Official Plan Is Theirs Not Ours July/ August 2022 Edition
By Derek Pinder
Since the beginning of the year there have been several opportunities to participate in the development of the revised Official Plan (dubbed Our Plan) for Toronto, and the Bluffs Monitor has reported on two of them. The first was a public meeting organised by the Scarborough Community Renewal Organisation which led us to the opinion that the Official Plan was a plan for mediocrity. The second was a meeting held by the City of Toronto to address the impact of the plan on Scarborough. After the second meeting, we felt that the plan was worse than mediocre; its very foundation was rotten. Then, in the month of June, the City held a number of virtual meetings which focused on particular elements of the Plan. Bluffs Monitor attended meetings covering neighbourhoods, complete communities, housing and intensification. What they revealed did not make us feel any better about our future in the Bluffs community
Given the goal of increasing the population of Ontario by 700,000 people by 2051, it is not surprising that there is an emphasis on housing. To fill the existing demand and to provide housing for newcomers, it is estimated that 1.5 million new homes must be built across Ontario in the next 10 years. That’s 150,000 every year. Is that possible? In 2021, 100,000 were built which was the highest number since 2011. So, a yearly total of 150,000 appears to be possible but it certainly won’t be easy. Especially when the plan calls for most of the growth to be accommodated within one quarter of the city’s available area. The main targets for growth are concentrated around transit hubs, particularly subway and Go stations. At first glance it looks as though the Bluffs, most of which is designated as a “neighbourhood”, will be spared the approaching densification. But when you get into the details, that is far from the case. Throughout the city, the construction of mulltiplexes is being promoted; two, three and four-home buildings that will fit within the lot of single-family homes. Low-rise apartment buildings are also considered appropriate for neighbourhoods. Furthermore, it is the developers who decide where they want to build, not the planners.
This influx of people will, of course, create a demand for jobs. The Official Plan does not identify the Bluffs as being a significant employment area and is aiming to attract jobs which do not require high levels of skill. Such jobs do not pay high level salaries but the question of how workers will be able to afford housing is not addressed except for an increase in so called “affordable” housing.
A common question during the meetings was: how will the required number of new homes get built? City planning staff struggled to find a convincing answer. Perhaps a better place to look is the Housing Affordability Task Force Report which was commissioned by the Government of Ontario and issued in February. This report offers credible recommendations as to what it will take to achieve requirements, and they include: reducing the amount of consultation with local communities regarding new building designs (Councillor Crawford is allowed to weep), reducing the need for municipal approval, reducing urban design rules, eliminating the requirement to preserve neighbourhood character and reducing parking requirements. All these things play into the hands of the developers rather than the citizens.
One of the most significant housing developments in the Bluffs community is condos on Kingston Road. Let us imagine what the future will bring when the new Official Plan becomes effective. It is already easy to get a permit to build taller than the Plan allows. It will probably become easier still with the new priority of more housing. So, it can be expected that Kingston Road will be lined, on the north and south sides, with significantly taller condos than currently exist. Have you ever seen the workers’ apartments that were built in the former Soviet Union? That’s what they will look like. Square, grey concrete blocks with uniformly spaced square cut outs for windows. Residents will spend a good part of their day searching the choked streets for somewhere to put their cars because the apartments will have no parking. There will be no trees, grass or sunlight. But all the inhabitants will have jobs in warehouses to which they will travel in crowded buses. What a dream of the future our city is bringing us.
There has to be a better way and it behoves all of us in the Bluffs to participate, but we are not! Typical attendance at the city-organised meetings has been 30 people. And the typical number of those who are from Scarborough is three. If we don’t participate, we will get what the city planners and the politicians think is best for us.
Toronto Official Plan ~ Officially Wanting July/ August 2022 Edition
By Derek Pinder
In the March edition of the Bluffs Monitor we reported on the new Toronto Official Plan (OP) which is currently under preparation. We described it as a plan for mediocrity. In May, the City of Toronto held a meeting to address the impact of the plan on Scarborough and our opinion remains unchanged.
It seems a very good idea to involve the citizens of Scarborough in the preparation of a plan which is going to be the basis of decisions for the next 30 years, but before getting into details, a couple of points spring to mind.
The first is that Scarborough has a population of some 630,000 people. How many do you think attended the meeting? Thirty… and not all of them were from Scarborough.
And the second: the basis of the plan is that the population of Toronto will grow by at least 700,000 people by 2051. The Toronto Official Plan may be getting public input, but the foundation of the plan is not. There is support for population growth but there are strong arguments against it. Surely there should have been some debate over our objectives before developing a plan to achieve them.
Let’s take a look at how the OP will affect the Bluffs community.
