Friday, August 31, 2007

Interpreting the signs - The Smart Growth Index (part 2 of 4)

Yesterday, we read about the Pembina Institute's latest report featuring our fair city, the Ontario Community Sustainability Report - 2007, and read the general conclusions the institute came to regarding the 27 municipalities covered in the paper. Today, we are going to look at Windsor's Smart Growth numbers and what they mean to us here on the front lines.

This study provides a snapshot of the sustainability of selected communities across Ontario in recent years, and employs 33 indicators in three broad categories: Smart Growth, Liveability and Economic Vitality. Having an established indicator framework to monitor and evaluate the changes happening can only advance our understanding of the modifications being implemented across the province and provide feedback on the successes or failures these changes are responsible for. You need to know where you stand before heading off in any one particular direction. So, let's see where Windsor stands, shall we...

For the purpose of this study, Windsor is rated as a medium population municipality (216,473 in '06) experiencing medium population growth (+ 3.87% from '01 - '06). Other municipalities/regions covered in this study experienced population growth ranging from 0.11% (Thunder Bay) to 23.84% (Barrie).

Environmental Sustainability
The Smart Growth Index

In Pembina's choice of indicators for the physical environment, they have chosen to focus on urban form, i.e., the physical design of the city. Urban form includes features such as density of settlement, the mix of land uses, and the characteristics of the transportation system. These are the issues that determine tin large part the environmental sustainability of urban areas. There are 11 indicators being utilized in this section.

1/ Population Density (reflects the efficiency with which land is used in Windsor)
Windsor's Ranking - 9 out of 27. Fair, but probably reflects just how poorly everyone else is because Windsor has a low concentration of mid-to-high density neighbourhoods and numerous sprawling suburbs

2/ Land Use Mix (Mixed land uses help reduce motorized transport and encourage walking and biking)
Windsor's Ranking -5 out of 27. Good. Windsor doesn't have to tear down and rebuild neighbourhoods to increase our land use mix. Also shows better-than-average zoning by-laws.

3/ Urban Intensification (Reflects the degree to which new growth is being accomodated in the already urbanized area versus greenfield development)
Windsor's Ranking -11 out of 27. Fair, but gives a warning about continuing our "build out" mentality.

4/ Length Of Roads Per 1,000 People (Provides a measure of the efficiency of the road network. Sprawled communities tend to require more road surface per capita)
Windsor's Ranking - 5 out of 27. Good, but probably attributable to our geographical circumstance of being "walled-in" by the Detroit River and Lakes.

5/ Street Connectivity (Street connectivity allows easier navigation and access to pedestrians, cyclists and transit vehicles. Lower connectivity means more dead-ends and T-intersections)
Windsor's Ranking -1 out of 27. WOW! I didn't see that rank coming! Let's continue our grid patterns the way we've established them. Cutting down on one-way traffic would also increase our local downtown mobility.

6/ Commuting Distance (A measure of the distances between housing and jobs)
Windsor's Ranking - 15 out of 27. Mediocre, considering our very low Length Of Roads Per 1,000 People ranking of 5. This shows that we still love our suburban raised ranches out in the boonies.

7/ Commuting Modes (One measure of the degree of dependance on the automobile, with many commuters travelling in single occupancy vehicles [SOVs])
Windsor's Ranking - 16 out of 27. Mediocre, but we're the Automotive Capital Of Canada so this doesn't surprise me. Striving to increase our acceptance of alternative forms of transportation will lower this score as we maximize our excellent grid-patterned road network.

8/ Place Of Work (A rough proxy for the job/housing balance in Windsor - i.e., the ability of Windsor to provide sufficient employment base and thereby reduce commuting)
Windsor's Ranking - 8 out of 27. Good. This shows that our ability to utilize our plethora of vacant lands/brownfields will increase our population densities while decreasing our commuting distances. With our average scores in those indicators, this also points out that we are not realizing our potential, though.

9/ Transportation Gap (Spending on roads instead of transit increases car dependency)
Windsor's Ranking - 14 out of 27. Average. Yet this doesn't take into account our poor history of maintaining our infrastructure. Watch this ranking skyrocket in the near future as our roads and sewers reach the breaking point. We must increase our spending on alternative transportation and keep it at a high level regardless of our road infrastructure needs.

10/ Tertiary Water Treatment (Reflects stress being placed on local water bodies from sewage loading)
Windsor's Ranking - 17 out of 27. Mediocre, but also points out that we are geographically challenged seeing how half of Windsor is bordered by water. We are not living up to the committments espoused by our municipal motto "The River And Land sustain Us"

11/ Air Quality (Air quality is a key measure of the healthfulness of the physical environment and reflects to some extent the efficiency of the local transportation system)
Windsor's Ranking - 27 out of 27. It literally doesn't get any worse than this. This number should scare the hell out of every Windsor/Essex county resident.

Windsor's overall Smart Growth Index Score was rated at 52.32, ranking us 12th out of the 27 participating communities. Next installment - The Livability/Equity Index

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