Information About Sustainable Urban Development

 
What to do about Toronto's Gardiner Expressway? SUDA has suggested in a report released on February 15, 2013 that the expressway can be removed in its entirety east of the Humber River, if new rapid transit alternatives and some road modifications are put into place. To find out more, click here to read "Transforming Transportation Across the Toronto Waterfront". 
 
 
Benefits of Well-Designed Sustainable Urban Communities
 
The 21st century will be unlike the 20th.  We will face energy shortages, a natural environment that continues to degrade and destabilize, loss of agricultural lands, water shortages, and more.  Cities and towns will need to grow or develop vey differently than in the past.  The list of benefits arising from sustainable, higher-density city-building is both long and significant.  The magnitude of benefits begs the question, "Why aren't all cities bilt this way?"

To view the list of benefits, click here.

Information Releases

SUDA periodically issues Information on items of current interest that are related to sustainable urban development. Click to view.  

 The 21st century will require that urban expansion be as efficient as possible.  To read about an example that achieves 100 to 135 residents and jobs per gross hectare without resorting to highrise living  click here.

Today’s suburban retail centres are a hallmark of unsustainable urban development. What can be done to make them better, and what are the benefits of doing so? Click here.

Is part of the housing crisis in the Greater Toronto Area a shortage of single detached housing, or a shortage of viable alternatives? Questions need to be asked and answered before decisions of a permanent nature are made. Click here for more information. 

Travelers in a large metropolitan area such as the Toronto region benefit when local transit services are amalgamated to serve those who need to cross local municipal boundaries.  To read a short anlaysis about transit amalgamation in the Regional Municipality of Halton, click here.

The transit expansion debate in Toronto, focused on light rail or subways for key transit routes, overlooks the potential for local and express bus services using dedicated lanes.  For more information,  click here.

To access an Excel spreadsheet to calculate your own car/truck costs, click here 

Places To Grow - Still Unsustainable:  Places to Grow 

To see a list of social benefits of sustainable urban developmentSocial Benefits

How urban densities in the Toronto region stack upGTHA Densities

Achieving sustainable urban transportation:  Sustainable Urban Transportation

Ending the separation of urban uses:  Blending Commerce

How clusters of industry can work together:  Eco Industrial Parks

Frequently-Asked Questions

What do you mean when you say unsustainable urban development?

When we say unsustainable urban development, we're generally talking about urban sprawl. Sprawl is low-density suburban development that is highly energy-intensive for transportation and for space heating and cooling.   In these areas, residential land use is spread out and separated from other land uses, and cars are typically used to connect the different uses. This results in a disproportionate amount of land being taken up for transportation, such as roads and parking lots.

 Why is sprawl so bad?

Sprawl has a number of negative effects:
  • It separates where people live from where they work, go to school, play, and recreate. This means that cars are required to move between residential, employment and commercial zones. Automobile emissions contribute to smog, poor air quality, and global climate change.

  • Use of the car, combined with rising oil and gas prices, places a financial strain on households. In addition, upgrades to roads – such as construction of extra lanes – are often needed to accommodate the additional cars. This results in higher taxes.

  • Low-density suburban development often occurs on farmlands at the outskirts of cities, which people depend on to produce food. Sprawl threatens the land that we depend on to put food on the table.

  • People who live in sprawling communities often have long commutes to work; this takes time away from family, worsens traffic congestion and raises stress levels. In addition, reliance on cars instead of walking or cycling contributes to obesity and its related health risks, including heart disease and diabetes.

  • Sprawl draws consumers away from local community stores and to large regional malls, damaging the local economy and forcing closure of small, family-owned businesses. Often, boarded-up stores and empty lots become common sights in the city's core as people are drawn to the suburbs.

  • As people move away from existing communities, with existing infrastructure, and into new sprawling communities, new infrastructure must be built to accommodate them. When this happens, resources are drawn away from the city centre to the outskirts of the city, leaving little money for maintaining existing infrastructure. Constructing sprawl communities also takes up more land, energy, and material resources than constructing other types of communities.

