Last week the US Federal Transit Administration Transit-Oriented Planning Pilot Program awarded 21 grants for comprehensive planning work in 17 municipalities across the country. A total of $19.5 million was granted to cities that are in the process of developing transit projects that help integrate housing, jobs, and services. They include:

  • Developing a TOD Overlay District in the Phoenix’s zoning code that encourages pedestrian-oriented infill development, rehabilitation and redevelopment at appropriate densities, and affordable housing (City of Phoenix Public Transit Department)
  • Developing a toolkit of policy and regulatory changes to encourage TOD in the areas surrounding the planned Downtown Riverfront Streetcar, including updated plans and guidelines for areas along the streetcar route, development standards, updated zoning codes that encourage TOD, an infrastructure assessment and an analysis of affordable housing (Sacramento Area Council of Governments)
  • Analyzing housing and employment opportunity along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line corridor, examining state and local policies that inhibit TOD, identifying strategies and financing mechanisms to encourage TOD, and conducting outreach to residents and developers (Connecticut Department of Transportation)
  • Preparing a TOD plan for stations along the Gateway Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project, a 12-mile BRT line between Saint Paul and Woodbury, including public engagement plans, an analysis of housing and employment in the corridor, and plans for infrastructure, circulation and land use (Twin Cities Metropolitan Council)

For a full list of the projects, click here.

The interesting thing about these pilot grants is that they support planning process, and not transportation infrastructure. Since one of the major barriers to implementation of TOD is existing policy, a number of these projects aim to change existing policies or develop new regulations to encourage TOD (e.g. Phoenix, Sacramento, Albuquerque). Another emphasis is on public participation, with many municipalities seeking funds to carry out extensive public processes (e.g. Durham, Buffalo, New Haven). Several projects aim to develop station-area specific land use plans, some strategic plans, and others implementation plans. A few even address local economic development, jobs, and affordable housing.


Ever wondered about women’s role in housing trends in Canadian cities? Check out The rise of women’s role in society: Impacts on housing and communities. In this paper based on Census data, researcher Luis Rodruiguez compares women’s housing patterns across six generations:

  • Pre-1922 (born before 1922, aged 90+ in 2011)
  • Baby Boomers’ Parents Generation (born 1922-1938, aged 73-89 in 2011)
  • Second World War Generation (born 1939-1945, aged 66-72 in 2011)
  • Baby-Boom Generation (born 1946-1965, aged 46-65 in 2011)
  • Baby-Bust Generation (born 1966-1974, aged 37-45 in 2011)
  • Echo Generation (born 1975-1995, aged 16-36 in 2011)

    Chart 1 from the report, a comparison of housing tenure across the generations

Rodriguez tends to focus on housing tenure and type; he is after all a retired senior researcher from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). And these trends are interesting, for example the much higher rental rate among the oldest and youngest generations of women, and the fact that homeownership among women is approaching parity with men. The older generations’ desire to age in place will place a demand on renovations and community services that can meet their needs (including public transit and walking facilities), and some may move to condos or apartments if they can no longer remain in their homes. Those of the Bust and Echo Generations tend to want low-maintenance housing due to professional and family time constraints, and are less inclined to choose larger single-family homes.

However, he doesn’t address recent trends such as the tendency of the Baby-Bust and Echo generations to choose housing that is close to public transit rather than car-dependent locations; fitting as they have much higher rates of public transit use than older generations. He touches on this and the desire for mixed-used residential options in the section on the Echo Generation, but I believe this extends to the Baby Busters as well. These generations also will have significantly bleaker employment prospects despite having higher educational attainment, and will receive less support from government sources such as the Canada Pension Plan by virtue of the economic trends that have followed them. This will likely have a significant effect on housing tenure, particularly extending the period of renting and delaying home ownership, and housing type (more condos and townhouses, fewer detached houses). This will be even more apparent among those living in Canada’s largest CMAs where housing is less affordable. Nevertheless, the paper offers an interesting perspective on generational trends and preferences among women in Canada.

We can all rest easy. Despite many studies showing increased income inequality and a shrinking middle class in Canada, a rags-to-riches story is more likely to happen here than in the “land of opportunity.”

