Rendering of the UP Express by Metrolinx

Rendering of the UP Express by Metrolinx

Many cities have rail links to their airports, including Vancouver, New York, London, Amsterdam, and Paris. Although many of these are cities historically built on rail lines, municipalities built during the postwar era are now adding trains to add sustainable transportation options to their transit systems. Toronto will join in next spring with the Union-Pearson Express (UPX), set to open for service in time for the Pan Am Games in July 2015. This long-awaited service will take only 25 minutes and offer travellers luggage racks, luggage tags, and wi-fi. It will make only two stops (Weston and Bloor West GO Stations), reaching top speeds of 79 km/h. It’s particularly needed in Toronto, where traffic in Mississauga has increased to unmanageable proportions in the past few years. Current options include express buses run by the TTC, but for many in the region a bus stop or route is too far awa to make the trip viable by transit.

However, since September Metrolinx officials have been fending off accusations that the cost of the UPX service will prevent many from using it–at least on a regular basis. Metrolinx chair Bruce McQuaig played the elitism card, saying that the train is “meant to be an extension of the airport experience, rather than a daily commuter service.” (As if people most people using Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ) don’t fly economy and take the cheapest alternative to the airport). The real goal is to help Metrolinx recover operating costs–estimated at $79 million annually.

The UPX fares were finally announced this week. Riders will pay $27.50 for a one-way trip, dropping to $19 for Presto card users. Airport workers can also purchase a $300 monthly pass which would work out to $7.50 per ride if they used it for 40 rides per month. Presto, at the moment, really only makes sense for those who cross the region on a regular basis: 1.3 million riders per month use it to access ten transit systems in the region, including Durham Region Transit, Mississauga’s MiWay, and the Hamilton Street Railway. Presto will be fully implemented by 2016–currently only a handful of TTC subway stations and the 510 Spadina streetcar have Presto card scanners.

Luckily, the UPX won’t be the only option to get to YYZ. The 192 Airport Rocket bus, which currently runs from Kipling Station to the airport, has a daily ridership of 4,500, is equipped with luggage racks and makes only three stops on its 20-minute trip to/from Terminal 1. The bus runs every 10 minutes for most of the day and costs the same as a regular bus, subway, or streetcar. The TTC is interested in doubling its ridership in 2015, and will spend $100,000 on efforts to raise its visibility. So the Rocket remains an option for those who can’t afford the money train.

CanU WP1 Suburban Nation 2006-2011 Text and Atlas comp.pdf - Adobe Acrobat ProA new report by David Gordon and Isaac Shirokoff at Queen’s University School of Urban and Regional Planning has found that the majority of population growth in recent years has been in suburban neighbourhoods–even in our largest cities where condo starts greatly outnumber those for detached houses. This research implies major challenges for environmental sustainability, public health, and infrastructure investments.

In Suburban Nation? Population Growth in Canadian Suburbs, 2006-2011, released as a Council for Canadian Urbanism Working Paper, the authors use Census data from 2006 and 2011 and suburban classifications “active core”, “transit suburb”, “auto suburb” and “exurban”:

  • Exurbs were defined as very low density rural areas (<150 people/sq km) where more than half the workers commute to the central core and commuters live in low-density estate subdivisions or houses scattered along rural roads
  • Auto suburbs were defined as the “classic suburban neighbourhoods” where almost everyone commutes by car (density >150 people/sq km)
  • Transit suburbs were defined as neighbourhoods where a higher proportion of people commute by transit (>150% of the metro average for the journey to work and >50% of the national average for transit use, <150% of the metro average for active transit )
  • Active cores were neighbourhoods where a higher proportion of people use active transportation to get to work (>150% of the metro average for the journey to work and greater than 50% of the national average for active transit)

The classifications were developed by testing scores for different suburb definitions using Google Earth and Street Views, and a structured sample of Census Agglomerations.

