About James

Transportation planner specializing in transportation demand management and accessibility.

The 15-Minute City Offers Freedom, Not Restriction

There are obvious reasons we don’t take everything on social media at face value. Otherwise, we’d believe COVID-19 was created in a lab, Democrats were involved in human trafficking, the Sandy Hook shooting was staged, vaccines are bad, etc. We can go on forever.

Now the conspiracy theorists are trying to hijack a subject area near and dear to my heart, city planning. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the false claims (not backed by any credible references) that the 15-minute city concept is a government conspiracy to trap people within a confined area.

For your reference, I’ve shared one of the videos (below) which has gone viral on Tiktok. It makes unverified claims that the 15-minute concept for Mississauga’s Cooksville neighbourhood will confine residents within their area and limit their travels outside to 100 trips per year and be charged $56 each time exceeded. My initial thoughts were as follows: First off, why does this woman look like she’s 12 years old? Does she have any professional experience or education in planning? What are her sources? For all I know, she’s just yet another person with nothing better to do but post made-up theories on the internet. As well, I follow Mississauga Council very closely yet never heard a thing that validates anything she says.

The consensus among those who actually study the built environment is that the 15-minute city rather offers numerous benefits, especially to those without a driver’s licence or a car. As someone who lives in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, a 15-minute neighbourhood itself, I appreciate having the world at my doorsteps with the luxury of car-free mobility, as opposed to being isolated in car-dependent places in the outskirts. Over the past half-decade, there’s been a paradigm shift in how we envision our built environment, from auto-oriented places for fast cars with no regard for public safety, social equity or climate change towards smaller-scale concepts like the walkable, 15-minute city, largely due to years of advocacy from Jane Jacobs, John Sewell and other urban critics. It took us a long time for us to get here. Let’s not undo it.

Hurricane Hazel, 1921-2023

Well I guess she is mortal after all.

Upon hearing about her death yesterday, I couldn’t help but search the internet for whatever I could find on her century-long life and legacy. Despite all the conflict of interest claims and her reputation among my fellow planners as the “queen of sprawl”, I do admit she lived a great life devoted to public service and she will always remain an icon in Mississauga. Heck, she’ll even have an LRT line named after her. Her tenure as mayor spanned over three decades. By the time of her retirement in 2014, she had been in that role longer than I had even been alive at that point. She was so beloved by her constituents that she even stopped campaigning for elections.

A young Hazel with her cat.

Believe it or not, she had humble beginnings in Port Daniel, Quebec. Although she never fulfilled her ambition to attend university (parents couldn’t afford it), she began her working career with Kellogg in Montreal and later established the company’s local office in Toronto, where she met her late husband, Sam McCallion. The in-laws, being white and having land to give away, gifted the couple with a piece of property in Streetsville, where she eventually became mayor prior to its amalgamation with four other villages into Mississauga.

For years, she fought for Mississauga to become independent from the Region of Peel – a goal that continues to be pursued by her successor Bonnie Crombie. I wonder if her death provides a little extra incentive.

It’s a shame she didn’t live to see it happen.

It’s also too bad I never got the chance to meet her while I worked at the Region of Peel headquarters, the same building where she served as Regional councillor.

Property Taxes are about to Rise Thanks to Bill 23


Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, is an atrocity that will screw us over in many ways. I lightly touched on it a couple months ago in a little blurb, though I did not get into the full extent of how problematic it really is. Now that I’ve had the chance to listen to some of the municipal council discussions on the issue, I’m just boggled by how big a shit show we may be in for.

Although the intent of this Bill is to incentivize housing development by waiving development charges and reducing parkland dedication requirements, it comes at the expense of cash-strapped municipalities that will lose a great deal of revenue from development charges that typically fund capital infrastructure, schools and.public amenities. For example, the City of Mississauga will need to cover about $800 million over ten years. Given the imitated sources of revenue that municipalities have, this shortfall may need to be covered by property taxes. So taxpayers are effectively funding developers without any guarantee that these savings will be passed down to the end user because home prices are primary affected by interest rates and market conditions rather than development costs. Further, we get fewer new community centres and public spaces, which means families without back yards (like mine) have fewer places to take their kids and pets.

The whole point of development charges is to have growth pay for itself since development comes with the need for more sewage, roads and emergency services, as well as schools and public amenities (eg. community centres).