University of Ottawa professor Miles Corak, a social policy economist and former director of family and labour research at Statistics Canada, and his co-authors Lori Curtis (Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo) and Shelley Phipps (Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University) found that Canadians are three times more economically mobile than those in the US. The difference is largely due to those at the very top and the very bottom of the income distribution. In Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada, the three researchers found that social supports such as the Child Tax Credit, paid parental leave benefits, and schools funded through provincial income taxes help ensure that children receive better care and schooling than in the US, where these supports are absent and schools are funded through local property taxes, leaving poor neighbourhoods with failing schools. With sky-high tuition fees at universities, the richest Americans can buy their children the best educations and tutors. These differences between rich and poor mean that if you’re born poor in the US, you tend to stay poor; this also applies to the 1%–the very top of the income pyramid. For example, although “the average Canadian child is not as affluent as the average American, the poorest Canadian is not as poor in an absolute sense as Americans at the bottom of the income distribution.” This may help explain why discussions of class are more prevalent in the American literature and popular press.

The authors caution that rising income inequality rates in Canada could erode the high rate of economic mobility that we see now. Indeed, a look at their graphs shows that we still have issues: 15% our poorest children may still grow up to have incomes in the lowest decile (Figure 3, p7), but they have a better chance at the 7th, 8th, and 9th deciles than they do in the US. More Canadian children are born in the lower income deciles than American children (Figure 8, p33). But Table 1 (p21) shows some clear differences in the characteristics of families and parents. In Canada, 2.1% of children are born to teenage mothers; in the US, it’s 8.3%. In Canada, 14.9% of mothers are single compared to 22.1% in the US. Far more mothers and lone mothers in Canada have completed some post-secondary education or a post-secondary certificate (but oddly, more American mothers have completed degrees). Health problems among the poorest mothers are also more prevalent in the US, likely due to the cost of health care. As the authors suggest, Canadians must protect policies such as paid parental leave, the right to return to their jobs after the birth of a child, tax-transfer programs that help reduce the severity of poverty, and funding for schools through provincial income tax, ensuring a more equal distribution of resources across municipalities and neighbourhoods. Although we have fewer barriers to health care, we need to ensure the lower-income population has sufficient knowledge on navigating the health care system and can pay for prescription medication.

Corak, Curtis and Phipps write that “The citizens of both countries have a similar understanding of a successful life, one that is rooted in individual aspirations and freedom. They also have similar views on how these goals should be attained, but with one important exception: Americans differ in that they are more likely to see the State hindering rather than helping the attainment of these goals. Yet, at the same time the citizens of both countries recognize the need for public policy to contribute to reaching this ideal, with Americans believing more than Canadians that a whole host of interventions would be effective in improving the prospects for economic mobility. One interpretation of these findings – an interpretation that only becomes evident in a comparative context – is that in some sense this need is going unmet in the United States.”

Bill Rankin's map of Chicago

A couple of years ago, when I attended the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference in Chicago, I was stunned to hear that Cleveland and Chicago are the most segregated cities in the US. As I’ve written before, Canadian cities simply don’t have these levels of segregation; obviously not for African American and Hispanic populations, but also not for other groups. Recently, I’ve come across a series of maps illustrating the difference between American cities that are more segregated vs. more integrated, thanks to some enlightened cartographers. It is very interesting to compare these maps to the (albeit simpler) maps of visible minorities in Canadian cities recently published by the Globe and Mail.

Bill Rankin‘s map of Chicago illustrates the sharp divides between white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnocultural groups. It was originally published in Perspecta, the journal of the Yale School of Architecture; Rankin is a PhD candidate in architecture and the history of science.

After seeing this, Eric Fischer produced similar maps for the 40 largest American cities. He used the same process as Rankin (one dot for every 25 people and same colour code, using the 2000 Census data).

We can see some segregation in New York City, but there are zones of integration.

Eric Fischer's map of New York City

Detroit’s 8-Mile district stands out as an example of entrenched segregation. Many of the maps of smaller cities, like Buffalo, Toledo, and Raleigh, highlight inner city concentrations of African Americans.

Eric Fischer’s map of Detroit

Eric Fischer's map of Los Angeles

On the other hand, check out Riverside, CA, which looks very integrated. Los Angeles also has a lot of integration, and San Antonio is very integrated.

