Density, Intensification and Population Growth

By Don Kerr

We are facing unprecedented development in our watershed. The Trust decided to clarify our position on the Issues of density and intensification. At our September 1, 2015 Board meeting, we passed the following resolutions:

  1. To defend the principle of intensification in zoned settlement areas while objecting to excessive density in areas where it would cause potential harm or degradation to valuable natural areas in the vicinity, say within 120 metres. The concept of sensitive natural areas goes beyond what is defined in the Provincial Policy Statement to include areas identified or potentially identified in Natural Heritage Systems studies.
  1. To continue to place higher priority for sustainability over population growth and continue to lobby for amendment to the Growth Plan.

VALUE OF INTENSITY: The Trust supports intensification in principle in order to reduce urban sprawl thus reducing human encroachment upon natural areas.

DENSITY PROBLEMS: In opposition to the principle of intensification, excessive density in a settlement area that is near sensitive lands, e.g. wetlands, forests, etc., will cause undue pressure on the natural areas, a situation inconsistent with our mission. A prime example is the plan to create about 300 residential units in Consulate East totally surrounded by the Silver Creek Wetland.

POPULATION GROWTH: We will continue to place priority for sustainability over population growth in our submissions to government.


Another crucial factor is the perceived need to accommodate population forecasts. This is expressed in Provincial estimates of projected population levels throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) and is taken as given without any argument. A more rational position would be to establish the primacy of sustainability before consideration of population forecasts. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has expressed his concern about this situation. In his 2013/2014 report, the ECO made many relevant assertions in Section 5.3 concerning excessive growth. On p. 154, the report states: “…at what point has there been enough growth for a particular city or region. Limits to growth are based on an array of factors…This fundamental failure to acknowledge the ‘limits to growth’ call into question the Growth Plan’s vision to build sustainable communities.”

A better policy would be to resist growth estimates until sustainability has been assessed. Resistance to growth is important in order to counter the enormous pressures for continued growth from the development industry and other economic interests (banks, corporations, real estate, etc.) including the dominant political philosophy that growth solves all problems.