Bigger Better Belts: 9 Experts Reflect on What's Right, Wrong and Most Important for Making Greenbelts Thrive

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What greenbelts do

Ontario's Greenbelt

THE GREENBELT PLAN is a key component of the province's growth management strategy for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, defining where development is off-limits. It takes a systems-based approach to planning, protecting more than individual natural features by incorporating the areas that surround, connect and support them. The Plan ensures that linkages between significant landforms--such as the Niagara Escarpment, Oak Ridges Moraine and the surrounding major watersheds and lakes--are protected, and includes speciality crop areas in Niagara and the Holland Marsh.

The Greenbelt makes significant contributions to the provincial economy. A 2012 study found that the total economic impact of the Greenbelt exceeds $9.1-billion annually, drawing revenue from the tourism, recreation, forestry and agricultural sectors. An additional $2.6-billion in benefits is provided annually by rich soil, forests and wetlands that filter our air, clean our water and protect us from floods.

The 10-year review of the Greenbelt Plan will take stock and identify ways to improve strategy, implementation and related policies. In light of changing global conditions such as climate change, water scarcity and food insecurity, the review will need to consider future challenges to ensure that the Greenbelt continues to help communities grow sustainably.

--Kathy Macpherson, vice president of research and policy, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation

Green Wedges, Melbourne, Australia

MELBOURNE HAS A 40-YEAR-OLD strategic plan to confine fringe metropolitan growth to linear corridors separated by "green wedges." This plan showed that a city-wide strategy to incorporate urban hinterlands is essential to preventing the indiscriminate development of greenbelts by fragmented and competing local authorities.

The city's strategic plan was updated in 2002 to expand the green wedges into a true greenbelt, spanning 17 local councils. Local government introduced stronger rural zones and legislative protection for an urban growth boundary (UGB). This plan sought to divert up to 40 per cent of outer urban growth to the metropolitan area, reducing pressure on the wedges. Instead, a politicized planning process and the development industry's power have since freed up 60,000 hectares by moving the UGB.

The best protection for greenbelts is an inflexible UGB separating urban and rural uses, along with a metropolitan-wide, regional identification of land supply and urban densities. The future of Melbourne's wedges is now threatened (and the impact of the UGB is undermined) by the proposed introduction of hotels, restaurants, resorts and other industry.

Melbourne's greenbelt provides many vital functions that make the city more resilient in a time of rapid change. Wedges are the second largest food-producers in the state of Victoria, and they provide crucial environmental services, including much of Melbourne's water supplies, and important flora and fauna reserves. These services have a wide range of important economic values.

--Michael Buxton, professor of Environment and Planning, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Australia

Sao Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve, Brazil

SAO PAULO links the major economic regions of Latin America into the world economy. Yet the city has long faced centrifugal urbanization, characterized by spatial segregation, pollution and poverty. For most of the 20th century, environmental degradation and an advancing city frontier had severe impacts on the ecosystem services that it depends on. After citizens opposed the Metropolitan Perimetral Road Project in 1989, UNESCO designated the city's periphery as the Sao Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve. In 1993, it became part of the Mata Atlantica Biosphere Reserve.

Biosphere reserves are tools for integrated land management that aim to conserve biodiversity, stimulate economic activity and offer logistical support for sustainable development. …