The crucial policies in the Growth Plan intended to bring about change

This analysis focuses mainly on three elements in the Growth Plan: population and employment forecasts, intensification rates (including those for Urban Growth Centres), and designated greenfield area density targets. Among the provisions of the Growth Plan, these three contain “hard numbers” and have the greatest potential to affect growth patterns. For the Plan to “work,” these numbers must be set at levels that will prevent the poor outcomes associated with “business-as-usual” development. The Growth Plan states that the targets should be treated as minimums; municipalities are encouraged to go beyond the minimum targets where possible.[1]

Population and employment forecasts

The population and employment forecasts contained in Schedule 3 of the Growth Plan are important because they are the basis for, among other things, calculating the amount of land required to accommodate people and jobs and making infrastructure decisions related to services such as transportation, energy, waste, and water.

Most growth forecasts are predictive in that they are based on calculations that incorporate the economic outlook for the region, immigration levels, demographic trend analysis, and existing patterns of development. This information indicates where people are most likely to live and work in the coming decades, based on past trends.

However, the forecasts in the Growth Plan are to some extent directive in that they allocate the overall expected population and employment increase in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to the 21 upper- and single-tier municipalities in a way that is intended to meet the goals of the Growth Plan.

Appendix D details the 2001-2031 growth forecasts for each municipality.

The population and employment forecasts in the Growth Plan were developed for the Province by Hemson Consulting in January 2005 (mainly using census information from 2001).[2]

Figure 2.1: Forecast population and employment and growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe

As shown in Figure 2.1, the forecasts projected an increase of 3,710,000 people and 1,750,000 jobs in the region between 2001 and 2031. The total combined increase is 5,460,000 people and jobs.

The consultants also forecast how this growth would be distributed across the region if development proceeded as it had in the past. This was known as the “current trends” forecast. Two additional growth scenarios were also considered: “compact” and “more compact.” The first reflected a weak level of policy intervention; the second a stronger intervention to direct more growth away from previously undeveloped areas. The scenario chosen for the Growth Plan was the “compact” scenario, which presupposes a weaker level of policy intervention compared to the “more compact” scenario.

Despite their names, the “compact” and “more compact” scenarios are not markedly different from “current trends” in one important way: the overall amount of growth allocated to the Inner Ring relative to the Outer Ring is the same in all cases. The “compact” and “more compact” forecasts merely suggest a higher allocation of growth to already urbanized municipalities within those two parts of the GGH.

Because they did not reduce the amount of growth distributed to the Outer Ring, the forecasts themselves act as something of a brake on change. If the purpose of the Growth Plan is, as it states, “to make better use of land and infrastructure…by directing growth of existing urban areas,”[3] then it would be logical to focus population and employment growth in areas that already have well-developed infrastructure systems: that is, the largely urbanized areas in the Inner Ring. Figure 2.2 indicates that the forecast population of the Inner Ring versus the Outer Ring remains unchanged over the 2001–2031 forecast period. The same breakdown applies if the 2041 forecasts from Amendment no. 2 are used.

Figure 2.2: Distribution of population in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Inner Ring and Outer Ring, 2001–2041

Furthermore, the forecasts for the Inner Ring reduce the proportion of the population for the City of Toronto and increase the proportion in surrounding municipalities that have a supply of designated greenfield area lands. Figure 2.3 indicates that between 2001 and 2031, Toronto’s population as a proportion of the total Inner Ring population is expected to decline by 8% (and by 11% if the 2041 forecasts are used). The proportion of population in the Regional Municipalities of York, Halton, and Durham in the Inner Ring, however, will increase over time.

Figure 2.3: Distribution of population, Inner Ring municipalities, 2001–2041

Figure 2.4 shows the distribution of population in the Outer Ring. The change in the proportion of population for the municipalities in the Outer Ring is limited compared changes in the Inner Ring.

Figure 2.4: Distribution of population, Outer Ring municipalities, 2001-2041

Table 2.1 indicates the distribution of population and employment growth between the Inner and Outer Rings of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. From 2006 to 2031, 76% of population growth and 79% of employment growth is expected to occur within the Inner Ring.

