What is the Natural Heritage Network?

The City of Vaughan is embarking on one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking projects in its history, and you probably know very little or next to nothing about it. This project will increase the quality of life of the cities inhabitants and also re-imagine how the city will grow in the future. The Vaughan Natural Heritage Network is the cities best kept secret. The casino was rightly rejected by Vaughan citizens as the future vision of the city, now it’s time to make the Natural Heritage Network that vision.

Natural Heritage refers to the existing biodiversity that Vaughan is blessed with and has inherited thanks to the protection of past generations. This includes the ravines and river valleys, creeks, meadows, grasslands, woodlots and other natural features that make Vaughan unique within the GTA. The city is currently undertaking a study to understand how this biodiversity can be both protected and connected to form a larger network. Nature doesn’t work in patches of green. For biodiversity to thrive it must be allowed to flourish in a larger, connected system.

Many Vaughan residents live adjacent or close to one of many natural features the city is blessed with. Some newer subdivisions in Vaughan are built around storm water retention ponds, many of us also use city owned and operated parks and open spaces. All these currently disconnected spaces can potentially become part of this incredible system.

The Natural Heritage Network is ecological infrastructure, it is storm water infrastructure and it is recreational infrastructure all wrapped together. The cities natural spaces, storm water ponds and parks and open spaces should all be seen as part of this system.

The Network will be an invaluable and critical piece of infrastructure that cannot be replicated or replaced. This infrastructure already saves the city tens of millions of dollars a year in storm water retention and diversion. The more of the natural heritage we lose, the more taxpayers will pay to replicate this work through buried pipes.

We need to develop our city to incorporate some of this network as recreational lands. The city should also look into creating a cycling and trail system linking the city through this network, promoting fitness and reconnecting citizens to the outdoors. The health benefits of this network are invaluable.

Most importantly this natural heritage network represents our shared history and identity, the network surrounds and flows throughout the city, it connects us.

We need to look at the City of Toronto’s Waterfront to better understand and appreciate what we have. When Toronto built the Gardner Expressway over 50 years ago, we witnessed the harm that occurred to the land fronting Lake Ontario. It was severed from the city. Toronto forgot about the great asset the city was built on as it grew away from the lake’s edge.

It is only recently; through the great work of Waterfront Toronto that the city is realizing the potential of what was lost. Toronto is rebuilding the water’s edge, enhancing the city’s connectivity to Lake Ontario and reaping the financial gains of increased development. Developers take note, protecting the lake front as a connected public space has actually increased the development potential of the waterfront, not hindered it.

Development and the network can coexist and mutually benefit one another. The Natural Heritage Network provides value to surrounding property because of its beauty, increasing property values and tax revenue. A house close to natural heritage sells at a premium. The more of this network we preserve and enhance, the more valuable surrounding real estate assets become.

As the city increases in density, the more important this network will become. In fact it is because of this network that we will be able to create more density, as this open space is already in place.

Vaughan is blessed with something that is the envy of Toronto, a city surrounded by a robust and connected natural network. We are a city in a unique situation, a city that is developing a new downtown while still having the opportunity to protect natural heritage throughout the city.

We can choose to seize a great opportunity by protecting and enhancing this network or we can do as Toronto did generations ago when it built the Gardner Expressway, turning its back to Lake Ontario. Unlike Lake Ontario however, once we lose this network, we will never gain it back.

This city is great at championing infrastructure projects such as Highway extensions, the future hospital or the subway extension. What we tend to forget is the infrastructure we’ve inherited, infrastructure that was here. By understanding the true value of this network we can champion a vision of the city that is sadly lacking.

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Vaughan’s Natural Heritage Network

VNHN FINAL

Show your support for Vaughan’s Natural Heritage Network. Join The Friends of Vaughan’s Natural Heritage Network Facebook Page and stay posted for more information and upcoming events.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Vaughans-Natural-Heritage-Network/264222283747713?skip_nax_wizard=true

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Don’t hold breath for real debate on casino in Vaughan

Vaughan is ramping up a one-way conversation about bringing a casino to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, our future downtown area.

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, with help from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), say they will have “an open debate about the issues”.

You can expect an orchestrated sales pitch championing a potential casino and its benefits to the city over the next few weeks. The OLG is mandated by the province to expand gambling across Ontario, not debate the issue.

Are you still on the fence about the idea of a casino in the city?

Google the words “MGM casino debt”, then do a search for “Caesars casino debt” and then, simply, “casino debt”.

Read through some of the headlines and you will start to see an image of an industry in a desperate state.

The cash-strapped casino operators mentioned here would be a potential operator of a casino in Vaughan and both sent representatives to speak at the city’s casino meeting in May.

