Nowhere to Build but Up

An old way of doing municipal business—generating development fees by opening farmland to development—is no longer paying dividends. Mississauga, Ontario serves as a cautionary tale for the bottom line of sprawl.

January 6, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


An aerial view of Mississauga, Ontario, with Lake Ontario in the background.

Reimar / Shutterstock

Mississauga, Ontario developed horizontally for decades. Now some say it should serve as a cautionary tale as parts of the province consider whether to expand urban growth boundaries.  

Oliver Moore reports on the moment of reckoning in Mississauga, Ontario, where developments are planned on the final pieces of untouched land in the city.

"The city was once a bedroom community of Toronto so synonymous with suburbia that its long-time mayor was known as the Queen of Sprawl," according to Moore. While the city has started to build up, it also continued to build out.

The story of sprawl is common in Southern Ontario, according to Moore. "Sprawl is also being embraced enthusiastically still by city leaders across Southern Ontario. And as provincial politicians at Queen’s Park push for the expansion of many municipal boundaries, in the name of helping home affordability, observers warn that Mississauga’s experience should be a red flag." Opponents of ongoing sprawl say that previous development patterns were made in a different era of car dependence, and the time has come to "fix the expensive mistakes of the past."

The article includes documentation of how expensive Mississauga has become: "With diminishing prospects for more sprawl – and the associated fees it generated – Mississauga in 2012 instituted a special levy to try to pay down the snowballing bill for infrastructure repairs. Property taxes also started to rise dramatically in the same decade."

In November, regional leaders in the York region, located on the other end of the Toronto metropolitan area, voted to change the designation of 1,400 acres of its greenbelt from agricultural to rural.

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