The 2012 Smart Growth Report: Progress Towards Smart Growth in Canada
80 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2013 Last revised: 22 Apr 2013
Date Written: March 20, 2013
Over the last decade and a half, the Smart Growth movement has matured in Canada. Early efforts to raise awareness on the need to better manage urban growth gave way to smart growth plans and policies adopted by municipal, regional and provincial governments. More recently, attention has shifted to measuring the impact and benefits of smart growth. As a reflection of this emerging interest, a report entitled Smart Growth in Canada: A Progress Report was published in 2005. The report reviewed the existing policy framework related to urban growth in six metropolitan regions – including Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax – and assessed progress towards Smart Growth goals on the ground.
The report was the first systematic attempt in Canada to assess progress on Smart Growth, but suffered from several weaknesses. Most importantly, data problems hampered the analysis; for many of the Smart Growth indicators, no pan-Canadian data was available. The present report attempts to address these deficiencies by bringing new data sources to bear and exploring in more detail the trends observed. In order to make this task manageable, we have chosen to focus on a specific dimension of Smart Growth, i.e., the link between land use and transportation. Although the concept of Smart Growth touches on many aspects of urbanization (e.g., housing affordability, social justice, citizen participation, preservation of agricultural and ecological lands, economic development, rationalization of infrastructure investment, etc.) the core concept is that significant benefits can be derived from integrating land use planning and development on the one hand and transportation goals on the other.
The analyses presented in this report show that for the period studied, the six Canadian cities taken together were not moving in the right direction in terms achieving a pattern of development in line with Smart Growth goals. Of the trends on 16 key measures, only employment density, the number of jobs per dwelling, average street link length, and walk/bike mode share appear to be heading in the right direction. Residential intensification and employment growth patterns are essentially opposite to what is desired under Smart Growth. In terms of the former, the population of older urban areas is declining, new residential development falls short of Smart Growth goals, whereas the population and number of dwellings in rural areas is exploding. In terms of the latter, employment is growing fastest in areas that measure poorly on key parameters associated with the use of alternative modes of transportation.
In terms of meeting thresholds for change in transportation behaviour, recently built areas in the six CMAs taken together fail to meet the thresholds for decreasing VKT, increasing transit use, and shifting mode choice from SOV to other modes. The only somewhat bright spot appears to be providing urban form that encourages walking and cycling – on average, the six CMAs met two out of three theoretical thresholds, namely for block length and the ratio of nodes to links in the street network, and were very close to meeting the third threshold, for intersection density.
Keywords: smart growth, urban sprawl, urban planning, transport planning, urban systems
JEL Classification: O18, O21, R21, R23, R41, R48, R52, R53, R58, R14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation