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    Planning research shows Canada is suburban nation

    After spending five years compiling data focusing on 33 metropolitan areas, Queen’s University researcher and urban planner David Gordon has a message – we need to focus on our suburban areas before they become even more unsustainable.

    Dr. Gordon studied cities across the country using census data and revealed that Canada is a suburban nation, with over two-thirds of the nation’s population (22.5 million) living in some form of suburban neighbourhood in 2011.

    “If we are going to have a more sustainable country, we have to figure out what to do about these suburbs,” says Dr. Gordon, director of the Queen’s School of Urban and Regional Planning.  “Many policy-makers over-estimate the size of the highly visible downtown core and underestimate the vast growth happening in the suburban edges.“

    Within every one of Canada’s 33 census metropolitan areas, the proportion of suburban residents is over 80 per cent.

    Three classifications of suburbs were developed: Exurbs (low density rural areas where more than half the workers commute to the central core); Auto Suburbs (neighbourhoods were almost all the residents commute by automobile) and Transit Suburbs (neighbourhoods where a higher proportion of people commute by transit). The classification was the first that could be used across Canada, in large and small metropolitan areas.

    About eight per cent of the population of Canadian metropolitan areas lives in Exurbs, rural areas where most houses are serviced by wells and septic tanks.

    In the Kingston region, the exurban population of 37,000 (23%) was well above the average. Many of the smaller metropolitan areas like Halifax, the Saguenay, Kingston and Kelowna have a higher exurban population because it is easier to commute into the core from rural areas than it is in big cities like Toronto.

    The Automobile Suburbs include 69 per cent of the metropolitan population across Canada in 2011.

    Another 11 per cent of Canadian metropolitan residents lived in Transit Suburbs in 2011. This category varied widely, depending on the coverage of the local transit system, and service is minimal in many small and medium sized metropolitan areas. 

    Unfortunately, very little of the 1.5 million new population growth in Canada’s metropolitan areas from 2006-2011 took place in these active cores, with the exception of the highly visible condo booms in Toronto and Vancouver. The active core neighbourhoods only grew by 89,000 people or 3 per cent of the total metropolitan growth of over 1.5 million people nation-wide. Many smaller cities saw their core neighbourhoods shrink in population as children moved out and family sizes continued to decline.