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Recent discourses on planning reform have been characterized by a shift from centralized hierarchies and rigid tools to decentralized networks and “softer” tools. However, reforms have not been unidirectional, either because of pluralist decision-making, or of conscious attempts to assure checks and balances in the system. Understanding explicit and implicit checks and balances is crucial in the evaluation of planning systems and in assessing steps towards rescaling of planning powers. The analysis of the Ontario (Canada) planning system, consisting of a comprehensive overview and tracking several residential projects, identifies checks and balances that have accompanied decentralization of powers to local government. These consist of an effective provincial appeal board, binding provincial planning documents, municipal official plans approved by the province, and high quality planning bureaucracies at the local government level (benefitting from past municipal amalgamations), in a system not infested by endemic corruption. The provincial appeal system and the use of ad-hoc density bonusing as a major flexible planning tool are subjects of substantial controversy, but the Ontario system demonstrates checks and balances that involve the central state, local state and an autonomous appeal system, and a balance between elected decision makers and qualified professional bureaucracy.
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- Checks and Balances in Planning Decentralization: Lessons from Ontario
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