As global populations rise at exponential rates (Roser, M. & Ortiz-Ospina, E., 2017) urban centers, such as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), are feeling the pressures to expand. In Toronto’s case, there were population increases between 2001 and 2011 that saw one million new residents to the area, 86 per cent of which were housed on newly developed land (Bula, 2018). The planning conducted by cities to accommodate these increases is putting environmentally valuable and sensitive areas at risk. In order to protect these assets, government organizations along with concerned residents have put in place policies, like the Ontario Green Belt Act, to restrict certain development and combat the effects of urban expansion.
Since 1985, there has been a motion to protect Southern Ontario's natural capital. The Niagara Escarpment Plan was the first plan to be implemented, followed by the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and eventually the Greenbelt Act. The Greenbelt is an area surrounding the Greater Toronto Area with regulations to protect the rural environment. Outlined in the Greenbelt Act are several objectives aiming preserve agriculture and agri-food networks, create recreation and tourism opportunities, sustain rural communities, limit development to protect water resources and natural capital, and support the Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment (Greenbelt Act, 2009).
The Greater Golden Horseshoe depicts areas where development will occur with the expected population increase in Southern Ontario (MacDonald, 2007). It is one of the fastest growing areas in North America, with an anticipated population growth bringing the total up to 13.5 million by the year 2041 (Ontario Land and Use Planning, ND). With the rapidly increasing threat of urban expansion, there has been discussion regarding the opening of the Greenbelt for development. Due to the highly protective nature of these plans, they have helped create a contentious political atmosphere both within communities and the government (Green, 1993; Deaton & Vyn, 2010). This contention is a result of differing political values and opinions regarding the environment. With population rising in a tightly constrained urban sprawl it has been proposed by the provincial government to amend the legislation regarding restricted development of protected lands. Recently this decision has been officially revoked but the probability of this discussion in the future is why this topic is important to explore. The main concern of implementing Bill 66 would be losing environmentally sensitive land, natural capital, endangered species, water resources and agriculturally productive lands, and all of the ecosystem services the aforementioned provide. The scope of the research is to take into consideration the various policies and environmental factors of land repurposing and being able to identify areas better suited for future development.
Purpose of Research
The purpose of this study was to determine what areas of land in southern Ontario's Greenbelt require the highest level of protection from development based on ecological, hydrological and agricultural values in association with existing policy guidelines in order to maintain the integrity of the act and the values that shape it.
Objective 1: To define suitable ecological, hydrological and agricultural factors for the purpose of ranking land area that requires the highest level of protection against urban development pressures, tentatively based on the amendment of the Greenbelt Act.
Objective 2: To identify the related policy planned under the Greenbelt Act and order the level of significance based on how strict the policies are in each designated area; rank them on a common scale.
Objective 3: To develop a GIS-based model that applies the factors as described in objectives 1 and 2, producing output values in geographic representation that outlines the importance of protection from urban development.
Objective 4: Apply the GIS model's output to provide an evaluation of protected sites, the level of protection and the possibility of allowing development.
Objective 5: Identify limitations, and pros and cons of the model as well as any necessary future work.