Tale of three cities
Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver are compared
I’m a sucker for anything that compares Calgary to its two national rivals, Toronto and Vancouver.
That’s why I avidly read the recent Growing Cities report by the Toronto-based, non-partisan Neptis Foundation.
It compares the growth patterns and regional growth policies of Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver between 1991 and 2001, which was a critical period in our city’s evolution.
The report offers a rare “apples-to-apples” comparison of metropolitan regions, not just the cities, themselves, and shows how and why they have grown as they did.
I loved the objective approach taken by the University of Toronto research team of Zack Taylor, Byron Moldofsky and Jo Ashley.
They provide some great insights into how Calgary’s planning and policy is perceived by outsiders, which I thought I would share.
Each city is also governed by a different configuration of provincial, regional and municipal institutions for land use planning, policy and infrastructure provision, something which can be used to compare and contrast growth and policies
Third, each has a different physical context.
Specifically, the Toronto region has only one physical barrier to urban development (Lake Ontario), as does Calgary (Tsuu T’ina reserve), while Vancouver has several (ocean, mountains and the U.S. border).
Fourth, each city has a quite different reputation in the planning community. Vancouver is seen as the ideal model of sustainable development and good planning, while Calgary and Toronto have both been repeatedly condemned for their unplanned, auto-oriented and low-density sprawl.
The goal of the Growing Cities research was to look objectively at how each city’s growth has been determined by plans and policy, as well as if their reputations are warranted. rate of increase in urban land exceeds the rate of growth in population or housing.
From 1991 to 2001, Calgary’s urban land base grew by 43 per cent, but our population grew only 24 per cent.
In Vancouver, the land base grew by 16 per cent, while the population grew by 24 per cent during the same period — while Toronto’s was 28 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.
The study looked at type of housing, finding (surprise, surprise) almost 75 per cent of Calgary’s new housing stock was single-family homes compared to 50 per cent in Toronto and only 16 per cent in Vancouver.
Vancouver accommodated 80 per cent of its growth through intensification — adding new dwellings within already urbanized areas — while in Calgary, 78 per cent was greenfield development (in other words, outside the 1990 urban boundary) and in Toronto, 44 per cent.
The study then compared how each city grew at its “urban fringe” — the four-kilometre-wide area just outside the 1990 urban boundary.
While the study concludes that all three cities had fairly contiguous growth in the urban fringe, Calgary’s urban fringe development in the first twokilometres was almost twice the density of that of Vancouver and Toronto. Some good news for Calgary. The researchers also looked at where the intensification occurred compared to existing urbanized areas in 1990.
In Vancouver, nine different urbanized areas experienced significant growth, while in Toronto there were four.
In Calgary, intensification was spread out with no distinct urban intensification.
Calgary’s urban land base grew by 43 per cent from 1991 to 2001, although its population grew by 24 per cent.