CONNECTING SUBURBIA - Part 1: SEPARATION
"....we are at the beginning of a transformational shift in our landscape, one as big as or bigger than the shift that took place immediately after World War II" *
Connecting Suburbia - Part 1: Separation is about a way of life that is no longer sustainable. It's about our responsibility to figure out how to live smaller.
Approximately 100,000 people arrive in the Greater Toronto Area every year and while there is a significant influx of new residents to the city core, a 2013 Queen's University study indicates the biggest growth is actually occurring in the Toronto region at a rate five times faster at its suburban edges. Suburban neighbourhoods, in fact, make up more than 86% of the Toronto region.** As such, the reality is that the vast majority of Torontonians require a car to get around. My own inner suburb neighbourhood has a walkability score of 68 out of 100 which means I live in a 'somewhat walkable' location, but even though I work mostly from home and am spared the daily misery of a time-wasting commute, I still need a car to accomplish most of what I need to get done on a day-to-day basis.
Suburban housing remains relatively affordable, or so it appears on the surface. But factor in the costs of car ownership and rising gas prices and the true cost of living in auto-dependent suburbia paints quite a different picture. And its been widely reported that congestion costs the region 6 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. A big challenge facing us now is how to urbanize the suburbs to lessen our dependence on the car and preserve the farmland we still have left after decades of largely uncontrolled sprawl. It's not enough to cram vacant parcels of suburban land with as many residential units as can be packed in as we frequently see happening. These new residents are still beholden to the car. The answer lies in mixed-use development, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and conveniently accessed public transit. The car will still be a part of new urbanized suburbia but our dependence on it will be lessened.
Reclaiming the vast amount of valuable land that has been consumed by mega-malls, big-box 'supercentres' and their surrounding asphalt deserts presents opportunities to build new compact, walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods in suburbia and connect these new developments to existing subdivisions. The era of the big-box store has peaked, indeed, the whole nature of retail is changing. (By way of contrast, in the urban core, the large grocery store chains have clued-in to this 'paradigm shift' and are building smaller-scaled market-type stores weaving them into the local urban fabric.) Vast parking lot wastelands also present an opportunity to incorporate small urban farms into new mixed-use developments and this should be actively promoted to lessen our dependence on imported food and to help secure our own food future.
* Leah Gallagher, The End of the Suburbs
** David Gordon, Queen's University
Lunch Anyone? Anyone?
Lonely picnic tables and an anemic little tree in vast parking lot wasteland.
Compact mixed-use community with new LRT lines
Initial sketch for Connecting Suburbia - Part 1: Separation
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