Eric Fischer's map of Riverside

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe and Mail posted a series of “heat maps” showing the concentration of visible minorities in Canadian cities. They don’t break down the statistics (from the 2006 Census) into specific ethnocultural groups, as is the usual Canadian trend; there are simply too many groups to map. But they are interesting nonetheless. The maps are interactive, allowing you to zoom in, so I can’t reproduce them here. Check them out at under Multiculturalism.

Vancouver’s map shows that in most census tracts in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, over 30% of the population are visible minorities. Toronto has a similar pattern: over 30% of the population in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond, and Ajax are visible minorities. The central Toronto map shows some interesting areas of lower concentration: areas around the subway lines, west Toronto and the Beaches. In Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the census tracts with over 30% visible minorities are mainly in the suburbs.

Montréal is even more fascinating because it shows a very different pattern. The visible minority population there is almost exclusively concentrated on the island of Montréal, with lower rates of concentration in the suburbs: the older pattern of immigrant settlement that we still see in smaller cities. This is likely due to sheer numbers: Toronto and Vancouver receive tens of thousands more immigrants each year than Montréal.

Obviously, the American maps show that not all cities south of the border are sharply segregated, but even in the smaller cities, like Toledo, Ohio, there are lingering segregated African American populations. This in itself is not an issue; the maps of Canadian cities show lots of neighbourhoods with high concentrations of visible minorities. The real issue is when these concentrations are due to poverty or discrimination (either societal or institutional, such as in the housing market). American housing research seems to indicate that much of the segregation is in fact due to these two factors. Entire programs are devoted to fixing this problem: Housing Choice Vouchers, for example, aim to remove people from entrenched areas of poverty into neighbourhoods where they may have better educational and job opportunities.

I think these maps illustrate again how different Canadian and American cities are in terms of ethnocultural groups: both in terms of their composition and their spatial dispersal. This continues to create policy differences between the US and Canada, not only in my own research areas of housing, transportation, and immigration, but in many other areas affecting municipalities: welfare provision, health care, and education to name a few.

An interesting development has been sweeping away the iconic ideal of homeownership in the US. It isn’t a new idea, but in recent years it has certainly been an unpopular one: renting. With the housing market so unstable, many Amerians are turning to renting for an affordable and, surprisingly, more stable housing type.

Mark Whitehouse reported in the Wall Street Journal (“Default, then Rent”, December 16, 2009) that many homeowners have recently discovered that “giving up on the American Dream has its benefits”. If this sounds shocking, read on: Whitehouse writes that even as the housing bust “tarnishes the near-sacred image of homeownership, it may be clearing the way for economic recovery.” This is mostly because of mortgages that by far exceed the value of homes and bargain-basement rents, which free up lots of money for struggling families. As the US sees is lowest homeownership rates in twenty years (currently 67.6%), homeowners are seeing major benefits from shedding their mortgage debts and starting over. In fact, even efforts by the Obama administration to get banks to lower mortgage rates to keep households from foreclosing have been criticized as influencing families to make decisions that are not in their best interests.

In many places, such as Palmdale Arizona, luxury homes are being converted to rental properties using the federal Making Homes Affordable program. Former homeowners note that some of the benefits of renting include: not paying property tax, homeowners’ insurance, or dealing with repairs or maintenance.

While foreclosure still carries a stigma, and many feel taxpayers are paying for those who foreclose and can afford to pay their mortgages, these new renters are transforming the real estate market in many areas. Rental managers are being more flexible about who they take on as tenants, knowing the majority are “good people who just got loans or bought at the wrong time,” to quote a rental agent in Palmdale. Since the Obama administration committed $4.5 billion in economic stimulus money to the creation of these types of rental units, renting has become more commonplace.

Housing prices are stabilizing in the US but experts say they will not reach their boom levels again for years, if not decades. In his New York Times blog, Edward L. Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor, writes that the price of a house should be about the cost of building a home in most parts of the country where land is abundant and there’s less regulation. In the denser, larger cities, land is more restricted and regulations are stricter. Glaser writes that Americans should “stop thinking of your home as an investment that will yield comparable returns to the stock market. Housing is a form of consumption that yields benefits in the form of a more pleasant life, not a bigger balance sheet.” With so many houses glutting the market, it will be awhile before prices start to rise.