The Ford government also plans to open up parts of the Greenbelt, which would undo decades of planning to curb sprawl, protect natural heritage, valuable flood plains, and Indigenous Treaty rights.

Alfredo DeGasperis
Alfredo DeGasperis: Rich white guy who stands to profit at our expense.

Further, just simply increasing the supply of housing in the urban periphery doesn’t address the real issue, which is affordability. because what’s really the point of building houses in places where those who depend on housing affordability can’t even get to without the luxury of a car?

The clear winners here are developers that plan to build another sea of cookie-cutter subdivisions on lands that should be protected.

The Ford government has given an early Christmas present to Fieldgate, Condor and others.

Ontario’s New Housing Legislation and Municipal Planning

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing passed the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, as a measure to increase the supply of affordable housing quickly by removing red tape, streamlining the development approval process and reducing development costs.

Picture of laneway with recently constructed home.
Laneways provide a great opportunity to add gentle density to some of Toronto’s mature neihourhoods.

Anyone who’s been following local politics during the recent municipal elections is probably annoyed and sick of hearing promises about getting affordable housing built. Although the cost of housing in major cities like Toronto has been skyrocketing for decades, the topic is yet again the “flavour of the week”. What’s even more annoying is how everybody has tried to leverage the issue to advance their own agenda. Just about every political candidate had made it a central focus of their campaign. Developers have tried to pressure municipalities for approvals claiming that increasing supply in the housing market would make it more affordable. Even the Premier himself has used it as rationale to push the strong mayor system onto municipalities.

Having briefly reviewed the legislation, it does have some promising potential to address some longstanding planning needs, such as the missing middle, by permitting gentle density on single-home properties without a zoning amendment, which can really help spark a long overdue wave of laneway development and utilization of excess open space in post-war bungalow suburbs in the form of granny flats and garden suites without NIMBYs getting in the way.

An area of concern, however, is the exemption of parkland dedication and community benefit and development charges for inclusionary zoning units, which takes away funding for new infrastructure and public amenities necessary to support the influx of residents that come with new development, especially higher density development, Schools, community centres and parks are needed regardless of the cost of housing, so I expect it could be an issue to come to light down the road.

Further, many critics are not convinced that simply increasing the supply of housing would improve affordability. There has been plenty of residential development over the past twenty years, yet rents and home prices have increased significantly.

Although not all is ideal, it shows that the Province realizes the urgency of the crisis and is trying to steer in the right direction, even if it means taking the wheel from municipalities.

It’s National Indigenous Peoples Day!

Of course it should be every day, but I just wanted to devote a post to acknowledge the long Indigenous history of Turtle Island, where I’m privileged to have lived my entire life.

It is worthy to note that Davenport Road, located a few hundred metres from my home on Spadina Road, has quite a significant association with Indigenous history. In fact, it is believed to be Toronto’s oldest road. Before Europeans arrived in this neck of the woods, it was an old Indigenous trail that went along the contour. Mind you it is one of the few diagonal roads in Toronto because it long predates the grid network.

Seven Reasons Highway 413 should be Stopped


It may not reduce your commute time.

Proponents claim it will save commuters 30 minutes each way, which is bullshit. The latest analysis summarized in an MTO briefing note prepared by a credible past colleague of mine states that this calculation doesn’t even take into account the 407 ETR, an underunderutilized east-west corridor which may in fact be faster than the proposed 413 route, at least based on the modelling.

The costs are outrageous.

In addition to all the cultural and environmental costs, the new Highway comes with an $8.2 billion price tag. This Province has lots of other important needs that can use these funds including post-pandemic recovery support, public health, education, housing, and the rising cost of living.

There are more efficient alternatives.

As mentioned earlier, the underutilized Highway 407, which runs parallel to the proposed route of Highway 413, was created to serve as a GTA bypass to relieve congestion on the 401. An expert panel, appointed by the previous government to review the merits of the proposed Highway, suggested that traffic be diverted to the 407 ETR with the elimination of tolls rather than building an entirely new major highway. This conclusion led to the temporary cancellation of the project, only to be revived by Doug Ford’s PCs who falsely claim to be fiscal conservatives.

It opens more land for development

With new infrastructure comes more low-density subdivisions, big box stores, gas stations, parking lots, and other auto-oriented land uses that will not only pave over our last remaining countryside but also induce more traffic to be dumped onto an already-congested 400-series highway network leading to greater congestion across the region.

