Thursday, May 16, 2013

Strong regional governance is key to developing a livable region

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on local government and how it seems that having more municipalities may be better for building a walkable region than a smaller number of municipalities. Having multiply municipalities is only one part of the equation to building a walkable region, the other part is to have a governance body that has a mandate to protect green space and promote a walkable, sustainable region.

All municipalities are interested in new development, redevelopment and growth. If you look locally at the South of Fraser, it is a very rare thing to see a council turn down a development proposal. While most municipal governments talk about sustainability and preserving green space, when push comes to shove those ideals usually fall by the wayside. Left to their own devices, municipal governments will allow sprawl until they reach a physical limit like a mountain or a political limit like a border. I’ve seen this in regions like Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Chicago, Ottawa, Los Angles, Toronto, and Montreal (to name a few.) Having a pro-development municipalities isn’t a bad thing, but there needs to be checks and balances in place to make sure that a region develops sustainability to preserve green space and promote walkability. Beside the accessibility, health and environmental benefits that come from creating a sustainable region, there are also economic benefits. One of the key benefits is that it attracts knowledge workers and innovators who play key roles in creating a successful regional economy.

In our region, we have Metro Vancouver with its regional growth strategy that aims to focus development in town centres and transit nodes. The growth strategy has enforcement mechanisms to ensure that municipal governments stick to the plan. We also have the Agricultural Land Commission which protects farmland, but also acts as the de facto preserver of green space.

The Portland region has a regional government with similar objectives, and that region has been successful in building sustainably. In order to limit sprawl in Toronto, the Provincial government their installed a massive green built around that region. I was just looking at a regional planning document for the Chicago area as they started towards the path of regional government to promote the development of a sustainable region only a few years ago.

A healthy region should have tension between municipalities that want to develop and a regional governance body with the mandate to limit development.

Another plus with a regional governance body is that it can take care of the things that make sense to be controlled by a larger organization like regional water, sewer, garage, and transportation services and planning.

Compared to most other regions I’ve been to in North America, Metro Vancouver really is the example of how to build a livable region. Other regions still look to our region as a model to emulate. While in Metro Vancouver, it’s easy to see everything that’s wrong in the region, but whenever I come back after a trip, I’m always reminded of all the things that we’ve gotten right.

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