Catnip for Scot.  From The Globe and Mail:

People are still flocking to the suburbs. And the experts are still complaining about it. But after more than half a century, isn’t it time to finally admit Canadians would simply rather live in the burbs and figure out how to make that happen? …

Admittedly, suburban living creates significant issues around commuting time, energy use and municipal servicing costs that require careful consideration. But the suburb-as-pejorative routine is grotesquely overdone. …

Murtaza Haider, an outspoken and iconoclastic professor of real estate at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, says part of the suburbs’ reputational problem lies in the downtown mindset of planners themselves. “The underlying philosophy of urban planning has always been that suburbs are bad. They are never recognized as having any virtue,” he says. Yet it’s hard to imagine anything being this popular without having a few arguments in its favour.

Chief among those virtues is price. “The suburbs are affordable,” says Haider bluntly, pointing out that rents in downtown Toronto are double those in the outer ring of the Greater Toronto Area. Anyone truly concerned about housing affordability ought to be a tireless advocate for more suburban development on cheap and plentiful farmland.

Besides being easier on the budget, the Suburban Dream also aligns perfectly with what most families actually want. “Whenever you ask people what kind of house they’d like, the majority view – without exception – is a single-family detached home,” says Haider. In the most recent survey of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., nearly two-thirds of all prospective homebuyers say a single-detached house is their preferred option. …

According to Infinite Suburbia, a global research project seeking to change professional opinions about the suburbs, low-density living offers not only congenial and affordable housing for the masses but also some unheralded environmental and social benefits.

Suburban backyards, for example, provide a greater diversity of species and habitat than some natural ecosystems. These ample landscapes also permit better wetland protection than dense, paved-over urban areas. And despite claims that the suburbs are endless, soul destroying rows of homogeneity, the Canadian experience proves them to be lively and welcoming destinations that are especially attractive to minority and immigrant families seeking upward mobility and their share of our collective national dream.

With suburban growth still going strong after 65 years, urban planners and the rest of the “expert” community should stop vilifying the suburbs and instead learn how to embrace and improve them. The suburbs make people very happy. Let’s have more of them.




  1. It’s funny, the definition of the ‘burbs can be different things to different people. For example, I live in an East Van SFH a five minute walk away from the Skytrain. For my friends in the West End, I live in the ‘burbs. For everybody else that lives in Surrey, Mission, Langley etc, I live in the city. Should we be making a distinction between the ‘burbs and the exurbs? It seems like there are no suburbs in Vancouver, only exurbs.

  2. Suburban backyards, for example, provide a greater diversity of species and habitat than some natural ecosystems.

    Really? Where? Compared to which natural ecosystems? Examples please!

      1. See, that’s the thing. People have different tastes. Two different people can look at the same thing and make a different conclusion.
        Some find the suburbs to be the ideal living environment, others find it to be hell on earth. Both make sense to those people.
        The only answer is to have lots of choice of types of built environments. Then people can choose what works for them.

        1. As long as they pay the true cost. But suburbanites emit more GHGs and other pollutants, destroy more of our ecosystems and put higher demands on expensive infrastructure without fully paying for it. Take responsibility for your costs to society and the environment and then you can do what you want. The suburbs would have never existed as we see them today if those residents had always paid the real cost.

          But good luck undoing that sense of entitlement. Surrey/Langley are clamouring for a ridiculously expensive and over-built SkyTrain that the rest of us will have to pay for rather than work toward a viable economic/jobs core of their own. There should have never been people living out there with any expectation of daily commutes across the river in the first place.

          1. Good point on emissions. This has been studied in the GTA by engineers who found that the per capita emissions in low density suburbs are several times higher than in the inner city. That applies to both the construction period and life span operational emissions, and cover materials like concrete, steel and wood. (Sorry … I need to search the archives for the article to be able to supply a link.)

            The reliance on fossil fuels in transportation and building heating is a great environmental knock against suburbia. So is the notion that millions of square metres of monoculture in front and back yard chemical-dependent, thirsty lawn and produce is imported from 3,000 km away after the farmland has been suburbanized, is somehow more “green” than compact town planning where forested riparian setbacks and watersheds are preserved.

          2. ” … where forested riparian setbacks and watersheds are preserved alongside protected farmland.”

  3. WOW! “Anyone truly concerned about housing affordability ought to be a tireless advocate for more suburban development on cheap and plentiful farmland”. When will people get it that our farmland is a finite and irreplaceable resource?

  4. Suburbs are “cheap” the same way that gas is cheap: they aren’t, people only think they are. The sticker price doesn’t reflect the hidden and subsidized costs that go into the product. If suburban defenders feel “under attack” by all the freedom-hating, chardonnay-swilling bullies who actually understand their true costs, then I suggest therapy to deal with their own emotional insecurities. There are plenty of therapists downtown and lots of parking after 5PM.

  5. There are two kinds of developer. The one most familiar to Vancouverites are the biggies who build big towers in CD zones. The other is the suburban tract developer who probably splits their portfolio between single-detached and multi-family housing and car-centric malls in cities with land to burn.

    In Metro Vancouver there is no land left to burn and the urban-suburban divide is narrowing with demographic growth in a finite area. This article is irrelevant to the Lower Mainland.

    The article was obviously written by a supporter of the latter, and that is seen in the bio for Peter Shawn Taylor where he
    associates with Canadians for Affordable Energy (code for fossil fuels industry advocates), the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (who are largely opposed to public transit expenditures but silent on freeways and car-dependency), and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (which advocates for private policy and calls IPCC scientists “climate change propagandists” and public schools “too expensive”). All of these organizations receive hidden funding from vested private interests.

    I have seen too many op-ed pieces and comments defending low density suburbs primarily by ignoring the neutral, often peer-reviewed environmental, economic, social and planning evidence against maintaining them in their current harmful form. They prefer a politicized narrative to promote (often indirectly) the agenda of said vested interests.

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