This edition of Community Dispatch presents highlights of the Council's recent report: Embracing Smart Growth - Which Path? It offers the Council's observations on the proposed changes to the Halton Official Plan.
The Regional Municipality of Halton is currently undergoing the statutory five-year review of its Official Plan as set out in The Planning Act. A key component of the review process is a Consultation Plan. The purpose of the Consultation Plan is to provide opportunity for public discussion and agency consultation on the Official Plan. Regional staff have prepared the Directions Report to provide an opportunity for community information and feedback on the framework and direction for the new Official Plan.
The Directions Report suggests a new framework for planning polices for the new Official Plan and recommends 15 directions for change. These 15 themes include affordable housing, the countryside, greenlands, environmental quality and mobility. The underlying framework of the Directions Report is that of Smart Growth and includes the recommendation of a Smart Growth Index to gauge new development.
The Council believes the Official Plan sets the stage for social and economic development and as such affects in some way the many activities of the voluntary sector. Therefore, the Council has participated in the review process in two ways. Firstly, we have convened two community consultations in the Region to provide community agencies with the opportunity for input and discussion on the Directions Report. The outcome is available in a report entitled: Halton Official Plan Review Consultations - A Non-Profit Perspective. Second, we have prepared a report, Embracing Smart Growth - Which Path?, which discusses the importance of having an Official Plan based on an underlying framework that strives to improve the quality of life for all its residents. It examines some of the areas discussed in the Directions Report, as well as emphasizing other topics the Council feels are essential in a Regional Official Plan. The Council has selected those areas that are most relevant to the human service sector. Specifically, the report addresses: Healthy Communities, Smart Growth and the Smart Growth Index, a Human Services Plan, and Affordable Housing. The Council shares these observations with the belief that they will contribute to the development of a far reaching and innovative Official Plan.
The 1995 Official Plan clearly recognizes the importance of the assumptions underlying a healthy communities framework. Section B1a2 states that the goals of the Region are: "To develop and maintain healthy communities by fostering physical, social and economic conditions that will enhance the state of well-being and the quality of life for the residents of Halton." The 1995 Official Plan embraces a holistic vision of health, one that recognizes that our need for clean air and water, safe communities, green space and housing flow as much from our physical and social environments as our health care system. This framework searches for balance. The Directions Report, however, does not discuss or emphasize the need for a healthy communities framework. Regional Government is responsible for and influences the development of the community, not only its physical infrastructure but also its economy, its health and its social environment.
The Council recommends that the healthy communities philosophy be retained and further developed in Halton's new Official Plan based on the following principles:
This framework complements Smart Growth by guaranteeing that the human face of life in Halton is central to Regional Government.
Smart Growth is a collaborative, incentive-based approach to growth management that emerged in the United States in the 1990s in response to a range of problems associated with conventional patterns of development.
Smart Growth means different things to different people and as such lacks precision and, in fact, can cause confusion. Smart Growth has become the touchstone for a catch-all of physical and fiscal development ideas for governments.
The Directions Report draws its Smart Growth principles from a 2001 policy paper produced by the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario, the Directions Report states:
...in a policy paper produced by the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario called Beyond Smart Growth: A Call to Action... there are 20 specific action items that will achieve Smart Growth or good planning. Much of this Directions Report is built upon these action items. (Halton Regional Municipality, Directions Report, 2002, 17)
Beyond Smart Growth: A Call to Action organizes its 20 action items into five themes:
The Council is concerned about the adoption of a Halton Official Plan based on a Smart Growth framework where little priority or importance is given to social development and human well-being. Furthermore, the Directions Report proposes to take Smart Growth a step further by developing a Smart Growth Index on which to gauge any new development applications in Halton. The Directions Report states:
We propose to introduce a system to measure development plans or planning applications, such as secondary plans, plans of subdivision and re-zoning applications, against the principles or objectives of Smart Growth using what we call a Smart Growth Index (SGI)... In brief, each planning application will be assessed against the following ten Smart Growth Indicators, producing ten scores:
- density of development,
- mix in land use
- facilities within walking distance and ease of walking through the neighbourhood,
- availability of affordable housing,
- amount of green space,
- access to major facilities or services - health, social, recreation, shopping, etc.,
- access to public transit,
- proximity of existing urban service (water and wastewater) infrastructure,
- design of the development in meeting objectives of environmental protection, heritage feature preservation, and barrier-free design, and
- degree of public involvement in the development process (Regional Municipality of Halton, Directions Report, 2002,17).
Again, these indicators do not incorporate many of the principles that the 1995 Official Plan embraced by using a Healthy Communities framework that links the importance of social well-being to the physical and economic environments.