Overall, 90% of population growth in Canada’s 33 Census Metropolitan Areas from 2006-2011 was in auto suburbs (80.1%) and exurbs (9.5%), with only 10% of growth in active cores (5.6%) and transit suburbs (4.3%). In 2011, 8% lived in exurbs, 69% lived in auto suburbs, 11% lived in transit suburbs, and 12% lived in active cores. About half of the metro areas had slight declines in their inner city populations as the new apartment construction failed to keep up with declining household sizes in central cities. Overall, 67% of the Canadian population in the 33 CMAs lives in suburban areas.

The authors suggest a “multi-pronged planning approach” to the problem including economic incentives that discourage sprawl and encourage compact development, better intensification in existing urban areas (e.g. secondary suites, laneway housing), redevelopment of formal industrial areas and brownfields on the edges of inner cities, waterfront redevelopment, military base and inner city airport redevelopment, TOD, street corridor redevelopment plans, retrofitting exiting suburbs, greyfield redevelopment of suburban shopping centres, and better design of new suburban development. The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and built on an earlier examination of 1996 and 2006 data.

This trend, and the aging population in many suburban areas of the country with transit services ranging from none to 30-minute frequency, makes me wonder whether we need a massive rethink of the types of transit that can work in suburban environments. At least in exurban and auto suburbs, where the densities are often too low to support traditional bus service at a 30-minute frequency. New York City’s “dollar vans”, informal services that often fill in gaps in the municipal provision of transit, are an example of this. Many immigrant workers find the services travel to parts of the city where they work, or operate during off-peak hours when municipal services stop running early. In countries such as the Philippines, jeepneys (informal vans or jeeps) and tricyles (small vehicles holding two passengers plus the driver) run even in suburban and exurban communities, are often operated by neighbourhood residents. In both cases, the services run so frequently that planning trips is unnecessary, and operators often speak local languages.

It’s clear that most Canadians are still choosing suburban lifestyles, including commuting by car, but there is still the 10%–and that is often enough to catalyze change.

 

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New housing in Nieuwe Rhijngeest

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Social housing in Oetgstgeest, built before the economic crisis

In the Urban Planning group at the University of Amsterdam (UVA in Dutch), it’s become a tradition to end the school year with a trip to one of the VINEX locations. These are suburban locations designated by the national government in 1988 for massive new housing projects, meant to divert some of the population growth from city centers. Ypenburg, near Den Haag, and Almere, to the east of Amsterdam, are a couple of examples of these areas where there were already inhabitants but not at a large scale. Most of the VINEX housing has been built after 1993. Yesterday we went to Oegstgeest, just west of Leiden and a mere 10 minutes by bus from Leiden Centraal Station. Dr. Johann Gomes, a retired professor from our department, lives there and hosted us. Oegstgeest has a population of 23,000 (2012) and has been populated for many centuries (there is archaeological evidence of the Roman empire) although it primarily had a rural character until the 20th century. Several new neighbourhoods, like Haaswijk, Morsebel and Nieuwe Rhijngeest, were constructed in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s respectively–Nieuwe Rhijngeest begun in 2006 and the “Nieuwe Rhijn” (the New Rhine, or a 10-meter wide canal) is currently being dug.

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ROC Leiden at Lammenschans Station. The lower level is the grocery store that hasn’t yet opened its doors.

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Rooftop social space for students

Before arriving in Oetgstgeest, we learned about some of the work being done by the Municipality of Leiden and developer Green Real Estate on redeveloping several school sites near Centraal and Lammenschans railway stations. ROC Leiden, a technical/vocational school forstudents aged 12-20, decided to consolidate their five locations to two, and located one near each railway station. Construction of the new school buildings has been going well and both schools have classes running for hundreds of students, but the multi-use aspects of the buildings haven’t materialized as promised–notably, grocery stores in the ground floors of the two buildings. The economic crisis has slowed things down and grocery stores are reluctant to open without a guarantee of success, although in the case of the Lammenschans location, the store continues to rent the space out in anticipation of the future growth of the area. Green Real Estate is taking on the role of developing the Lammenschans station area on a long-term basis, rather than just developing and selling the buildings one-by-one across the region. They develop new projects and buy existing properties in the area to develop a more cohesive plan than would happen if each land parcel were developed separately. Construction is underway on several new projects adjacent to the Lammenschans ROC.

