When the "Smart Growth" discussions, which preceded the Growth Plan in 2006, took place, the conversation was as much about money as it was about the environment. The need to grow more compactly, in appropriate locations, isn't just about preserving natural heritage, reducing commuting times, or maintaining agricultural lands, it's also about money, and the well-documented "costs of sprawl."
The Plan states: "New infrastructure is being built to service lower-density areas, while existing infrastructure in the older parts of our communities remains under-utilized."
The Plan linked the infrastructure deficit facing the Toronto region and its economic competitiveness with "the degradation of our natural environment, air quality and water resources, as well as the consumption of agricultural lands and other resources."
To direct growth more efficiently, the Plan contains policies and population and employment projections. All are crucial to its implementation. But the Province of Ontario did not set up a public and transparent process for monitoring the implementation of these policies and projections by municipalities. As a result, it is difficult to assess whether the Growth Plan is working or not.
Growth Plan policies deal with land use ("Where and How to Grow"), servicing ("Infrastructure to Support Growth"), and the environment ("Protecting What Is Valuable").
The Plan provides population and employment projections and allocates the expected growth to the 21 upper- and single-tier municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
The original projections for the Greater Golden Horseshoe were for the period 2006 to 2031 with a forecast population of 11.5 million people in 2031, up from 8.1 million in 2006. Land to accommodate this future population has already been set aside - the 107,100 hectares referred to earlier.
In 2013, the Province enacted Amendment 2 to the Growth Plan, which extended those projections another decade to 2041 with a forecast population of 13.5 million people in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Essentially, another 2 million people were added as a part of the 2041 projections. The process of setting aside even more land to accommodate the new projections has begun in some municipalities, but is not yet complete.
Among the many policies in the Plan, two measurable targets intended to prevent urban sprawl and excessive land consumption stand out. Both tools are applied at the level of upper- and single-tier municipalities.
- Intensification: The Plan states that by 2015, and each year thereafter, municipalities must ensure that a minimum of 40 percent of all residential development will be within the part of the municipality that is already urbanized.
- Density: New development on previously undeveloped land (greenfields) will be planned to accommodate no fewer than 50 residents and jobs combined per hectare, averaged over each single- or upper-tier municipality.
 The Costs of Sprawl was the title of a 1974 publication by the Real Estate Research Corporation, which compared servicing costs for low-density developments with those for higher-density developments. Since that time, this research has been updated and refined and applied to a range of localities. For a recent update on this literature, see Hamidi, S., Ewing, R., Preuss, I., and Dodds, A., (2015) Measuring Sprawl and Its Impacts: An Update, Journal of Planning Education and Research 35 (1): 35-50.