These are fascinating developments in the US, where homeownership has been the mantra for sixty years. It’s too early to predict if the changes in housing tenure will last, but they certainly give us food for thought. In Canada, the affordable housing bill (C304) has again been stalled by the Prime Minister’s proroguing government, but as a private member’s bill (Vancouver East MP Libby Davies introduced it) the committees will resume their discussions once Parliament restarts in March. We still have a long way to go, but breaking away from a one-size-fits-all model for housing is a good start.

Many researchers are concerned about ethnic concentrations in our cities, particularly in the US. Researcher Rich Benjamin’s latest book Searching for Whitopia: an Improbable Journey into the Heart of White America, examines why the fastest-growing areas in the US are also the whitest. He defines “whitopias” as areas that are over 75% white, and for the book he focused on places with a higher than 6% growth rate since 2000. The idea was also raised by Bill Bishop, who wrote The Big Sort (2008) which documents the trend for Americans to live in increasingly homogenous communities where everyone has the same religious and political values. Both authors agree that this is bad for Americans; Bishop’s book is subtitled “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” It seems like Richard Sennett was right after all.

Decades ago in The Uses of Disorder (1970) Sennett argued that suburbs were a fascist social control that created a more intolerant society, one that was more individual-based rather than community-based. He wrote that suburbs tended to exacerbate the natural inclination of people to associate with others with similar values, even banding together to exclude people of different cultures and religions.

In the US, Bishop and Booth write that the roots for this type of voluntary segregation can be seen in the 1960s, when the courts demanded integration of African Americans and “white flight” first began. Recently, minorities are increasing in the inner suburbs fairly close to city centers, spurring whites to flee to exurban areas, which can be over an hour from the city. Benjamin says that many of these are older white Americans who fear an increasing role of government and a loss of power in the face of demographic shifts. Older whites traditionally have more political power because they are more likely to vote, but as of 2042 whites will no longer be the majority in the US.

Echoing Sennett, both Bishop and Benjamin argue that segregation into class-based, race-based neighbourhood leads to more clashes between groups, as each becomes entrenched in its own position and values. Bishop writes that this type of stalemate leads to some innovative policy at the metropolitan and state levels, but a lack of transformative change in the US.

The argument is very interesting from a Canadian viewpoint, where many of our suburban areas are very mixed because of our consistently high immigration rates. Unfortunately, no author has taken on a book-length discussion on growth rates and ethnicity in Canadian cities, but there is plenty of statistical evidence that shows Canada moving in a very different direction than the US. In Metro Vancouver, suburban municipality Port Moody had the highest growth rate in the region, followed by Surrey. Richmond and Vancouver had much lower rates but are still around 6%.

Metro Vancouver Growth RatesImmigration landings confirm that the vast majority of these immigrants have come from Asia, particularly mainland China and Hong Kong. Statistics Canada Community Profiles show that the proportion of immigrants is significant even in traditionally “whiter” mid-sized cities: 20% of Victoria’s population is foreign-born, as is 21% of London’s and 15% of Kelowna’s. However, visible minorities make up only 12% of Victoria’s population, 14% of the population in London and 6% in Kelowna.

Despite the mixture of ethnic groups in Canadian suburbs, the tendency towards locating among people with similar values can clearly be seen in Canadian elections. Cities emerge as islands of Liberal and NDP support in a country that has had a Conservative minority government since 2006. Have a look at southern Ontario or Vancouver in the 2008 federal election. Even Vancouver’s municipal election results show sharp dividing lines between those supporting Gregor Robertson for mayor versus Peter Ladner. Some even argue that the periodic redrawing of census tracts is linked to political agendas, but given the housing affordability crisis in most Canadian cities, it seems that the political and ethnocultural trends is less tied to cultural preferences than the geography of affordable housing.

