The main reason behind our increasing driving trends is how and where we build our communities. Roughly 75% of Ontarians live in car dependent neighbourhoods – places where the distance between daily needs, such as grocery stores, work places, schools, and medical care, is beyond that easily walked, and/or transit is not established well enough to entice people out of their cars.
Unfortunately, that trend is continuing to rise in Ontario as well as across Canada. Consider that between 2006 and 2016, car dependent growth (rural and suburban) accounted for 85% of the population growth in Canada. In the GTA specifically, 83% of growth occurred in car dependent neighbourhoods rather than active cores where walkability and transit are well established.
This has a huge impact on our environment, health, community design, transportation and climate change. Our building patterns set our carbon footprint and climate risk for decades to come. If anything, considering the financial, social and environmental costs of this type of building pattern, the province should be using this opportunity to move Ontario’s growth even more towards more compact development.
Further, changing demographics also need to be considered before proposing policies that promote sprawling growth patterns. Car dependent, rural communities are generally only accessible for people of a certain age, stage and income – namely, middle class and middle age. By 2031, it is estimated that 42% of people in car dependent suburbs around Toronto will no longer have a driver’s license. This means that to effectively “age in place” and to make our communities accessible for all, residents either will have to have options for transit or live in walkable communities.
In Simcoe County, specifically, our communities will need to be better designed for seniors – especially if the province is serious about “aging in place” to deal with long-term care bed backlogs. By 2041, the population of seniors 65 years and older in Simcoe Muskoka is projected to surpass 218,800, which is more than double the number of seniors from 2011.
Figure 7 indicates that all senior age groups will increase in population. The largest increase will occur among the 90+ age group, which will increase by 346% from 4,345 in 2015 to 19,380 in 2041. How will these people be encouraged to “age in place” if we keep building remote, car dependent neighbourhoods? Becoming an age friendly community means ensuring accessibility. Policies such as what is proposed in the PPS encourage low density, car dependent neighbourhoods which will not be sufficient to support our aging population. This only puts more of a strain on our public health system and other supports for seniors.