Table 2.1: Growth Plan population and employment growth forecasts


Population Growth (2001–2031)1

Employment Growth (2001–2031)1





Inner Ring





Outer Ring










1 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, Office Consolidation, January 2012.


Within the Inner and Outer Rings, there is also variation in the amount of growth distributed to each municipality. York Region is forecast to accommodate the largest proportion of growth of all municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Of the Outer Ring municipalities, Waterloo Region is forecast to accommodate the largest proportion of the population growth. Figure 2.5 indicates the population growth allocated to each municipality in the GGH for the periods 2001–2031 and 2001–2041. Figure 2.6 indicates the growth forecast distributed to the Inner vs. Outer Ring municipalities. Figures 2.7 and 2.8 indicate the distribution of growth for the Inner Ring and Outer Ring municipalities.

Figure 2.5: Distribution of population growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2001–2041

Figure 2.6: Distribution of population growth 2001–2041, Inner and Outer Ring

Figure 2.7: Distribution of population growth 2001–2041, Inner Ring municipalities

Figure 2.8: Distribution of population growth, 2001–2041, Outer Ring municipalities

The population and employment forecasts in the Growth Plan apply at the level of upper- and single-tier municipalities.[4] Upper-tier municipalities have the responsibility of allocating a percentage of their total population and employment growth to their constituent lower-tier municipalities.[5] This provision of the Plan allows for wide variations between municipalities, as illustrated in Figure 2.9. Provided the required average minimum densities and targets across the upper-tier municipality as a whole are achieved, upper-tier municipalities may choose to allocate people and jobs to lower-tier municipalities as they see fit.

This authority allows upper-tier municipalities to direct growth equally to all lower-tier municipalities, or disproportionately to some. By delegating these decisions (without no conditions or performance requirements) to upper-tier municipalities, the Growth Plan allows for intraregional and intermunicipal disparities in allocating growth across the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Figure 2.9: Examples of upper-tier municipal options for allocating growth to lower-tier municipalities

Intensification rates

The Growth Plan states that “a minimum of 40 percent of all residential development occurring annually within each upper- and single-tier municipality will be within the built-up area.”[6] Note that the Plan specifies that intensification applies to residential development, rather than residential units; the way in which this “development” will be measured is not specified.[7]

This policy requires that the province, in consultation with each municipality, determine a built boundary for each municipality. The built boundary separates the existing built-up area within which new development is considered intensification from the area in which development is considered greenfield area development. Figure 2.10 illustrates this distinction.

Figure 2.10 Calculating intensification

Why a 40% intensification rate? A 2005 paper prepared for the Province[8] noted that although “other jurisdictions in Canada, the UK, and Australia aim for 60-80% intensification,” a target of 40% “does represent a higher level of intensification than is currently being achieved in the GGH (excepting the City of Toronto).” The report recommended gradually increasing the target over time.

The Neptis Foundation conducted its own study of intensification rates between 1991 and 2006.[9] Since this study was carried out before municipalities had defined the built boundary, the researchers determined the boundary using remote sensing techniques. For a number of reasons (for example, the fact that municipalities may include land at the urban edge for which development approvals are in place as part of the Built-Up Area), the urban footprints are probably smaller than those determined for the purposes of the Growth Plan. Thus the results can be considered conservative.

Using these methods, the Neptis Foundation found that the average intensification rate achieved between 1991 and 2001 for the region as a whole was already 38%; when Toronto was excluded, the regional intensification rate dropped to 26%. In the Outer Ring, intensification represented 20% of new growth. If the 40% figure were to be used uniformly across the region, it would represent a distinct change from the status quo in the Outer Ring.

A recent unpublished report presented at a symposium on Urban Growth and Finance organized by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary provides some context for the importance of intensification. The study shows that housing growth has outpaced population growth in many Canadian cities, reflecting the trend of increasing numbers of one-person households.[10] This is particularly the case in older urbanized areas with an aging population. Intensification may not increase population growth in these areas, but it can help ensure a range of housing types that better align with changing demographics and household composition.

