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Should cities start blocking urban sprawl?

jswag

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An interesting thread, although you must understand that urban sprawl, as a concept, is undefinable even for the experts (they all disagree).

The "urban sprawl" that I object to is large-block, single-use developments that offer no choices to the resident/employee. Your average Vaughan subdivision or office park would fit this mold: curvilinear and hard-to-navigate road pattern, the hard lines of separation drawn between road types (arterial, collector, local) and large tracts of residential before any areas of employment are found. In this situation, a resident has so-called choices: walk for 10-20 minutes to the bus stop and take the infrequent bus to another infrequent connecting bus to the office park, walk 10-20 minutes to work; OR, walk to driveway, drive for 10 minutes and arrive at work with a good parking spot. This is not a real choice. While it may be oranges and apples to compare the Annex to Vaughan (apples and oranges in my mind), places in Scarborough have a greater choice factor-- proof that either these choices can be grafted on to a poor suburban framework, or that suburban areas change over time.

I think the City's Avenues plan is a good one, and it's an example of grafting urban ideals onto a suburban framework. It recognizes that the street network we have will not change for the most part, so we have to work with what we've got. It needs tweaking because it isn't entirely working as it is right now, but it is a good step as it moves to focus development of employment and residential properties close to "choices".

Whatever it is, anti-sprawl is impossible to legislate because of the very fact it is a moving target. Ontario has been recognized as one of the leaders in this regard, but even the Places to Grow plan is modest in its scope. What it does manage to do is to encourage municipalities to move in the right direction. You cannot force people to move into a condo, rather, you must present them with choices so that they can make the necessary adjustments. We are already seeing it now as congestion gets worse and worse: people are weighing their options. The tradeoff is there-- 80 minutes a day in a vehicle, or a lesser amount of time in an alternative mode of transport. It all depends on what one values most. But that is where the GTA has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two decades-- finally, people have a choice between living in the burbs or living downtown.

While I personally object to the aesthetics of modern suburbs, railing against suburbs because of their architecture or urban design is a fool's game. Different strokes for different folks and all that. In addition, we have already seen with so-called "New Urbanist" developments that design really doesn't have much to do with a suburban lifestyle-- people in Cornell still drive to the local Wal-Mart. Also, the "sameness" that so many people talk about with suburbs isn't a problem for me. Old suburbs were built with every house being even more alike than today, but those are often some of the most beautiful streets we have in this city.
 

TrickyRicky

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Another point I think might need to be challenged is the notion I get from many of these threads that people believe Toronto sprawl is superior because it is somewhat higher density by North American Standards. With respect to creating disincentive for people to build and live in sprawl is this slightly higher density positive or negative? I don't think I could conclude either way. I can think of many ways in which higher densities would actually incease the incentive for developers and people to generate more sprawl. Take a hypothetical situation where instead of saying pack in as many houses as you can, you say every lot cannot be less than 2 acres. Would there be more or less incentive for people to create and live in sprawl?
 

Second_in_pie

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EDIT: ^^Well, I'd rather have Toronto sprawl than LA, San Francisco, Florida, Texas, or Chicago sprawl if that's what you're trying to get at. Higher density suburbs are good because they creates a framework for even higher density TOD and other such (re)development. This is where I'd like to point out one of capitalism's inherent flaws, and say that it's quite true that higher density doesn't mean developers will develop less, just more bang for their buck. But it certainly gives a good framework for responsible cities to build on.

I think the City's Avenues plan is a good one, and it's an example of grafting urban ideals onto a suburban framework. It recognizes that the street network we have will not change for the most part, so we have to work with what we've got. It needs tweaking because it isn't entirely working as it is right now, but it is a good step as it moves to focus development of employment and residential properties close to "choices".

Whatever it is, anti-sprawl is impossible to legislate because of the very fact it is a moving target. Ontario has been recognized as one of the leaders in this regard, but even the Places to Grow plan is modest in its scope. What it does manage to do is to encourage municipalities to move in the right direction. You cannot force people to move into a condo, rather, you must present them with choices so that they can make the necessary adjustments. We are already seeing it now as congestion gets worse and worse: people are weighing their options. The tradeoff is there-- 80 minutes a day in a vehicle, or a lesser amount of time in an alternative mode of transport. It all depends on what one values most. But that is where the GTA has improved by leaps and bounds over the past two decades-- finally, people have a choice between living in the burbs or living downtown.

