YORK REGION – With its population predicted to grow to 1.79 million by 2014, the Regional Municipality of York has been focused on developing sustainable, multi-use communities since well before the publication of its Official Regional Plan in 2010.
Now, the York Region’s road map towards realizing that vision, entitled New Community Guidelines, has been honoured with provincial recognition, as a 2014 recipient of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute’s Excellence in Planning Award.
Widely regarded as the province’s most prestigious accolade for planning achievement, these awards are granted each year to planning leaders across a variety of sectors. York Region’s win came in the Community Planning and Development Studies/Reports category (in which the City of Markham was also a 2014 winner for its guidelines on bird-friendly development).
“Residents living in complete communities have easy access to transit, amenities and parks providing great opportunities for a healthy and happy lifestyle,” said York Region Chairman and CEO Bill Fisch.
“This document allows local municipalities and developers to understand how to be an active part in the future of a growing and sustainable York Region.”
Weighing in at a total of 98 pages, the Community Guidelines elaborate on 2010’s Official Regional Plan while providing concrete guidelines for developers to follow when planning new communities in York Region. Some of its key objectives reflect a commitment to new urbanism that has helped make the region a provincially-recognized planning leader:
Building denser, more walkable communities
To make the most of York Region’s remaining space for new developments, the region now requires new communities to aim for a target density of 70 persons and jobs per hectare (the equivalent of 10 square kilometres). Additionally, each hectare of new development must include a minimum of 20 residential units.
The Region hopes that regulating development density will help fulfill their goal of building “complete communities” which can “meet most residents’ basic needs on a daily basis within walking distance.” Per the guidelines’ definition, a complete community must offer easily accessible options for living, working, interacting, playing, and learning – hence the requirement for new jobs in each hectare.
Promoting the growth of transit and cultural hubs
The community guidelines also include new development criteria for facilitating “Community Core Areas” – essentially, a neighbourhood hub providing a mixed-use public space for not only services and retail, but also community cultural events.
In addition to providing a walkable neighbourhood hub (which must also display a strong connection to the surrounding neighbourhood’s features), Core Community Areas are required to be “transit supportive,” offering connections to rapid transit systems where possible.
Creating pedestrian- and transit-friendly communities
York Region’s new guidelines require developers to place an emphasis on not only including networks of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, but also connecting those networks to other transportation networks – especially public transit.
The guidelines also require developers to work in direct cooperation with York Region Transit to develop a community “transit plan.” The transit plan must ensure not only that the community is connected to rapid transit options, but also that “the distance to a transit stop in the Urban Area is within 500 metres of 90 per cent of residents, and within 200 metres of 50 per cent of residents.”
These are just a few of the forward-thinking objectives and requirements that helped earn the report its esteemed provincial honour. Planning enthusiasts are encouraged to take a look at the original award-winning report – available here in PDF format.