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Greenbelts as a Toronto’ Environmental Planning Tool Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 25th, 2020


For over the last three decades, the city of Toronto has experienced various environmental predicaments and injustices. Environmental justice is a fundamental right accorded to all people under the environmental legislation, which seeks to redress the inequitable distribution of environmental burden and benefits (Mennis & Jordan, 2005). This report takes the case of the Toronto Greenbelt to explore the topic by highlighting the effects of the project on the general environment.

Due to the rising environmental injustices and the urban sprawl, the provincial government of Ontario enacted legislation to enforce temporary stop on urban development on productive agricultural land within a greenbelt demarcation. This process involved agricultural zoning mainly to ensure that all land set for agricultural production was not used for housing or industrial construction.

The Toronto Greenbelt program was started to safeguard essential and easily altered environmental land from the increasing developments in the highly populated sections of Toronto. The areas protected include the woodlands, wetlands, agricultural lands, and recreational zones for the welfare of the people and the various species of animals living within the greenbelt.

This report adopts the case of environmental justice to explore the studies relating to the topic whilst targeting the Toronto situation. This report will argue that the greenbelt project has not yet solved the problem of environmental injustices faced in Toronto. The report will conclude by issuing a guideline or future steps for maintaining and improving environmental justice and equality in Toronto.

Linking the Toronto Greenbelt project with environmental justice

The pursuit of rural and urban equity in Toronto is advancing the objectives of environmental justice in several ways. Environmental justice seeks to look up to not only what societies differ on, but also what they cherish and celebrate together (Curtis, 2014). For instance, a community free from pollution, easy access to markets, affordable and modern housing, equal opportunities to develop as well as equal distribution of environmental burdens and benefits is the dream of everyone.

Linking the two cases will seek to respond to several challenges that rural farmers and urban developers face when trying to improve their lifestyles. The first challenge is the stringent legislation protecting the Toronto Greenbelt from nonagricultural development. The second is to establish amicable means to ensure that both rural farmers and urban people of Toronto share equitably the benefits and burdens of environment linked to the greenbelt project.

The Purpose of the greenbelt

The greenbelt in Toronto was established in 2005 as a protective measure to save agricultural land from the increasing development stretching from the urban centers to the countryside. Apart from safeguarding farmlands, the greenbelt act sought to ensure substantial balance in the ecosystem, which could benefit both the rural and urban dwellers, thus bringing about environmental justice across Toronto (Fung & Conway, 2007).

The greenbelt act could achieve this goal by enforcing strict regulations, which prevented any kind of industrial development within the region. This approach could help to conserve, reclaim, and better ecological and hydrological balance coupled with buffering rural-urban economic sustenance through agriculture and tourism as well as providing job opportunities and food supplies.


This report explores how change is happening and whether the preventive programs are attaining their objectives since the launching of the greenbelt in 2005. The available information shows that the strict protection laws are highly acknowledged particularly for the wetlands and the agricultural productive zones across the Greenbelt since the wetlands were declining before 2002 due to the European settlement. Currently in Toronto, the wetlands cover about 12% of the greenbelt land (Curtis, 2014).

Conservation and reclamation of wetlands across the greenbelt are central aspects in enhancing atmospheric balance and curbing stringent climate changes. The Toronto Greenbelt is restraining farmers since they cannot expand, and thus the distribution of farm produce is constrained. Murray (2011) gives the account of Robert Beynon’s dairy farm, which was enclosed within the borders of the Greenbelt program.

Robert feels constrained and deprived since he cannot improve or expand his farm or make a business plan since it is not certain when he will be forced to move out. Other farmers reiterate that they have tolerated high costs, traffic, and policies that do not take into account their concerns.

Murray (2011) argues that the high costs of land will invite wealthy merchants who will come in, do agriculture as a hobby, and risk the decline of farm food supplies. The wetlands have economic benefits since they assist in flood management, water filtration, and soil conservation, hence reducing investments meant to check the adverse environmental conditions maintained by the wetlands.

Is Toronto’s Greenbelt justice or injustice?

The Toronto Greenbelt has arguably led to divisive debates about its policies and planning. Most people reiterate that the greenbelt plan supports sustainable growth for the benefit of the current and future generations, but these sentiments must not be used to show how successful the project has been or might be. Rinquist (2005) argues that studies have identified some critical damages caused by the greenbelt.

Such damages include the high costs of housing, the economic efficiency of both the rural and urban, and the measures to conserve the environment, which are not as effective as presumed. The greenbelt legislation has created social imbalances with most social amenities like housing becoming very congested and unaffordable (Deaton & Vyn, 2010). However, the benefits are going to the pockets of the affluent owners of urban apartments, thus leaving the poor to squeeze and suffer in the densely populated zones.

