is being implemented is very unusual. Many municipal planning websites are difficult to navigate–it can take some sleuthing to find the official plan, by-law, or meeting information that you need. All of the information for the Greenest City is in one place, so it’s easy to see the progress that’s been made, like the establishment of the Greenest City Fund to implement the ideas in the Plan, strategies on climate change, a new program on recycling food scraps, and improvements to walking and cycling routes. The newsletters make it easy to understand all of the policies, programs, and initiatives that directly relate to the plan, and they’re written in non-specialist language and designed with compelling graphics.

Obviously, Vancouver is a large city and its planning department has more resources than a small or mid-sized planning department might have. However, partnerships with universities and colleges might make it easier to reach out to residents and keep them up to date on planning initiatives, particularly on the social media front. City councillors might also be willing partners in communicating progress on implementation, since many of them send regular newsletters to their constituents. Most cities haven’t caught up to online participation methods, and don’t have well-organized websites or regular email updates for their residents. Practicing planners regularly check out plans, policies, and programs in other municipalities to inspire their own work, so providing clear online information and regular updates might inspire policy transfer and innovation in other places.

gardinerexpressway.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxToday, Toronto City Councillors received a staff report that could have major implications on a longstanding issue: what to do about the Gardiner Expressway. Built during the heyday of highway infrastructure, the Gardiner has become an expensive and dangerous piece for the City to maintain, costing millions each year. Chunks of the concrete have fallen onto roadways below the expressway in recent years, and the Gardiner has become emblematic of North America’s lagging postwar faith in technological solutions to urban problems.

Removing the Gardiner Expressway completely has never been on the agenda, at least not in realistic terms, even though cities around the world are struggling through similar decisions. The City is at the end of an extensive environmental assessment process that looked at options for repairing, replacing, or maintaining the section of the Gardiner that runs from Jarvis to the Don Valley Parkway. This 1.7km stretch of the expressway handles only 3% of peak hour trips to downtown. During the morning rush, about 5000 trucks and 500 cars use this stretch every hour. The EA process has spanned six years and consulted over 3,500 stakeholders, but did a thorough job of investigating each option using cost estimates over a 100-year life cycle. The transportation projections used in the evaluation of the options included the assumption that transit alternatives to the expressway will be in place by 2031, including the waterfront LRT, the downtown relief line, and improvements to GO Transit; this would negatively impact demand for the expressway.

The three options currently being discussed are:

  • Remove and replace. An eight-lane boulevard from Jarvis to the DVP would replace the Gardiner This is the cheapest option but you can imagine how long and disruptive the construction would be–it’s estimated at six years but this is Toronto, so figure on a decade–and there would be detours for at least four years. It’s estimated that 75% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $326 million in capital costs and $135 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($461 million). This was the City’s preferred option back in 2013–and it’s still the cheapest.
  • Maintain. The City spends millions on maintaining the Gardiner each year because it’s near the end of its lifespan–and because like many cities, maintaining existing infrastructure isn’t exactly a sexy budget expenditure. The cost would be $342 million in capital costs and $522 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year cycle ($864 million).
  • Replace with a hybrid. This would involve building a new connection to the DVP. Construction is estimated at six years–but would likely be much longer and involve traffic rerouting as well. An estimated 90% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $414 million in capital and $505 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($919 million).

City staff is now conducting what is likely the final round of public consultation on the options (never say never) and will present a final report to Council on June 21st. If the selected option is approved by the Province, construction could begin in 2018.

Update: Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came out in favour of the Remove and Replace option on May 22nd, although Mayor John Tory favours Maintain.

 

London,_Ontario,_Canada-_The_Forest_City_from_above

As a planner educated in British Columbia, there are number of things about Ontario’s system that make little sense to me, first and foremost the Ontario Municipal Board and its stranglehold on urban development. There are other oddities too, like the lack of coordination between provincial plans and lower-tier plans within the same upper-tier municipality, and the seemingly unending appeals that are allowed on virtually any planning decision–despite the requirement of the Planning Act to include public participation/consultation in planning processes.

No other province has an independent administrative board that hears as many appeals on municipal planning disputes as the OMB: in 2011, the City of Toronto had 121 cases at the OMB involving 240 days of hearings. The system favours the party who can pay more for legal advice, usually developers, while community associations hold fundraisers to build up hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipated fees. And most disturbing of all, it isn’t just cases of individual buildings or lot disputes that make it to the OMB–it is currently permissible to appeal an entire municipal official plan. Even though a municipality is required to update its official plan every five years, the plan has often not made it through the OMB by the time a new one is required (go online and download your municipality’s OP and you’re likely to see an entire section at the front listing all the policies that are still at the OMB due to “site specific issues”). This “death by a thousand swords” is diluting any sustainable, innovative planning approaches that municipalities dare to produce and slowing planning to a standstill. And it’s completely unnecessary: no other province has an adjudicative tribunal with the scope and power of the OMB.

Surprisingly, all of this might be changing in the near future. When Kathleen Wynne won the provincial election last summer, she set out mandates for the provincial ministries. The priorities for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing included:

  • Moving Forward on Social and Affordable Housing
  • Improving Land Use Planning
  • Reviewing Provincial Growth and Greenbelt Plans
  • Reviewing Municipal Governance
  • Strengthening Partnerships with Municipalities
  • Amending the Building Code
  • Reviewing Disaster Response
  • Developing a Community Hubs Policy

MMAH is making steady progress on these goals, including the coordinated review of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan, which is now at the stage of public consultation.