  • Because sprawl separates jobs from residences, people who cannot afford cars are separated from jobs. In sprawling communities, it is difficult to find affordable housing close to where the jobs are. This worsens the problems of people who are already economically disadvantaged.

  • Besides resulting in poor air quality, sprawl also destroys habitats and results in poor water quality. Paving over land for parking lots, roads, and driveways alters the hydrology of the region, since water cannot percolate into the ground and instead runs over the surface, picking up pollutants as it goes. This also worsens flooding. Because sprawling communities use so much land, they also destroy habitats for animals, resulting in further loss of biodiversity.

  • Sprawl takes away choice from people. Because of the nature of sprawl, people have no choice but to use their cars, people who can’t afford cars have no choice but to live in substandard housing.

  • Sprawling communities typically lack public amenities like museums, libraries, parks, and so on. Sprawl residents often travel to other communities to take advantage of these facilities, which they use but do not support with their tax dollars.

What is sustainable urban development (also known as smart growth)?

Sustainable urban development is the building of communities that maximize the efficient use of space, energy, and resources. These communities are generally higher-density urban communities. Higher population densities mean more natural and agricultural lands saved, more efficient transportation systems, and communities that use less energy and material resources.

What are the benefits of sustainable urban growth
 
  • When higher-density communities are built, our precious agricultural and natural lands are preserved for future generations, and for our own future.
  • Better public transit systems can be instituted in compact sustainable urban development communities, unlike in sprawling communities where building a fast and efficient public transit system is difficult. Better public transit means less reliance on car travel, which leads to better air quality and fewer of the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change. In addition, when everything is close together, walking and cycling to destinations becomes possible, which contributes to better health and overall well-being.
  • Shorter commutes to school and work means that more time can be spent with family and friends, instead of sitting in traffic.
  • The financial benefits are numerous, as less money needs to be spent on gasoline, and property taxes are lower. The financial benefits are more thoroughly discussed below.

Aren't sustainable communities unaffordable?

Typically, the density of suburban communities is 2,500 persons per square kilometer or so, and often less. If new growth is accommodated at two or three times that density, the municipal servicing costs to serve those communities - borne by all residential taxpayers, goes down.

For instance, if there are several times as many people per road lane meter, everyone pays less. If there are many more people living or working by a transit route, more people would ride those buses and the public subsidy for that service may not be needed.

At higher population densities, there would be economies of scale. A single fire hall or police station can serve more people than if the community is geographically spread out. Similarly, each library and community centre would be able to serve more people and, therefore, fewer of those facilities would be needed.

 

Opponents of "new urbanism" or "smart growth" argue that it simply drives up housing prices, citing examples of new urbanist communities that sell for premium prices. Yet smart growth means using land more efficiently, which also means more housing units per acre or hectare - something that should bring housing costs down for developers. Premium prices that new urbanist developments recieve indicate that a market for these communities exists and that there is a shortage of supply. Bringing prices of homes in smart growth communities down may simply be a matter of building them faster.

It's clear that building compact, higher-density communities has many environmental benefits, from less air pollution to more rural lands preserved. But if you are still unsure about whether smart growth makes sense for you personally, because that phrase "higher density" doesn't sound good to you - even if those communities are at the other side of town - here's another thought: It can have a very positive effect on your local taxes. As you know from your property tax bill, suburbs are expensive to maintain.

 

Density affects the cost of education, too. A demographically-balanced, high density community will provide a steady stream of children to local schools for the useful life of the school building. What this means is that schools do not become obsolete once a single generation of children has passed through, as happens in many typical subdivisions. Moreover, if more families live within walking distance of schools, the expense of school bus services also drops.

All of this leads to a positive choice for taxpayers. Either property taxes can be reduced, or neglected public services can be given a boost.