There is no need to look up “province of Ontario debt”. We are all aware of the state of Ontario’s books.

Combine a government desperate to pull itself out of debt with the world’s largest casino operators who are losing money globally and you have the makings of a questionable partnership, one in which the city seems eager to get involved.

Over the next several weeks as our local politicians try to sell us on a casino, expect the potential harm casinos could cause to individuals to be downplayed. Count on the monetary benefits to be oversold, job creation potential inflated and the impact to our not yet developed downtown not discussed.

We witnessed this campaign already when Toronto flirted with the idea of a casino.

The OLG’s dubious claims were easily refuted by staff, public health officials, scholars, journalists, concerned citizens and grassroots community organizations.

One example is the claim regarding the job creation potential of a casino.

The majority of casino jobs, in fact, are not high-paying, management positions, as the crown corporation repeatedly claims.

Toronto’s own website reports that casino workers in the city earn about $25,000 annually, before taxes.

The more opposition to a casino grows, the longer the list of promises and benefits increases.

This month we are to believe that a convention centre, trade centre, five-star hotel and entertainment and arts centre will be part-and-parcel of a casino in Vaughan.

As one resident said at the May casino meeting, what we really have here are “unicorns and rainbows”.

Will all of this be delivered by a for-profit casino operator, in poor financial health, that also has to share its profits with the province and city? The business case has not been revealed.

What a casino operator will ultimately deliver is what is being called an “integrated entertainment and gaming complex”.

The future casino would be comprised of the gaming floor, retail shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, an entertainment venue and, potentially, a hotel. But don’t count on it being five stars.

Casinos do not make most of its money on the casino floor. Casino operators are quite open about this fact.

The slots and gaming tables lure visitors into the gaming facility. Once there, the casino attempts to keep visitors in the facility with shopping, food, drink and entertainment options.

These are the type of amenities that are already planned for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

Once our future downtown starts to take shape over the next five to 10 years, the restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment facilities that will make the new downtown vibrant should start to appear.

Allowing one corporation to build a large complex that concentrates a full range of retail, food, drink and entertainment offerings under one roof is a recipe for a poor downtown. Ask any professional planner.

Casinos don’t generate spin-off economic activity, they suck it away.

This type of facility will cannibalize businesses adjacent to it and undo the planning work that is already underway to create vibrant, pedestrian-oriented streets and open spaces throughout the new downtown.

Ottawa Public Health recently came out strongly against a casino in that city, understanding the dangers of gambling addiction.

Similarly, Toronto public health spoke out against a casino because of its ability to create an increase in problem gambling.

But you can expect the social costs of a casino to be down-played by Vaughan politicians and the OLG.

You won’t get the real facts regarding a casino over the next several weeks.

Instead, you will get the prepackaged sales pitch, full of exaggerated claims, unproven numbers and underrepresented harms the OLG has become known for.

It is a shame our elected officials have decided to follow suit.

Let the “debate” begin.

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No Casino Toronto shares wisdom with Vaughan

http://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/3907367-no-casino-toronto-shares-wisdom-with-vaughan/

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Casino Dialogues

This past May, Vaughan Council voted to be a host candidate for a casino. During the same meeting Vaughan politicians allowed the council chamber to be a forum for pro casino lobbyist who spent the first two hours of the meeting selling the casino for council.

What Vaughan was denied was a real conversation about what a casino really means for the city and what exactly the City will receive. Vaughan Council has made their pitch and created a pro casino staff report. To help initiate a balanced debate about the casino Sustainable Vaughan invites you to the first in a series of Casino Dialogues.

On July 15, Sustainable Vaughan invites you to join in the conversation. The leaders of No Casino Toronto will be speaking at Vellore Village about their reasons for fighting the casino. Toronto overwhelmingly rejected the casino. Politicians and the development community in Toronto were not sold on the idea, come out and learn why

Monday July 15th 7:00pm – 9:00pm Vellore Village Community Centre (1 Villa Royale Ave) Activity Room 3.

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A Casino Next to a Subway?

The future Spadina Subway line expansion into Vaughan was a gift from taxpayers across the country, paid for by federal, provincial and municipal funding. This incredibly expensive infrastructure project provides Vaughan with the key stimulus for its aspirations of creating a dense, urban mixed use core with vibrant streets and less car dependent neighbourhoods. Centred between two future subway stops, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) will be the city’s future downtown.

Coupled with the future Highway 7 Bus Rapid Transit Line, these two public transit projects are the envy of other suburban municipalities. Unfortunately, a Vaughan staff report touts the benefits of placing a casino within the borders of the VMC, on provincially owned lands adjacent to the future Highway 407 subway station. Leveraging public transit projects to lure a casino complex is a short sighted decision and will undermine the efforts already underway to create the city’s new downtown.

