Growth Management & Land Use

Integrating Climate, Equity, Affordability, and Financial Sustainability in Municipal Growth Management and Land Use Planning Decisions

Growth management and land use decisions are complex decisions that affect the financial and environmental sustainability of our communities and municipalities. While these decisions are not traditionally associated with climate action or equity opportunities, they are in fact intertwined with these critical issues.

Growth Management and Climate Change

One of the most direct connections between growth management and climate change lies in how a community's growth is planned. Ontario municipalities have been using green development standards (GDS) to increase the sustainability of their new developments. Green Development Standards include various sustainability metrics, including energy efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, on-site precipitation management, bird-friendly design, soil quality, tree planting, electric vehicle (EV) charging readiness, and the provision and proximity of green spaces and active transportation options.

However, the impact of growth extends beyond the buildings themselves as the locations selected for new development has profound energy and climate implications. Studies, such as TAF's GHG Emissions Inventory and a University of Toronto study, have shown that GHG emissions from transportation are on par with the emissions from the buildings themselves, and as one moves away from transit-oriented development locations, transportation emissions often exceed emissions from building operations. These findings highlight the importance of considering climate change in growth management decisions and increasing growth in transit-oriented development locations.

Growth Management, Affordability, and Equity

Increased density and intensification was expected to lead to increased housing affordability. Housing diversity has increased with the inclusion of condominiums, row homes, and townhouses alongside traditional single-family homes. However, these hoped-for affordability gains have not materialized. While there are many complex factors that affect the affordability of the housing market, one factor under municipal control are the development fees collected to pay for the new infrastructure needed to support growth.

Infrastructure costs vary significantly across different development archetypes. Greenfield development necessitates entirely new infrastructure, while intensification prioritizes the use of existing infrastructure. However, development fees, which are used to cover upfront capital infrastructure costs, often treat all development types equally. This has unintended consequences, as developments with lower infrastructure costs may subsidize more expensive greenfield developments. This inequity affects affordability, as areas closer to existing infrastructure do not benefit from reduced development fees, and greenfield development may not be fully covering its costs.

Growth Management and Municipal Financial Sustainability

Beyond upfront capital costs (Cost # 1), there are two additional cost categories affected by the land use patterns approved by municipalities:

Cost #2: Servicing costs encompass road maintenance, water and water services, transit, and more, and are funded primarily through property taxes. While many municipalities have not thoroughly analyzed servicing costs across different land use archetypes, studies indicate significant differences. Higher-density communities generate more property tax revenue while costing less to service, whereas lower-density communities generate less revenue while costing more to service.

Cost #3: The long-term financial sustainability of municipalities heavily relies on the costs associated with infrastructure rehabilitation. When infrastructure inevitably requires rehabilitation, these costs are also funded through the property tax base. More municipalities are finally now studying how rehabilitation costs differ across land use archetypes to determine which communities cover their rehabilitation costs and which require subsidization from the property tax base.

However, so far the municipal focus has been on upfront capital costs (Cost #1) and even then, municipalities have not accurately allocated these fees based on the actual growth costs across various land use archetypes.

Emerging efforts are finally taking place to better understand Costs #2 and #3, to explore which land use archetypes cover their servicing and rehabilitation costs and which require subsidization from property taxes.

Key Insights from Case Studies

Several case studies offer valuable insights into the connections between growth management, affordability, equity, and financial sustainability:

1. Value Per Acre Analysis: Strong Towns has developed tools like the Value Per Acre analysis to help municipalities calculate property tax contributions from different parts of their communities. This tool enables municipalities to better understand which communities contribute more to municipal revenue. Thereby then enabling them to bring that revenue analysis together with servicing and rehabilitation costs across their different community archetypes.

2. Plan it Calgary Report: The Plan it Calgary report explored the costs associated with different growth management scenarios and found that the more dense scenario was 33% less expensive for upfront construction, operation and maintenance than the dispersed scenario. The costs to maintain and replace aging streets had the largest impact on costs with the denser scenario providing a 36% cost savings. In addition, reduced greenfield growth resulted in a 55% cost savings for water and wastewater.