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Our Urban Planning group presenting our work in 5-minute sessions

Another purpose of the day was to put into action some of our agreed actions to improve communication within the Urban Planning stream at UVA. First, we decided that we would like to hear more about each others’ work, and second, we would like our work to become more visible to the greater planning community. To this end, we began the day with a session in which 21 of us presented our work in 5-minute presentations. There were no questions asked, each presenter merely stuck to the 5-minute limit (with help of course…academics like to talk) and the result was a very interesting summary of the work we do in the department. Recently, the accreditation committee was at UVA and researchers were asked to give 3-minute presentations of their work, so some people had already practiced giving this type of short summary. Really, it was amazing to hear the range of planning issues our researchers engage with, from climate change to sustainable transportation to institutional and actor roles in planning. The UVA Urban Planning blog was also launched; most of us will be posting there as well in the coming months, discussing planning issues in the Netherlands and our research based in other counties. I’ll post the link once we populate the blog with the first posts. I’m really lucky to be part of such a great, and diverse, group of people here in Amsterdam!

New Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been making headlines: and not in a good way. Ford has long been a controversial figure, and this summer’s mayoralty race was no exception. Echoing Mel Lastman, a similarly polarizing figure, Ford seems an odd fit for such a multicultural, cosmopolitan, and diverse city. He’s at best a pompous blowhard with insights into the political process; at worst, depending on your information source, he’s a racist homophobe who doesn’t support affordable housing, public transit, or any of the other pressing needs of the burgeoning city. But like Lastman, who was in office for six years, Ford will likely have a lasting effect on the City of Toronto.

In Canada’s biggest city, where 22% of the population takes transit, Ford has decided that transit is the enemy. On December 1st, his first day in office, he managed to kill the city’s proposed vehicle registration tax, freeze property taxes, and get council’s approval to have the Toronto Transit Commission deemed an essential service. With this designation, the TTC will be unable to strike, and union leaders say they’ll fight the decision, which will be made by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty and regional transit planning authority Metrolinx also have to deal with Ford’s tyrannical attack on Transit City, an initiative that was seven years in the making and is already being built. The province, after approving the construction of four LRT lines, announced this spring that they may not be able to fund the entire plan at this time. Ford wants to scrap Transit City entirely, arguing that streetcars cause traffic congestion, and everyone prefers subways anyway. He wants to extend the Sheppard subway line to meet up with the Scarborough RT instead, even if the high cost of this option means that no other transit infrastucture can be built in Toronto. Perhaps he isn’t aware that one of Transit City’s approved lines was a retrofit of the Scarborough RT, which is rapidly deteriorating, and another was a Sheppard LRT that would extend much farther than the subway will? In vain, Metrolinx tried to convince Ford that many other options were more suitable and affordable than subway extension, but surprisingly, the man who claims to be so concerned about taxpayers’ wallets wants the most expensive option. The main beneficiaries of Transit City were to be the inner suburbs: Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York. Neighbouring municipalities like Mississauga also strongly support Transit City. David Hulchanski, who just released an update to his popular “Three Cities within Toronto” study, says that building LRT is the answer to slowing or reversing the segregation of the city by income. Doesn’t Ford feel a responsibility to represent the suburban “working man” that elected him?

