Suburban Canada Dreams of Density

As one of North America's largest suburbs, Mississauga is joining some of its neighbors in the Greater Toronto Area in planning an unprecedented effort to replace its suburban roots with something more urban.
August 23, 2012, 7am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Like much of North America, Canada's suburbs have long sprawled in the form of residential subdivisions and automobile-friendly commercial strip development. Now, several suburbs outside of Toronto, including Vaughan, Markham, and Mississauga, are looking to transform their centers into distinctive, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.

"What these municipalities are trying to do is unprecedented on this scale in North America. The idea – placing mini-downtowns in far-flung locations, separated from inner-city Toronto by vast stretches of tract housing – runs counter to the traditional model of urban growth," says Adrian Morrow, of The Globe and Mail. "Not everyone is convinced it will work."

Some think bringing downtown-like development to the suburbs is the wrong model. "'To me, it's mildly insane – it's like building more subdivisions,' says Robert MacDermid, an expert in municipal politics at York University. 'Instead, you should be intensifying from the core [of Toronto] outward.'"

Still, many see densification as a necessity. As Morrow notes, "simply sitting back and allowing development to happen where it will – the post-war paradigm in this country – is not an option for those who want to build better cities."

"'We're directing growth where it needs to happen -- not just where the market takes it. That's how you get quality development at the end of the day. We want to take the time to get it right,' says Marilyn Ball, Mississauga's director of development and design. 'We are writing the book on a suburban municipality's shift to a vibrant city.'"

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Published on Saturday, August 18, 2012 in The Globe and Mail
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