At any rate, there are some obvious differences between Canadian and American cities, notably in the spatial concentration of ethnic populations and the absence of sharp ethnic divides. While Bishop and Benjamin trace this to civil rights era, the issue clearly goes further back to a history of slavery in the US. Canada, while having its own history of racist legislation, does not have as long of a history of non-white settlement. The Immigration Act of 1952 was the first to allow people from non-European countries to enter the country, and by that time there were fewer legal restrictions to owning land and buying property. By 1967, with another major shift in the Immigration Act, a new wave of non-white immigrants entered the country. However, they were never faced with legal barriers to homeownership or the labour market, two considerable barriers for African Americans in the US that remain entrenched today. Earlier non-white populations in Canada, notably Sikhs and Chinese in British Columbia, faced much harsher restrictions and still have the highest rates of segregation in the country today. These differences in immigration and labour market policy mean that our segregation rates are much lower than those seen in the US, yet another reason to think twice before applying American theory and reality to our own cities.

Benjamin’s and Bishop’s books do make us think about the fractured populace living just south of the border, and urge us to do more to help new immigrants integrate into their lives in Canada. Every time I travel to the US for a conference and listen to researchers documenting entrenched segregation, labour market barriers, and the “racial” biases unearthed during the mortgage crisis, I am reminded how different our countries are. This is particularly significant in my own research with immigrants in Toronto, which has introduced me to the work of many brilliant Canadian researchers and opened my eyes to our lower spatial segregation rates and more mixed neighbourhoods. However, I am also reminded of how much work still lies ahead for Canadians in recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials, ensuring greater income equity, and promoting more tolerance in the workplace. We also need to recognize that sharp divides in tenure, such as the growth of luxury condominiums in neighbourhoods next to predominantly rental and low-income housing, can foster critical differences in political affiliation. As Sennett argued almost 40 years ago, the more isolated we are the more intolerant we become.

There are a number of indexes around that measure how easy it is to walk in your neighbourhood. Each seems to have a different focus: pedestrian safety, urban design characteristics that encourage walking, accessibility to shops and services. However, the main agenda is the same: to increase walking in North American cities.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Barry Wellar (University of Ottawa) developed a Walking Safety Index that has been used by several municipalities in evaluating their intersections. Municipalities are encouraged to give signal light priority to pedestrians at intersections, design them to achieve safety, comfort, convenience, and well-being of pedestrians, and apply the WSI to transportation projects, official plan amendments, rezoning applications and site plans. Further, transit vehicles should be able to change signal lights, should be given priority right-of-way to enter traffic lanes, surface parking lots should be removed from areas served by transit, a moratorium imposed on road and street expenditures, and road maintenance budgets reduced to accelerate the shift from car to walking, cycling, and transit.

The World Bank developed a Walkability Index for its clients in the Far East. It aims to correct some of the walkability issues in developing cities by developing awareness in city planners and city officials, which will lead to better pedestrian infrastructure and safety measures.

Larry Frank, James Sallis, Brian Saelens, et al. have generated a Walkability Index to be used in planning and health research. This is based on extensive research involving the urban design qualities that encourage walking, including lighting, walking surface, intersection design, accessibility to services, pedestrian safety measures, and surrounding land uses.

A quick online version of this is Walk Score, which ranks your neighbourhood walkability in terms of distances to services, schools, retail amenities, etc. You type in your address (n.b., it works for Canadian addresses as well) and it uses Google Maps to calculate the distances to these services and amenities. UBC campus got 52 out of 100, “somewhat walkable”, not surprising since there is no grocery store within walking distance (yet: the Save-On is due to open in a few months). Walk Score also pegged the nearest library as 2.6 km away, because it only picked up the closest Vancouver Public Library branch and not the many UBC libraries within walking distance. It missed a couple of local restaurants and the green grocers. And while Walk Score lists parks and fitness centers, it doesn’t list bike paths. So there are clearly some limitations here, like Google Maps doesn’t have all small local business listings. Interesting, since WalkScore’s objective is to “help homebuyers and renters find houses and apartments in great neighbourhoods.”

Yellow Pages has a search function that lets you see how many businesses are within a specified radius of your house. On, go to “By Proximity” and enter an address and type of business you’d like to find. For UBC this search picked up 11 restaurants within 1km, 3 more within 2km, and 20 more within 3.5km (the main street closest to campus). Just as a comparison, I typed in Yonge and Bloor (a main intersection in downtown Toronto) and there were 242 restaurants within a 1km radius!

