Canadian Institue Of Planners

Shaping our Communities
Sustaining Canada's Future.

Plan Canada - Summer 2022

Suburban Transformation (Summer 2022)

As many have pointed out, the world is now more than half urban. Fewer, however, have noted that the urban is actually mostly suburban. The suburbs have been identified as a challenge in planning going back to the 1960s and the profession has been torn in terms of its central role in the dissemination of suburbs across the land while at the same time denouncing them as “cookie cutter”, ’sub-urban”, “placeless”, “inefficient”, “exclusive”, and “sprawling”. The social composition of suburbs has changed much over the last few decades, with many now serving as home base for growing immigrant communities. There is more poverty and homelessness in suburban areas than we reckoned with in the past. Not surprisingly, much of the planning rhetoric is focused on reforming the suburban model to make it more broadly inclusive and equitable, less auto-dependent, and more compact.
This issue of Plan Canada will look at how suburban places have changed over the last decades - partially in response to these critiques - and how the new suburbs are performing as a human habitat in the age of climate change, deepening social inequality, neo-liberal politics, economic dislocation, demographic change, and continued rapid population growth. Looking forward, the issue will also speculate on how the suburbs will continue to evolve and the main opportunities that are now presenting themselves for reformatting this very popular but, for many, deeply flawed landscape. 
The issue will take stock of the numerous trends now impacting the suburbs, including the move towards polycentric development around suburban nodes, retrofitting of failing shopping malls, new suburban downtowns, and transit-oriented development. What are the best practices and examples of these initiatives? Are these various movements transforming suburbs into a new kind landscape model? Could these changes address one set of problems while exacerbating others, such as suburban gentrification or social exclusion? What do higher densities achieve? What are the economic, social, and environmental costs of retrofitting suburbia? Do complete streets, transit services, bike paths, and pedestrian facilities make these places more walkable? Are suburbs doing enough to address housing affordability?
The suburbs are transforming. Let’s highlight how Canadian planners are leading the change.