The View From Inside: Make it make sense

Let’s continue this conversation and demystify the planning process to make it make sense for the climate justice movement.

Look, I understand the problems with development, urban sprawl, and digging up wetlands. I know how these contribute to climate change and make us more vulnerable to the impacts of it. I understand the changes we need to make to prepare for worsening climate chaos. I’m sure you do too.

Finding out about individual projects in my county, city, neighbourhood, is a whole different matter. For one, you need to know the actual name of the development or project to look for info about it. I’ve been paying attention to Barrie’s Official Plan – I read through the draft, I provided some feedback via the website. I know the Plan wasn’t enough, but I found I could only understand this in general terms – I couldn’t address the specifics of planning, the specifics of what exactly needed to be pushed for.

We know we must pressure provincial and local governments for bold climate action (we say ‘bold’, but we really just mean ‘adequate’, which means very bold for the status quo). We can name things like better public transit, investing in renewable energies and retrofitting buildings, naturalizing our parks, etc. But it’s hard to figure out what’s happening inside the process to actually make these things happen (or not happen).

"I knew development hurts ecosystems and drives climate change (literally drives it, in cars), but it just seems so ubiquitous – how do we stop corporations and councils from developing land when it’s so hard to get clear information about specific projects?"

Understanding how the local planning process works is crucial in the fight for climate action.

But here’s the thing – there’s so much about planning that isn’t so readily shared. I’ve been realizing that there’s so much more going on. I’ve found out about so many development projects, many right here in Barrie. See, I knew development hurts ecosystems and drives climate change (literally drives it, in cars), but it just seems so ubiquitous – how do we stop corporations and councils from developing land when it’s so hard to get clear information about specific projects?

Okay, so you see construction for a development project. You know it’s probably for-profit and won’t come close to meeting any climate standards. What do you do? Stopping projects once they’re started is hard, especially when our entire system is built to do everything for profit, no matter the real cost. This is why putting on the pressure during planning is so important.

These projects get sorted and contracts get signed long before the Earth gets dug and construction signs go up. This part is not so visible to the public. Sure, the councils must make some of this publicly available, but you really have to know what to look for and understand what the technical reports, bylaws and zoning stuff mean to do anything.

It’s like they make planning as uninteresting and seemingly inconsequential as possible so that people don’t actually get involved. A citizenry that’s not informed can’t participate very well.

"...if I’m not a planner, why should I care? Turns out, the MCR is a big review of Simcoe County’s planning until 2051. It will determine how the County will plan and develop for the next few decades."

An example – the MCR, or Municipal Comprehensive Review. I hadn’t really heard much about it until recently and information on it is vague and bureaucratic. Cool, so if I’m not a planner, why should I care? Turns out, the MCR is a big review of Simcoe County’s planning until 2051. It will determine how the County will plan and develop for the next few decades.

AKA, it will determine whether or not Simcoe County meets the 2030 and 2050 climate targets.

Reduce emissions
50% by 2030

Reduce emissions
to zero by 2050

That’s a simplification to be sure, and only one implication of the MCR, but that’s a pretty big deal that people should know about. How did I not hear about this sooner?

And there’s other examples: MZOs (or Municipal Zoning Orders) basically let the province override local rules to push through development projects without the public consultation or environmental assessment parts of planning – two of the main parts of the planning process. The Ontario government has ordered a lot of these for private developers here in Simcoe County, and some are going to cut into local wetlands and other habitats that should have been protected.

Planning for climate change means planning within an ‘settlement boundary’, which is a limited amount of space that can be used to build new buildings and roads. This stops urban sprawl and the creation of new subdivisions or commercial areas that require more roads and cars to get to, and protects the land that we have left from being dug up for development.

Many current development projects aim to change the ‘zoning’ or categorization of land from ‘farming’ or ‘environmentally protected’ to ‘industrial’ so that it’s allowed to be developed. This means that we’re losing ecosystems and farmland that we need to protect to make our communities resilient to climate change and avoid flooding and food shortages.

My point is that learning about how planning works is important because it helps us get climate justice happening on the local level. It helps us understand how these changes can actually play out through local government.

"...learning about how planning works is important because it helps us get climate justice happening on the local level"

But there’s a lot to learn and not a lot of clear information, so how can we learn more?

  • Well, doing some quick research is a start – look for local groups that have campaigns about local development issues (like the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance). 
  • Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition is working to become a good resource that translates the planning process into clear and simple terms for youth and the public (check out our Issues Map to see some of the current development projects happening in your community and how to get involved). 
  • Talk to your friends and others you know about how the planning process today determines a lot about your lives and the lives of future generations. 
  • Talk to classmates and teachers – is there a local issue that you can learn about as a class and turn into an action project? (hint: city planning can connect to all subjects in the curriculum, no matter what grade you’re in!).

Let’s continue this conversation and demystify the planning process to make it make sense for the climate justice movement.

Kelly, signing off. 

P.S – I think of these blog posts as an ongoing discussion. You can share your comments below, on social media (links below!) or get in touch with me at kelly@simcoecountygreenbelt.ca.

Kelly Gingrich

Kelly Gingrich

SCGC Youth Engagement Lead

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Contact Kelly using the email provided above.
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