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.