Electing Ford represents frustration: residents are frustrated with the way their city is run. Suburban residents see traffic congestion, unreliable public transit, job losses, and rising taxes, and they want things to change. What they don’t see is that municipalities are chronically underfunded by the provincial government in ways that matter: it is the provincial government that funds transit and road infrastructure, and a good proportion of job creation also comes from provincial initiatives. This underfunding leads the TTC to strike, since they rarely have the money for either their capital or operating costs, and also requires the city to raise money in other ways, usually new or increased taxes. Canadian cities have precious few mechanisms to generate money, and unfortunately taxes are among the few. The vehicle registration tax would have raised $64 million for the City of Toronto; Ford has not announced another way of raising the money. Opponents claim that it is “mathematically impossible” that these two tax losses won’t cause any service cuts for City residents. Cancelling Transit City could cost the province fees for broken contracts: $137 million has already been spent on Transit City and $1.3 billion is committed. In fact, for a pro-business, right-wing mayor, Ford doesn’t seem to be very good at managing money. Perhaps his 2011 budget review will inform him that transit actually makes money for the City of Toronto: former budget chief Shelley Carroll says that high transit ridership contributed to a year-end operating surplus.

Both Lastman and Ford came into office at a time of economic recession. Both came to power after a period of progress for the City of Toronto: Barbara Hall (1994-1997) preceded Lastman and David Miller (2003-2010) preceded Ford. Both Lastman and Ford claimed to appeal to suburban “ordinary people”: indeed, the voting maps of Toronto illustrate the pervasive divide the media loves to play up (the Globe and Mail included). We know from US elections that the maps don’t tell all: as Joshua Kertzer and Jonathan Naymark wrote in the National Post,

“This attempt to create a downtown versus suburb cleavage is at best a distraction, and at worst, sets a dangerous precedent.”

Toronto's 2010 Election Results

Toronto's 1997 Election Results

Perhaps most tellingly, both Ford and Lastman faced a slew of opponents for mayor: Lastman was one of over thirty candidates, while Ford was one of 40. According to the City of Toronto’s website, 383,501 voters elected Ford: 813,984 actually voted in the election. So, 47% of voters, who represented 35.3% of the City of Toronto’s population, elected him: that’s 16.7% of the city’s population. Lastman, the first mayor elected after Toronto announced its amalgamation with five suburban municipalities, won by a slim margin of about 41,000 votes. In times of discord and recession, the appeal of the right-wing, cost-saving, businessman is strongest.

The next three years will be momentous ones in Canada’s biggest city. Ford will have to make allies in the provincial government if he wants to keep taxes low. Let’s hope that Ford has a fight on his hands, at least as far as transit is concerned: it takes very little to kill programs and policies that have taken years to approve. As Councillor Janet Davis said, “For the first time [we’re] expanding transit across the city that we waited generations for — the mayor can’t walk in on Day 1 and say, ‘it’s gone.’ It doesn’t work like that.” If anything, Ford’s rising star only proves how little power cities have over the issues that really matter to them, and how limited their sources of funding really are. The problem is that Ford’s blustery, and logic-free, decision-making will have long-term consequences on the City of Toronto: Lastman managed to have the Sheppard subway built, against the TTC’s advice. The result was a white elephant, no funding for additional services that the system badly needed, and at one point the streetcars running at very low speeds to cope with deteriorating tracks. While Vancouver is no stranger to provincial wrangling over transit infrastructure, at least we have a mayor who cycles to work and strongly supports sustainable transportation.

Many researchers in Toronto have become experts at mapping the city’s spatial, cultural, ethnic, and political trends. A few years ago, the Globe and Mail even published a language map of Toronto based on the 2001 Census data for mother tongue. Richard Florida is now one of the latest to use the excellent mapping and research resources available at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS).

Florida’s map shows the same differentiation that David Hulchanski did three years ago in his excellent report Toronto divided: A tale of three cities. This report received a lot of media attention, in part because its complexity and rigor left little doubt in its findings: Hulchanski, Associate Director (Research) of CUCS, carefully mapped many different characteristics using Census data spanning a thirty-year period, including income, housing tenure, transit use, ethnicity, immigration status, household size, and employment. The carefully-worded report raised some red flags: the decline of the middle class, the decrease in housing choices for low-income households, the shift of poor neighbourhoods from the inner city to the outer suburbs.

