What if one town council decision could affect the chances of the whole GTHA reaching its climate targets? The Whitby Green Standard goes to council in the fall, and if it passes, it is possible that the rest of Durham Region and other municipalities across Ontario will follow suit. Green development standards are mandatory municipal measures that encourage environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable design. For an explainer on the concept, see the Clean Air Partnership’s recent toolkit.
Why is this crucial now? After Toronto’s 2010 adoption of the Toronto Green Standard, Whitby is the first GTHA municipality to develop a similar approach. If we have any chance of reaching our climate targets in the region, it is necessary for all municipalities to adopt mandatory standards just to keep up with growth. TAF is enthusiastic about municipal tools like green development standards and have expressed our support during the public consultation process. After seeing the success of the Toronto Green Standard, and very little opposition from developers over the years, we are confident that the proposed Whitby tool will be good for development, growth, and the environment, and set the stage for scaling across the province.
Thinking ahead, other local municipalities should not lag behind on mandating green development. What’s in it for them? Cities and towns can:
- Decouple growth and emissions
Without the Green Development Standard, the new developments over the next decade alone will take up all of Whitby’s space for carbon emissions. A near zero goal for new construction is critical in Whitby and neighbouring communities, if they continue to see significant population growth and create massive build-outs of residential and commercial real estate. Simply put, if Whitby does not transition to near zero emissions in new construction, any progress made in retrofitting existing homes and buildings will be offset by growth. As many municipalities have made climate emergency declarations, cities must lead by example and adopt climate solutions that address community needs.
- Encourage development that improves the health and well-being of residents
Measures in a green development standard can include proximity to schools, walkability, air quality, affordable housing, and integrated greenspace; these considerations encourage planning in a way that improves the physical and mental health of residents. The Whitby Green Standard has ten themes – one of which is “Health and Happiness” meant to encourage “active, sociable, meaningful lives to promote good health and wellbeing.”
- Reduce future capital, operating, and energy costs
Green development is cost effective and will generate net economic benefits. The proposed Whitby Green Standards will reduce future capital and operating costs for Whitby and Durham Region by making homes more resilient, for example by integrating better storm water management and waste diversion infrastructure in new neighbourhoods. Additionally, new buildings approved today will be part of our region for the next century. Building them efficiently is far more cost effective than retrofitting them down the road. There are existing government programs that make this even more enticing; all homes built to the proposed energy and climate standards will qualify for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Green Home mortgage insurance rebate program, creating instant savings for new home buyers.
The Whitby Green Standard was due to be considered by the town council in July, but has recently been delayed until the fall for further consultation. While there is always room for improvement, we hope that any changes won’t undermine the intent and ambition of the policy. In particular, the inclusion of both minimum requirements and optional stretch targets is essential to long-term market transformation and meeting the town’s climate commitments. Whitby declared a climate emergency almost exactly one year ago; this fall’s decision on the Whitby Green Standard will be a litmus test of the Town’s commitment.
Whitby’s adoption of the mandatory standards would be a gamechanger for the region, making Whitby a healthier place to live with lower monthly bills, and setting the tone for smart growth across the GTHA and beyond.
Demonstrate your support for the Whitby Green Standard and other green standards by sharing this blog post or writing to your elected officials to update and develop more robust municipal tools for sustainable, complete communities. For suggestions, please read our official comments of support here.