Who Lives Where?

I’ve always been interested in how researchers sort and label neighbourhoods. That is why the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre report, Eight Canadian Metropolitan Areas: Who Lived Where in 2006?, caught my eye. The report uses statistical analysis to pin down what kind of common neighbourhood “types” exist in Canadian cities.

Looking at the maps below, it’s obvious that the authors found cities that are far more complex than the urban/suburban view of cities would suggest.


The authors identified six broad neighbourhood typologies in Canadian cities:

  • Older Working Class, generally found in the inner suburbs;
  • Urban/Suburban Homeowner, located in stable residential areas constructed after 1945;
  • Old City Establishment, situated in older high-income, inner city areas associated with gentrification;
  • Young, Single, & Mobile Renters, which are found downtown;
  • Disadvantaged Groups, exhibit the most complex and diverse clusters around city regions; and
  • Family Ethnoburbs, which are found in the suburbs of only four of the cities studied.

The researchers use these typologies to highlight the complexity of social geography in Canadian cities.  A scan of the maps reveals quickly that the social geography of Canada’s largest cities is more complex than that of its smaller cities.

For example, the city regions that are attracting the countries  most immigrants, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary,  also have a unique neighbourhood typology called the “Family Ethnoburbs.” The Ethnoburbs are located in newer neighbourhoods on the cities edges.  The existence of this typology is a powerful indicator urban growth over the last two decades has become critical for our big cities to attract global talent and the importance of new housing to accommodate growth and attract immigrants.

What I find most interesting is that these maps are not static. Twenty-five years ago we would not have had Family Ethnoburbs, or an identifiable group of Young, Single, Mobile renters located downtown.

It will interesting to see how this social map of Canadian cities will change over the next twenty-five years. These categories are very much a product of Canadian cities today (do American cities have similar ethnoburbs?). The social structure and population of our cities is constantly changing, so these maps provide an interesting perspective of our complex and always changing city regions.

Take a look at the full report here.




200 Years of Urban Growth

The New York University Stern Urbanization Project is putting together visualizations showing the expansion of cities over the last 200 years. The animations were created using information from The Atlas of Urban Expansion

It’s really interesting how each of the three cities in the video’s below grows differently. Sao Paulo really explodes, like a mushroom from a solid core. Meanwhile, Los Angeles it’s easy to see how larger scattered settlements joined, reflecting that cities weaker core and stronger sub-city centres.



Measuring the Suburbs


David Gordon, the Director of Urban Planning at Queen’s University has worked over the last five years to find out how many Canadian’s live in the suburbs. His conclusion, about 80% of Canada’s urban population and 66% of the total Canadian population live in suburban areas.

So what is a suburb? How is a suburb defined and measured?

While there have been many definitions, traditionally, in the North American context it has meant white, middle class, nuclear family, that owns a single family home and drives to work. Gordon’s research shows that after fifty years this traditional definition is essentially meaningless. Canadian cities and society have moved past those stereotypes.

To develop a measurable  definition of suburbs Gordon had to reduce the suburbs to one variable, whether people drove to work or not. This means that everything else we traditionally associate with suburbs is no longer true.

For example, Canadian suburbs are no longer white. Suburban communities are now among the most diverse and multicultural communities in country. In certain suburban cities, such as Markham and Brampton, over 50 percent of the population identify as visible minorities. This has lead to what is now being called the “Ethnoburbs, ” a whole new type of social community.

Suburbs are also no longer bedroom communities. More people in our major cities work in postwar neighbourhoods than downtown. So many people have moved into the city and so many jobs have moved outside the city, that commuting patterns are reversing. The traffic leaving downtown in the morning is almost as heavy as traffic into downtown.

Suburbs are also no longer dominated to the same degree by single family homes. Gordon found that townhouses and apartments were much more prevalent in modern suburban communities, making it difficult to define suburbs based on housing type.

A middle class suburb is also a rare sight these days. As the middle class disappears so have many middle class suburban neighbourhoods. In 1970, 66 percent of Toronto’s neighbourhoods were middle income, in 2010 only 20 percent qualified as middle income. By 2020 it is projected that only 10 percent of Toronto’s neighbourhoods will be middle income.

Defining and measuring the suburbs is not an easy task. A word that has taken on so much social, political, and economic meaning over the last century is bound to frustrate and confuse anyone trying to pin it down. Therefore, I hope Gordon research can contribute to a measurable and workable definition of the modern suburb: a community where driving to work is the main form of commuting. 

Stop Eulogizing the Suburbs

Condo Advertising: The suburbs are not for me

Christopher Sellers, an urban historian, takes suburban doomsayers who are eulogizing postwar neighbourhoods to task in an article in newgeography. Commenting on the reams of new books and articles predicting the end of the suburbs, Sellers asks:

“When you declare the “ending” of a place where you acknowledge over half of Americans now live, just what does that mean?”

It appears that most writers mean not the end of a place, but the end of an ideal and stereotype. New economic trends, social values and ideals are transforming every community in North America and hitting ageing postwar suburbs particularly hard.

Changing demographics, growing income inequality, and ageing infrastructure and housing are hurting older postwar neighbourhoods in the same way similar factors hurt central neighbourhoods in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a result, many urbanist see a narrative of prospering and growing cities, in contrast to one of declining suburbs and conclude that as a result the suburban dream and the postwar neighbourhoods are doomed.

While discussing many of these issues, Sellers ends the article on a positive note. He imagines that suburbs that are more diverse will also be more inclusive and open to progressive politics. I am not as optimistic.

Our neighbourhoods and cities reflect the growing inequality and poverty in our society.  Cities like Toronto are becoming more segregated by wealth and income. Poverty is concentrating in the postwar neighbourhoods, while the centre of the city is becoming wealthier, and the middle is melting away. In my opinion, the rhapsodizing about the end of the suburbs is really masking a far more real concern about the decline of the middle class. My fear is that will lead to less inclusive neighbourhoods, not more inclusive as Sellers argues.

The allure of the suburbs may be fading, but does this call for the end of the suburbs? No, but it does mean that postwar communities need greater investments to adapt to a new time. These communities need new social services, transit, better housing, and jobs as they age. Our suburbs and the people who live in them deserve much more than eulogies.

Atlas of Suburbanisms

by sssteve.o

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.