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The Toronto Region in Question: What kind of Region are we Building?. Context, Trends, Challenges and Futures Larry S. Bourne FRSC MCIP Cities Centre University of Toronto 29 November 2011. Outline. Premises: Starting points The Toronto Region: Context and Attributes City/Region successes

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the toronto region in question what kind of region are we building

The Toronto Region in Question:What kind of Region are we Building?

Context, Trends, Challenges and Futures

Larry S. Bourne FRSC MCIP

Cities Centre

University of Toronto

29 November 2011

  • Premises: Starting points
  • The Toronto Region: Context and Attributes
  • City/Region successes
  • Trends: Patterns and The dynamics
  • Selected issues and challenges
  • Alternative Visions
  • Key planning issues
  • Uncertainties
  • Alternative Futures A) The region B) Urban form
premises starting points region building
Premises:Starting points: Region building
  • The central city cannot be divorced from its region, and vice versa
  • Understanding the development of a city region requires integration of various components of growth: 1)the regional economy; 2) the demographic system and social change; 3) infrastructure and the built environment; 4) the state, policies and politics, and civil society
  • Development (and investment) tends to shift back and forth between old and new areas (eg capital switching); but growth has been the dominant paradigm
  • The spatial form of the region is the outcome of the interactions of these components in particular places and at specific times, plus (of course) accidents (eg Hurricane Hazel)
  • We know relatively little about these interactions and thus about the underlying dynamics of urban development
  • Thus, we have little sense of what kind of region we are building
  • Boundaries of urban regions, especially growing ones, are by definition fuzzy and elastic
the toronto region context and attributes
The Toronto region:Context and attributes
  • Toronto’s history and attributes reflect its changing position in the Canadian urban system
  • The region is characterized by its large size and complexity as a socio-economic system
  • Rapid growth over the post-war period (population x3; built environment x5)
  • A relatively diverse economic base
  • Increasing affluence – eg increased space consumption
  • Population growth is increasingly driven by immigration (net domestic migration is negative)
  • Resulting in a massive and unprecedented social transformation
  • Massive decentralization, but with selected centralization and limited nodal development
  • Political ossification/contrasting with dynamic civil society
city regional successes
City/regional successes
  • Accommodating rapid and sustained population and economic growth, with continued high quality of life
  • Adapting to an unprecedented socio-cultural transformation (high tolerance level or good luck)
  • Maintaining a relatively high quality base of infrastructure, social services and public spaces (but currently under stress)
  • Developing a tightly planned urban form (at the local level, less so at the regional level)
  • Encouraging a relatively healthy central area and downtown core (in terms of jobs and a process of repopulation)
  • Building the 3rd largest transit system in North America (including GO)
  • Nurturing a rich foundation of civic organizations – social and cultural
  • Recent regional planning initiatives (eg Places to Grow, Greenbelt, Metrolinx)
selected issues and challenges a clustered top 10 list
Selected issues and challenges:A clustered top-10 list
  • Economic development: restructuring, creative destruction and regional coordination
  • Congestion, transit provision and the infrastructure gap
  • Social cohesion, inequalities, low-income, housing
  • Maintaining the quality of public services and spaces
  • The demographic transition, aging, living arrangements
  • Environmental sustainability and the regional ecology
  • Human capital, skills and education
  • Crime and safety
  • Governance: local democracy and regional institutions
  • Regulation of development: sprawl etc
corresponding alternative visions
Corresponding alternative visions
  • The competitive/entrepreneurial city
  • The efficient city and region
  • The equitable city
  • The public city
  • The socially inclusive city
  • The sustainable city
  • The knowledge-based creative city
  • The safe city
  • The democratic city
  • The compact and higher density city
some key planning issues
Some key planning issues
  • Density: population density by itself is not a sufficient metric
    • Changes in residential densities are driven not only by dwelling design and built form but by demographic structure and choices of living arrangements (e.g. smaller households, aging population)
    • The Toronto region already has high average (net) densities by NA standards
