Have your say on Brampton’s Parkland Dedication strategy

Etobicoke Creek Trail Conservation Park

An article in last month’s BEA Weekly described the ecosystem services provided by Brampton’s tree canopy and invited residents to offer their opinions on the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan. The City is also interested in public feedback as it works to update its Parkland Dedication by-law by this fall to conform to changes in Provincial regulation. Why is this important and why should you care?

Brampton is under tremendous pressure to accommodate population growth and maintain or increase the availability of affordable housing within its boundary limits. At the same time it strives to maintain, or improve, the quality of life for its residents and to keep Brampton as a city where people want to come to work, live and play.

An effective way to improve life quality for people living in urban settings is by providing easily accessible parkland. Access to the outdoors and communing with nature are critically important to our mental health. Providing parks and natural settings for recreation and exercise is an effective way to promote healthy active living. This is especially true in times of emotional stress, such as dealing with the effects of a global pandemic.

A December 2021 Chinese study, published in the National Library of Medicine concludes, “To achieve the goal of promoting mental wellbeing through urban planning and design during the future pandemics, policymakers and planners are advised to provide more well-maintained and accessible parkland and encourage residents to use them with proper precautions.”

Adequate parkland is an important part of economic, environmental, and social sustainability of any urban centre. In addition to supporting better health outcomes, naturalized outdoor spaces also provide a myriad of eco-system services, including air purification, temperature regulation, water filtration and flood management.

Brampton’s 2040 vision calls for the establishment of an “Eco-Park” to conserve and enhance natural systems within the City while optimizing the balance between environmental conservation on one hand and public accessibility on the other. The concept of the Eco-Park is that it will enhance Brampton’s reputation as a “green city” by evolving the natural heritage system into a network of “Eco Spaces” consisting of, parks, green spaces, green infrastructure streetscapes, utility corridors, and the front and back yards. All these spaces conforming to a set of established principles as defined in the City’s Eco-Parks strategy.

But where does the land come from to support all of these parks and recreational facilities? It turns out that much of it comes from developers through a process called “Parkland Dedication”.

Parkland Dedication is a city by-law under the planning act that requires a portion of land being proposed for development, (or re-development), to be conveyed (given) to the City for parkland. The amount depends on the land’s intended purpose. For commercial or industrial development, 2% of the property must be given to the city to be used for parkland. If the property is to be used for residential purposes, then the greater of 5%, or one hectare for every three-hundred dwelling units must be made available for parkland. This amount is exclusive of valley lands, (floodplain), water courses, buffers or easements.

The by-law also allows the developer to provide cash in lieu of handing over a portion of development project land. The cash in lieu concept is designed for the city to pool funds to buy larger tracts of land to create a smaller number of larger parks rather than having little parkettes associated with each individual development project.

Historically the Parkland Dedication by-law has allowed the city to amass significant parkland. But the approach to parkland dedication is coming under increasing criticism.

First, there is growing pressure from the development industry to cap parkland funding. The arguments are that the cost of cash in lieu of parkland is added to the home purchase price making it less affordable. It also tends to discourage higher density development where the parkland cost can be a significant portion of the overall cost of the development project based on the one hectare per 300 residential unit formula.

The second issue is that the city can sit on the reserve cash for years without finding the right opportunity to buy land suitable for parkland development. Today the reserve exceeds $100M!

The third issue is that parkland is not expanding as fast as the city is growing. Brampton currently provides 6.3 hectares of parkland for every 1,000 residents. That compares favourably to larger cities like Toronto, or Vancouver that have less than half of what we currently enjoy. But, Brampton’s population is expected to grow more than 50% in the next two decades and this growth will see increasing pressure on Brampton’s parks and green spaces unless park space is added at the same rate.

Parkland dedication is a complicated issue that will require complex solutions. The most important thing you can do is to let city staff know you care a proper ratio of parkland to people as the City grows in population and that parkland should be accessible to all by being equitably distributed across the city. Please take a moment to provide your opinion on the City’s park strategy by completing the Park’s Survey.

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