These various walkability indexes can be used by both planners and the general public to get a rough estimate of accessibility in local neighbourhoods. The last two could be particularly useful when relocating to a new neighbourhood or while on vacation, but it should be noted that they concentrate on retail or commercial amenities and not parks, bike trails, scenic or natural attractions.

Among my colleagues in urban planning, suburbia is seen as one of the most powerful forces shaping our towns and cities. Suburban sprawl, which eats up prime agricultural land, forces residents to drive ever further to widely dispersed retail and employment locations. The suburb has an exclusive history, as many were designed to exclude those of lower socioeconomic classes or certain ethnic groups. In this era of recessionary caution, they are the epitome of wasteful. And yet, they remain the preferred landscapes of the vast majority of people living in both American and Canadian cities.

Like many people my age, I grew up in suburbia and return there periodically. To this day, suburbanites provide me with endless comedic fodder. This is particularly true of those considered to be “average people.” You know, the people you see on sitcoms who live in giant two-storey houses and drive SUVs, who shop at Costco and are completely paranoid (read: boomers like my parents and others of their generation). On the surface, they seem so safe and isolated in their brick-and-aluminum-siding cells; and yet, under the surface lurk nightmarish thoughts.

A couple of years ago on a visit to the ‘burbs, my mom told me to take a large stick with me on a walk around the suburb, as there had been a rash of dog attacks lately (I assured her that a stick would be little protection against an angry Rottweiler, but this did little to placate her). I once said I’d walk to the corner store to pick up milk, and was told that I should take the car since it was too far to walk (15 minutes, the same distance I’d walked to school as a child). One evening, I mentioned I’d go for a walk; my mother looked at the clock in alarm (it was 9pm). On my walk, I saw at least twenty different homeowners out trimming their hedges, mowing their lawns, or gardening; at one house a couple of kids were out playing. My mother shook her head at these convention-flouters: didn’t they know it wasn’t safe to be out after dinner?

My suburbanite friends get their milk at one store, eggs at another, and vegetables at a third, endlessly trolling for deals (and by deals I mean savings of twenty cents). They choose the apples from Chile over the apples from Canada (cheaper). They assure me that nobody could ever live happily in a rental, and wouldn’t I need a yard once I had children? The fact that I’ve been renting for 14 years doesn’t convince them, nor the fact that most kids stop playing in the yard around age 13. They read about greenhouse gases in the daily paper but shake their heads sadly (there’s nothing they can do about it). They rail at the traffic in their city and insist on road widenings; they fume if they’re ever behind a city bus or have to give road space to a cyclist. They comment on every pedestrian brave enough to cross the busy multi-lane collector roads. Nighttime TV consists of CNN, 60 Minutes and The National, to recharge the paranoia levels.

On the other hand, suburbanites have space to compost, space to grow those organic veggies, space to pick local fruits and tuck them away multiple deep freezers. Space to store the 20-lb bag of onions or the cases of mangoes, pomegranates or oranges so easily found at Costco. They get good deals on virtually everything, the costs of food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment being vastly lower than in the city. And then there are the smells: freshly cut lawns, sprinklers, chlorinated pools, beds of carefully tended flowers. While these scents may smack of greenhouse gases, pesticides and non-biodegradable plastics, even a whiff of water from a garden hose transports me back to my childhood; they are oddly comforting.

Suburbanites live in the type of neighbourhoods that we have long been told are good for us: good for families, free from crime, with lots of open space…basically, the landscapes of The American Dream. But to planners, suburbs are more accurately portrayed in films like American Beauty (1999) or Lymelife (2009). My planning friends might be car-free, child-free, renters, and supporters of local farmers. They might support gay marriage, encourage supportive housing in their neighbourhoods, or walk to work instead of driving. But these urban eccentricities are frowned upon in the ‘burbs, and attitudes and behaviour are some of the hardest things to change in planning our communities.

