Skip to Main Content

April 01, 2019

Spatially Planning for the Dead - Cemetery Urbanism and the Provincial Policy Statement

Spatially Planning for the Dead - Cemetery Urbanism and the Provincial Policy Statement
“The cemetery is a place where all living persons will have an imminent appointment. It is imperative for a city to identify future cemetery land requirements to house its growing population. The lack of cemetery space in the city, is quintessentially an affordable housing issue for the dead. Death in the city has become an equity issue.”  -N. Hanson

Cemeteries are one of the most contested landscapes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Most urban cemeteries in the GTA are running out of space to bury their dead. Research indicates the GTA will be out of space within the 10 -20 years. Where will we bury? Who can afford to use land for memorialization? How full is the cemetery? What's the city’s mortality rate?

These are some of the questions that require consideration in understanding and appreciating a city’s diverse population and its needs in death. They provide an entry-way for planners to enter into the spatial language of the cemetery. No longer rendering cemeteries in the city as invisible, but as a space to be planned for.
A church pulpit with a wreathed casketWho can afford to use land for memorialization? Questions like this will become more common as available land for cemeteries continues to dwindle; planning for cemeteries has thus become an issue of equity.

The shortage of cemetery land to accommodate the dead has become an accelerated municipal and regional growth management issue. An issue driven by finite land, social class, religious values, cultural traditions, the aging population, mortality rates, and population projections. In addition to this, there are great disparities in income and wealth in the wide range of ethno-racial communities throughout the GTA. The present population has a wide variety of religious and cultural practices that inform the political economy of death, specifically how land is absorbed and consumed. Hence, the shortage of cemetery land imposes serious limitations on various communities. Given this, death in the city has become an equity issue.
As part of the Provincial Policy Statement review in 2014, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) added the word “cemeteries” to policy 1.1.1.b), the list of institutional uses that should be considered by planning authorities, to better recognize all life stages in creating healthy, livable and safe communities. This policy has yet to be translated into updated Official Plans, Secondary Plans and Zoning By-laws. Currently city planning only holds space for
Cemetary with tree in the foregroundThere are great options to progressively plan for urban, mixed-use cemeteries.
studies and strategic plans to accommodate growth for certain land use issues; affordable housing, transit, active transportation infrastructure, waterfront development, and cyclical neighbourhood revitalization. Yet, as notable green spaces and the first urban park, cemeteries have yet to be the subject of a planning study, Section 37 community benefit or master plan envisioning process. This begs the question: how can a city identify a comprehensive growth strategy without identifying future cemetery land needs and requirements - given the legislative frameworks planning and cemeteries operate within?

To consider planning for the sprawling urban cemetery is where conjuring up a pivot is vital. It’s time to shift to new ways of knowing, imagining and planning for urban cemeteries. This would be through cemetery urbanism.

Cemetery urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use cemeteries (where culturally appropriate) that are integrated within a complete community. Whether a cemetery parkette, public art memorial space, activated passive recreational space with cycling networks, there are great opportunities to progressively plan for urban cemeteries, in the short and long term. 

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Nicole N Hanson

Recent Posts