It’s common to say that people “choose” their neighbourhoods, but it’s money that buys choice. Many people in Toronto have little money and thus few choices…When most of the city is in a middle-income range, city residents can generally afford what the market has to offer…It is only when the percentage of those in the middle declined that we began to hear about “housing affordability” problems. If the incomes of a significant share of people in a city fall relative to the middle, the gap between rich and poor widens. Those closer to the bottom are more numerous and find it increasingly difficult to afford the largest single item in their budget–housing (either in mortgage payments or rent).   J. David Hulchanski, Associate Director (Research), CUCS

Hulchanski, who has written volumes about affordable housing policy in Canada, wrote persuasively of the policy options that can help reverse these trends, and many writers echoed his concerns. Florida himself wrote an article in response in the Globe and Mail.

Florida, on the less thorough end of the spectrum, mapped “creative class”, “service class”, and “working class” occupations in the Toronto CMA. The Geography of Toronto’s Service Class, published by the Martin Prosperity Institute at U of T, shows how the “classes” were defined. Artists, doctors, teachers, managers, architects and computer programmers were all considered “creative class”. Cashiers, salespeople, police officers, food preparers, medical assistants, and administrative assistants were “service class”. And miners, welders, carpenters, truck drivers, production workers, and construction workers were in the “working class.” If you know Florida’s work, you know that he is preoccupied with class and that he tends to use loaded terms; “class” is not a casually-used word in the Canadian research arena.

The kind of work people do is the hallmark of social-economic class and the map shows a city where the dominant classes occupy, literally, two different social, economic, and geographic spaces.  Richard Florida, www.creativeclass.com

Map from www.creativeclass.com

It is true that Toronto’s postindustrial shift has led to a decrease in manufacturing jobs, suburbanization of workplaces, concentration of high-paying service-sector work in the inner city, and gentrification around subway lines (all of which Hulchanski pointed out earlier, not to mention Tom Hutton and David Ley). But Florida’s definitions are directly responsible for his findings: how is a doctor in the “creative class”? A manager or computer programmer? And how do police offers and medical assistants get grouped in with cashiers and administrative assistants? It seems as though he has just mapped by salary level, not occupational category…in which case his results aren’t surprising.

Research involving income, occupation, ethnicity, and polarization need to be carefully articulated and worded to avoid clichés like “upper class people live in desirable areas while lower class people do not.” There is much more depth to the story than Florida lets on, although he is fairly well-versed in housing issues. The recently-released report on Canada’s Housing Bubble, produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, outlines how housing prices have risen faster than inflation, household incomes, and economic growth. Echoing Edward Jones’ report earlier this year (see my previous post), CCPA says that the housing market is “more unstable than it has been in over a generation.” All major cities in Canada are now experiencing housing price increases above their historical range, meaning the time is ripe for a crash. For Florida, who advocates the creative class and advises cities on how to bring these types to their cities, real estate is crucial: he has written about the need for more rental housing, which in his opinion keeps people mobile and able to search for employment in a wider range of locations. His recent publication on Toronto’s class divide has more to do with the city’s political landscape than housing, of course, and it has served its purpose of being provocative.

As many of you know, there have been some very interesting developments in American cities over the past couple of years. Some cities have experienced decreased car ownership, there was a decrease in Vehicle Miles Travelled in 2008, and even the American Dream of homeownership has taken a left turn. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the proportion of homes being built in central cities has doubled since 2006.

The EPA report Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions summarizes a study that examined residential permit data over 19 years (1990-2008)  in 50 metropolitan regions. In roughly half of the regions, there has been a dramatic increase in the share of new residential permits built in inner cities and older suburbs.

Among the cities that saw a substantial increase are New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Miami, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Seattle, and Fort Worth. But even smaller centres like Birmingham, Milwaukee, and Kansas City saw substantial increases in the share of residential permits in their inner cities. Cities with low increases include St. Louis, Detroit, and Salt Lake City, while Cincinnati, Cleveland, Hartford, Providence, and Buffalo all had slight decreases. Particularly interesting are the graphs which show detailed trends for specific metropolitan regions, contrasting urban fringe, 1st tier suburb, and city permits. In many cases, we can see the beginning the mortgage crisis on these graphs: between 2004 and 2006, urban fringe areas began their decline and cities began their ascent.