There are glimmerings of environmental awareness in the ‘burbs; even a hint of planning comprehension. My suburban friends have heard of car-sharing programs, LEED-certified buildings and New Urbanism. They understand the benefits of organic gardening, public transit and community development. They just seem to be having a bit of trouble connecting these ideas to their everyday lives. They need to know how much money they could save by growing their own veggies, and how much weight they could lose doing all that gardening. They need information on local agriculture versus buying from vast supermarket chains. They need practical information, maps, schedules, and cycling workshops if they are ever going to transition from two- and three-car families. They need to understand what housing options might suit them best: it may be a condo or townhouse if they really don’t use their yards or live in one- or two-person households. They need to understand their municipality’s Official Community Plan and its social, economic, and environmental impacts so that they can get involved in creating better communities. This is grassroots-level work, the same kind of marketing and promotion that was done in the 90s to advertise composting and recycling, two activities that most suburbanites now do on a regular basis.

Aside from workshops and social marketing, the crux of the matter is that some suburbanites define themselves as drivers, as those who live in large detached houses, as people in the upper echelons of society, even as bargain shoppers. The very ideals that we attack as planners are in fact prized in the ‘burbs. But we should remember that these ideals were created in the 1950s, supported by government funding and policies, and we have the power to create new ones. There is a wave of new developments in the US that includes organic farms in their subdivisions; people who buy homes get access to fresh local produce, which is increasingly appealing for many. In Canada, many people are drawn to smaller homes, neighbourhoods with sustainability features (Greenbrook in Surrey, BC, will derive 10% of its energy costs from solar power) and urban neighbourhoods with access to transit. We need to create neighbourhoods that have the appeals of suburban living but are more sustainable, which can translate into more affordable; in the organic farm suburbs, farmers’ rent is initially paid to the developer, but after all the lots are sold the revenue goes to the homeowners’ association. There are many ways to market sustainable neighbourhoods and communities, and eventually replace the old suburbia with something more socially and ecologically rewarding. More crucial, we need to market these ideals as the hip new trend in housing.

For the past few years there has been a remarkable amount of research looking at immigrant settlement patterns in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. While these articles rely upon the latest data from the 2006 Census, they are informed by models of urban growth and change that are decades old. This, and their American origins, may influence their application to Canadian cities.

A recent example of the media coverage of immigrant settlement patterns is Doug Sanders article in The Globe and Mail (Are poor ‘ethnic’ areas cages?, February 28, 2009). Sanders asks whether areas with high immigrant concentrations are ethnic ghettos, “where people are trapped in a culturally isolated island of poverty and permanent segregation” or ethnic enclaves, “where people choose to live among fellow immigrants in order to forge ties to the new country, launch small businesses and help one another become members of Canadian society so that their kids can live elsewhere.” Sanders criticizes other writers who have implied that Canadian cities are becoming increasingly polarized and segregated. He also points out that many groups who have more segregated residential patterns are wealthy, such as the Jewish and Italian populations in Toronto.

Although Sanders never mentions them, long-standing theories about how cities grow and change underlie his article. The four most important are the concentric growth model (Charles Booth, 1902), the spatial assimilation model (E.W. Burgess, 1925), the housing career model, and the spatial mismatch model (John F. Kain, 1969).

The concentric growth model is by far the oldest; in fact, Booth was merely the first modern scholar to write about concentric patterns in cities. Burgess further developed the concentric model, arguing that socio-economic status increased towards the edges of the city. Concentric zones were the financial and office district, central retail district, wholesale and light manufacturing zone, heavy manufacturing zone, zone of workingmens’ homes, residential zone, and commuter zone. In 1920s Chicago, when Burgess was writing, the poorest areas of the city were next to manufacturing districts, while the wealthiest were located in rail and streetcar suburbs on the edge of the city. Chicago’s ethnic groups (main Italian, Chinese, and African American) lived in the workingmens’ zone. It was Burgess’ assumption that since the periphery of the city was the most desirable area to live, immigrants would eventually move outward as their socioeconomic status increased (the spatial assimilation model). Although the two models were criticized and found inaccurate only a decade later in Homer Hoyt’s 1939 study of 142 American cities, they have remained remarkably influential.

The housing career model is one of the most commonly used in research dealing with immigrants’ settlement patterns. It likely originated with the Federal Housing Administration (US) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation early in the postwar era. Home ownership was then considered more stable and socially acceptable than renting; housing also quickly became a valuable consumer product in the late 1940s. The housing career model is based upon the idealized human life cycle, which includes pre-child, childearing, childrearing and launching, post-child, and later life stages. The model is linear and progressive; families are assumed to move towards single family home ownership and then to downsize as they get older. The model is used extensively in economic and housing forecasts, and in municipal planning documents.

