Ajax Mayor Steve Parish answers questions about Durham's sprawl-friendly regional plan and what it will take to make regional planning more transparent and sustainable.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 27, 2009
On May 14, 2009, the Toronto Star published an op-ed by Ajax Mayor Steve Parish titled "Sprawl a slam dunk for developers", detailing the pernicious influence of property developers on municipal politics and decrying Durham Region Council's regional growth plan, which violates the imperatives in the provincial Places to Grow framework.
Ben Bull drew some much-needed attention to this surprisingly blunt analysis, writing, "it's nice to know that at least one city Mayor is calling his compatriots to account and sitting on the right side of the discussion."
RTH contacted Mayor Parish for an interview to learn a bit more about what is going on in Durham and what it will take to make regional planning more transparent and sustainable.
Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer (RTH): I must confess to some surprise that a mayor of Ajax, of all places, would write what you did about the problems of sprawl. Have you always championed smart growth or are you a more recent 'convert'?
Steve Parish, Mayor of Ajax (SP): I have always been an outspoken advocate for the environment and sustainable development. In 2000, I championed the adoption of an 'environment first' official plan for the Town. I am a huge proponent of Ontario's Greenbelt initiative, and in fact, I successfully advocated that all of Ajax's urban lands be placed in the Greenbelt. I am an avid cyclist so I am quite aware of the need for smart growth.
RTH: In a speech to municipal leaders last November, George Smitherman said, "I'm giving very careful consideration to the priorities of municipalities who have done their work to meet the growth plan. ... When things are tough, I will stand behind those who stand up for the Growth Plan." Are Durham regional planners aware of this, and do you think refusing to accept the Growth Plan will hurt Durham's prospects at getting provincial support for its infrastructure projects?
SP: Yes, it should! In fact, I will be lobbying the province to stand up to Durham.
RTH: What do you think needs to change to reduce the political influence of developers at the municipal level?
SP: Ban developer contributions to municipal candidates! The study by professor Robert MacDermid of York University regarding the influence of campaign contributions [PDF link] is quite compelling. There is a direct tie.
RTH: What can be done with the existing low-density suburbs of Ajax to make them more livable?
SP: Simple, common sense changes - active transportation, mixed uses, more employment close to home.
RTH: I grew up in an Ajax suburb built in the early 1970s. Unlike today's suburbs, the land was not leveled but was left to rise and fall; mature trees were left in place, and a network of trails connected our neighbourhood with parks, schools, local shops and even the waterfront. It passed the "eight minute popsicle" test. When and why did developers stop building neighbourhoods like this, given that they materially improved the living standards of their residents?
SP: Because of development and our need (as people) for more. And because we believe endless consumption is okay despite evidence of the limits of growth. I am proud to say that in Ajax we try to be mindful of this by implementing smart growth strategies.
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