Originally Published in Tonic Magazine 2007.
The suburban lifestyle is built on the baseline principal of cheap gasoline. Since 2003 we have seen gas prices more than double. Today we are seeing the impacts to quality of life for residents of Toronto’s suburban communities. This expensive transportation inflation is influencing behaviour and is fuelling a revaluation of where people choose to live and work, and how they choose to get around. As the cost of car commuting increases, suburban lifestyles will continue to evolve, and urban lifestyles will become the preferred alternative.
Suburbs blessed with wise Municipal governments that are planning for the immanent changes will have a fighting chance to keep their communities thriving. The reinvention of suburbia will take the form of the integration of public transit, rapid rail, and local economy development. Fuelling the transition will be the rapid inflation of gasoline. For those interested in seeing Ontario’s plan to deal with this transition visit www.placestogrow.ca
Gas prices are tied to oil production and availability. I don’t think there is need to have a deep understanding of the petrochemical industry in order to reconcile this unique time in human history. The gasoline powered automobile was invented just on hundred and twenty-one (121) years ago. Since 1979 humanity has consuming more than 60% of the oil ever consumed. With 6.5 billion people competing for the remaining global geologic supplies of petrochemicals for industry, transportation and food production I think it is obvious that the underpinning of the suburban dream is loosing stability, availability and affordability.
In the near term I expect there to be an increase in relative demand for urban Toronto properties. This may not influence prices; however, demand relative to suburban marketplaces will likely and logically remain steady. Markets outside Toronto are likely to be valued in the future based on their local economic opportunities, local food production and proximity and affordable access to other marketplaces. This transformation of priorities is not going to happen overnight, but I strongly believe that it is happening now and will become obvious in the relatively near future.
According to CEOs for Cities (www.ceosforcities.org), Statistics from Chicago IL support the assertion that demand for Urban living is rising and driving the value of urban properties. In a deflated market, inner city housing is experiencing a demand surge. The cited reason for the evolution is the cost of car-commuting. Growing interest in the 1980s land use standard called “New Urbanism”, a term used to describe human scale (not ‘car scale’), mixed use, mixed density, and walkable communities is allowing progressive suburban development areas to meet the emerging realities.
Cities, Towns, Hamlets and Villages are places where people have lived together for a long time. They are the places where work people settled to provide labour for industry, markets, and services. Today these are places where people continue to share access to conveniences, convivialities and basic needs; places where communities culminate, and people collaborate. “New Urbanism” can also be described in terms of “old urbanism”. Borrowing from the realities of our pre-automotive past, New Urbanism is a movement that aims to influence land use planning where “neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable” (Wikipedia).
The City of Toronto, like many North American cities has a great advantage in meeting the coming challenges. To start with the neighbourhoods of our city have been built upon an “Old Urbanist” foundation, with thriving local businesses providing valuable services to local residents. The streetscape in our neighbourhoods is typically low rise, mixed use, offering options for people to keep their cars parked while they meet their lifestyle needs with a myriad of options for groceries and services Our Governments over time have had the foresight of investing in infrastructure and transit that allow residents to get around without cars. The fabric of community in Toronto is strong and constantly fortified by community action and revelry.