May 20, 2013 Leave a comment
Reading recent accounts of Council’s reluctance to endorse, even if only in principle, the City Treasurer’s recommendation to begin the study of an “area rating” system for the calculation of development charges (DCs), I was struck once again by how shallow and unsophisticated deliberations by Council have become.
A fully developed area rating system, a potential tool in the growth management toolkit, would be an approach firmly grounded in the recognition of the power of the market in influencing development and locational choices. The other pole in the continuum of growth management techniques is, of course, the status quo – the planning regulation approach, which causes so many of our councillors such extreme distress.
Now, to be clear, Mr. Hayward is NOT recommending the study of a fully-developed area rating system. It is but the first tentative step in that direction. But, with area rating, comes the acknowledgement that DCs should at least attempt to reflect the true cost of providing urban goods and services as they vary with location, land use, building type, density, and proximity to existing urban infrastructure.
With the planning regulation approach, cities, via their planning departments, attempt to shape and manage growth through policies and regulations.
What both approaches have in common is the acceptance that, within the urban growth boundary at least, there are MORE efficient and LESS efficient places in which to grow our city, and that this growth needs to be properly staged in order to make it affordable for taxpayers. As has been said elsewhere, “Growth is good, but not all growth is equal.”
We can try to drive growth to the more efficient places and away from the less efficient places by trying to regulate where it can occur, or by using the power of the market to send the appropriate price signals to accomplish the same goal.
People who know me will understand that I don’t, generally, have great difficulty accepting the use of regulatory means to accomplish sound public policy outcomes. Accommodating the future growth that is absolutely necessary for the future prosperity of this city within a more strategically-determined and compact urban footprint – with all of the economic, social and economic efficiencies this will bring – fits within the parameters of “sound public policy”, at least in my mind.
Readers are well-advised to review the ReThink London discussion paper on a compact city, in which the costs to taxpayers of three models of growth are costed over the next fifty years. The costs are truly staggering. We’re talking billions of dollars.
So, having said that, one would expect that I would be firmly on the side of the planning regulation approach (let’s regulate our way to future prosperity through urban growth because I don’t trust the market to do what’s right) and, say, someone like Councillor Van Meerbergen would be strongly supportive of market-based approaches (let’s get the planners out of the way and let the market do what it does best). This is where it gets confusing….
My own views on the most appropriate way for us to efficiently shape urban growth to fit the legitimate needs of this city – that, is regulatory approach vs. market-based approach – are, well, evolving….
I say this because I’m having difficulty getting past a simple and increasingly obvious fact: despite at least twenty-five years during which smart and progressive urban planners (many of whom run the planning departments in large Canadian cities, including ours) have attempted to use increasingly complex planning regulations to shape and manage growth in the ways most affordable to the public purse, things aren’t improving much, if at all. Sprawl isn’t being contained. Intensification targets aren’t being met. Residential and commercial development still leapfrogs. Prime agricultural land on the fringe of the city are still being consumed by greenfield development.
So, I’m getting closer and closer to Councillor Van Meerbergen’s position that we might have to learn to harness the power of the market to accomplish sound public policy outcomes. Except that Councillor Van Meerbergen has since vacated that position. He voted against Mr. Hayward’s recommendation to study this market-based approach – along with the Mayor and Councillors Swan, Polhill, Armstrong, Orser, Henderson, D. Brown and White.