JMA convenes forum on Sprawl and the Fiscal Landscape

As part of its continuing commitment to foster discussion about issues affecting the quality of communities in the Grand River Watershed, John MacDonald Architect is hosting a focus session on the fiscal landscape that drives urban form in our community.

The session is titled:

The Flipside of Smart Growth: Urban Sprawl in the Grand River Watershed

As our communities contemplate their budget and tax ratio projections, this is a timely and critical event that explores how taxation and fees can support goals for vibrant and sustainable communities, rather than hinder them.

The event will be held Thursday, February 24th, 2011, from 2 to 6 pm. Our architectural firm has placed its offices and adjacent meeting spaces in the Bonnie Stuart Building, 141 Whitney Place, Kitchener, at the service of the gathering.

The highlight of the afternoon will be an address by noted Toronto planning consultant Pamela Blais, of Metropole Consultants, who has kindly agreed to speak to leadership and representatives from the Grand River Watershed. Ms Blais is the author of the recently published Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy, and Urban Sprawl. The book catalogues the many ways in which government and public utility fiscal policies and practices continue to subsidize urban sprawl, in spite of equally strong policy rhetoric that commits our communities to Smart Growth and more sustainable forms of community development.

Commenting on the upcoming event, Pamela Blais said: “I am pleased to participate in this event, and thank John MacDonald for organizing a forum in which to air these important issues. I look forward to an open discussion about the critical but often overlooked role played by fiscal and policy misincentives in driving urban sprawl.”

Although it may be unusual for a professional architectural firm to host such a high-profile discussion of tax and fiscal policies and the marketplace distortions they cause, we feel strongly that the public interest deserves an open and neutral forum in which to air these issues.

Our communities and our citizens are undertaking large investments in public infrastructure that will determine our competitiveness, the sustainability of our watershed, and the quality of life for our children.

The investments may take the form of extensive utility, road, and expressway projects to support an auto-centred community; or equally extensive commitments that shift to more compact, sustainable urban form. Consumer and taxpayer perception, and conventional wisdom, is that low-density growth at the periphery of our urban centres is a net fiscal benefit to our communities. Ms Blais has effectively set out the evidence that citizens living and working in more sustainable forms of community provide significant subsidy to auto-dependent forms of development, both during initial construction and annually as these areas are maintained and replaced. We believe that in order for citizens and communities to make informed decisions about investment and lifestyle, the cost of such decisions should be accountable and transparent.

Invitations to the event have been issued to politicians representing citizens within the Grand River Watershed at all levels of government, to senior planning and finance staff, as well as to representatives of citizen and business groups that are affected by the fiscal landscape that drives growth. We are pleased with the response to date, and have confirmed attendance from each sector, including among many others:

  • Region of Waterloo Chair Ken Seiling and CAO Michael Murray, as well as members of Regional Council
  • Municipal councillors from Waterloo, Kitchener, Hamilton, and Brantford, with other municipalities pending
  • Representatives of chambers of commerce, major landlords, and consumer advocacy groups such as the Canadian Condominium Institute
  • Representatives of development, finance, and real estate firms active in the watershed
  • Representatives of local universities and the academic communities in planning, design, and community

We’ve been very happy with both the response and the balanced mix of participants to date. Space is limited, but we want to accommodate the high level of interest and ensure a balanced discussion. Anyone wishing to participate in this event should contact us with a request as soon as possible. Please visit us at:



For information regarding the event, to arrange media accreditation, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Cailin Radcliffe


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