While I personally object to the aesthetics of modern suburbs, railing against suburbs because of their architecture or urban design is a fool's game. Different strokes for different folks and all that. In addition, we have already seen with so-called "New Urbanist" developments that design really doesn't have much to do with a suburban lifestyle-- people in Cornell still drive to the local Wal-Mart. Also, the "sameness" that so many people talk about with suburbs isn't a problem for me. Old suburbs were built with every house being even more alike than today, but those are often some of the most beautiful streets we have in this city.
Agree, the City's Avenues plan (and similar plans in the 905,) are great moves towards sustainability. But I think it needs to integrate with Places to Grow better. Using Places to Grow, build up high density employment/residential regions, with avenues or density corridors connecting them and radiating off of them. Highly developed places to grow means transit can be focused there, and that lets transit like LRT or BRT funnel people into those places to grow and transit hubs, meaning faster trips to wherever they want to go from there.

The only problem I see is actually making condo living accessible. I see it just as a hill to get over. You'll reach a critical point where condos are diverse enough in location, price, style and size that people will start naturally demanding it. That's how suburbanization happened, and it can go in the opposite direction again.

I don't object to the aesthetics of modern suburbs, and I think the charm that comes from the older suburbs (mostly in Toronto,) comes with age and small changes that homeowners add from time to time. Especially the new subdivisions that are going up in Markham and Durham, I think you can do a lot with them. They're quite dense, and I think just need development along the arterials that define them and a few renoed houses or infill buildings in the middle of those developments or at bigger intersections. Then just "avenuize" the arterials with midrise mixed use buildings and better transit, and suddenly you'll have a much nicer neighborhood.
The only objection I have is the amount of suburbs, the seemingly endless wave of suburbia with little pockets of strip malls and big box stores. Breaking that up with places to grow will help that problem a lot, I think.
 
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TrickyRicky

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"^^Well, I'd rather have Toronto sprawl than LA, San Francisco, Florida, Texas, or Chicago sprawl if that's what you're trying to get at. Higher density suburbs are good because they creates a framework for even higher density TOD and other such (re)development."

Second,

I'm not really so interested in the first part re: the comparison between cities, more about the underlying assumption and impacts such as those you describe in the second part of the statement above. I don't know the real numbers but let's say hypothetically you add 20% extra density to a suburban built form that consists of massive homogenous tracts of residential subdivisions. You still don't have densities that make the delivery of services and transit efficient. Yet now you have 20% more people and 20% more voters demanding shifts in policy living in a landform that is very difficult if not impossible to re-develop. Furthermore, you make it 20% more profitable for developers to develop and land-owners to sell, while at the same time yuo are able to offer a greater range of product pricing. This opens up markets for segments of the population who may not have otherwise been able to afford housing in these areas. A more equitable solution perhaps but cost and time are the greatest incentives that drive settlement patterns, and an equitable solution will most often be a sprawl generator.

On the otherhand increasing densities by 20% also could be seen as dampening sprawl growth. Why? For the same reason. You can't deliver services or provide proper road or transit infrastructure efficiently. This means that travel times will increase and living standards will be lower. Sprawl will work against sprawl.
 

Second_in_pie

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Your point seems to be based on the assumption that Places like this can't be redeveloped, or that people will be against redevelopment.

I think you may underestimate how much 20% is and the affect it can have on population patterns. Also, I just took some quick measurements of house lots in older suburbs vs. the developments of the last decade in York and Durham, and they are in fact closer to twice as small on average. Twice as many people can have a major impact on the amount of transit and commercial areas an area has, especially if you redevelop some parts of those areas, such as roads along the arterials, with higher density and/or mixed use buildings.
 

kettal

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Modern sprawl is honestly much better designed than the 1970s-90s crap. Urban planners of that era sucked.
 

valkoholic

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Pickering too. I think Pickering's sprawl (Seaton) will be bigger than Oakville's. Oakville is 50,000 people and 35,000 jobs, Seaton is 70,000 people and 35,000 jobs. Added together you get a motherload of mini-vans, TGI Friday's, and two-storey brick houses with garage snouts on the front. As I said earlier, the employment alone will require almost 20 expressway lanes to get people to work. It seems a shame to fund transit (or try to) at the same time we create massive car-oriented developments.
 

Second_in_pie

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I would agree completely. Development in those lands should be halted indefinitely, and the people and jobs "saved" instead put towards sustainable high density infill development, mostly in the currently designated Places to Grow. That, in my opinion, would be a massive step towards better transportation and just living in general in the GTA.
 

