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Bill Fisch of York leading the smart growth charge



Panel issues planning challenge
Thinking must change to improve growth, experts say

Mar 4, 2006
Caroline Grech, Staff Writer
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The people charged with the task of shaping your communities have a message for you: start thinking differently.
York Region planners begun their quest for input into how York Region grows by holding a forum for councillors, business people and other stakeholders at the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge Friday.

"Are we doing enough? I don't think anybody can do enough," regional chairperson Bill Fisch said about aiming for more sustainable communities.

More than 200 people filed into the forum to not only hear an appeal for local business to get onside with environmental initiatives, but also to hear how the region is expected to change over the next 25 years.

The forum, which included panel speakers covering business, cultural and volunteer sectors, was the kickoff for the region's plan to give the public a say on how it should grow according to provincial requirements.

By 2031, the region's population will increase by 600,000 people, pushing the population to 1.5 million, according to targets set by the province's Places to Grow paper.

While intensification is one of the ways the region is expected to grow, Mr. Fisch was quick to point out residents will still have a choice in where and how they choose to live.

"People will still want single detached homes. It's not about saying you will take transit or you will live in a 1,000-square-foot condo, it is about giving residents a choice," Mr. Fisch said.

The impact growth may have on health was one of the ideas presented at the seminar.

"What are we fighting for? We are fighting for quality of life," Rahul K. Bhardwaj, CEO for the United Way of York Region said. "You can't talk about urban sprawl without talking about health."

Mr. Bhardwaj pointed to the health effects of spending more time in your car commuting, telling the forum each hour per day spent in a car increases the likelihood of becoming obese by 6 per cent.

"Cars are killing people in ways we didn't realize before," Mr. Bhardwaj said.

Congestion doesn't only have long-term health implications, it can also lead to less time spent giving back to your community, he pointed out.

"Ten additional minutes of commuting per day cuts community involvement in community affairs by 10 per cent," Mr. Bhardwaj said.

Among the most dramatic changes expected in York Region over the next two decades will be demographics.

Between 1996 and 2001, more than 445,000 immigrants settled in the GTA.

According to the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, immigrants are expected to account for 100 per cent of Canada's net labour growth by 2011.

Unemployment rates for new Canadians are triple the unemployment rate for those born in Canada, despite having equal or more education than the average Canadian, Mr. Bhardwaj said.

"We need to figure this issue out. It's not going to go away, it's just going to get bigger. It's a change in mindset," Mr. Bhardwaj said.

A change in thinking was a common thread for many who spoke on where the region needs to go to accommodate continuing growth.

Also among the messages of the morning was creating a sustainable community doesn't involve simply protecting the environment.

Friday's forum is one of many public consultations happening this month where regional officials will be seeking input on how York Region's communities should look in the next 25 years.

The region is hosting a series of open houses on sustainable growth. In Vaughan, the event is scheduled for April 4 at the Vaughan Civic Centre, starting at 5 p.m. Visit for details.


You can really understand how the suburbs became what they are when you hear some of the revealing comments of the leaders. Bill Fisch is reassuring his anxious constituents that smart growth won't mean giving up their spacious homes or cars. He and those he associates with obviously view condos and transit as a some form of punishment that we all hope to never have to visit. It would be interesting to view what smart growth means to Bill Fisch, Roger Anderson, Larry Di Anni, but it surely involves many highways, triple garages, box stores, pavement and developers turning farms into 'smart growth'.


I had a conversation will Billl Fisch late last year. He is probably one of the best suburban politicans in terms of "getting it" when it comes to transit and sprawl, but I get the impression that he is a pragmatist (which I guess you have to be in a place like York Region). People want the 2 or 3 car, 2200 square foot home on the 40 foot lot - you just have to make the other choices more appealing - like Viva to make transit more appealing.