BLOG #695: The Joe boys of city council – one the mayor, the other a councillor – went one, two against economic forecasts and planning principles Monday night in a wishful sort of way. As in, if you wish it, it will be.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 – London
When you wish upon a star, what happens?
Answer that question and you might have a better idea of how London’s new economic strategy is supposed to work. Stated about as simply as the mayor did Monday night, and essentially it is this: Wish it so and so it will be.
The Joe boys – Mayor Fontana and Councillor Swan – led the charge of the planning committee majority in ridiculing a consultant’s growth predictions for London over the next 30 years and then in gutting the main recommendation of SWAP, the southwest area plan.
Based on historic city averages and national trends, the Altus Group Economic Consulting has forecast population growth for London will range between 0.75 per cent and 1.5 percent over the next three decades.
It also estimates job creation in London will lag behind the provincial average during the same period, a little more than 1 per cent a year.
“It is important to recognize,” says John Fleming, the city planner, in an overview on the consultant’s report, “the difference between growth forecasts and growth targets. Growth targets are aspirational goals of desired rates of growth. They provide motivating outcomes for initiatives to stimulate the economy and to attract population.
“However, growth forecasts are based on an informed estimate of the future. Forecasts provide a baseline for anticipated growth, and can inform targets.”
Not to the Joes. They seem to believe it you set a forecast high it will become reality.
“I’m not prepared to accept such pessimistic numbers,” Mayor Fontana told the committee. “I’m sorry, but that’s why some of us are here. We don’t want to accept (low growth forecasts). We want to change things.
“Essentially these numbers say the city is just going to crawl along, not very exciting and that we should be happy about that. And that’s what I disagree with totally. I’m not prepared to accept population growth of less than 1 per cent or assessment growth of less than 2 per cent.”
Added Councillor Swan: “I’m concerned that nothing is going to happen in London because nothing has happened before. This (forecast) sends out a message to investors that we’re happy with this. I’m not sure we have enough focus from the administration to change that.”
Both men, of course, have ulterior motives for their comments. Mayor Fontana was elected on a platform of creating 10,000 jobs in four years. Councillor Swan, as chairperson of council’s investment and economic prosperity committee, is determined to champion some mega projects to kick start job creation.
Neither, though, has so far been very convincing in arguing a strategy that will achieve higher growth rates – beyond the mantra of their cronies in the development community, let the market do it.
And that was the cry later Monday when SWAP came up for discussion. In throwing out a key land use principle, they effectively changed the futuristic aims of the plan and in the process embarrassed Mr. Fleming, who has staked much of his reputation on this innovative project.
Mr. Fleming’s goal is to create an attractive, pedestrian oriented gateway along Wonderland Road South, through the centre of the southwest area which is now opening for residential and commercial development.
To avoid duplicating the dog’s breakfast of a mess that greets newcomers to the city arriving via Wellington Road, the plan for Wonderland south of Southdale is orderly, structured land use with heavy emphasis on design and people.
The Joes, though, moved, successfully, to toss that out. In its place is something Councillor Swan calls enterprise zone planning, or flex zoning.
“What I’m looking for is the widest range of possible flexible uses that would enable those who have vision to do what they wanted. That’s what we want to encourage on the Wonderland corridor. Let the marketplace decide what is the best use.”
That such developers with ‘vision’ would include the best interests of Londoners first in their plans is, some would argue, wishful thinking.More likely to be a case of careful what you wish for.