On the other hand, farmers in the greenbelt, which are the beneficiaries according to the government, are actually moving out of the belt since they cannot develop or sell their land. The Toronto Greenbelt program has laid several benefits by conserving natural heritage, filtration of clean water and fresh air, and facilitated agriculture, but this claim highly disputable amongst farmers.

However, social justice is crucial to the communities and a good balance of all social amenities is needed for the wellbeing of the people of Toronto (Agyeman, 2005). The lacking component is poor planning and policies, and thus the government should not play politics. On the contrary, it should involve all stakeholders to make inclusive policies during the 2015 official review.

Common ground

The case of Toronto greenbelt caused heightened contentions amongst farmers and policymakers, with the former feeling that the environmental burden is leaning on their side as opposed to the rest of the society outside the greenbelt.

The design used to demarcate the greenbelt came out as simply a mere drawing on the soil separating the north from the south since the owners were not adequately consulted. Nonetheless, farmers within the greenbelt acknowledge that there was a need to counter the increasing housing and industrial land use by the growing population in Toronto (Fung & Conway, 2007). The urban developers shared similar sentiments.


Those who refute the greenbelt project as advancing environmental justice agree that the move was established for the social wellbeing of the Toronto denizens. However, policymakers are allegedly more environmentalist than agriculturalist. The policymakers concentrate on maintaining a green countryside at the expense of the farmers by showing lack of comprehensiveness and inclusion of basic concerns by the sodbusters. For instance, Murray (2011) looks at a case outside the greenbelt premises where he met a dairy farmer Ken McNabb.

Although McNabb did not live inside the greenbelt, dwelling close to the belt posed similar problems to him as those faced by those living in the greenbelt such as accessing the markets and mechanical repairs for the machinery. McNabb says that his new location was no better in farming as compared to being within the greenbelt, since he could not expand at will or access the market very easily. This assertion means that the greenbelt project was causing extra environmental burden to the farmers within and outside the belt.

The opponents argue that the greenbelt project failed to address priorities of the farmers on rural land use and food production at the same time maintaining the objective to maintain a sustainable ecosystem. Farmers are confiscated in their own land by policies, which are inadequate, thus denying them the opportunity to make decisions on their own land use.

Since they are green belted, the farmers cannot sell or even develop their own land, which they worked hard to own, and may be anticipated to sell it in the future during their retirement age. This aspect is not fair for the farmers who work hard to safeguard the environment, but they do not get the benefits.

It is agreeable that the greenbelt offers rationalized benefits for all residents of Toronto and beyond. However, the lacking aspect is an amicable solution to compensate farmers adequately and equitably coupled with achieving environmental justice for the rural and urban communities (Mennis & Jordan, 2005).

Opponents feel that farmers have simple and genuine concerns, which include more access to local markets, government support, and inclusive agricultural policies to promote their growth and wellbeing. Policymakers allegedly caused an imbalance in environmental justice by deliberately failing to address the concerns of the farmers. Adopting an environment-based approach hindered farmers from expanding or improving their farm structures.

The government did well to preserve large farming zones within the greenbelt, but it failed to provide markets for these products. For instance, the government did nothing to preserve the last cannery in Canada, which was one of the best places where farmers could sell their produce to sustain their production and livelihood (Curtis, 2014).

The idea of preserving land for farming by government and fail to provide markets for the produce made little sense for farmers who felt used to enhance ecosystem at their own cost. Farmers are doing their part to ensure environmental conservation, but they do not see direct benefits from their farms.

Proponents of environmental justice

The greenbelt in Toronto was the most viable step towards preventing urban developers from developing on agricultural land within the zone. The greenbelt highlights physical alignment of Toronto by displaying what makes the city unique with the beautiful wetlands, watersheds, and green farms.

This aspect manifests the desire by the government and people of Toronto to preserve the environmental heritage. This aspect does not only support recreational or tourist destinations, but it also provides home to birds and wildlife. This scenario helps in achieving atmospheric balance, which is necessary to counter the effects of global warming. In addition, it manages pollution coupled with providing better livelihoods for the people of Toronto and beyond (Agyeman, 2005).

The greenbelt gives the best opportunity to counter the effects of climate change. It provides a balanced atmospheric exchange by creating substantial capacity for the absorption of carbon dioxide, which is produced by the urban industrial activities. This move promotes the purification of air in the region as well as improving food production, hence ensuring that the rural and urban people live under suitable conditions.

