Suburban Development

The changing needs of suburban development

Suburbs in the Greater Toronto Area will have to adapt to achieve sustainable growth
Thursday, February 13, 2014
By Leah Wong

In the Greater Toronto Area, the suburban development should no longer be considered an afterthought.

Originally designed to be an extension of the city, today’s suburbs have become more like cities in their own right. But instead of being centered around a core, they exist as regional hubs, often without a distinct downtown.

According to Queen’s University researcher and planner David Gordon, 86 per cent of residents in Toronto’s Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) lived in the suburbs in 2006. And just like their downtown counterparts, suburban neighbourhoods are adapting to deal with changing infrastructure needs and growing populations.

Speaking at the Canadian Urban Institute’s Good Density talk in Toronto earlier this February, urban planning consultant Sean Hertel told attendees that one of the issues with Canadian suburbs is that they were not originally planned to accommodate change. “Suburbs were designed in an end state,” he said.

People living in the suburbs are not just travelling into the city for work; they are now travelling within the suburbs for all aspects of life. Hertel explained this is what planners should be paying attention to — the distance between interactions in life — whether it is from home to work, home to amenities, or home to public services. He said the population density is only one aspect in planning, with a need to factor the social density into planning.

Municipalities and regions are faced with growing price tags associated with the growth of the suburbs. To deal with sprawl, municipalities now must build new infrastructure, creating a need to find more ways to pay for these developments. According to Sustainable Prosperity’s Suburban Sprawl Report, the Region of Peel recently doubled its development charges, since the data showed that new development was not paying for itself.

Antonio Gomez-Palacio, founding partner of Dialog Design, suggested a need for public debate around the cost of delivering municipal services to different types of areas. For example, he told attendees that the cost of operating a subway through an area with low density is much more expensive than the same service in a high-density area.

The cost of suburban development is increasingly becoming unsustainable, with municipalities subsidizing this type of growth, and Gomez-Palacio said that it is important to evaluate the value of certain services. To reduce the cost of services, a critical mass of people is required, which is why increasing density is becoming increasingly important.

Christopher Hume, urban issues columnist for the Toronto Star and the moderator at the conference, suggests that suburban design will have to take a more urban approach in the years to come. Planning suburbs as regional cities with more diversity in structure, and an increased focus on how best to move people within these cities, will be important to encouraging smart growth, he said.

Leah Wong is the online editor of Canadian Property Management. 

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