Two thirds of our country’s population live in suburbs. In our largest metropolitan areas, the portion of suburban residents is over 80%, including the Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal regions – Gordon & Janzen 2013 

Toronto Chief Planner  Jennifer Keesmaat and former Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian recently met up to discuss how we define Canadian suburbs, why they matter and how we can work with suburban built form to achieve financial, ecological and social sustainability.

They dig into some of the big questions surrounding suburban living and the importance of urban designers and planners working to understand and work with suburbia rather than passing judgements on it.

You can listen to their full conversation on Jennifer Keesmaat’s podcast Invisible City here.

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It was stressed by Brent that the suburban transformation is “not about ideology, this isn’t about preference, this is about extreme pragmatism in the sense that we have societal issues that we have to do better about addressing. Such as designs that are making us sick, literally obesegenic environments that are contributing to bad health and climate change etc. So there are compelling public interest reasons to do better on and then there’s the opportunity piece, which is about who’s going to win in attracting the millennials. That’s why I make this point, rather simplistically that it is a competition against the suburbs and the city as the millennials get to a family bearing age and theoretically have permanently left their parents basement and they’re looking for the quality of life that the urban condition provides. So this is a great competition, suburbs are trying to be smarter to attract this demographic that wants urban elements like bike lanes, public transit, walkability, local grocery stores and things like that. Urban places are finally shedding this frustrating narrative that families won’t ever live in the inner city.”

Two points of discussion that stood out are the importance of how we frame the conversation and the need to address the two main drivers of sprawl. It was stated that we must change the conversation in order to create a cultural shift towards improved urban design no matter where you live. For this shift to occur we must address the 2 BIG DRIVERS of SUBURBIA:

  1. Municipal Finances – Comparing the wealth generation of suburbs with their costs and,
  2. Municipal Regulatory Frameworks – How they support and/or hinder the development of sprawling suburbs instead of socially, ecologically and financially sustainable built form.

Hope you enjoy the podcast!

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