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.'"