Figure 2.11: Examples of upper-tier municipal approaches to allocating intensification targets for lower-tier municipalities

Under the provisions of the Growth Plan, upper-tier municipalities have the authority to set the minimum intensification rates for their lower-tier municipalities.[11] Provided the target is achieved at the upper-tier level, upper-tier municipalities may use a uniform level of intensification for all their lower-tier municipalities, or set different targets that direct more intensification to some lower-tier municipalities than to others. Figure 2.11 shows how different upper-tier municipalities may approach the allocation of the intensification targets.

As Figure 2.11 indicates, upper-tier municipalities may apply quite low intensification targets to lower-tier municipalities. Moreover, the figure does not illustrate the results for upper-tier municipalities that have been given permission by the Minister of Infrastructure to use an overall alternative target that is lower than the 40% intensification rate stated in the Growth Plan.

A further area in which upper-tier municipalities may vary their approaches to intensification is in the treatment of rural settlement areas, such as small towns, hamlets, and villages. Most of the 403 rural communities in the region consist of a small number of homes and businesses that are not fully serviced (that is, they do not have both municipal piped water and sewer systems). Rural settlement areas have limited capacity to accommodate growth and are not expected to be a focus for intensification; therefore the built boundary/built-up area is considered “undelineated.” The Growth Plan provides no guidance on managing growth in these communities and little information is available on their current levels of development.

Greenfield density targets

The Growth Plan states that “the designated greenfield area of each upper- or single-tier municipality will be planned to achieve a minimum density target that is not less than 50 residents and jobs combined per hectare.”[12] In the Outer Ring, this target may be lowered for certain municipalities.

Why 50 people and jobs per hectare? This standard is mentioned in a Technical Backgrounder[13] titled “Intensification and Density Targets,” which states: “Many developments built in the past have not been planned at transit-supportive densities and do not support complete communities. By establishing a minimum density target of 50 people and jobs per hectare for upper- and single-tier municipalities, the Growth Plan will influence development patterns at the inception of these communities.”[14]

The implication is that 50 people and jobs per hectare will support some level of transit service. In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Transit-Supportive Guidelines, published in 2012, suggests that 50 people and jobs combined can support only “basic transit service,” not frequent service or rapid transit service. The document states that these levels are a guide, and are “not be applied as standards.”[15] The word of caution is appropriate, since documentation for this threshold density level is sparse and obscure, dating back to studies published in the 1970s. It appears to be more in the nature of a “rule of thumb” in Ontario planning than a verifiable research conclusion based on solid evidence.[16] It is also interesting to compare the target with that of the City of Calgary, which is now planning for 60 people and jobs per hectare in greenfield areas.[17]

The Growth Plan’s designated greenfield area density target,[18] like that for intensification, is measured over an entire upper-tier municipality, allowing for higher densities in some lower-tier municipalities and lower densities in others. Figure 2.12 indicates how different upper-tier municipalities may approach the allocation of the minimum designated greenfield area density targets.

Figure 2.12: Upper-tier municipal approaches to for allocating minimum designated greenfield area density targets to lower-tier municipalities

Figure 2.12 indicates that lower designated greenfield area density targets may be applied to any lower-tier municipality – there is no requirement to match the targets to lower-tier municipalities where higher minimum greenfield area densities might be appropriate. Moreover, some upper-tier municipalities in the Outer Ring have been given permission to use an alternative minimum target that is lower than 50 people and jobs per hectare for the upper tier as a whole.

Even in a municipality that is planning to achieve 50 people and jobs per hectare overall, there is no requirement in the Growth Plan that every new development meet this standard. Some developments can be planned at a higher density, some can be lower. Furthermore, there is no requirement to mix people and jobs in any given development, allowing for residential-only subdivisions or employment-only business parks, rather than a mix of uses in all developments.

In permitting alternative minimum density targets in Outer Ring municipalities, the Growth Plan makes one proviso: the minimum designated greenfield area density targets cannot be lowered for upper- and single-tier municipalities in the Outer Ring that contain an Urban Growth Centre. However, this requirement does not affect counties in which there is a separated city (a city with a separate municipal government from that of the county), even if the city is entirely surrounded by the county (this difference is illustrated in Figure 2.13). Thus the counties of Brant, Peterborough, Simcoe, and Wellington may use lower minimum designated greenfield area density targets, since the Urban Growth Centres in these counties are in the separated cities of Brantford, Peterborough, Barrie, and Guelph, respectively.

