Open up the Yellowbelt, not the Greenbelt

Believe it or not, there was a kernel of wisdom in Doug Ford’s short-lived proposal to “open up” a “big chunk” of Ontario’s Greenbelt for housing development.

Yes, within a day of the provincial Liberals unearthing a video clip showing Mr. Ford promising that he would allow single-family homes in the protected band of countryside, the Progressive Conservative leader had backtracked.

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At first he clarified that he would replace any developed bits of the Greenbelt, but by Tuesday he had simply caved and said he would not touch the area at all.

The tactical retreat is welcome. The Greenbelt is a treasure, and it’s heartening to see so much public support for it.

But if Mr. Ford’s prescription for runaway housing prices in the Toronto area was off-base, his diagnosis was correct. Housing is so expensive in the region, he said, because there simply isn’t enough of it.

The point would hardly bear making if so many professed advocates of affordable housing didn’t overlook supply and demand. Through a combination of ideological attraction to price controls and selfish commitment to preserving their own neighbourhoods, many bien pensant Torontonians would rather lean on dubious half-measures like rent control and a foreign buyers tax.

Alas, nothing will do the trick except building more homes, and lots of them.

Cutting into the Greenbelt was never the answer, though. Instead, Toronto needs to develop parts of the city known to urbanists as the Yellowbelt – so named for the colour given on city planning maps to neighbourhoods zoned exclusively for single-family detached homes. Toronto contains more than 20,000 hectares of such land.

Unlike the farm fields and forests of the Greenbelt, Yellowbelt areas are already connected to the grid, have access to transit, do not demand overlong commutes to downtown jobs and are easier on the environment.

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In pointing out the housing-supply problem in Toronto and its suburbs, Mr. Ford was on to something. But in calling, however briefly, for developers to chew up the Greenbelt, he was off by two spots on the colour wheel.