The Globe reports on a Neptis Foundation study of urban growth in three Canadian cities.  You won’t be surprised.

While Vancouver sits smugly as a dense urban planner’s dream, Calgary’s Wild West growth has seen it sprawl into southern Alberta’s foothills. And, when it comes to urban density, Toronto the Good is Toronto the in-between.

UPDATE: Past GVRD planner Ken Cameron responded with a letter to the Globe:

Spinning in her urban grave

I feel queasy when I see Vancouver described as an “urban planner’s dream” (How Cities Grow – These Days, Up Is In; May 17). Thirty years ago, people described Toronto as “New York run by the Swiss.” Now it resembles Los Angeles more than Lucerne.

Vancouver, which Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to make the world’s greenest city, comprises a mere 27 per cent of the region’s population and less than 5 per cent of its land base. Much of the rest of the region is more like an urban planner’s nightmare, with low density development aided and abetted by massive provincial investment in freeways – freeways, for heaven’s sake. Jane Jacobs must be spinning in her grave.

It isn’t a pretty picture. Unless Mr. Robertson and mayors of the other 20 municipalities can get their act together and fix the weak, dysfunctional arrangements for regional growth management and transportation planning, Vancouver might soon resemble Venice, but it will be surrounded by Phoenix.

Ken Cameron, Vancouver


  1. Cameron’s letter takes the view the what Vancouver City Hall has decided as policy shall be prescribed without deviation or exception for the entire region, both its most central part and its suburbs and exurbs. This is hardly the case.

    Cameron knows very well that European cities have a mixture of transit and freeways, with the latter connecting the outer regions in a ring road fashion.

    But it’s part of Vancouver’s desire to preserve its dominance in this region, and the anxiety around that desire is hinted at in Camerons’ letter claiming Vancouver City Hall only controls 5% of the region’s land mass, to deny a development tool to suburban areas which would work for them. It’s really a form of beggar-thy-neighbour mercantalism at the municipal level.

    Projects like PMH1 may be carried out by the British Columbia Government, but they are clearly acts of national economic and trade policy, and a Vancouver-centric view of them is without merit or foundation.

  2. It’s worth remembering that as sprawling as Vancouver’s suburbs are, they are at least twice as dense as those of Seattle and Portland. You simply don’t see the dense pattern of detached housing and townhouses there that you do in places like Richmond. From a density perspective Greater Vancouver doesn’t do too bad; walkability however, is another story. In the G&M article, Gordon Harris makes the point that if housing affordability gets too out of reach, then people will up sticks and move from Greater Vancouver. That assumes that there are lower cost places with jobs on offer elsewhere. Where in BC are we seeing that happening? Kelowna; Kamloops, Victoria? Maybe, but then these are not so affordable either anymore.

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