There can be little doubt that the Ontario government’s new regional planning initiative for the Toronto metropolitan region (“The Growth Plan for Greater Golden Horseshoe”) is a grand and ambitious plan that, if fully implemented, will substantially alter the pattern of urban growth in the region. But have we not been here before? Other plans have been drawn up to shape the growth of this expanding urban region. How does this new Growth Plan compare and what does it owe to these past regional planning efforts?1
The Honourable David Caplan, Minister in charge of Places to Grow, acknowledged this history in his preface to an early draft, noting that “Ontario has a strong track record of planning for growth in a way that contributes to our overall quality of life.” The draft goes on to list several “major exercises” of planning in the region over the years, citing programs from 1970, 1974, 1992, and 1996.2 But what exactly were these plans, and what has become of them? Why is there an 18-year gap in the middle of that list? The region may well have a record of planning, but apparently it also has a record of non-planning. What is one to make of this paradox?
The following paper — a brief history of regional planning in the Toronto metropolitan region, together with comments on where the new plan fits into that history — is intended to help answer such questions. It is drawn from my ongoing research, carried out with support from the Neptis Foundation, on the history of urban and regional planning in and around Toronto since the 1940s. My full book on this subject will be completed in due course, but in order to enhance public debate on the new Growth Plan now, while the plan is new and still being shaped, the Neptis Foundation elected to support the writing and publication of a preliminary paper specifically on the region’s regional planning history — an important but poorly understood theme in the history — and this paper is the result.
Many people — far more than can be named here — have contributed to the research on which this paper is based, but I would especially like to acknowledge the contributions of Eli Comay and the late Len Gertler, both of whom freely shared with me their thoughts and recollections about the region’s planning history.