Parkdalian

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http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf

Good article about the subject and raises some interesting points. But just like everything else...should be read with a grain of salt.
Oh dude, did you actually read that report?

"The consequence of the two-part strategy is that vast numbers of young people and the underprivileged
will never be able to raise a family within the security of their own home. Instead they are forced to
endure tenuous rental tenancies in high-rise apartments, adding more congestion, pollution and
overloaded infrastructure to cities."

Uhhh...condo? Co-op? Stacked townhome?

"The traditional way of life is thus being slowly crushed under the bureaucratic iron heel
of high-density."

Anyone who says "traditional" as an unquestioned positive is clearly a bonehead.

"High-density is also bad for mental health. A study of over 4 million Swedes has shown that the rates
for psychosis were 70% greater for the denser areas."

LULZ. High density makes you craaaaaaaazy.
 

Parkdalian

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Oh, and check out the Housing Affordability chart. It is meant to show that cities with prescriptive land-use regulation are the least affordable.

Buuuuut, what it actually shows you are the richest/most exciting/economically vibrant cities (plus some sunny Australian cities) are generally the least affordable, and the declining/collapsed/housing bubble victims are generally the most affordable.

Least affordable:

1. Vancouver
2. Sydney
3. Melbourne
4. Adelaide
5. London
6. San Franciso
7. New York

Most Affordable:

1. Detroit
2. Atlanta
3. Indianopolis
4. Cincinnati
5. Cleveland
6. Las Vegas
7. Columbus
8. Kansas City

Can people read their own statistics? Why bother talking about this stuff if you don't even understand what you are saying?

Like, honestly, I think we can all agree that Detroit should never be on your side of an argument.
 

valkoholic

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I think he/she suggested you read the report with a grain of salt.

I'm anti-sprawl (or at least I'm for sprawling intelligently) but I think if Toronto stopped sprawling the sticker shock for homes would be amazing. When I went through the home buying process I was blown away by the price difference between even the near-Toronto suburbs and the older parts of the City.
 

W. K. Lis

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One item that most people want when they will be buying a house, is a garage. Even without sprawl or owning a car, people will still want a garage. Not to store a car, however. But to store their bicycles, lawn mower, BBQ, snow shovel, camping equipment, tools, etc.

That also means that condos and apartment building will have a disadvantage. What to do with their extra space that previously would have been used by a second or third car. People may end up rented storage lockers while leaving available underground parking space empty. Consideration should be given to converting those empty spaces into additional storage lockers.
 

MarcFromOttawa

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Can people read their own statistics? Why bother talking about this stuff if you don't even understand what you are saying?

Like, honestly, I think we can all agree that Detroit should never be on your side of an argument.
The point of the study was to demonstrate the effects of government controlled land restrictions on housing affordability. Obviously cities with higher desirability and quality of life will command higher prices. Nowhere in the report did it mention Detroit was a model city whose policies should be replicated elsewhere. The survey was about housing affordability and wouldn't be complete without a list of the most affordable/unaffordable places in the Western World.

Anyone who says "traditional" as an unquestioned positive is clearly a bonehead.
You don't think raising a family in a traditonal environment (i.e. single family home) is the most desirable? Resorting to ad hominen attacks and ridicule will only diminish what little of an argument you might have had.

LULZ. High density makes you craaaaaaaazy.
See above


I never stated an opinion on the subject and I also said the report should be read with a grain of salt. Here's what the expression means since I don't think you caught that part.:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grain_of_salt
 

Parkdalian

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The point of the study was to demonstrate the effects of government controlled land restrictions on housing affordability. Obviously cities with higher desirability and quality of life will command higher prices. Nowhere in the report did it mention Detroit was a model city whose policies should be replicated elsewhere. The survey was about housing affordability and wouldn't be complete without a list of the most affordable/unaffordable places in the Western World.
Marc, sorry if I didn't make it clear - I'm attacking the report, not you. I think the guy who wrote it is a bonehead. Not you. Apologize for any confusion. I don't think he can read his own statistics. I thank you for pointing out the report - it was entertaining.

And no, as a gay man, I doubt very highly I will raise my children in a "traditional" household. If we accept that "traditional" has any meaning, it has to exclude anyone who isn't "traditional": ie, gay men raising their kids in a condo.
 
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