Friday, August 1, 2008

The 'Building Complete Communities' Post-Summit Report is Here!

I'm excited! Aren't you excited?

Esther Shaye (Garth Turner's right hand woman) attended this summit of urban planning experts and regional and municipal leaders back in June, and was so excited she couldn't wait to call and tell me about it when she got back. Today, one of the co-sponsors of the event (the Canadian Urban Institute) released its post-summit report, along with presentations by CUI President Glen Murray and others.

The focus of the summit was primarily on service and infrastructure funding challenges and solutions for municipalities (particularly in Halton and Peel), but at the same time summit presenters emphasized that designing that infrastructure around compact, complete, sustainable communities isn't just a good idea - it's a necessity.

Complete communities require a financially sustainable growth management strategy, but they also require that we design our communities in a new way. This presents new challenges to municipalities where suburban expansion into rural areas has been the norm. As such, these new communities can be more costly to develop and maintain to the standards GTAH residents currently enjoy.

Affording this type of development in the GTAH requires a commitment to fiscal reform and innovation as far-reaching as the commitment to developing in a completely new way to implement the vision for the Growth Plan.

To summarize the road-blocks that need to be addressed and overcome:

• Development Charges that are calibrated to “business as usual” growth and not the rapid, compact form of growth projected in the Growth Plan.
• Cash flow issues related to the partial/delayed payment of Development Charges.
• Long-term operating and maintenance costs of infrastructure not covered by Development Charges.
• A regressive property tax structure.
• Inadequate funding for growth-related provincial infrastructure and servicing (this includes not only the building of schools, community centres, and day care facilities but also their day to day operational funding).

Murray's presentation is particularly interesting as it cites several reasons why developing 'complete communities' based on New Urbanist principles is going to become even more vital in the future. These include:

- Climate change: both because of the necessity of reducing GHG emissions from transportation and housing, and because we will need to accomodate a new wave of 'climate refugees' very soon.

- Economic changes: "In the past, three out of every five jobs in Canada were in the manufacturing sector. Today, in Canada’s “New Economy” 80% of job growth is in knowledge-based industries, with the remaining 20% in service industries. This type of growth promotes the development of centres of innovation and is attracting a new and creative workforce to Canadian communities. This workforce has different needs and preferences than the one our communities were planned to accommodate. The creative workforce is attracted to urban centres where arts and culture are vibrant, recreational facilities are state-of-the-art, and lifestyle choices are wide-ranging. Communities that are able to attract and accommodate this new workforce often enjoy increased community assets."

- Demographic shift: because for a rapidly aging population, issues like walkability and easy access to health, social and cultural services are becoming increasingly essential. Also because our multicutural and multi-ethnic society has different needs and wants than those for whom the suburban model of development was designed.

Anyway, it's a great read for anyone interested in urban development issues, and does a great job of explaining exactly what kind of infrastructure funding challenges our municipalities face in a way that we lay people can understand.

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