The spatial mismatch model was developed by John F. Kain. In his view, a major reason behind spatial mismatch was the segregation of African Americans due to housing market discrimination. As cities grew and employers increasingly located in the suburbs, African Americans were unable to move to suburban housing, and in many cases unable to travel to suburban settings due to low car ownership. This resulted in longer commute distances and decreased labour market participation for African Americans.

Interestingly, these models were all (perhaps with the exception of housing career) created in the American context. While Canadian culture is similar, there are a number of marked differences between Canadian and American cities. First and foremost, Canada’s population is concentrated in very few large cites, and a good number of mid-sized ones. Toronto (5.1 million), Montreal (3.6 million), and Vancouver (2.1 million) are the Big Three. Following them are Ottawa-Gatineau (1.1 million), Calgary (1.1 million), Edmonton (715,500), Winnipeg (694,600), and Hamilton (692,900). Sixty percent of immigrants settle in the Big Three; the vast majority end up in Toronto (over 40%). Almost half (2.2 million) of Toronto’s population are immigrants.

Secondly, even back in the 1970s, researchers remarked that Toronto did not have a “race problem”. This is not to deny the racism faced by Chinese and South Asian Canadians a century ago, nor that faced by the Jewish and Italian communities until the 1960s (in fact, these four groups are still among the most segregated in Canadian cities). However, Canadian cities are devoid of the large swathes of inner city segregation common to many American cities. University of Toronto researchers Alan Walks and Larry Bourne studied residential segregation in all 27 Canadian Census Metropolitan Areas. While largest cities had the highest proportion of segregated neighbourhoods, there were no ghettos (which were classified as census tracts having at least 70% minority residents, 66% from one single ethnic group and at least 30% of ethnic group members living in such neighbourhoods). Although some groups were segregated, none approached the level of segregation experienced by African Americans in the US. Further, Walks and Bourne found that residential segregation decreased from 1991-2001, but many visible minority groups were moving into areas with high proportions of other visible minorities. The researchers linked this to the availability of low-rent apartment housing and increasing affordability problems among new immigrants. Other researchers have found that rising rates of segregation are in fact due to the fact that a commonly-used method, the Index of Segregation, measures the extent to which minority group members are exposed only to one another in their neighbourhood. As Canadian cities become more diverse, this likelihood increases, resulting in higher rates of segregation.

These differences between Canadian and American cities are crucial. In addition to this are trends common in postindustrial cities. Toronto and Vancouver in particular have tight housing markets and competitive rents. Combined with structural changes like immigration policy and economic restructuring, immigrants cannot possibly settle in Canadian cities following the concentric pattern established in the interwar period in the US. Numerous articles have explored the causes behind immigrants’ settlement directly in suburban areas in these two cities (see ‘Immigrants prefer suburbs to living in core areas’, Globe and Mail, March 31, 2008). Some, like Anthony Reinhart, imply that while the housing career model is incorrect here (immigrants are settling directly in single-family housing rather than transitioning into it gradually) the core principles of spatial assimilation are intact (immigrants are choosing the most desirable housing location). But in a city with high housing prices and high rents, are immigrants choosing the most desirable housing, or simply the most affordable? Are they, in fact, ‘choosing’ at all, when inner city neighbourhoods are increasingly dominated by luxury condos beyond their means? This remains to be seen.

Finally, should these models continue to drive our planning practices? For example, is it acceptable that the most desirable areas to live in are at the edge of the city? Is this true in today’s postmodern city with a strong demand for urban loft living? Should we focus housing policy on homeownership, at the expense of rental housing, co-operatives and other tenure types? When the average family cannot afford a home in Toronto or Vancouver, perhaps it is time for policy shift. In our multicultural country, is it acceptable that we expect immigrants to integrate into suburban neighbourhoods with the Canadian-born? Or have we finally accepted the idea that ethnic neighbourhoods and mixed neighbourhoods can co-exist? The media storm on this issue indicates that we have not.