Technical Backgrounder Intensification and Density Targets

Intensification and Density Targets

Technical Backgrounder


On June 16, 2006, the Government of Ontario released the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006. It was prepared under the Places to Grow Act, 2005, as part of the Places to Grow initiative to plan for healthy and prosperous growth throughout Ontario.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe aims to:

  • Revitalize downtowns to become vibrant and convenient centres
  • Create complete communities that offer more options for living, working, shopping and playing
  • Provide greater choice in housing types to meet the needs of people at all stages of life
  • Curb sprawl and protect farmland and greenspaces
  • Reduce traffic gridlock by improving access to a greater range of transportation choices.

Intensification and Density Targets in the Growth Plan

This technical backgrounder provides an explanation of the intensification and density targets in the Growth Plan. There is one intensification target that applies to the built up areas and one density target for designated greenfield areas that applies to all municipalities, and three density targets that apply to specific urban growth centres. The targets should be interpreted as part of the integrated package of policies in the Growth Plan to support the creation of more compact, mixed-use and transit-supportive communities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The targets are an important tool that will enable municipalities to plan for the projected residential and employment growth of an additional 3.7 million residents and 1.8 million jobs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by 2031.

The Growth Plan defines "intensification" as the development of a property, site or area at a higher density than currently exists through redevelopment, including the reuse of brownfield sites; the development of vacant and/or underutilized lots within previously developed areas; infill development, or the expansion or conversion of existing buildings (based on the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005).

In the Growth Plan, "density" refers to the concentration of residents and jobs over a particular land area (in hectares).

See Figure 1 for a description of the Growth Planís land use terminology.


Intensification Target

Upper- and single-tier municipalities will plan for a phased increase in the yearly percentage of residential intensification so that by 2015 a minimum of 40% of all residential development occurring annually within each upper- and single-tier municipality will be within the defined built-up area. Once the phase-in is complete, the intensification target of 40% will continue to apply annually from 2015 to 2031.

If, at the time the Growth Plan comes into effect, an upper- or single-tier municipality has planned to achieve or is already achieving residential intensification greater than 40%, that higher percentage becomes the minimum target for that municipality.

The Growth Plan also recognizes that the intensification target may be difficult to achieve in some of the upper- and single-tier municipalities beyond the Greater Toronto Area, due to servicing issues and the extent of the built-up area. In these areas, the Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal may permit an alternative target to be applied, to ensure the target is appropriate given the size, location and capacity of the local intensification areas.

Intensification Target Measurement

As noted above, the intensification target applies to the built-up area of each upper- and single-tier municipality. The built-up area is contiguous in some municipalities, while in others there are dispersed settlement areas, each with a defined built-up area.

To define the built-up area where the intensification target applies, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal will establish a "built boundary" for each upper- and single-tier municipality. The Ministry will consult with affected municipalities to review, refine and verify the built boundary prior to its finalization.

The Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal will monitor residential development within the built boundary on an annual basis to track the achievement of the intensification target.

Intensification Target Implementation

The Growth Plan states that all municipalities will develop and implement through their official plans and other supporting documents, a strategy and policies to phase in and achieve intensification and the intensification target. Where planning is conducted by an upper-tier municipality, it will, in consultation with the lower-tier municipalities, identify intensification targets for the lower-tier municipalities to achieve the overall intensification target.

Density Targets

The Growth Plan specifies a set of density targets for the identified urban growth centres, as well as a single density target for designated greenfield areas.

Density Targets: Urban Growth Centres

The Growth Plan identifies 25 urban growth centres, that are typically downtown or central business district areas, and sets out a number of policies, including a density target (Table 1), for each of these areas.

The density targets for urban growth centres are minimums. If, at the time the Growth Plan comes into effect, a municipality has planned for or achieved a density that is higher than the minimum target for the urban growth centre, the higher target becomes the new minimum for that urban growth centre. A municipality may also set a higher target for itself.

The targets were developed to recognize the diversity among the 25 urban growth centres:

  • The highest density target of 400 people and jobs per hectare applies to urban growth centres in the City of Toronto, which already has a large population and existing high frequency subway service in place.
  • A density target of 200 people and jobs per hectare applies to urban growth centres in large or mid-size cities in the GTA and Waterloo Region, where higher-order transit is in place or planned.
  • Outside the GTA, where urban growth centres are in smaller mid-size cities, and transit linkages to the GTA are more limited, the density target of 150 people and jobs per hectare is applied.

