CanU6: Cities at the Edge “Urbanizing Suburbia” Foreword

CanU6 Summit: “Cities at the Edge: Urbanizing Suburbia in the Regional City”


The Council for Canadian Urbanism (CanU) has held its Summits since 2009, bringing together the country’s top urbanists in active discussion around key issues and topics in urbanism.

The presence of extensive suburban areas in Canadian cities, their retrofit and urbanization was identified as a key issue and priority for Canadian urbanists since the CanU’s first Summit in 2009. While the discussion on this topic was present at the following Summits it came to this one, the 6th to deal with it extensively.

We have called this Summit: “Cities at the Edge: Urbanizing Suburbia in the Regional City” based on the following considerations:

  • Many suburban cities, in particular those in the Greater Toronto and Vancouver areas strive towards urbanization and transforming from “edge cities” into truly urban places. Learning from their experience, from this vast urban laboratory that is GTA today could be beneficial to all Canadian cities and urbanists.
  • We’ve used the term “urbanizing suburbia” since this is not a paper exercise and the transformation has begun quite some time ago and there are significant successes as well as characteristic Canadian aspects to the process.
  • We also wanted to look at the transformation of the entire Region – from an amorphous “100 Mile City” towards a Regional City of significant size and importance in the country and on the continent but well structured around transit, with centre, nodes and corridors, complete and compact communities, strong character and identity – liveable, sustainable … and hopefully beautiful as well

Our goal in establishing the program was multiple:

  • To look in depth at how the suburbs happened, how they have evolved and became the prevalent urban form and way of life in Canadian cities. Thus the sessions with John VanNostrand, prof. David Gordon, the trips to Don Mills and North York Centre.
  • To look at what is happening now in the suburbs, to understand what are the main issues, trends, the landmark projects, the successes, but also the constraints in their evolution. Thus intense tours of North York, Sheppard Corridor, Avenue Seven, Markham Centre, Mississauga Downtown, Mount Pleasant Village and Downtown Brampton.
  • More importantly we wanted to discuss what can we do to speed up the urbanization process, to achieve the elusive goal of retrofitting the car-oriented, characterless suburbs of the past into liveable, sustainable, healthy, truly urban communities. Thus sessions bringing the region’s Chief Planners, prominent academics, the development community, the Province and the experts in regional planning together. There will be a working session where we will “roll up our sleeves” bring the dimension of urban form and design in the discussion. We hope that this session and CanU6 will start a discussion that hopefully will continue long after the Summit is over and will lead towards a better region and a planning that also includes form, character and design as a objectives and tools.
  • To allow for ample dialogue and discussion, participation, and to bring together urbanists from all disciplines and areas of work. What is unique to CanU’s Summits is that all sessions are plenary, including the working tours (CanU trips!). We have put together the first mobile Summit, visiting and discussing key places in this vast urban laboratory of “cities at the edge” of urbanization which is the Greater Toronto Area.

For too long suburbia was truthfully deemed to be dominated by sameness, be dull, boring, a place without character. We hope to show that there are significant efforts to establish character and identity, to create and sometimes to establish and revive a certain sense of place that is so important for us as human, creative, social beings and this includes the efforts to reconsider the positive aspects of the modernist legacy.

We hope that the tours, presentations and discussions will allow the participants to better understand the suburban phenomenon, the suburbs as more complex, dynamic, diverse and worthwhile the concentrated efforts of the country’s top urbanists.

We believe that CanU is ideally positioned, with its Charter, its advocacy role, its national scope and its multi-disciplinary approach, to bring together many of the country’s prominent urbanists to tackle this complex and difficult issue and to advance solutions to make it evolve towards the sustainable, liveable, authentic Canadian Urbanism we all strive for.

Alex Taranu

CanU Board of Directors and CanU6 Organizing Committee

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