Is Vaughan a Suburb?


Is Vaughan a Suburb?

What is a suburb? This is a question that I often explore in this blog and was tackled by the Globe and Mail’s public editor, Sylvia Stead.

A resident of Vaughan wrote to the Globe arguing that Vaughan is not a suburb of Toronto but instead a city in its own right with a Mayor, and asked the paper to  print a correction. This led the Stead to ask:

So can you establish a rule for the use of the word suburb? Do we avoid the word when referring to cities, but not to towns or villages? Does this apply more to Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area than to other municipalities in the city?

Stead soon found out was that it was not a simple question, which reflects why over the last fifty years researchers, writers, and many others have grappled with defining suburbs, cities, and the places in between.

The Globe and Mail’s stylebook listed the suburbs of Vancouver in great detail as well as those of Montreal more generally, but was silent on Toronto’s (perhaps the book needs updating?). So what did Stead conclude after consulting the stylebook, dictionary, and her colleagues? She thought,

the description could have been “Vaughan, a suburb north of Toronto” or “Vaughan, a city north of Toronto. Both of those wordings are better because they do not suggest that Vaughan is part of Toronto, as in the original “the Toronto suburb of Vaughan.”

Yet, Ryerson University politics and public administration professor Myer Siemiatycki was able to convince Stead that perhaps Vaughan could be described as a suburb of Toronto. Siemiatycki’s argument was that,

“Its location, land use, auto reliance, socio-cultural texture and attachment to Toronto (they cheer for the Leafs, they rise and fall with Toronto’s economic condition) – all these qualify Vaughan and other neighbouring municipalities as Toronto suburbs.”

None of these descriptions is wrong, but they each evoke strong social and economic assumptions about a place, which is perhaps why the reader from Vaughan reacted so strongly to the Globe’s description.

Generally I feel it’s important that we move away from the  urban/suburban dichotomy because our urban areas have become far more complex then the simple urban/suburban narrative suggests.

Therefore, I would suggest describing Vaughan as a city within the Greater Toronto Area. This removes the offending word, suburb, but also firmly attaches Vaughan to the geographic, social and economic texture of the Toronto region.

Your thoughts?




Describing Cities, Suburbs, and the Places in Between

by  NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Do you live in the slurbs? Work in an Exit Ramp Economy? These are only a few of the concepts identified by Taylor and Lang in a list published in the The Shock Of The New: 100 concepts describing recent urban change. It is a pretty amazing list. I’ve provided the 50 concepts below that have been developed to talk about the edges of cities.

City Lists

Many of these terms appeared in the 50s and 60s as our society and researchers began to grapple with and describe the vast changes at the edge of cities, such as “Rururbia,” Slurbs,” and “Urban Galaxy.” New terms were also invented as the economy of cities and the geography of employment changed in the 80s and 90s,  such as “net of mixed beads” and “edge city.”

The list, which was published in 2004, would certainly be longer today. For example we could add to it Richard Florida’s Mega Regions and Megalopolis, John Kasandra’s Aerotropolis, and Ryan Avents Gated City.  The popularity of some of the terms over time can been seen in the chart below. Exopolis, Edge City and Penturbia seem to be on the rise.  Do we really need all these concepts? It is helpful to urban studies?

Google Ngram Viewer Results for eight terms

Google Ngram Viewer Results for Eight Terms

Taylor and Lang do not think so. In fact, they “suspect that there is more than a little incoherent thinking abroad in contemporary urban studies.”

Clearly, there is a time and place for many of these concepts. Our cities outgrow some and require new ones when older concepts are found lacking. For example, Slurbs seems to have peaked in the 60s, Outer City in the 80s. Overall, a very interesting list that probably tells us as much about the people studying cities as it does about cities themselves.