Table 1: 2031 Minimum Gross Density Targets for Urban Growth Centres
400 people & jobs combined per hectare 200 people & jobs combined per hectare 150 people & jobs combined per hectare
  • Downtown Toronto
  • Etobicoke Centre
  • North York Centre
  • Scarborough Centre
  • Yonge-Eglinton Centre
  • Downtown Brampton
  • Downtown Burlington
  • Downtown Hamilton
  • Downtown Kitchener
  • Uptown Waterloo
  • Downtown Milton
  • Markham Centre
  • Mississauga City Centre
  • Newmarket Centre
  • Midtown Oakville
  • Downtown Oshawa
  • Downtown Pickering
  • Richmond Hill/Langstaff Gateway
  • Vaughan Corporate Centre
  • Downtown Barrie
  • Downtown Brantford
  • Downtown Cambridge
  • Downtown Guelph
  • Downtown Peterborough
  • Downtown St. Catharines

Achieving the density targets will help ensure that urban growth centres develop as attractive and vibrant places, with an array of cultural facilities, public institutions, and regional services.

Density Target Measurement in Urban Growth Centres

The urban growth centre density is measured using the gross land area of the urban growth centre.

The Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal will monitor the achievement of the density target for each urban growth centre using the most current census data for population and jobs, and assess progress towards the density targets every five years on release of the census. Supplementary municipal and other data will also be used to obtain as accurate a count of residents and jobs as possible.

The Growth Plan does not identify a target balance of jobs and residents for each urban growth centre. The broad policy directions for urban growth centres require a mix of uses but each urban growth centre is unique and as a result, the ratio of jobs and residents will vary.

Density Target Implementation in Urban Growth Centres

Municipalities are required to plan to achieve the minimum gross density targets for urban growth centres by 2031. Municipalities will implement the required densities through their official plans and zoning by-laws.

The Growth Plan identifies the approximate location of each urban growth centre. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal will consult with municipalities that have urban growth centres to determine the appropriate size and location of each. The size and boundaries of the urban growth centres will be based on existing designations, and modified as required to address planning objectives and physical and natural constraints.

Density Target: Designated Greenfield Areas

Designated greenfield areas are lands that are not currently urbanized but are designated for future urban development. The Growth Plan states that new development in designated greenfield areas will be designated, planned, zoned and designed in a manner that -

  • contributes to creating complete communities;
  • creates street configurations, densities, and urban forms that support walking, cycling, and the early integration and sustained viability of transit services;
  • provides a diverse mix of uses to support vibrant neighbourhoods, including residential and employment uses; and
  • creates high quality public open spaces with site design and urban design standards that support opportunities for transit, walking and cycling.

Many developments built in the past have not been planned at transit-supportive densities and do not support complete communities. By establishing a minimum density target of 50 people and jobs per hectare for upper- and single-tier municipalities, the Growth Plan will influence development patterns at the inception of these communities.

For upper- and single-tier municipalities outside the GTA that do not have an urban growth centre, the Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal may review and permit an alternative greenfield density target more appropriate to the characteristics of the municipality.

Density Target Measurement in Designated Greenfield Areas

The designated greenfield area of each upper- or single-tier municipality will be planned to achieve a density target that is not less than 50 residents and jobs combined per hectare.

This density target will be measured over the entire designated greenfield area of each upper- or single-tier municipality, excluding the following features, where the features are both identified in any applicable official plan or provincial plan, and where the applicable provincial plan or policy statement prohibits development within the features:

  • wetlands,
  • coastal wetlands,
  • woodlands,
  • valley lands,
  • areas of natural and scientific interest,
  • habitat of endangered species and threatened species,
  • wildlife habitat, and
  • fish habitat.

Where planning is conducted by an upper-tier municipality, it will, in consultation with lower-tier municipalities, identify appropriate density targets for the designated greenfield areas of the lower-tiers, to achieve the overall density target.

Census data will be used to measure the number of residents and jobs per hectare. Municipal and other data will also be used to supplement the census to obtain a count of jobs and residents that is as accurate as possible. Progress towards achievement of the targets will be assessed every five years following the release of new census data.

Density Target Implementation in Designated Greenfield Areas

All municipalities will develop and implement official plan policies for designated greenfield areas, including phasing policies and other strategies, to achieve the density targets of the Growth Plan.

As part of calculating how the density target for designated greenfield areas would be applied, municipalities will need to calculate the area of the features listed above that have been identified in an official plan or provincial plan and where development is not permitted.

Contact Information

For more information about the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006, or for a copy please visit the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal website at

Or contact the Ontario Growth Secretariat:

Mailing address:
777 Bay Street, 4th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5

Phone: 416-325-1210
Toll-free phone: 1-866-479-9781
Fax: 416-325-7403
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Figure 1: Illustration Diagram: Growth Plan Land-use Terminology

Diagram illustrating Growth Plan Land-use Terminology. The diagram shows that Settlement Areas can be comprised of Designated Greenfield Area and Built-up Area. Within the Built-up Area, there is a graphic to illustrate that it may include an Urban Growth Centre, Intensification Corridor and other Intensification Areas. Agricultural and Rural Area and Greenbelt Area are outside of Settlement Areas.


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