The reaction to the Ontario Government’s announcement of its intended reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board were swift and predictable. Leaders of citizen groups and municipal politicians welcomed the news while spokespeople for the development industry condemned it.
This is the news release from the government: https://news.ontario.ca/mma/en/2016/10/ontario-proposing-changes-to-ontario-municipal-board-to-improve-efficiency-and-accessibility.html
Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro on Toronto City Hall reaction: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/16/omb-reform-praised-as-bold-boon-to-local-democracy.html
My reaction, for what it’s worth, is that this is to be welcomed because it strengthens citizen involvement in planning and enhances local control. It is a major development in participatory democracy in Ontario.
For too long developers have been able to use their financial ability to get what they want. The expense of OMB appeals has been a financial burden for municipalities. Developers have literally been able to outspend municipalities on legal and planning experts to get what and that means increasing profits.
But the real problem is that a small group of unelected, OMB officials have been able to overrule local politicians. Politicians are not perfect, as everyone knows, but at least they are accountable to the people.
This has led to inappropriate development all over the province, from high rise in downtown Toronto to urban sprawl in the suburbs. The OMB reforms will help to rebalance interests and strengthen citizen control of their communities.
The good news that arrived in today’s newspapers was that Hamilton City Council voted to proceed with the LRT project by a vote of 10 to 5.
There are new provisions put on the project. The spur line that was to go down James Street North to the Waterfront has been cancelled, and Queen’s Park has agreed to study an extension of the 11 kilometer route by another 3 kilometers. It appears that the extension was what made the vote possible.
To me, that makes a lot of sense. The east terminus of the LRT was to be in the Eastgate Mall. It should extend to Stoney Creek. In the west, the end of the line was to be at McMaster University. It will be much better to have it extend to Dundas and help to get people out of their cars.
What is most exciting about the LRT line is that it will play no small part in revitalizing Hamilton’s downtown core. This has long been the dream of those of us who care about the city, but it was handled so badly by those who promoted the Urban Renewal in the 1960s that it hastened the evacuation and deterioration of the downtown to the point where it became virtually derelict.
Today cities across North America are revitalizing their downtowns. People are moving back into urban cores, bringing businesses, jobs, strengthening retail, promoting culture, street life and new vitality.
This has already started along James Street North and South. The new Waterfront will also play a part in bringing life back to the centre of the city. There are magnificent old buildings just waiting to be renovated and repurposed.
But there are still major problems. Downtown Hamilton has an excessive amount of vacant property in the form of acres and acres of underutilized parking lots. The city needs housing in its core, especially affordable housing that can attract young people who are fleeing the high prices of Toronto and the rest of the GTA.
The new LRT line and all day service to the West Harbour GO Station will make a major contribution bringing people, jobs and businesses to the downtown.
This is good news for what used to be called Steeltown.
Gary Mason, the insightful Vancouver correspondent for the Globe and Mail, has an opinion piece in today’s paper about the housing crisis in his city that has important implications for Toronto. This is the core of his argument.
“Politicians, realtors and developers have continued to insist it’s simply a lack of supply (of housing). But that’s not entirely true. The thousands of new condo units built in the past few years have not been the answer to Vancouver’s affordability issue and the mayor (Gregor Robertson) has the guts to admit it. Most of the new ones are sold at luxury rates, which don’t serve the purposes of young, first – or second – time home buyers.
Meanwhile, neighbourhoods of single-detached homes on the expensive west side, in particular, have been hollowing out of young people and people generally. (Many of the homes are held as investments by offshore buyers.) The latest census showed fewer and fewer people living there. Hundreds of properties sit vacant.
(The mayor says) “We need to stop fixating on density because that’s not what this is about,” he said. “Density for density’s sake might just give us more empty homes. What we’re talking about is people.
“Schools filled with students, neighbourhood streets filled with shoppers, parks filled with kids. A neighbourhood made of perfect $5-million homes with no children is not healthy. That’s the sign of a failing city.”
That is a remarkable thing for a mayor to admit, but it’s true. A lot of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods have lost their soul, have lost their pulse of life. There are no young adults anywhere to be seen in a lot of them. How can that be a good thing?
Consider this stat: Ten years ago, if you had a household income of $97,000, you could afford to own a townhouse on the less expensive east side of Vancouver. Today, that house-hold income would need to be $175,000.”
