The economic landscape of the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is in the midst of a dramatic shift. The decades-old pattern of suburbanizing economic activity, especially "office work," has reversed. Instead, we are seeing a new, hyper-concentration of economic activity in the core of the region, in and around downtown Toronto. This concentration is reinforced by the loss or slower growth of the kinds of economic activity that have historically been more dispersed throughout the region.

In the last 10 years, the region has lost 130,000 manufacturing jobs, 3,000 back-office jobs, and 18,000 wholesaling jobs. At the same time, finance grew by 47,000 jobs, and soft technology industries by 19,000.[1] "Office work" itself is being redefined, with the loss of administrative jobs resulting from computer technologies and automation, and new ways of working that mix offices, labs, tech space, startups, universities and colleges, and other uses. Disruptive technologies, like blockchain or Artificial Intelligence, have increased uncertainty, as have threats of trade disruptions.

This shift makes land use planning challenging, especially planning for employment uses. Understanding the new economic landscape and what forces are driving it will help planners create the right supply of development opportunities, in the right places, with the right planning frameworks and urban environments to meet the changing needs of business in the region. Getting this right is also key to achieving Growth Plan objectives, such as the efficient use of infrastructure or transit-supportive development. And it underpins the important role planning plays in supporting the economic resilience, productivity, and success of the regional economy.

These considerations are especially important as municipalities review and modify their Official Plans to conform with the updated 2017 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. These plans will shape growth and land use in the region for years to come. In a time characterized by a break from past trends, and rapid, often disruptive, economic and technological change, new approaches are needed. Conventional methods of planning for employment uses often assume a continuation of past trends, entrenching past needs into the future. But this may be a risky approach in the current environment.

A more anticipatory and robust approach is needed. The intention is not to predict the future, but to identify the key drivers of change that shape the economic landscape of the GGH, in order to make planning for employment uses in the GGH more effective and adaptive.

This report is intended to support land use planning for employment-related uses across the GGH by addressing the following questions:

  • What kinds of economic activities should we be planning for in the GGH, and where?
  • What kinds of urban environments and planning frameworks will support economic activity in the region?
  • How can we plan for rapid change, such as that linked with automation, or disruptions in international trade?
  • What areas of the GGH are most at risk from these potential disruptions?

By addressing these questions, the analysis also informs economic development initiatives in the region.

The report illustrates the kinds of concepts, issues, and analyses that should be considered when planning for employment uses in the GGH today and introduces a new analytical tool - that of industrial "Archetypes." This tool is designed specifically to inform land use planning by making clear links between economic change on one hand and spatial patterns on the other. It is hoped that municipal planners can use the concepts, analyses, and information in this report in the development of plans and planning policy.

In Chapter 2, we describe the fundamental concepts that help us understand what is driving the changing economic landscape. In Chapter 3, we describe the changing geography of employment in the region, and explain the Archetypes, their spatial patterns in the region, and key Archetype-specific drivers of change. In Chapter 4, we describe the geography of the jobs that are most vulnerable to automation and potential trade disruptions. In Chapter 5, we draw conclusions and offer suggestions on how planning policy can be updated to address the needs of the Next GGH.

[1] Employment figures are for the industry groupings used in this report, known as "Archetypes." See Chapter 3.