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On April 30th, ULI hosted its 7th annual regional program for the professional land use community, Meet the Chief Planners.
In this year’s virtual format, the goal of the program was to inspire an open dialogue with the region’s Chief Planners to reflect on critical questions that challenge urban professionals in these unprecedented times.
Featuring the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, award-winning placemaker and author, Jay Pitter, a Greater Golden Horseshoe Planner Panel discussion, and over 35 senior planning officials from across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, this year’s theme focused on 3 related meta-questions:
The event began with Carolyn King, Former Chief of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Chair and Co-Founder of Shared Path, performing the land acknowledgment and sharing opening remarks on the importance of working toward a future in which indigenous voices and rights sustain an integral part of land use planning law, policy, and governance in Ontario.
Following Carolyn King, the Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing shared an update on his strategic priorities.
“Since we were elected in 2018, our government has implemented a responsible and balanced approach to planning for growth, while prioritizing and protecting our province’s natural environments. On one hand, we are cutting red tape to build more homes, to address the issue of housing supply in the province, and on the other hand, we’re working to ensure some of the province’s most significant natural heritage features, like the Greenbelt, remain protected for future generations to enjoy,” said Clarke.
According to Clarke, the Housing Supply Action Plan (HSAP) is working, ushering in an unprecedented expansion in Ontario’s housing sector. “It has generated over $24.8 billion of investment into Ontario’s housing market in 2020, a nearly $4 billion increase compared to a year before, and an increase in housing starts by 20%,” said Clarke.
Meanwhile, Clarke also pointed to plans to grow the Greenbelt stating: “The plan we are currently consulting on could realize the largest expansion to the Greenbelt since it was created in 2005” and “we will not in any way entertain proposals to remove lands from the Greenbelt or open up Greenbelt lands to any kind of development.”
Introducing the panel discussion, John Matheson, Principal at StrategyCorp discussed the realities of living through the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on how we work, where we build, how we move, and how we pay for it.
Paula Dill, Provincial Land and Development Facilitator at the Ministry of Affairs and Housing, moderated the Greater Golden Horseshoe Planner panel which included: Karla Avis-Birch, Chief Planning Officer at Metrolinx, Andrea Miller, Manager of Infrastructure and Growth Management at the City of Barrie, Heather MacDonald, Executive Director of Community Planning Regulation and Mobility at the City of Burlington, Dwayne Campbell, Manager of Planning and Community Development at the County of Northumberland, and Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director of the City of Toronto.
Given the outflow of young families out of the urban core, the panel was asked how their municipalities are going to address these new shifts. The planners spoke to the acceleration of remote work, increased demand for living space and its impact on housing affordability and sustainability, and the use of technology to improve community engagement.
“We’re not necessarily going to be seeing urban versus rural or urban versus suburban, but more of a blend and more of a softening of what we might traditionally consider the edge and I think the challenge in some of our toolbox is that some of our policy realm is driven to be a little bit cookie cutter and not necessarily reflective of the uniqueness of individual communities that might be on that edge,” said Miller.
Speaking to the surge in developments moving to the rural area, Campbell spoke to the consequences and opportunities for people. “As a profession, I think we have an opportunity now to engage with individuals and communities. There is somewhat of a resurgence of community, I would argue now, because people are so in tune, always online, and hear everything that’s coming at them all the time,” said Campbell.
“We have a growth plan and an established need for compact urban form to meet carbon reduction goals by 2030. Turning our clock back to another age of a more auto/sprawl-based form is not going to serve us well. When you think about all the ages, stages, and abilities that we’ve got to plan for going forward and thinking of the diverse needs of our population, there will be a lot of data lines to follow. The fundamentals are strong in the GTHA, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Lintern.
The planners pointed to the need to be react quickly in the midst of market changes brought on by the pandemic while being proactive and engaging in more dialogue with communities, recognizing that the post-COVID world is going to be different.
Following the panel discussion, two concurrent sessions brought together municipal planners, regional planners, builders, developers, municipal partners and all events attendees together to continue the dialogue in deeper local contexts.
Chief Planners from Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener, Markham, Mississauga, Pickering, St. Catherines, Toronto, Caledon, Innisfil, Oakville, Uxbridge, Whitchurch-Stouffville, Newmarket, York Region, Region of Durham, Region of Peel, Region of Waterloo, and Simcoe County shared their experiences and spoke to the changes that the industry expects to see manifesting in municipalities following a year of Covid-19 and the insurgence of community equity, diversity, and inclusion.
In a plenary session moderated by Richard Joy, Executive Director of ULI Toronto, presented a concluding discussion with distinguished and award-winning placemaker, Jay Pitter.
In her keynote discussion, Ask Courageous Questions, Pitter challenged the audience to consider the question, “Who’s not here?”
Despite leading placemaking processes, translating equity-based research to land-use projects, and defining programming interventions, Pitter presents the reality that she is not above making the error of missing the inclusion of a particular group, or not issuing an invitation that has resonance for everyone. She argues that asking questions is a way to mitigate the power gaps that exist within urbanism.
“What you can do as chief planners is to ask bold and courageous questions as a strategic way of getting the issues that are not being addressed on the table. If we can call all stakeholders into good conversations, not by imposing big ideas, but simply articulating intelligent questions, humble and curious questions that reframe and expand the conversation, that is the beginning of deep change,” said Pitter.
To connect with Jay Pitter and to learn more about her work, please visit her website: http://www.jaypitter.com/.
A special thank you to this year’s event sponsors First Gulf Great Gulf, WSP, StrategyCorp, and all the zoom room sponsors that made this event possible.