Suburbs Still the Choice in Canada

An article in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s oldest national newspaper, trumpets the results of the just announced national census: “the 2006 census data say population growth is exploding around Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton. For the first time the city of Toronto comprises less than half the population of its metropolitan population.”

Yet the message of the article is not the continuing suburbanzation of Canada, which mirrors the continuing suburbanization of virtually everywhere that governments allow people to live where they like. Rather, the story imagines a rejection of the suburban life style by the very residents who have moved to the suburbs. The Globe and Mail‘s proof? A few anecdotes here and there that say more about the urban elite preoccupation with autophobia than trends as they are really occurring.

The article mentions a suburbanite who has managed to add 80 minutes to his daily commute by riding a bicycle to a rail station in Vancouver rather than using the car. The Globe apparently misses the connection between time, productivity and economic growth. What if everyone in Canada spent an additional 80 minutes each day traveling to work? Our bicycling hero spends a total of 3 hours daily traveling to and from work — more than three times the average American commute. Surely Canada would have among the world’s highest gross domestic products per capita. China, which is trading its bikes in for cars could wave good-bye to Canada in not too many years.

Here is what the story should have said. Despite considerable efforts on the part of governments and planning officials, Canadians continue to choose the suburban lifestyle (see data).

In the Toronto area, nearly 95 percent of growth was outside the core Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, which itself includes vast expanses of suburban territory forced in by the provincial government in a 1997 amalgamation.

In Montréal, 80 percent of the growth was outside the ville de Montréal, which also includes considerable suburban territory as the result of a Québec government forced amalgamation, some of which was undone by popular referenda.

Vancouver is the central city growth champion. Vancouverites “rejected” the suburban dream by locating at a rate of 75 percent in the suburbs.

In Canada’s other large metropolitan areas, the story is similar, though sometimes masked by large central municipalities that incorporate most suburban development.

Reality never seems to get in the way of the urban elite, whose religious zeal demands nothing less than that all conform to their way of living. However, the facts speak louder than the “spin.” People are moving to the suburbs; the modern urban area depends for its wealth, productivity and poverty reduction on the car. The urban elite may delude themselves in the Globe and Mail (or for that matter in the Sydney Morning Herald or Melbourne’s Age), and a few naive readers may “buy” the line. The reality, however, is much different.