Admittedly the housing crisis is not as bad in Toronto. We don’t have the problem of offshore buyers leaving their houses vacant, but high prices are making housing unaffordable for young families. In the expensive areas of the city like North Toronto, Rosedale, Forest Hill and the west end around High Park are becoming neighbourhoods of affluent, middle aged people with no children. The houses are much too expensive for young couples with children unless they come from families with significant wealth.
Even in suburbs like Mississauga, Vaughan and York Region house prices are too high for couples with families. Studies in the U.S. have shown that two-thirds of the suburban houses have no children living in them. The same is likely to be the case in Canada and the more expensive the houses the less likely there will be children. The irony is that these houses were built for families.
Those who believe in classical economics say that older couples will sell their houses and move into less expensive places, but things have changed. The demand for housing remains high. At least 100,000 immigrants are settling into the GTHA every year. That helps to drive our economy, but it also drives house and condos prices upwards into the unaffordable stratosphere.
There are answers to this. In Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is finding ways to stimulate affordable housing projects by selling city owned land at low cost for affordable housing. In Toronto we haven’t had a public discussion of the issue let alone practical solutions. If we don’t get moving with a realistic action plan, things are going to get miserable for many, many people. Housing is a fundamental for a good quality of life.
Where is Mayor Tory on this issue? Liberals were elected across Toronto and most of the GTHA but nothing is happing to create affordable housing for middle and low income families. If we wait five years, there will be a lost generation. Only governments have the resources to solve this problem and we must hold them responsible.
This is the link to Gary Mason’s article. It is worth reading in full.
The Bulletin, a community newspaper distributed in downtown Toronto, has a piece on my new book, Democracy Rising: Politics and Participation in Canada. The book will be released at the end of March. The book launch will be held at Ben McNally’s bookstore on Bay Street, on March 28 from 6 to 8. Everyone is welcome.
Below is a link to an article in today’s Globe and Mail’s real estate section called “A speculation-free zone.”
The article shows how land trusts in Vancouver are combining the equity of co-ops and non-profits, along with land from municipalities at low-cost, to create the financing needed for new affordable housing.
As I show in my book, The New Urban Agenda, the lack of affordable housing in the GTHA has developed into a serious crisis. Thousands of families and individuals are suffering because they cannot afford good housing.
Government is reluctant to provide the needed funds. Maybe land trusts, equity from co-ops and some help from municipalities is the way to do it.
This is a link to a video by the Ryerson City Building Institute about the possibility of redeveloping Yonge Street in downtown Toronto into a walking, cycling environment that restricts cars and promotes public spaces for people.
My new book, Democracy Rising: Politics and Participatory in Canada, is at the printer and will be released in mid March.
The book advocates that we need much higher levels of participation if we are to strengthen and complete our democracy. It is called participatory democracy, rather than representative democracy, that is now the accepted form of politics practiced in Canada and other countries.
George Monbiot, the journalist and social critic, who publishes in the Guardian, is a leading advocate of participatory democracy. This is a link to his latest article on the issue.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to stop the imposition of tolls on the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressways shows the domination of suburban culture – cars over transit, low density suburban sprawl over high density multi-unit condominiums, suburban culture over urban culture.
I argued in my book, The New Urban Agenda, that we are moving inexorably into a new urban era where increasing numbers of people want to live in high density communities, rather than low density suburbs. If this movement is strengthened and encouraged, it will mean a more urban way of life where transit, cycling and walking are the main ways that people get around, the threat of climate change is reduced, and our city streets and public spaces are taken back from the domination of traffic.
Premier Wynne’s decision underlines that we are still a long way from that dream. The suburbs, and car culture continue to dominate the political life of Ontario. And she is not alone. Both opposition parties swore they would oppose the suburbs over the city by rejecting tolls on the expressways.
This is a political shock. It is not only that the premier has overruled the decision of the mayor of Canada’s largest city, and the consensus of the forty-four member city council, but the decision shows she rejects the new urban agenda, of higher density living, reducing traffic with its congestion and pollution, and improving the quality of life of our cities. That is the only way to build an economically viable, affordable and sustainable city.
The political power of suburbanites is not finished yet. It is back to the 1950s – back to the future yet again.