Neptis releases new report on Toronto region economy by Pamela Blais

Jobs and economic growth are the foundation of a prosperous city-region. Yet provincial plans that manage growth and direct billions of dollars in infrastructure investments in the Toronto region are not grounded in an understanding of how globalization and technology are transforming the region's economic geography.

To fill this information gap, a new report from the Neptis Foundation, Planning for Prosperity: Globalization, Competitiveness, and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe by Pamela Blais, maps and analyzes the dynamics of long-term structural changes - not merely cyclical market fluctuations - in the GGH economy.

What emerges from the study is a regional economic landscape characterized by concentrations of employment in Downtown Toronto, three large suburban employment megazones, and five Suburban Knowledge-Intensive Districts (SKIDs). Like Downtown Toronto, these megazones and SKIDs contain a high proportion of "core" jobs, that is, jobs in the "tradeable" sectors that draw income into the region and are key to innovation and competitiveness.

The megazones and SKIDs are not recognized in The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe or in The Big Move, which focus instead on potential growth nodes called Urban Growth Centres (UGCs). With a few exceptions, Blais found that most UGCs are not adding jobs at anything like the rate of growth in the SKIDs; some UGCs have even lost employment since the Growth Plan was established in 2006.

"The provincial Growth Plan for the Toronto region," adds Blais, "has not addressed the issue of an evolving economy that makes city-regions, their form, infrastructure, and built environments more central to competitive businesses and cities, and the region's prosperity."

Among the report's other key findings:

  • Suburban Knowledge-Intensive Districts (SKIDS), which contain a high proportion of skilled "core" jobs, have been a focus of employment growth - collectively growing by about 27% or 35,490 core jobs between 2001 and 2011, while Downtown Toronto grew 12% or 42,290 core jobs.
  • Together, the megazones account for about 447,830 core jobs, more than the 385,490 core jobs found in Downtown Toronto. Unlike Downtown Toronto, however, where only 30% of workers commute by car, almost 95% of megazone commuters drive to work, and more than half of them travel distances greater than 10 km. The megazones account for almost a million daily auto trips and are likely the single biggest source of congestion in the region, a situation that is not adequately addressed by current transit planning.
  • While Downtown Toronto, the SKIDs, and many areas of the megazones grew, the rest of the GGH saw a net loss of 86,000 core jobs between 2001 and 2011, mostly in the manufacturing sector. The loss of jobs in older industrial areas across the region is a challenge for planners that could be addressed by a focus on the reurbanization of these areas.

"The Growth Plan's focus has largely been on managing residential growth rather than non-residential development and employment-related activities," says Blais. "Indeed, the Growth Plan is based on shockingly little hard evidence on the current and evolving economy of the region.

"With billions of dollars of infrastructure investment pending, it is critical to ensure the close alignment of transit with employment concentrations," says Blais. "Planning needs to address change and loss, not just growth, by creating a strong focus on strategic reurbanization and planning frameworks that support economic adaptation."

For more information or media interviews please contact Marcy Burchfield at 647-244-8413 or

About Pamela Blais

Pamela Blais (MCIP, RPP, PhD) is an urban planner and Principal of Metropole Consultants, her Toronto-based planning practice. Her professional focus is on creating better cities by integrating planning, economic and environmental thinking in analysing urban issues and developing effective, innovative policy.

About the Neptis Foundation

The Neptis Foundation is an independent, privately capitalized charitable foundation located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada that conducts and disseminates nonpartisan research, analysis and mapping related to the design and function of Canadian urban regions.