Figure 2.13: Separated cities and use of alternative minimum designated greenfield area density target

The minimum designated greenfield area density target is not as stringent a requirement as the intensification target for two reasons. First, it does not have to be measured and achieved every year. Second, the Growth Plan states that new greenfield developments must be planned to achieve the 50 people and jobs per hectare density target, but not that these densities will be achieved, meaning that municipalities are not required to demonstrate that the target has actually been achieved, only that development at the required minimum density has been planned for in official documents. This wording reflects the fact that the actual density of a new greenfield development, once it is constructed and occupied, can be affected by factors outside the jurisdiction or control of a municipality, such as a decline in household size, or changes in the economy that affect employment levels and locations.

The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has confirmed the difference between planning for a certain density and achieving that density. In a recent OMB case, in which representatives of Waterloo Region argued that the minimum designated greenfield area density target must be met by 2031, the OMB ruled that “section indicates... it was not the Province’s intent that density actually be achieved by a specific date.”[19]


[1] Growth Plan, Section
[2] Hemson Consulting Ltd., The Growth Outlook for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, January 2005. The Ministry of Infrastructure has removed this document from its website, but it is still available on the Hemson website at: The forecasts are shown in Appendix D below.
[3] Growth Plan, Section 2.1.
[4] With the exception of Schedule 6, added through Growth Plan Amendment No. 1, which allocates growth to the lower-tier municipalities in Simcoe County and for the Cities of Barrie and Orillia.
[5] Growth Plan, Section
[6] Growth Plan, Section 2.2.3.
[7] Region of Niagara’s Growth Plan conformity amendment states that the residential intensification target will be measured by total number of residential units created. Region of Niagara Sustainable Community Policies Policy Plan Amendment 2-2009 Section
[8] Urban Strategies Inc., Application of a Land-Use Intensification Target for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, prepared for the Ontario Growth Secretariat and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, 2005, p. 2.
[9] Marcy Burchfield et al., Implementing Residential Intensification Targets: Lessons from Research on Intensification Rates in Ontario, Neptis Foundation, 2010.
[10] Zack Taylor and Marcy Burchfield, Urban Development Policies and Outcomes in Canadian Cities: Calgary in Comparative Perspective. Presented on October 10, 2013, at the Urban Growth and Finance Symposium, Walton Consortium Taxation and Economic Growth Program, Fourth Symposium in Tax and Economic Growth, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary.
[11] Growth Plan, Section
[12] Growth Plan, Section
[14] Posted online, but undated, on the Ministry of Infrastructure website at:
[15] Ministry of Transportation, Transit-Supportive Guidelines: See p. 24.
[16] The Province’s earlier Transit-Supportive Land Use Guidelines (1992) used residential units per hectare to determine levels of service. For example, a density of 17 residential units per hectare (depending on household size, this might represent about 50 residents) was expected to support half-hour bus service on routes spaced 1 km apart. These guidelines, described as “commonly accepted standards” were taken from Boris S. Pushkarev and Jeffrey M. Zupan (1977), Public Transportation and Land Use Policy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). The first study to express density as population and employment combined appears to be Study of the Reurbanisation of Metropolitan Toronto (1991), prepared for Metro Toronto by Berridge Lewinberg Greenberg. That study cited Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy (1989), Cities and Automobile Dependence (Aldershot: Gower), an international study that found that below 30 to 40 persons per hectare, “transit use tends to be minimal or low.” In Guidelines for the Reurbanisation of Metropolitan Toronto (1991), Berridge Lewinberg Greenberg proposed an overall gross density of 80 people and jobs per hectare in the City of Toronto “to support the possibility of transit and to support walking and cycling” (p. 33).
[17] “New communities in Future Greenfield Areas will achieve a minimum intensity threshold of 60 people and jobs per gross developable hectare.” City of Calgary, Municipal Development Plan, Office Consolidation 2010.
[18] Growth Plan, Section
[19] Ontario Municipal Board, Decision PL110080, January 21, 2013, Furthermore, the OMB expressed the view that the “vast majority of these increased apartment units [which were required to achieve the minimum greenfield density] would not be built within the planning horizon.”