As a future Urban Growth Centre, the VMC has a provincially mandated responsibility to house higher densities and a diversity of uses. Approving a casino in the VMC would not only be an irresponsible use of the new subway infrastructure, but also contravene the City’s own Official Plan for the area.

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Secondary Plan prescribes the vision for the future downtown. The secondary plan advocates that “buildings in all areas of the VMC, and all types, have a responsibility to help define the public realm, bring vitality to streets and parks, and contribute positively to the image of Vaughan’s downtown.” The VMC secondary plan does not discuss the creation of large windowless boxes surrounded by a sea of parking. It was decided this was the past vision of the city.

A Vaughan staff report sells the benefits of placing a casino within the VMC. The report states that a casino “has potential to be a catalyst for development of the city’s new downtown.” There is no proof in the report that a casino will have this effect. In reality, a casino is a threat to future residential and commercial development.

In Toronto, developers of Liberty Village understood that a casino would undermine the future potential of this growing community before it had time to mature and fully build out. First Capital Reality, the lead developers of Liberty Village, knew that these types of facilities are not compatible with the creation of vibrant urban communities.

In a letter to Toronto city councillors and the city manager, First Capital Realty Inc. stated a casino “will destroy the unique character and lifestyle of King Liberty Village and Queen Street West and irreparably impair the community attributes and value of this neighbourhood.” When a casino resort complex was proposed by Oxford Properties Group in a retrofitted Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front Street West, developers RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp all came out strongly against the proposal, understanding the threat it posed to the success of their respective developments on nearby lands.

A casino complex will bring patrons to its facilities and make sure they spend their day and money within the facility, and only that facility, generating little to no economic spinoff for the future downtown core. Restaurants and retail shops will make up a significant portion of the gaming complex, drawing visitors away from other restaurants and shops throughout the VMC. A casino complex will suck the life out of the businesses surrounding it and destroy the vibrant, dense mixed-use neighbourhoods the city has been working toward building.

The City of Toronto overwhelmingly rejected a casino within its borders. This decision was the result of a number of factors. For some councillors, it was the inadequate hosting fee that was the deal breaker. For others, the issue came down to a moral imperative. For councillors in the downtown, it was obvious why a casino should be rejected: Why threaten an already vibrant urban city that continues to lure people, jobs and development and generates large amounts of tax revenue? In Vaughan, voting yes to a casino will severely hinder the city’s ability to create the same type of diverse economic generator and is a poor use of our precious and scarce subway infrastructure.

We have a deficit of transit infrastructure within the Toronto region and have only now begun the conversation as to how to fund its much needed expansion. Making use of the subway to host a casino is an insult to other municipalities struggling with traffic congestion due to a deficit of transit infrastructure.

Vaughan has an enormous responsibility to use this infrastructure to develop a more sustainable urban core. By accepting the instant gratification brought by a casino complex and its revenues, the city would be admitting it is not up to the difficult task of city building. Vaughan will undermine its own urban aspirations if it approves this visionless pursuit.

 

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3rd Annual Sprawl Speaker Series

Please join Sustainable Vaughan on Thursday November 22nd for our third annual, Sprawl Speaker Series;

Debt Financing and Development Charges, Unsustainable Subsidy or Necessary Tool for Growth?

Thursday November 22, 2012 7:00pm – 9:00pmVellore Village Community Centre, 1 Villa Royale Ave, Maple, ON L4H 2Z7

This event is a continuation of our Sprawl Speaker Series begun in 2010. This third installment invites three preeminent researchers on the topic of Development Charges to discuss municipal finance, planning and the future shape of our suburbs.

Sustainable Vaughan announces Urban Planner Pamela Blais, Lawyer Travis AllAn and Professor David Amborski as the 2012 Sprawl Speaker Series presenters.

What are development charges and how are they shaping our city?

The Region of York pays for the upfront cost of building infrastructure associated with new development in the form of sewers, water, roads, transit and education. The concept behind this is that new growth should pay for itself and not burden existing homeowners.

In theory this seems like sound fiscal policy, however development charges are having a profoundly negative impact on how our city is planned and grows. Due to debt financing York Region has managed to dig itself into a financial burden by building infrastructure in one area of the Region and gambling that money from development charges in another part of the Region will offset these costs. As a result the Region is in debt by close to $2 billion.

This past summer, the Region decided to accelerate the development of recently expanded urban boundary lands in Vaughan and Markham.  The reason for this decision is for the need to collect development charges on these lands sooner rather than later. The Region, desperate to reduce its debt burden is treating undeveloped land in both Vaughan and Markham as collateral.

