Housing development in Ontario seems to be proceeding frantically. In Toronto, there are no shortage of towering condo developments appearing as if by magic. Across Southern Ontario, developments of single-family homes have created sprawling communities almost overnight. Population projections for the province show an estimated 193,000 more people per year, and in 2018, more than 75,000 new homes were constructed in the province, making it one of the fastest growing regions in Canada.
New homes have impacts beyond their land use. Canadian homes consume over 30% of all energy in the country, using over half of all the electricity. Buildings are major consumers of energy and water, and generate waste, air pollution, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. New developments also place an increased burden on municipal infrastructure. Cities are increasingly recognizing that their quality of life and competitiveness will in part be driven by how effectively they manage the use of their energy and water resources.
New construction projects are often left out of the climate change conversation, but present one of the best opportunities to address future GHG emissions. Local government action is often focused on lowering emissions from transportation and seeking opportunities for energy efficiency of existing buildings – two key pieces of our climate response. But without a strategy for achieving zero carbon performance and creating a low carbon building stock for future generations, municipalities will have to retrofit homes in the future, which is both more expensive and difficult.
One of the most powerful tools municipalities have for fighting climate change is also a tool for stimulating local economic development. This tool is their authority over local planning decisions, which includes their ability to approve new construction projects. By implementing green development standards (GDS), municipalities can boost their economies while addressing a suite of environmental priorities, including:
- Air quality
- Climate change and energy efficiency
- Water quality and efficiency
- Ecology and solid waste
In 2020, Clean Air Partnership released a toolkit to help communities develop and implement GDS for new residential buildings. This project was funded by FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program’s Transition 2050 initiative, and was developed in collaboration with 8 partner municiplalities.
The tool, Towards Low Carbon Communities: Creating Municipal Green Development Standards, An Implementation Toolkit for Municipal Staff, helps municipalities achieve Official Plan objectives, such as GHG reduction targets, and goals related to sustainability, health and economic development. The tool considers how we can grow healthy, well-designed communities that have integrated greenspace, pedestrian and transit networks, and also offer a variety of housing, transportation, human services, and employment options. GDS help municipalities alleviate pressures from population growth and urbanization by using infrastructure and resources efficiently.
Municipalities have the opportunity to ensure that new developments do more than simply provide additional spaces for people to live, work, and play. Developments should consider the growing concerns around public health, climate change, energy, and resource use. In order to manage growth, use municipal resources efficiently, and improve the health and well-being of residents, municipalities must develop integrated policies and planning processes that holistically consider health, environmental sustainability, and economic burden.
By Vanessa Cipriani, Project Coordinator, Clean Air Partnership