The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe – why it was created and how it is supposed to achieve its goals

The Growth Plan was created to change the status quo

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe states, “Without properly managing growth, communities will continue to experience the negative aspects associated with rapid growth, such as increased traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, and the loss of prime agricultural lands and important natural areas and resources.”[1]

The Growth Plan is also intended to address the region’s “infrastructure deficit,”[2] estimated at “tens of billions of dollars”[3] for repairing existing roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems, and other critical infrastructure elements. Indeed, the Growth Plan was an initiative of the Ministry of Infrastructure (formerly the Ministry of Infrastructure Renewal), and has a clear focus on the need to make efficient use of existing infrastructure and avoid costly and unnecessary infrastructure investments.[4] There is also a large body of research that indicates that compact development can reduce infrastructure costs relative to those for lower-density developments.[5]

The Growth Plan was to some extent a response to reports published early in the first decade of the 21st century[6] that warned of negative consequences if the planning and development trends that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s continued unchanged. In this report, we will compare the Growth Plan for the GGH, and the way in which it has been adopted by municipalities, to the 2002 report called Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development, produced for the Neptis Foundation by IBI Group in association with Dillon Consulting Limited and in consultation with Metropole Consulting.[7]

The study area of the 2002 report was somewhat smaller than the Greater Golden Horseshoe.[8] Nevertheless, it covered the most rapidly growing areas in the Greater Toronto Region, and used computer modelling to project existing development trends out to 2031, the same time horizon as the Growth Plan. Its assumptions included strong employment growth, gradually decreasing average household size, the continuation of intensification at historic levels, and the protection of environmentally sensitive areas.[9] This influential report was cited in discussion papers that were produced by the Province as the Growth Plan was being prepared.[10] The “Business-as-Usual study” concluded, “Over the 31-year timeframe an estimated 264,000 acres (1,070 km2) of land will be urbanized. This is almost double the area of the City of Toronto.”[11]

These two sentences attracted considerable attention in government circles and in the press.[12] The urbanization of more than 1,000 km2 in the region over three decades would represent a huge expansion of infrastructure and a considerable loss of agricultural land, among other consequences. In this analysis, we will compare that figure to the amount of land municipalities are proposing to urbanize by 2031 under the policies of the Growth Plan.

[1] Growth Plan, Section 1.1.
[2] “Increasing demand, low-density land-use patterns and historic underinvestment have resulted in a substantial infrastructure deficit to meet the needs of current residents as well as those of future Ontarians” (Growth Plan, Section 3.1).
[3] Growth Plan, Section 1.1.
[4] For example, in its section on infrastructure policies, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) notes, “The policy directions for intensification and compact urban form in this Plan guide many of the infrastructure priorities in this section. It is estimated that over 20 per cent of infrastructure capital costs could be saved by moving from lower density development to more efficient and compact urban form” (Growth Plan, Section 3.1).
[5] Some of the main arguments are summarized by Pamela Blais in Perverse Cities (UBC Press, 2010), pp. 31-32.
[6] For example, Gladki Planning Associates, Growing Together: Prospects for Renewal in the Toronto Region, 2002.
[7] This was one of a series of reports: Toronto-Related Region Futures Study, Interim Report: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development, August 2002; Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development, 2002; and Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Sketch Modelling of Four Alternative Development Concepts, 2003. All three were prepared for the Neptis Foundation by IBI Group in association with Metropole Consultants and Dillon Consulting Limited.
[8] It omitted Brant County and the City of Brantford, and the northern parts of Wellington (Minto, North Wellington, Mapleton) and Peterborough (Galway-Cavendish-Harvey, North Kawartha, Havelock-Belmont-Methuen) counties (see Figure 4.1).
[9] These assumptions were intended to represent a continuation of the trends of the 1990s, and took into account the fact that residential densities had been rising slightly over time, despite some offsetting factors. See Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development, 2002, p. E9.
[10] See, for example, A Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Discussion Paper, July 2004, p. 5, available on the Ministry of Infrastructure website at:
[11] Toronto-Related Region Futures Study: Implications of Business-As-Usual Development, 2002, pp. E17-E18.
[12] See, for example, Wallace Immen, “Urban sprawl devouring farm land, study warns,” Globe and Mail, May 14, 2002; “Existing growth patterns lead to bleak future,” Novae Res Urbis, September 18, 2002.