Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Canadian regions are suburban

David Gordon, a Queen’s University researcher and urban planner, has been researching Canadian metropolitan areas for several years. He recently released a report which shows that over 2/3rds of Canadians live in some form of suburban neighbourhood.

Gordon doesn’t define suburbs as areas far away from the central city. For example, the City of Vancouver has auto-oriented suburbs in his research. Gordon defines two types of suburban areas: transit-supporting and auto-oriented. Gordon developed a method to determine whether an area was an active core where walking and cycling rates are higher than average in a region, a transit supporting suburb where transit usage is higher than average in a region, or an auto-oriented suburb. He piloted his theory in the Ottawa region in 2011. He has now expanded his research and investigated 33 Canadian metropolitan areas.

Classification of neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver as Active Core, Transit Suburban, or Auto Suburban. Click image to enlarge.

The classification of areas as active, auto-oriented suburban, or transit-friendly suburban is based on 2006 Census information. Population information is based on 2011 Census information. In Metro Vancouver, there has been changes to our urban form since 2006. For example, the research doesn’t take into account the impact of the Canada Line.

While the research might not have the most up-to-date data, the key takeaway is that most Canadians are living in auto-oriented neighbourhoods. Gordon himself said “many policy-makers over-estimate the size of the highly visible downtown core and underestimate the vast growth happening in the suburban edges.”

In our region, the City of Vancouver seems to get all the attention when it comes to livability and sustainability. Many people that are passionate about sustainable communities seem to spend most of their energy focusing on the City of Vancouver, but ignore the rest of the region. With Gordon's research in mind, and the fact that the highest growth areas in Metro Vancouver are in places like Surrey and Langley, more energy should be spent outside of the City of Vancouver.

Transportation and land-use planning go hand-in-hand. While South of Fraser communities can do a better job of creating walkable nodes, without transit to connect them, most people will still need to drive a vehicle. The key is to provide frequent transit service to these node and connect them together.

The major limiting factor in Metro Vancouver to increase sustainability and livability is that there is no funding to increase transit service in the region. Without increasing transit service, our suburban areas are likely going to remain auto-oriented.

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