A recent report, Building Inclusive Communities: Cross-Canada Perspectives and Strategies, complements and further elaborates a healthy communities vision. The report states:
Social inclusion reflects a growing international recognition that investments in human and civic assets are core foundations to economic prosperity and social well-being. Successful countries in the global era will develop the social capacities of people and communities to live in states of mutual trust and to contribute to innovations. Smaller countries such as Canada have a greater challenge to ensure that no human resource capacity is lost or underdeveloped, and that no civic community is neglected or undervalued. It is within municipalities that basic states of social inclusion are created and experienced in everyday life. Social inclusion is promoted by policies:
- that reduce economic, social and cultural inequities within the population (e.g. economic disparities, racism, age or gender discrimination, etc);
- that recognize, value and support the contributions of all community members to the economic, social and cultural life a a society; and
- that are grounded in shared values/principles and common commitments while respecting and accommodating appropriately the diversities within a society (Clutterbuck and Novick, Building Inclusive Communities: Cross-Canada, 2002, 6).
The Council recommends that the framework of Smart Growth be redefined to include not only economic and physical criteria but to reflect the importance of social and human capital. This holistic approach reflects a healthy communities philosophy and promotes Halton as an inclusive community. The characteristics of an inclusive community, which promotes democracy and values citizenship, are as follows:
Human Service policy and planning is also about the allocation and distribution of resources for the benefit of all people. It plays a critical bridging role between the economic and social environments. A strong human service infrastructure builds an inclusive community and positively influences economic development.
Economic and social development are not discrete functions but are interwoven processes that lead to prosperous, just and inclusive communities. The Directions Report does not discuss or stress the importance of developing a human services policy or plan in the new Official Plan. The Council believes, however, that human service planning needs to be an integral part of an Official Plan.
The need for a strong human services focus was also identified in the following comments made at the community consultations hosted by the Council with the non-profit sector in Halton.
We need to develop a human services plan as part of an official plan.
Planning for human services should be given equal importance to economic development by government (Halton Social Planning Council, Halton Official Plan Review Consultation: A Non-Profit Perspective, 2003, 6).
Growth must include human service planning. This cannot be achieved by government alone, but by strong collaborations within government departments, and partnerships with non-profit agencies and community groups of civil society.
The Council recommends that the new Official Plan include a strong Human Services focus that includes a Human Services Plan for Halton Region to assist Government and human services agencies in the planning and delivery of their services or programs.
The Council recommends that this Human Services Plan be developed, jointly with the Area Municipalities, service agencies, and other human services planning organizations.
The 1995 Halton Official Plan incorporated the 1989 Provincial Policy Statement requiring 25 per cent affordable housing into its regulations. With the 25 per cent quota of affordable housing no longer a Provincial Policy requirement, the Directions Report proposes a new affordable housing policy. This policy is predicated on the Smart Growth paradigm and the use of the Smart Growth Index.
The Council is pleased to see the recognition of the need for more affordable housing identified in the Directions Report; however, we are concerned about the implementation of such a policy direction. The new direction only discusses the delivery of more affordable housing through the use of the Smart Growth Index. The supposition is that by using the Index, it will encourage developers to build affordable housing. However, as we have previously discussed, affordable housing is only one of the criterion in the Smart Growth Index. New housing developments could, in fact, repeatedly score zero in the affordable housing criterion (with no provision of affordable housing units) on the Smart Growth Index and still be approved.
It is unlikely that the Smart Growth Index and private sector cooperation will provide a strong basis to promote affordable housing in a new Official Plan policy. The Smart Growth Index gives all its criteria equal weight and it does not prioritize. For example, access to major facilities or services and the degree of public involvement are given the same weight in the index as affordable housing. This is not to say that the most important criterion is affordable housing. They are all important criteria, but if this is the only way affordable housing is to be supported in the Official Plan, it falls short.
The Council recommends that Halton Region develop a new Official Plan with a strong framework to address affordable housing. This could include a stronger weighting of the affordable housing criterion in the Smart Growth Index or affordable housing land-use designations and partnerships.
The Council recommends that this housing policy be developed jointly in cooperation with other departments of Regional Government, such as Social and Community Services, Housing and with other community groups that have a key role in identifying how Halton affordable housing needs be met.
The Council supports the 2002 recommendations of the Halton Emergency Housing Advisory Group's Final Report. They are as follows:
In addition the Council supports the additional recommendation associated with emergency housing, that is #7 as outlined in report SS-04-03 to Regional Council. This moves our community to action in an effort to alleviate the human suffering experienced by some of our neighbours. The recommendations is as follows:
7. THAT the Region of Halton purchase and own the land for the proposed emergency shelter.
Also, in recognition of the need for a continuum of housing supports in Halton and in recognition of the difficult and fractious situations often unfolding around emergency and transitional housing, the Council recommends that Regional Government and Area Municipal Official Plans and zoning by-laws shall provide opportunities for transitional and emergency accommodation. Municipal shelters shall be a permitted use in all zones or districts in all the Area Municipal zoning by-laws. This "as of right" clause recognizes the responsibility of Regional and Municipal Government in facilitating the development of such institutions that meet the needs of all its population.
Produced by the Community Development Halton
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