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November 01, 2019

Planning for a Climate Crisis

Planning for a Climate Crisis
Perimeter Building, Waterloo, ON.
Is Ontario and Canada facing a climate crisis? Many people say yes, news media headlines are more alarmist, but ask the everyday Canadian and they will say “what can I do? This problem is too big for me.”
2019091.jpgUrban areas should be designed for people.
Never has the role of professional planning been more important in fighting climate change than it is today. It is abundantly clear the urban environment must be planned for people, not more cars and certainly not more trucks. Planners are well positioned to envision this future and affect meaningful change that will, quite simply, get people out of their gas-guzzling cars. Urban planning that supports transit and alternative modes of commuting, combined with intensified growth within built up urban areas will significantly reduce the climate footprint of Canada. 

Building a climate resilient future must be foremost at every stage of the planning process from official plans through to site planning. Consideration must be given to building transportation corridors that support all users including potential disruptive technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Site plans and building plans must demonstrate a clear understanding of how cyclists and pedestrians are not just “accommodated,” but are the focus of the plan. 

In the City of Waterloo, intensification of the urban core has been advancing for well over 15 years. Planning for this growth is described through a variety of documents including: a height and density plan, the City Official Plan, transit station area planning documents, a new comprehensive zoning by-law, transportation and cycling master plans, as well as an urban design manual. These documents require planning for more people, less cars, and more cycling, walking and public transit use.
20190902.jpgSpurline Trail, Waterloo, ON.
As planners, I do not think you need municipalities to spell out the importance placing people first, and yet, I often see zoning applications that do not demonstrate this understanding. Planning for a “drive-thru” is a big warning flag in my mind. A drive-thru supports one mode of transportation, cars. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, worse for building a climate resilient community that a drive-thru. In addition to generating idle emissions, it eliminates the fundamental interactions important to building a sense of community. When people live in community with one another they value others, the simple act of holding the door for a stranger can only happen when people chose to walk into a commercial venue. 

I also see site plans that complicate the public realm such as the installation of a “layby” area on a busy street instead of being internal to the site. These areas support vehicle idling while conflicting with sidewalk users and cyclists. 

The federal government recognizes that municipalities are well positioned to be significant agents of change related to planning sustainable communities and reducing GHG emissions. The federal government is making investments in municipalities through the Green Municipal Fund and the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program, which are managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). I feel very privileged to be working with the team at FCM as an elected official climate champion. Like many municipal councillors, I hope to leave my city more resilient and better able to adapt to climate change when my time in office comes to an end. I believe this is a worthy goal; I know you do too.

Diane Freeman, P.Eng, FEC, FCAE
Councillor, City of Waterloo

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 Diane Freeman

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