Sprawling segregation or compact integration? The challenge of the suburbs


Planning Theory and Practice on the challenges facing cities who try to transform their sprawling suburbs.

In research published by Planning Theory and Practice, Kirk Brewer and Jill Grant present a case study of a mid-sized Canadian city to examine patterns in the mix of uses and building unit densities in suburban developments over time. The results illustrates some ways in which market forces, conflicting regulations, demographic shifts, and local conditions may undermine efforts to transform suburban areas in ways that would make them more compact and integrated.

The study, Seeking density and mix in the suburbs: challenges for mid-sized cities, follows suburban development trends in parts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, over the period from 1971 to 2014. By analyzing evidence from development patterns, census data, policy analysis, and interviews the authors found that although planning policy changed through the period to encourage compact form with mixed uses and higher densities, the pattern of built form changed little. Although many planners interviewed strongly supported intensification, some proved skeptical of density; one explained,

“There are places where there’s dense development… where you just know that in 20 years’ time, it’s going to be a slum.”

Analysis of developments showed that earlier suburbs had higher unit densities than more recent suburbs because they had small lots and limited open space. While plans for new suburban developments discuss mixed use and moderate densities at the project scale, higher density housing remains clustered rather than integrated alongside lower density housing, commercial uses remain segregated from residential areas, and caps on project unit numbers mean that residential densities remain low.  In areas with few constraints on land supply and relatively low rates of growth, where political leaders may lack the will to strictly enforce compliance with planning mandates, policies to increase urban densities and mix struggle to gain traction.

As a result, low density segregated suburbs continue to sprawl around many mid-sized cities.

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* Read the full article online:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14649357.2015.1011216