WATERLOO REGION — As the deadline approaches for the regional official plan, a local environmentalist says this is the greatest chance to dream of what residents want the region to become in the decades to come.
“Climate change solutions are being implemented — the most effective, the most important — at the local level,” Kevin Thomason, of Smart Growth Waterloo Region, told a virtual crowd of more than 100 attendees Thursday night.
“It will be our decisions about where and how we live and move around in our communities, our choice of housing and that will be what will have the most impact. Tell your story, go out there and voice your concern, connect with the hearts and minds of your local elected officials and staff.
During the two-day Southern Ontario Growth Conference, a number of guests spoke about community and local action to address climate change.
Official plans, developed at the regional and municipal levels, define the long-term growth and development of an area.
“The sad thing is that most citizens will never read an official plan and yet it impacts them daily,” Thomason said.
These plans specify where housing will be developed, what type of housing, where jobs will be and how to locate them, and how the region will protect its agricultural land.
Premier Doug Ford has given a July 1 deadline for most upper-tier municipalities to complete their plans.
“So really, time is running out for this one.”
Thomason said provincial consultants say about half of municipalities will miss the July 1 deadline.
Thomason pointed to other changes made by the Ford government, such as the target rate of intensification dropping from 60% to 50%, and the number of people and jobs per hectare from 80 to 50.
Intensification is the number of building permits issued in an existing urban area.
“When we hear a 65% intensification, that means 65% of building permits are basically going within built-up urban boundaries and only 35% would be in what has been agricultural fields,” he said. .
“These numbers, which seem technical, have really big impacts in terms of the amount of land needed to house the same number of people.”
Urban boundaries may be put in place in an effort to save natural areas and farmland, but Thomason said they’ve also caused people to rush for development opportunities in the area because the official plan doesn’t cannot be appealed.
It wouldn’t hurt to take council members to places they may not know and that residents care about.
“I think it’s so important that we don’t let land speculators determine the future of our communities. More often than not, it is these developers and people who are most involved and engaged with our planning staff and politicians,” Thomason said.
An example of a local initiative was Halton Hills Coun. Jane Fogal’s leadership in Stop Sprawl Halton, a group that came together to save Halton’s farmland. Fogal was also a speaker at the event.
Local speaker Kae Elgie, president of the provincial branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, said buildings and construction account for nearly half of carbon emissions.
“We need programs and policies that encourage energy-saving work on existing buildings. We need programs and policies that encourage repairs and prohibit climate-damaging demolitions.
She outlined three ways to fight climate change: implement programs to reward reduced emissions, consider creating lifetime carbon costs for demolition applications, and implement carbon budgeting.
A number of other speakers from Montreal to Hamilton spoke about personal projects and initiatives and offered advice on what individuals can do to take action on climate change in their own communities.
The conference also focused on what municipalities are doing and can do to stop climate change.
Several speakers highlighted the importance of making cities safe for pedestrians and cyclists to help people move away from car use.
Ken Greenberg, Toronto-based urban designer, urban building advocate and author, said the most valuable resource in our cities is the diverse human gene pool.
In order to maintain this, he said new sustainable and inclusive neighborhoods needed to be built – this would see a yoga studio for grandma and a play area for a child within walking distance of a resident’s home.
Greenberg also said that building and sprawl are two solutions that cause damage with overdependence.
“Can we accommodate a full cycle of life in our cities? Greenberg questioned.