During the meeting, the question was asked, will future development respect existing neighbourhoods. The answer was that zoning by-laws reflect local conditions and existing zoning will be recognised. Quite a contrast with a recommendation in the report from the Ontario Housing Affordability Taskforce in February: “Repeal municipal policies that focus on preserving a neighbourhood’s character”.
An important component of the OP is transit, but the plan emphasises land development in the vicinity of transit stations rather than transit itself, although it was noted that the Scarborough subway has now become a priority development. There are three subway stations that serve the Bluffs: Kennedy, Warden, and Victoria Park. The areas within a 10-minute walk of each station will be developed to a density of at least two to four times present densities and new building must include affordable housing. For those who live close by, we can hope that the TTC can provide a service for what promises to be a significant increase in ridership. For the many Bluffs residents who are not within walking distance, life is likely to get a whole lot worse because the housing developments will replace parking lots and bus travel seems to be getting increasingly unpleasant. We also have three GO stations: Scarborough, Eglinton, and Guildwood. They too will be slated for area densification and Metrolinx is already preparing for a big increase in patrons. Parking at GO stations has become easier of late due to people working from home but when, and if, things return to normal that problem will also return. In fact, the city is paying no attention to the “last mile problem”, and it is disappointing that since the demise of the much-heralded automated shuttle trials, the subject seems to be off the table.
The City does recognise that adding more people creates a need for more jobs. Areas for employment growth have been identified but none are in the Bluffs. City staff talk glowingly of attracting the Amazon warehouse to Scarborough and the need for jobs that fulfil the criteria of low-barrier entry–help to people whose professional qualifications are not recognised in Canada–and help people whose spoken English is poor. A far cry from the current plan which aims for well-paid and fulfilling employment opportunities.
We live in a city where many people cannot find a family doctor and where hospitals treat patients in hospital corridors. We live in a city where there is such a shortage of housing that for many, home ownership is impossible. We live in a city where both roads and public transit cannot cope with demand. Our city leaders think this is a good time to increase our city’s population!
It is probably too late for change because the OP is scheduled for completion by July 1, but to learn more, go to Toronto.ca/ourplan. Borrowing the title of one of Jane Jacobs’ influential books on the design of cities, I Fear There is a Dark Age Ahead.
New Plan Promises Mediocrity for Scarborough March 2022 Edition
In the window of a business on Kingston Road in Cliffside is a message to passers-by. Within that message is the claim that Scarborough is one of the most beautiful suburbs in the world. If this resonates with you, then so will the new Toronto Official Plan which holds the promise of little change to the familiar Scarborough which is loved more by some than others.
The new Plan is based on the premise that Toronto’s population will grow by 700,000 people over the next 30 years. The idea that the key to prosperity is population growth seems to be generally accepted although it has not been the subject of much debate. It has turned on its head the statement that appears in the opening page of the existing Plan: “Making Toronto better should always come before making Toronto bigger”. Given the potential impact of this change in direction, it was a good move by the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization to arrange a public meeting with the City of Toronto planning staff who are preparing the new Plan, dubbed “Our Plan Toronto”. There was considerable interest in the subject and 160 people attended.
The meeting opened with a presentation by City staff on the development of the Plan which is scheduled for completion by July 1, 2022. It was confirmed that the Plan update is driven by population growth with the purpose of setting direction for this growth and directing where development should and should not be implemented.
Close to an hour of the meeting was set aside for questions and answers. The topic that met with the most interest revolved around the wish for densification in developed areas rather than contributing to urban spread. More citizens spoke in favour of densification than against but a number of warning fingers were raised. One speaker said that packing large numbers of people into small areas leads to overcrowding and a loss of family and community values. Another pointed out that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to support a rapid growth in population. The opinion was also expressed that densification leads to degradation of the tree canopy, a loss of open spaces and does not make for safe and friendly neighbourhoods.
An interesting question was: how can we attract employees with high paying jobs? City staff opined that Amazon and Canada Post have created hundreds of jobs in Scarborough. They then rather sheepishly acknowledged that they were not, perhaps, the type of jobs that the questioner was seeking. Nevertheless, they said, the City is working directly with businesses and things will improve with better transit such as the subway line to Scarborough Centre, which optimists are forecasting will open in 2030.
After further questions on a variety of topics, City representatives said that policies have not yet been written, there will be further reviews and they still have time to listen.
So, it appears that to achieve prosperity, not much will change in Scarborough except that we must pave it over, live on top of each other and have less sunshine. All the plans and discussions are centred around the mundane. Where are the ground-breaking ideas, where is the vivacity, the leadership, the sparkle, the dream, the ambition? To learn more and to get involved, go to toronto.ca/ourplan.