Can planning and growth management policies influence the location of economic activities within the Central Zone?

It should be clear from the discussion above that, for those activities with a significant degree of knowledge intensity or creative and cultural content, investments in maintaining and improving the quality of place are key. City-regions hoping to retain their existing share of such activity, or to generate or attract new employment opportunities, must ensure that:

  • neighbourhoods are safe, clean, socially harmonious, and vibrant;
  • social diversity is embraced and income polarization minimized;
  • public school systems are of high quality and on a stable financial footing;
  • cultural and entertainment opportunities are rich and varied;
  • elements of the existing urban fabric that are qualitatively unique, distinctive, and authentic are maintained and strengthened (examples include ethnic neighbourhoods with distinctive shopping streets, dining opportunities, and streetscapes, and historically significant buildings, streets, and districts);
  • natural environmental assets are protected and, where appropriate, enhanced (such as Toronto's long-neglected waterfront);
  • residential and employment densities are high enough, and land uses are sufficiently mixed to support a vibrant urban economy and cultural scene;
  • alternatives to automobile travel - public transit, walking, and cycling - are readily available (increasingly, the availability of high-quality, attractive alternatives to auto-based daily commuting represents a unique asset and feature of local and regional quality of place that ought to be encouraged and developed).

Sound planning and growth management strategies are directly implicated in many of these considerations. The evidence indicates that the connection between physical and social quality of place and economic dynamism are strong and getting stronger. Good planning and growth management policies amount to good economic policies, and the (admittedly expensive) investments required to restore, maintain, and improve key physical and social infrastructure in the Central Zone's urban regions represent money well spent. Indeed, one can say that failure to upgrade our existing infrastructure will seriously imperil our future growth prospects.

It is also clear that urban critical mass is vital. Only those places that have attained a certain size, density, and complexity will offer the optimal conditions to support knowledge- and design-intensive employment growth. The reasons relate to the local availability of supplies, services, and leading-edge knowledge assets found in world-class institutions of research and education, as well as the ability to attract and retain highly skilled and talented employees.

These considerations imply that the major nodes for future employment growth within the Central Zone - at least for the most knowledge-intensive and creativity-based activities in the Zone's traded clusters - are particularly in the GTA and secondarily in the three next-largest urban centres: Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo (including Guelph), and St. Catharines. Within each of these urban regions, central built-up locations offer distinct advantages for nurturing the development of wealth-generating activities. It is especially important to remove impediments to the redevelopment of vacant or underused brownfield sites, so that the potential value of these lands can be realized.

For less knowledge-intensive activities, the most important locational assets for retaining existing investments and attracting new ones are (i) the availability of serviced industrial land close to major highways that have excess capacity and offer good connections to major destination points (customer plants along the 401 corridor, as well as border crossings at Windsor, Sarnia, and in the Niagara region), and (ii) a sufficient supply of well-trained workers. In the increasingly competitive North American automotive industry, in particular, such considerations weigh heavily in the locational decision-making of firms. Central Zone communities can compete successfully to attract new investments (or retain existing ones) only if they can provide the conditions necessary to support the cost-effective production of high-quality vehicles and parts.

While there may appear to be no obvious link between these considerations and smart growth, it must be pointed out that the effectiveness of existing (and future) highway connections for industrial users will be inversely related to the demand for highway use generated by automobile drivers. In other words, if we continue to encourage patterns of development that invite - indeed, necessitate - growing automobile use for ever-lengthening daily commutes, we will be impairing the Central Zone's ability to attract and retain future investments in all-important industries such as automotive assembly and parts production.