Even though proponents of developers have expressed concerns about the stringent laws prohibiting non-agricultural development in and around the greenbelt, their concerns are somewhat selfish or motivated by non-inclusive goals (Deaton & Vyn, 2010). Conserving the environment should be a priority since it benefits everybody directly or indirectly.

Allowing developers to construct on agricultural land cannot lower the costs of housing, since they are owned by few capitalistic property owners who care only about themselves and amassing more money. Furthermore, the population will continue to rise and if arable land will be inadequate, then Toronto will lack the production capacity to feed its people (Gurin, 2007).

Limitations of the policy system

In a bid to attain environmental justice, planners and policymakers should enhance policies to create balance even before the official review in 2015. The issue of urban sprawl is not contained by the creation of the greenbelts since developers continue to develop land bordering the zoned area, thus making it hard to expand the program.

In addition, the definition of wetland varies amongst major policymakers such as the Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Natural Resources, thus showing inconsistency and creating a loophole for developers to construct their own definition (Fung & Conway, 2007). Planners and policymakers face the challenge to establish a balanced economic and environmental sustenance to enable environmental justice.

Implications of the greenbelt on environmental justice

The core objective of the greenbelt involved the facilitation of the cooperation between cities and suburbs, thus connecting the city dwellers with the rural farmers while encouraging conservation and proper use of natural resources. Apparently, the Toronto Greenbelt has achieved several goals such as the provision of clean water and conservation of natural heritage, but major disparities bedevil the program.

Negative implications have been identified to overwhelm the positives, which raises more questions on the management of the greenbelt. For instance, farmers have been restrained within their own land, thus forcing some to move out in a bid to expand. The project has created a social gap between the farmers and the community and the government (Rinquist, 2005). The prospects of achieving environmental justice lie on the policymakers and the inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process.


In order to better and maintain environmental justice in Toronto, the city should accept that such disparities are real and they persist in Toronto. The assumption that the greenbelt has preserved the city, and thus it will achieve environmental equality is wrong. The greenbelt is faced with numerous challenges concerning its planning and policymaking. The lingering question is whether the greenbelt is trying to achieve its obligation at the peril of environmental justice.

The environmental justice proponents agree that equal opportunities, social welfare, and human dignity can only be achieved if the affected people are involved in the decision-making process governing issues such as the greenbelt project (Agyeman, 2005). Since citizens are the key beneficiaries of stable economic progress, environmental justice, and social balance, then it is fundamental to consult and involve them in the decision-making process.

Therefore, for the city of Toronto to enhance environmental justice, the government should ensure that the citizens are obligated and have the power to contribute in strategizing official changes and policing. By doing this, the Toronto authorities will be empowering the individual farmers and developers to produce reasonably, thus safeguarding the environment for the well-being of everyone.


While planners and policymakers are reluctance in accepting that environmental inequalities persist in Toronto, research reveals that some disparities exist mainly due to exclusion of citizens in the decision-making process. No matter how the government and conservative movements think of themselves as environmentalists, environmental difficulties will be a commonplace unless the decision-making process incorporates all stakeholders.

The farmers and the urban poor will suffer greatly from the environmental burdens since they have limited means to protect themselves. The greenbelt was presumably a springboard towards socio-economic and environmental sustenance upon its establishment in 2005, but the policies were flawed and they did not live to the expectations of all stakeholders. Consequently, significant amendments should be made to improve how Toronto addresses the issue of environmental injustices during the 2015 official review.


Agyeman, J. (2005). Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Deaton, J., & Vyn, R. (2010). The Effect of Strict Agricultural Zoning on Agricultural Land Values: The Case of Ontario’s Greenbelt. American Journal of Agricultural Economics,92(4), 941-955.

Curtis, T. (2014). Has Toronto’s Greenbelt done more harm than good? The Globe and Mail, p. 48.

Fung, F., & Conway, T. (2007). Greenbelts as an Environmental Planning Tool: A Case Study of Southern Ontario, Canada. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 9 (2), 101-117.

Gurin, D. (2007). Farmers’ markets: Opportunities for preserving greenbelt agriculture. Toronto, ON: Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

Mennis, L., & Jordan, L. (2005). The Distribution of Environmental Equity: Exploring Spatial Nonstationarity in Multivariate Models of Air Toxic Releases. Annals of The Association of American Geographers, 95(2), 249-268.

Murray, C. (2011). Protecting Greenbelt Wetlands: How Effective is Policy? Web.

Rinquist. (2005). Assessing Evidence of Environmental Inequities: A Meta-Analysis. Analysis. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 24(2), 223-247.

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