I recently discovered the University of Waterloo School of Planning’s Atlas of Suburbanisms. I’m very excited to have found this fantastic resource. The Atlas is meant to provide a better understanding of the suburbs as a place.
The primary challenge most people who want to analyze the suburbs face is that it is a very hard term to pin down. The University of Waterloo researchers, Markus Moos & Anna Kramer, take an innovative approach. They took three assumptions about suburban living: single family housing, home ownership, and automobile oriented commute patterns and mapped where they were more prevalent than the metropolitan average. The results therefore show us where people are generally living in way that is commonly understood as a suburban way of living. The conclusion:
The maps point to the inherent fuzziness of the spatial boundaries of different aspects of these three specific definitions of suburbanisms, and their combinations. The analysis also evidently points to the fact that suburban ways of living as defined by single-family dwellings, home ownership and automobile commuting are to some extent more prevalent in areas at some distance from the downtown in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. But in all three metropolitan areas there are pockets of suburbanisms in central areas and pockets of urbanism in outlying areas.
So here is Toronto’s map of Suburbanisms, where pockets of suburbanisms pop up in Rosedale, and pockets of urbanism pop up in Mississauga and Oakville:
There are other great maps on the Atlas of Suburbanisms project site. Prof. David Gordon, from Queen’s university, focused on two variables to define the suburbs, density and transportation. These indicators enable him to identify four regions in Canada’s largest cities, the Active Core, the Transit Suburb, the Auto Suburb and Exurban.
What is fascinating about his maps is that they show how there are pockets of the Active Core and Transit Suburban in unexpected places. For example, central Mississauga has the density to be characterized as a Transit Suburb, while I assume thanks to York University, the Active Core has a pocket up by Steeles and Keele.
A third map on the site I want to highlight is the Ten Cities of Toronto. This map takes a sociological approach, unlike the other two that focus on density, transportation, and housing type. Liam McGuire from the University of British Columbia, splits Toronto into three sub regions, the Inner City, The Hedged Communities, and the Borrowed Frontier. As he explains:
Inner City Polarization is characterized by inner city and inner suburban neighbourhoods with high levels of income polarization. Hedged Communities are defined by relatively static, high income households employed in managerial roles and the financial sector. Lastly, the Borrowed Frontier refers to suburban areas with more recent periods of construction.
These maps continue to tells us that suburbs are diverse places that cannot be reduced to one variable. It really depends on what lens you are using and what you want to learn. There is a lot going on in Canadian Cities, the Toronto Region, and within each community. Thanks to the Atlas of Suburbanisms, we can try to make a little more sense of it all.