It’s not a matter of cars vs. transit

The debate in the media has focused on whether these outer ring municipalities should instead be served by mass transit (ie. GO trains), which is the wrong discussion because it really doesn’t matter. Proponents also argue that 413 will be a multi-modal corridor that accommodates higher order transit. The real issue is that new infrastructure beyond the existing urban areas, regardless of whether it’s a highway or transit, encourages people to move farther from major employment centres in Toronto, Peel and York, leading to even more greenfield development. I suggest you read The Shape of the Suburbs by John Sewell..

Loss of Archaeological sites and habitat for endangered species.

The 59 km highway would pave over 2,000 acres of culturally significant lands long inhabited by the Huron Wendat including burial grounds. Also at risk are 5.95 km of forests, wetlands and important habitat for endangered species such as the rare redside dace, whose habitats within the Humber River and Credit River will be affected due to the fact that the proposed 413 route crosses their headwaters, which will have adverse effects downstream.

Numerous other endangered species would also be pushed closer to extinction.

We have a climate crisis on our hands.

We all know that the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to the erratic, unprecedented changes to weather patterns we are now experiencing. Given that nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, let’s maybe not build a massive highway that will add more than 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.

West GTA municipalities continue to oppose it.

The Region of Peel, City of Brampton and the City of Mississauga who you think would benefit from this Highway have publicly voiced their opposition to it and continue to do so. It may be good for the Province to listen to the authorities closest to its constituents.

There is still hope!

Even though the PCs have now secured a majorty on a campaign to “get it done”, there is still a possibility that the federal government will intervene and conduct their own environmental assessment. The David Suzuki Foundation has provided a nice email template to write to the Minister of Environment and Climate.

Ontario’s Latest Transportation Plan Full of Gaps and Political Gimmicks

Ford will get it done!

The Ontario government finally released its Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan, which sets out their vision for the region’s transportation system over the next 30 years. Although this Plan was initiated under the Liberal government in 2016, Ford and the PCs have now taken the credit. It’s a shame that a half decade’s work has become Mr. Ford’s political campaign advertisement to buy votes for the next provincial election. Despite extensive stakeholder engagement during the development of the Plan, it is clear that the MTO simply didn’t listen or even give a shit about anything they heard. Both the City of Mississauga, and the Region of Peel have publicly expressed their discontent regarding the Plan’s lack of details and commitment on key projects such as two-way service on the Milton GO corridor. Further, there is absolutely no regard for the overwhelming opposition to Highway 413 from the City of Mississauga, City of Brampton, Region of Peel, and numerous other prominent stakeholders.

The Plan includes a map of ambitious infrastructure investments including two “conceptual” transit lines, specifically a cross-regional connection between Burlington and Oshawa and an extension of the Ontario Line through Kipling station and Pearson Airport before connecting with the western end of the Line 4 subway. It all looks great besides the fact that important details such as costs and timelines are missing. As far as I’m aware, there has never been a single business case or cost-benefit analysis completed on any of these “conceptual” projects. Until then, the map is nothing more than a piece of art with a bunch of lines, which we have seen far too many times. Just one of many plans that would collectively make a great exhibit at the AGO.

Above: Map for proposed future transit network (MTO,2022)

Disclaimer: I may be biased on this subject due to my work with a party that has expressed concerns regarding both this plan and Highway 413.

What is Passion?

It was the very first question I was asked in a recent job interview. Not exactly the most typical way to kick off a job interview. As usual, I expected something along the lines of “introduce yourself and why are you qualified for this position?”, but the panel chose to be less conventional this time. It was a surprise, yet a pleasant one. Despite having to think on the spot, I was rather pleased they asked.

I don’t know what made them think of this question but I wonder if they looked at my cover letter and LinkedIn profile, where I identify myself as a “passionate transportation planner”, without even defining what it means. They may have wondered whether it is something I actually practice or just another gimmick to impress them, but here is what it actually means to me:

Well, it’s not just a fruit.

It’s to treat your career as not just a daily 9-5 commitment, but a means to support your personal values and interests. You’re not just working for a salary because the opportunity to contribute to something you care about is a reward itself.

