The Need for Evidence-based Policy

The Greater Golden Horseshoe represents one-quarter of the national economy and two-thirds of the provincial economy (Brown and Rispoli, 2014). Public investments of billions of dollars in infrastructure are pending. Grounding the Growth Plan in an understanding of the dynamics of economic restructuring is essential to the prosperity of the region and province.

The need to provide a strong evidence base on the economic context for the Growth Plan cannot be overstated. For example, it would be useful to have a better understanding of where the GGH is in the restructuring process. Is more deindustrialization and loss of routine activities to come? If so, in what sectors or activities? What other sectors show strong growth potential?

At this point, we do not have a detailed answer to these questions. But it is likely that different parts of the region are at different points in the restructuring process. For example, the oldest industrial areas, which housed the most traditional manufacturing industries, were found in the centres of older cities. Many of these areas have already undergone deindustrialization and are now experiencing regeneration. For example, former industrial buildings west of downtown Toronto have been successfully repurposed and are now occupied by a range of new economy firms or converted to residential use. In other parts of the region, the deindustrialization process may still be under way – as with the pending closures of production lines at the Oshawa GM plant, for example.

The next wave of job loss is likely to occur in low-value-added, routine economic activities – so it would be useful to have a better understanding of where these kinds of activities are currently located.

Further analysis can also help identify areas of opportunity that have development potential and embedded economic assets that can be built upon. For example, knowledge-intensive and high-value-added activities, like finance, ICT services, life sciences, or engineering tend to concentrate in Downtown Toronto and the suburban knowledge-intensive districts (SKIDs). Given that these industries are well positioned for future growth, their geographical distribution can help us understand where future growth pressures are like to occur.

Another question is related to the current and future locations for “creative” activities, which tend to cluster in mixed-use, diverse, dense, walkable, and cycle-friendly urban environments. These activities not long ago inhabited vacant factory space on the edges of downtown Toronto. They have since been forced farther out to the next postindustrial ring (such as the West Queen West/Lansdowne area) as sites closer to downtown become more expensive and factories are converted to apartments and offices. If these industries are poised for further growth, and as former factory and warehouse spaces in the older urban areas get used up, where will they be accommodated?

The absence of a regional economic development strategy for the Greater Golden Horseshoe makes the task of aligning planning policy with economic development challenging. The development of such a strategy, as called for by others, including the Toronto Region Board of Trade, would be extremely helpful.

This report has pointed to some key areas for further research and information-gathering to support the Growth Plan.

  • Research is needed that provides more detail and analysis on the process of economic restructuring. At what point is the GGH in the restructuring process? How much more deindustrialization can be expected, where, and in what kinds of economic activities?
  • More detail on the spatial patterns of change with respect to different types of economic activity would be helpful. What and where are the growing industry clusters and activities? What are the key factors for their success?
  • At the moment there is no regional employment or non-residential building data bank that can be drawn upon to inform planning. The Province could, in collaboration with municipalities, address the data and analysis deficit by collecting, analyzing, and making available key spatial, development, and economic data for the region.
  • As well, the Province could support local planning by providing research and evidence to municipalities, for example, on best planning practices and innovative planning frameworks in other urban regions that support flexibility, innovation, and clusters. There are some excellent models for this, including the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City’s “What Works for Cities,” and the U.K. government’s “What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth.”[1]
  • More detailed tracking of planning and non-residential development patterns is needed to provide ongoing input and feedback to the planning process. The Province could establish an inventory and track the designation of employment lands, as well as non-residential development in the GGH. Municipalities could be required to report regularly on these matters using the provincial model of Financial Information Return reporting.

[1] See the list of references at the end of the paper for weblinks to these initiatives.