The development charges that will be collected on the new development in the former whitebelt lands will be used to write off the Region’s debt. These charges will not be entirely used to pay for growth related infrastructure costs incurred by the future developments. In reality the Region needs sprawl to help pay for debt incurred from subsidizing sprawl elsewhere in the Region. York Region is caught in perpetual debt & sprawl trap.

The next sprawl development will pay for the cost of the previous sprawl development and so forth. There is no incentive for the Region to limit or attempt to reduce sprawl. In fact the Region requires unlimited land supply and perpetual sprawl to meet it debt obligations.

The City of Vaughan, who collects the development charges on behalf of the Region, is flush with cash as was Mississauga when it had ample land to build sprawl development. For the first time in 30 years Mississauga has gone into debt as the city begins the inevitable repair, maintenance and replacement of their now aging infrastructure. The city is set to borrow $446-million over the next eight years to both build new infrastructure for an urbanizing city while repairing, maintaining and replacing infrastructure within its aging sprawling communities.

Mississauga’s sprawl is both fiscally and environmentally unsustainable. Mississauga tax payers were hit with a 7.4% increase to its portion of the property-tax bill this year while maintaining the same level of services. The 2013 increase is predicted to be in the order of 9.7%. Mississauga had a property tax freeze from 1994-2002.

As Vaughan continues to approve urban sprawl north of the city, the city also wants the high density development that is being stimulated by new rapid transit infrastructure in the form of the future subway expansion, the bus rapid transit way along Highway 7 and the Concord West Go station.

As the Region stretches outward and builds upward the demand for infrastructure increases exponentially. Can the Region have it both ways? Can it subsidize the infrastructure for the growth of new housing developments north of the city and pay for the infrastructure needs of an ever increasing urban city?  Add to this the reality that the city will need to begin addressing the ongoing repair maintenance and replacement of existing infrastructure in the older sprawl developments.

How long can the Region plan its future in this way? Is our current model for growth sustainable?

 

PAMELA BLAIS, PH.D., R.P.P, M.C.I.P

Pamela Blais is an urban planner and Principal of Metropole Consultants Ltd., where her focus is on creating better cities by integrating planning, economic and environmental thinking in the analysis of urban issues and the development of innovative policy. In her twenty-plus year career as an urban planning consultant, her work has included reurbanisation strategies and research; long term regional growth planning; municipal economic development strategies; innovative land use policies for industrial areas; urban regeneration strategies; sustainable urban form, community design and infrastructure; and research on the impact of technology on urban form. She is the author of Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Donner Book Prize – awarded for the best Canadian public policy book of the year. Pamela has a Masters in Planning from the University of Toronto and a PhD in urban economic geography from the London School of Economics

TRAVIS ALLAN, L.L.B

Travis J. Allan is a lawyer who also advises private and public sector clients on environmental, corporate and regulatory matters, with a focus on climate change at Zizzo Allan Professional Corporation. In addition to providing advice on a broad range of corporate transactions, Travis has helped public and private sector clients understand issues such as municipal liability resulting from climate change, greenhouse gas reporting obligations and novel policy tools to control urban sprawl. Travis is the co-author of numerous publications, including the recently released “Live Where You Go” report. He serves on the boards of the Climate Change Lawyers Network (as co-chair), Project Neutral and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance.

DAVID AMBORSKI R.P.P, M.C.I.P

David Amborski holds Master’s Degrees in Economics and Urban & Regional Planning. His research and consulting interests are in the areas where urban planning interfaces with economics, especially in the field of municipal finance and land/housing markets. More specifically, he has undertaken a number of fiscal impact analyses including development charge and TIF studies for municipalities and the Provincial government. Recent publications and reports include; “Ryerson University Dundas Square Metropolis Project” in The University as Developer, and “Current Issues and Planning for Canadian City Regions” in Studia Regionalia. He has been involved in teaching seminars for in-career government officials both in Ontario and internationally. In Canada, this includes seminars for new municipal councillors and staff offered by the Ontario Municipal Management Institute and the Local Government Program delivered by the University of Alberta and Dalhousie University. Internationally, this includes a variety of seminars delivered in the Baltic States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and the Ukraine. He also serves on a number of international editorial boards and committees including being on the advisory committee of the Institute for Finance and Local Governance, Munk Centre University of Toronto and being selected as a member of Lambda Alpha (honorary economic society). Locally, Professor Amborski has served on a number of planning committees in the Town of Aurora, and is vice-president of the Ontario Municipal Management Institute.

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