Intensification: setting targets, measuring outcomes

In order to understand how the Government of Ontario's intensification policy works, one must understand the relationship between three concepts--policy, target, and measurement.

Policies are the directional statements of a plan--they are about achieving final outcomes and asking the question, "What do we intend to achieve or what problems must we correct or avoid?"

Targets are about attaching hard numbers to a policy. They answer the question, "How do we achieve our goals?" By setting measurable targets for actions that will help realize its goals, the government can align the efforts of all those involved in a particular policy area on making the necessary changes.

Measurement is a way of answering the question, "How close are we to achieving our targets?" which should tell us whether we are achieving the goals of a policy.

In the case of The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, there are many policies for the region, but they can be generally summed up as the creation of a compact region that offers housing choices, provides a range of transportation options, maintains a clean environment, protects agricultural lands and other natural resources, and ensures a high standard of living.

There are also specific policies for intensification. Intensification is defined as development of a site within an urban area at higher densities than currently exist, which can be achieved in a variety of ways: the redevelopment of vacant or brownfield lands; infilling of spaces between existing buildings; or expansion or conversion of existing buildings.

The target set in the Growth Plan is a percentage of new residential growth--that is, a minimum of 40% of all new residential development each year must be in the form of intensification and be located within the built boundary of each urbanized area in the region. The target applies to all upper- and single-tier municipalities, although through a Ministerial Order it may be modified if necessary for municipalities outside the central area of the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton.

Figure 2: Measuring intensification rates

Figure 2 illustrates the general principle for measuring progress towards this target. The first step is to delineate the built boundary for the edge of the urbanized areas in the region. The second step is to determine the number of new residential units (greenfield + intensification) created throughout the upper- or single-tier municipality in question, identify the number of units created within the built boundary (intensification units), and divide the number of intensification units by the total number of new units built throughout the municipality to determine the intensification rate. In Figure 2, the intensification rate is the percentage of new units built within the red line over the period of study relative to the total number of new units inside and outside the line.

Although the process sounds simple, it is complicated to carry out. Moreover, most Ontario municipalities have never previously tracked an intensification rate, or if they did, they did not use the same method as the one proposed by the province. Therefore, at the time the target was put in place, the existing rate of intensification in the Greater Golden Horseshoe was not known, a gap in information that needed to be filled.10

This research was designed to put the government's definition and measurement of intensification into context. We wanted to know where municipalities were in relation to the 40% target before the introduction of the intensification rate target.

10. The 40% target first appeared in the Province's Places to Growdiscussion paper in 2004 and was elaborated on in a February 2005 technical report. However, a technical backgrounder issued by the Ministry noted that few municipalities in the region measured intensification and those that did lacked a consistent method of measurement. See: Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Places to Grow: Better Choices, Brighter Future: A Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Discussion Paper(Toronto: Government of Ontario, July 12, 2004) 21-22; Urban Strategies, Inc. Application of a Land-Use Intensification Target for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Prepared for Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal (February 2005). The first paper states the target without explaining how it was arrived at; the second paper takes "as its starting point the 40% intensification target stated in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal's Places to Grow discussion paper issued in summer 2004 [and] proposes a strategy for operationalizing that target in the Greater Golden Horseshoe." The second paper proposes a target of 40 to 60% for the GTA municipalities and Hamilton (p. 9). Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Technical Backgrounder: Intensification and Density Targets, n.d., web document, accessed January 27, 2006. "Currently, only a few municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe measure intensification and there is no consistent methodology used" (p. 2). This comment has been removed from subsequent versions of the technical backgrounder posted on the Ministry website