A couple of weeks ago, MMAH announced that it is proposing sweeping changes to the way land use planning is done in the province, in fulfilment of its mandate which recommended a review of the scope and effectiveness of the Ontario Municipal Board, amending the Planning Act and Development Charges Act to improve planning and develop more sustainable communities, requiring citizen input during the planning process and reducing the number of applications to the OMB. The proposed Bill 73, Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, aims to introduce the following changes to the Planning Act:

  • Two-year moratoriums on development applications–no official plan may be amended within two years of its adoption. This also applies to zoning by-law amendments.
  • Limitations on applications to the OMB, including put an end to global official plan appeal, ending appeals to lower-tier plans not in conformity with upper-tier plans, and ending appeals to any part of an official plan implementing provincial policy related to the Greenbelt Act, Clean Water Act, Growth Plan forecasts, or settlement area boundaries
  • Additional emphasis on public participation–requiring Official Plans to include a description of public participation to be undertaken during OP amendments, zoning by-law amendments, minor variances, consents, and plans of subdivision and requiring Councils to actually explain how public comments affected their decision on development applications
  • An extension of the 180-day period for decisions on Official Plans and Official Plan Amendments–currently anyone may appeal an authority’s failure to make a decision in respect to an OP or OPA if a notice of decision hasn’t been made within 180 days. It is proposed that this be extended by another 90 days
  • New criteria, designated by the Minister, for minor variances that would be over and above those set out in subsection 45(1) of the Planning Act
  • Extending the review cycle of the Provincial Planning Statement and Official Plans to ten years, rather than the current five year cycle
  • Requiring park plans and reducing cash-in-lieu of parkland for residential subdivisions
  • Introducing additional transparency and accounting requirements for Section 37 (Community Benefits), which allows municipalities to collect money to be used for community benefits such as affordable housing and public amenities
  • Introducing mandatory planning and advisory committees for upper- and single-tier municipalities in the province
  • Allowing the Minister and upper-tier municipalities to require a Development Permit System for prescribed circumstance

Proposed changes to the Development Act include:

  • Improved capital recovery for transit through development charges–currently capital costs for services are reduced by 10% when calculating development charges unless the service is included in a list of services for which no such reduction is required. Bill 73 proposes to add transit to this list
  • The requirement for background studies supporting development would be expanded to include an asset management plan, showing the financial sustainability of all assets through their life-cycle
  • Additional reporting requirements on the use of funds

This is a remarkably bold set of amendments which will likely do a lot to streamline planning within the province. Putting an end to several of the most controversial practices (appealing an entire official plan, amending an OP days immediately its adoption, and appealing policies that aim at implementing provincial policies or plans) is likely to find favour among planners and public administrators in the province and contribute to a less complicated system overall. Extending the deadline for issuing a decision on an OP or OPA also makes sense–it’s often difficult for smaller municipalities, or overworked larger ones, to respond within the current timeline. The City of Toronto, like other municipalities in the province, has been working towards a Development Permit System. Many of the other proposed amendments deal with clarity and legitimacy–wouldn’t you like to know how your comments were used in a development application decision, or how your municipality used the funds they collected to be used for public amenities? Clarity and legitimacy were addressed in the debates on Bill 73 in the Legislative Assembly as well. Overall, it’s like a breath of fresh air is finally making it past the stodgy gatekeepers of Ontario Planningland.

The First Reading of Bill 73 was on March 5th and by April 21st it was in the debates preceding the Second Reading. You can monitor the progress of Bill 73 here.

Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) are one of the contributions developers are required to make in Vancouver to support affordable housing, community resources such as schools and libraries, and parks. Developers, in return, are often allowed to build at higher densities. Vancouver’s unique legislation, the Vancouver Charter, gives it the ability to levy a negotiable tax such as the CACs. In the rest of the province, municipalities can only charge Development Cost Charges (DCCs), non-negotiable fees based solely on the number of units or square feet of the development. Similarly, Ontario municipalities may use Section 37 of the Planning Act to obtain community benefits in exchange for higher densities.

Penny Gurstein, Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC, leads a project on housing justice in BC. She has just released an analysis of the use of CACs between 2010 and 2012, which produced just 170 affordable housing units. By contrast, BC Housing’s waitlist for affordable units averaged 3,425 over this period.

Developers also have the option of making cash contributions in lieu of building units—a total of $61.07 million was raised just from 2010-2012. This is the preferred option, as most developers want to build luxury condos to maximize their profits and get their investment back immediately–rather than invest in market-rate rental or mix in affordable units with their fancy condo owners. Unfortunately, cash contributions just go into a reserve fund, and the City is not very open about how much of it goes towards the housing budget or how it’s used. But it says it has approved over 1,000 affordable units since 2010. Gurstein’s analysis was based on staff reports, which are unclear on the use of cash contributions for affordable units. Read the article in the Vancouver Sun here.

Rental housing is also an issue in many Canadian cities, since incentives to build them (at least at the federal and provincial levels) disappeared long ago and changes to the Income Tax Act have made rental housing much less profitable to develop since the 1970s. Some analysts believe that a shortage of market rate rental units and the loss of units to condo conversion have contributed to very low vacancy rates across the country, pushing people into homeownership before they may be financially ready. Since 2010, Vancouver has also run the STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing) program and Secure Market Housing Policy, which have added 3,000 rental units at market rates.