Planning for growth is like planning for a dinner party. Let's say you have 20 RSVPs the week before your party and then three days before the party, five people call to say they can't make it after all. Would you still make enough food for 20 people? Or, would you save your hard-earned dollars and buy fewer steaks to throw on the BBQ?
16 years ago, the province drew up its guest list for growth in Hamilton. After the 1996 Census, provincial growth forecasts predicted that the City of Hamilton’s population would increase to approximately 540,000. However, the results of the recent 2011 Census show that this prediction is off by 20,000 more people. If forecasted population growth is much higher than what it will be in actuality, expansion plans made by the city are now questionable.
There are a few things to consider in light of this information, for instance, not only is growth lower than forecasted, but the population increase that has occurred over the past five years has taken place in the suburbs, not in the city of Hamilton, which has only increased by 661 people. Suburban areas such as Glanbrook and Flamborough have seen a 70% population increase (around 10,824 people) and Stoney Creek has nearly had a 20% population increase (2,828 people). So what implications does this have on city growth plans? For one, this is evidence that growth in Hamilton has taken the form of “sprawl” rather than in the urban core. Ontario’s “Places to Grow” legislation requires that by 2015, 40% of residential development in each region must come through intensification, however these current population numbers suggest that the intensification aims of the Growth Plan are clearly not having a substantial effect in Hamilton.
Population growth forecasts were incorporated into the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area and the expected growth is the basis for the city’s Elfrida and Aerotropolis expansion plans. The Elfrida expansion plan calls for converting 3,000 acres of farmland to residential development and the Aerotropolis expansion around the airport (based on the number of jobs that would be needed by those new residents) will require 662 hectares of prime agricultural land to be developed into an employment growth district. Both plans are founded on the predicted rapid population growth in the past, yet new forecasts are now lower than 34% than those used to justify the plans.
Over the past five years Hamilton has grown at a rate of 3%, falling 50,000 people short of growth plan forecasts for 2031. Between 2001 and 2006, the growth rate was only 2.9%, one of the lowest of Ontario cities and less than half of the actual provincial rate (6.6%) for that time period.
So the question that needs to be asked is whether it is really worth it to develop such a large amount of prime agricultural land for a number of guests that may never show up. City council and developers are appealing the province’s decision to delete references to the Elfrida expansion plan in the city’s new official plan before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). However, it would be safe to say that Hamilton can easily accommodate future growth within its current urban boundaries. It's time to take sprawl off the menu for Hamilton.
Colleen Middleton, Greenbelt Volunteer
* Hamilton Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HamiltonOntarioSkylineC.JPG