In the past couple of weeks I have posted a couple times on the rather innovative Greenbelt and “Places to Grow” legislation passed a couple of years ago in Ontario to control the Greater Toronto Area’s growth by both protecting un-urbanized land and encouraging development in provincially-defined urban centres.
Today, the Toronto Star has an interesting article on the ways in which sprawling development is “leapfrogging” past the greenbelt to northern communities in Simcoe County. This process of pushing sprawl outwards is one of the problems with establishing protected greenbelts. In the recent Report Card evaluation published by the Greenbelt Alliance, one of their main recommendations to the province was to expand the greenbelt.
Interestingly, Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretson is quoted in the article as saying he supports an expansion. This issue will undoubtedly feature prominently in provincial elections likely to take place in the next few months as citizens are often skeptical of more growth while municipalities are critical of having the province subvert their autonomy.
The New York Times has an article today about search engine giant Google and the shuttle service they provide for their employees. The article quotes employees as saying that the shuttle is one of the great perks for working at the company. The service is available only to Google employees and serves most of the major communities in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.
While Google’s main interest for providing the service is undoubtedly to attract the best talent in a competitive environment for skilled workers, the fact that a private company is setting up its own transit system is more of a commentary on the result of decades of poor regional planning in the Bay Area.
Workers are spread throughout the region in search of housing and subject to land use regulation that has been established without regard to regional employment patterns. Large and profitable companies like Google can afford to offer the service as a benefit, but in the absence of public networks of transit, higher density, and mixed-use development issues of mobility in the region will continue to persist.
US President George W. Bush is in the midst of a high-profile trip to Latin America. The first stop on the trip was to Brazil where he met today with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The two toured an biodiesel production facility and declared the two countries’ commitment to promting ethanol consumption in the region.
Bush, of course, has been trumpeting ethanol as a substitution for imported petroleum for the United States in spite of the fact that production of corn-based varieties of the fuel in the US are highly dependent on federal subsidies and require significant inputs of energy for production. An AP article today asserts that there is a 51 cent subsidy for each gallon of ethanol. In Brazil ethanol is produced using sugar–not corn. Though there are environmental problems associated with
ethanol production in Brazil, it is still able to produce it more efficiently than the US. Yet, the US maintains a 54 cent tariff on Brazilian imports.
At today’s news conference Bush said he is unwilling to consider removing the tariff, which raises questions about his entire energy policy. Rather than being concerned with looking at alternatives to fossil fuels, his major interest seems to be supporting corporate agribusinesses who control both domestic production and are increasingly asserting their presence in the developing world, as well.
The Toronto Star is reporting that Conservative PM Stephen Harper and Liberal Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are going to announce a commitment from the federal government of $670 million [Cdn] to help finance the expansion of Toronto’s Spadina Subway line 8.6 kilometers to York University and North to the York Region community of Vaughn.
Once completed, this will represent the first really major rapid transit link in the Greater Toronto Region and an essential element in Ontario’s urban centre growth strategy–which I mentioned in a post yesterday. The federal commitment will mark a third of the funds needed to complete the project.
The article speculates that both McGuinty and Harper may gain politically from the announcement given speculation that federal elections may be forced this spring and provincial elections will take place within the next few months. The suburban residents of the GTA who will benefit from the project are key swing voters.
An interesting aspect of the Spadina extension from the perspective of US observers is the cost of the project. The total cost for the subway will be around $1.7 billion US dollars. Compare that to the proposed Circle Line being contemplated by the Chicago Transit Authority. The Circle Line would be a little longer [10km] but would likely be elevated–rather than subterranean, like Toronto’s–and would come in at $3 billion.
Subways are generally more expensive to construct than elevated lines, so why is going to cost so much more to construct the Circle Line?
One of the most interesting policy initiatives to quell suburban sprawl in North America has been underway in Ontario over the past two years. The Provincial government of Premier Dalton McGuinty developed two legislative actions in 2005. One–the Greenbelt Plan–designated a wide, outer-ring of land on the exurban fringe of the Hamilton to Toronto “Golden Horseshoe” to be protected from urban development. The legislation included a map of protected land and offered significant Provinical control over local land use decisions. The second piece of legislation–The Places to Grow Act–designates urban growth centers throughout the province that emphasize mixed-use, high-density, and multiple forms of mobility.
The idea of looking at growth policy in this two-pronged way is something that planners and policy analysts have been advocating for years, but the political obstacles tend to overshadow the efficacy of the plans.
Marking the two year anniversary of the Greenbelt Plan, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance–a coalition of civic advocacy groups in the province–issued a “report card” assessing the plan.
In an improvement over last year’s report card, the province was given a B+. Among the accomplishments was an expansion of the Rouge Park metropolitan wilderness area and instances of the Provincial government defending the integrity of lands designated for protection by resisting local efforts at exemption.
There have also been numerous problems–particularly with regard to exemptions for quarries to be developed in protected lands as well as the inevitible “leapfrogging” of development whereby areas past the outer boundaries of the Greenbelt are now experiencing increased development pressures.
The Greenbelt Alliance argues that the protected area should be expanded over the next year.
For more coverage of the report card, see the Toronto Star.