    • New suburbs are amongst the most dense on the continent, despite mandated open spaces and demographic thinning (eg reduced household size)
planning issues 2
Planning issues 2
  • The real problem in terms of land utilization and urban form is three-fold:
    • Non-residential uses: commercial, industrial, distribution (logistics) and recreational; the densities of which have been declining
    • The tendency in new suburban areas to create large blocks of single and or related uses, making it difficult to link origins and destinations while limiting the flexibility to adapt the future landscape to new demands
    • The lack of coordination between transportation and land use, particularly transit (present or future) and our inability to require that development approvals are conditional on regional transportation investments
key challenges by zone area
Key challenges by Zone/Area
  • The central area and waterfront: opportunities and capacity constraints
  • Retrofitting the older inner suburbs: for whom?
    • rebalancing housing, services and jobs
    • Upgrading services; in-fill housing or redevelopment?
    • Improving local transit service (eg busways; rail corridors)
    • Integrating local and regional transit (eg GO and the TTC)
  • Redesigning the suburban/exurban fringe: but how?
    • Building in more flexibility in development formats
    • Creating more mixed use areas (but at what scale?)
    • Linking transportation and land use decisions
    • Encouraging inter-municipal coordination in investment
    • Maintaining the commitment to regional planning initiatives
regional uncertainties
Regional uncertainties?
  • The global economy; capital flows, trade, manufacturing
  • Employment losses and regional decentralization
  • A continuation of population growth? – the immigration question and the impact of demographic change
  • Spatial inequality and social polarization – what effect on social cohesion?
  • Infrastructure investment linked to the rate of urban growth?
  • Intergovernmental cooperation and the role of the province
  • Volatile energy and commodity prices
  • The housing bubble and land markets
  • Available fiscal resources
alternative urban futures a the toronto region in the urban system
Alternative Urban futures: A) The Toronto region in the urban system
  • global city status; + high quality of life
  • Continued (but likely slower) growth and national prominence
  • Moderate growth ( some loss of relative position in the North American urban hierarchy) and pressure on social services
  • Very slow growth
  • Relative decline (eg Detroit north)
alternative urban futures b regional urban form
Alternative urban futures:B) Regional urban form
  • More of the same (BAU)
  • Further decentralization and dispersal of jobs and population (around a strong central core)
  • Increased centralization/ multiple higher density nodes
    • Typically for residential nodes
    • Low-density commercial/ some employment nodes
  • The high-rise city region
  • All of the above, but with differences by economic sector, population sub-group and location within the region
  • ***
  • Why more of the same?: Inertia, of policy, practices and perceptions; path dependency; the huge scale of embedded or sunk costs; institutional rigidity and political fragmentation – all of which inhibit innovation and experimentation and adapting to change
  • Why not more of the same?
what can we do
What can we do?
  • Enhance the sense of a region; develop a strong regional voice (at present no one is home); encourage regional collective action and more informed decision-making
  • Broaden the focus of debate from specific sectors and components of growth to incorporate and integrate the main drivers of growth and change
  • Rebalance the primacy assigned to short-term (political) goals toward longer term (strategic) goals
  • Recognize the complexity of the regional urban system and the rapidity of change (the dynamics of the system)
  • Establish a GTA monitoring system with research capacity and real time data, to focus on the dynamics of the system – ie where the city region is going rather than where it has been
  • Encourage incorporation of a greater degree of flexibility in the planning and design of new communities
  • Argue for (and provide rationale and evidence for) enhanced investment in physical and social infrastructure (eg through higher taxes; higher user rates; strategic investment partnerships)
  • Revisit (re-vision?) the kind of city region that we want
  • Further reading:
    • Anything by the Neptis Foundation (The Architecture of Urban Regions); Board of Trade; TCF; MPI, etc
    • A. Sorensen ‘Toronto Megacity: Growth, Planning Institutions and Sustainability’ in A. Sorensen and J. Okata eds Megacities (Springer 2011)
    • L.S.Bourne, J. Britton and D. Leslie ‘The Greater Toronto Region: The Challenges of Economic Restructuring, Social Diversity and Globalization’ in L.S.Bourne et al eds. Canadian Urban Regions Trajectories of growth and Change Oxford University Press 2011)