My career isn’t something I just fell into by accident or luck. My post-secondary education and early career experience were carefully planned and executed to get to where I am now. I’ve made sacrifices with big opportunity costs. For example, the time I spent in grad school could have been spent living abroad or earning a full time income, as I had been prior, or pursuing a different education such as an MBA. I chose to study locally at York University for the purpose of gaining the local policy background and build my professional network in the region I wanted to work.

Despite a few bumps along the road, the sacrifices have paid off so far.

I am an advocate and it is fine.

I am not afraid to disclose that I volunteer on an accessibility advisory committee for the TTC while remaining employed as a public servant and transportation planner with a higher level government. That potentially makes me a “special interest” advocate in a public sector position. Here, I will make a big confession. There may indeed have been instances when my volunteer experience in accessible transit influenced how I carried out my 9-5 work but I think it’s completely fine, nor am I violating any ethical code of conduct.

Being an advocate in a professional setting is obviously a double-edged sword. On one side, it enables me to be a subject matter expert on the topics close to my heart. On the other side, I can easily be criticized for being heavily biased and reluctant to acknowledge the perspectives of those with different values and experiences from mine.

Then there’s the perception that I may have a conflict of interest, given the potential for me to leverage my 9-5 job to support the interests of a publicly funded agency that I happen to volunteer with, but that doesn’t necessarily put me in a troubled situation. The Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) explicitly states in their code of conduct that “members have a “primary responsibility to define and serve the interests of the public”. Advocating for accessibility is my way of fulfilling my responsibility to serve the public interest. As well, the TTC is not my client or an investment holding. So there is absolutely no pecuniary interest from my end.

Advocacy is driven by personal values and passion. Personal values and passion are what separate the movers and shakers (ie. Leslie Knope) from your stereotypical beaurocrat counting down the days to retirement (ie. Garry Gergich). My passions are what led me to my career as a planner. Without them, I may as well have leveraged my math degree to pursue a career that pays more money. Lawyer and planning theorist Paul Davidoff argued that values are part of every planning process and that the planner isn’t solely a value-neutral technician. Davidoff also stated that advocate planners use their experience and knowledge within the field of planning to represent the ideas and needs of their comunities.

A forward-thinking profession shaped by constantly evolving technological and demographic trends needs to attract passionate people who are unhappy with the status-quo and push for progressive change. Many of these people are advocates in one way or another whether it’s for social justice, active transportation, source-water protection, a zero-carbon transportation system, etc. Without passionate individuals, planning authorities risk being trapped in a closed-minded culture resistant to change.

There is no shame in idetifying yourself as an advocate.

Image from: Advocacy Focus

Accessibility of Off-Site Work: An Addendum to my Position on Telework

In March, I made a somewhat ignorant, quasi-elitist post about the benefits of telework and the interventions that governments can make to support it. Now that I’ve had the time to reflect, I’m going to self-criticize my own thoughts. Too often, the discourse on telework comes from the narrative of your typical “white-collared” knowledge worker in the centre of an urban area. Given that as much as 12% of Ontarians live in communities unserved or underserved by broadband and the fact that many occupations cannot be done remotely, telework is clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution to keep everybody afloat during these tough times, nor is it necessarily “accessible”. One major theme that has since emerged repeatedly from the COVID-19 discussions online (ironically) is the disproportionate impact that social distancing measures are having on marginalized demographics. Even in well-connected urban areas, many front-line workers don’t have the option to work from home and are therefore faced with the daunting choice of either exposing themselves to germs while on the job or otherwise losing their income, whereas those with the luxury of working remotely can continue to pay their bills and maintain their lifestyles with minimal disruption, and children from lower-income households lacking access to online learning resources fall behind while their more affluent peers who can leverage e-learning motor ahead. Even job interviews now are conducted over GoToMeetings and I’ve seen professional conferences delivered digitally via Zoom, which means that those lacking access to the necessary technologies are now completely cut off from employment, networking and learning opportunities. The current situation further exposes the need for not just broadband internet but also the need to maintain transit operations despite reduced ridership and the need for the social safety net and emergency relief funding to get into the hands of citizens and workers. I expect that any post-pandemic government resiliency strategy be based on a holistic range of perspectives to address the needs of people from various demographics and economic sectors, not all of whom should be expected to participate in the digital universe. For some people, it may be “about the journey” after all.

"Sorry no internet today"