A lot of this has to do with housing type: national data confirms that the proportion of single detached housing permits decreased from 71% in 2000 to 59% in 2008. Townhouses remained relatively stable, while condos increased from 4% to 7%, rented condos from 16% to 24% and large multifamily buildings from 11% to 23%. I find these numbers surprising: little by little, the American Dream seems to be crumbling before our eyes. We have to remember that not all of this change can be pinned on the dismal housing market, since the trends persist over 19 years.

The EPA cautions that, while the data reveals a substantial shift in residential patterns, a large percentage of construction still takes place on previously undeveloped land. While the share of residential permits increased in many regions, in some these still account for less than half the overall share at the regional level. They would like to do further research on what is driving the shift: real estate market fundamentals or public sector policies? What type of residential units are being built on previously-developed land, and what percentage of these are transit-accessible? However, they did feel safe in saying that, “This acceleration of residential construction in urban neighborhoods reflects a fundamental shift in the real estate market,” citing lower crime rates in urban areas and increased demand for homes in walkable neighbourhoods close to jobs.

I’m getting pretty tired of writing about great policies and projects that we’ve proposed in Canada, only to have to write later that the government has decided not to fund them. Toronto’s Transit City project, an ambitious attempt to link the suburban parts of the region to reliable rapid transit through the construction of eight LRT lines, is under threat. Despite being approved by the federal and provincial governments, the province is threatening to cut Transit City funding by half, decreasing the viability of the project considerably.

A map showing the proposed LRTs

I’ve written before about how complex governance is when it comes to public transit in our municipalities. Vancouver’s struggles to build the UBC rapid transit line and many Canadian municipalities’ policies to better link transit and housing are detailed in several other posts. Even when projects are approved, it’s no guarantee they will be built because we have no stable source of funding for public transit and no consistent governance structure that enables the transfer of federal or provincial funds to municipalities. Transit City originally proposed eight lines: Sheppard (14 km), Finch West (17 km), Eglington Crosstown (33km), Scarborough, Don Mills, Jane, Scarborough Malvern, and Waterfront West. The province agreed to fund the first four back in 2007: of these, three are new lines (Sheppard, Finch West, and Eglinton) and the fourth is a retrofit of the existing Scarborough RT with four new stations. The province’s proposal to cut funding in half will put the Eglinton LRT, Scarborough RT, and Finch LRT at risk: the Sheppard line is already under construction while Eglington and Finch were to break ground this year and Scarborough in 2012.

As U of T Social Work professor David Hulchanski illustrated a couple of years ago, increased incomes in the areas around the existing two subway lines make it all but impossible for lower- and middle-income people to live close to rapid transit.

Hulchanski's map showing the need for rapid transit

Hulchanski’s most recent map shows the areas which have decreased in income in the past forty years against the proposed lines: the new LRT lines would be making transit much more accessible to the rapidly-growing areas of the region (read his plea for action on ttcriders.ca). My own work with immigrants in Toronto shows that they are willing to travel long distances on infrequent public transit buses only for a short time; eventually they succumb to buying one, two, and three cars. They live further and further out because that’s where affordable housing is…little realizing their transportation costs will eat away considerably at their savings.

Last week mayor David Miller recorded a public service announcement on the subway PA system telling people to call the Premier’s office and their MPPs to oppose the Transit City cuts. Many of the local mayors are also urging their citizens to do the same. All sorts of organizations, from Toronto Environmental Alliance to the Public Transit Coalition have links to the appropriate politicians, and there is a Save Transit City site. I urge you all to call, email, write the MPPs and Premier McGuinty and if you’re in the Toronto area, pack the Council chambers this Wednesday April 21st.

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.

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.