3. The City of Halifax compared three scenarios, a Business-as-Usual scenario; a 40% Regional Centre, 40% Suburban and 20% rural (scenario A); and a 50% regional centre, 30% suburban and 20% rural (scenario B). Both scenarios A and B reduced costs in comparison to Business-as-Usual scenario, with scenario A representing a savings of $ 1.7 billion and scenario B representing a savings of $ 3.1 billion.

Growth management and land use decisions are central to addressing critical issues such as climate change, equity, affordability, and municipal financial sustainability. Integrating sustainability metrics, addressing infrastructure costs, and analyzing the impacts of different land use archetypes are essential steps for municipalities seeking to make informed, equitable, and sustainable growth decisions.

Equity Questions

What are you trying to achieve with this action?

One of the primary objectives is to incorporate climate and equity considerations into growth management and land use decisions. This means ensuring that growth occurs in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner while also promoting equity in housing and development.

Who has traditionally participated in/benefitted from this action?

Traditionally, municipalities and developers have participated and benefited from growth management and land use decisions. However, those benefits have not always been distributed equitably.

What groups are most in need of this action? Why?

Groups most in need of this action include lower-income communities and marginalized populations who often bear the brunt of the negative consequences of increased housing costs and unsustainable development. They are most in need of more affordable housing and better access to public amenities and transportation. The housing market as a whole would benefit from a better understanding of infrastructure costs across different development archetypes.

What has prevented these groups from participating in the past?

Barriers to participation for lower income and marginalized population groups include low time availability due to work responsibilities to address high housing and transportation costs.

What design can address barriers from those most in need of action or to increase participation?

To address these barriers, growth management and land use considerations should include:

Affordable housing requirements and investments.
Increased access to public amenities and green spaces.
Improved active and public transportation infrastructure.
Consideration of the actual costs of infrastructure growth when allocating development costs.

Can you identify any negative impacts that this action may cause? Are there any measures that can help to proactively prevent that harm?

Negative impacts may relate to the work associated with development cost studies that better analyses the costs across different growth archetypes and the changes that would be needed to allocate costs and fees more accurately.

There could be potential negative implications associated with delays on planning approval if these studies delay planning approvals.

There could be negative impacts associated with the higher costs for greenfield development for those selecting that property type. However, if that occurs it would be to address the higher costs associated with infrastructure for those developments. And would be offset by lower development fees in development types that require less new infrastructure investments.

Additional negative impacts can potentially include environmental impacts such as GHG emissions and increased flood risk if growth is not managed sustainably.

Who hasn't yet been engaged that would be good to engage? Why would they be good to engage? What may limit their engagement interest/ability?

Equity-deserving organizations and community leaders should be engaged because they can provide valuable input and advocate for the interests of marginalized communities. However, their engagement may be limited by resource constraints, lack of awareness, or existing power dynamics that marginalize their voices.

How does this action relate to other priorities or issues the municipality is currently facing?

This action intersects with several other municipal priorities, including housing affordability, transportation planning, and environmental sustainability. It is essential to integrate climate and equity considerations into these broader municipal goals.

Who are the community leaders in your municipality that can act as a trusted source to build community support and engagement?

Community leaders who have a track record of advocating for equity and sustainability, as well as those who have strong connections with marginalized communities, can act as trusted sources for building support and engagement.

Do you know who the equity-deserving organizations in your community are?

Identifying equity-deserving organizations is crucial, as they can provide valuable insights. It's essential for municipalities to establish connections with these organizations and collaborate on program design.

Can this action support the goals of equity-deserving groups? If so, how? Have you engaged them in the planning process to gather their input on the action's ability to address their target priorities?

Yes, this action can support equity-deserving groups by promoting affordable housing, improving access to amenities, and addressing transportation needs. Engaging these groups in the planning process is vital to ensure that their specific priorities and concerns are considered and addressed.

Municipalities can support increased housing affordability by implement policies such as affordable housing initiatives/investments and/or community reinvestment strategies.

The above was collated from a Growth Management and Equity and Climate Synergies Workshop, collated input from that workshop is available here.

Do you notice any gaps or have additional suggestions for climate and equity synergies related to growth management & land use? Add them here.