Kingston Suburbs Growing
KINGSTON – A Queen’s University researcher in urban planning is warning that policy-makers need to focus on Canada’s suburban areas before they become even more unsustainable.
Urban planner David Gordon undertook a five-year study of 33 metropolitan areas across Canada using census data and found that Canada is a suburban nation with more than two-thirds of the nation’s population — more than 22 million — living in some type of suburban neighbourhood in 2011.
His findings are also in his latest book, Planning Canadian Communities, which he co-authored with Gerald Hodge, a former Kingston resident.
The vast majority of Canadians, said Gordon, live in the suburbs, which are growing much faster than the active (inner) core neighbourhoods.
Gordon, director of the Queen’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said by having the most growth in the cities, suburban areas are becoming increasingly unsustainable because more and more people are depending on their vehicle to get to work, shopping, entertainment and other activities.
“From a sustainability perspective, it doesn’t work that well from a social perspective, from an economical perspective and from an environmental perspective,” said Gordon, pointing out that many people are able to get around as they can access a vehicle. “But if you’re too old, too young or too poor, then in these areas it’s difficult to get around.”
He added that his research into the statistics found three different classifications for suburbs — exurbs, auto suburbs and transit suburbs.
Exurbs are low-density rural areas in which more than half the residents commute to the central core of the city; auto suburbs see all residents commute with a vehicle to work; and transit suburbs have a high percentage of residents commute by public transit.
Kingston is part of that growth trend to the auto suburbs.
“In Kingston, the core neighbourhoods only grew by 600 people. That’s good that it grew at all. Most small cities don’t. But it’s only 3% of the total regional growth. Over the last five years, the Kingston region grew by 7,200 people — 97% of that was in exurban and suburban neighbourhoods. That’s not terribly sustainable.”
The study was based on population growth between 2006 and 2011.
The average in Canada for exurbs is 8%, but Gordon’s research shows the Kingston area’s rate is 23% or 37,000 people, well above the national average.
Gordon said that Kingston’s exurban rate is high because, like many of the smaller metropolitan areas in Canada, it is easier for people to commute with their vehicles in and out of the active core of the city.
For people who live in metropolitan areas, about 11%, live in the transit suburbs. Such cities, like Toronto, offer a large transit system to serve the commuters.
Gordon said there are ways for Kingston to grow its population in the inner active core area, and he sees some projects on the horizon.
“I’m very impressed (that) in a place like Kingston there’s development in the Williamsville corridor,” he said. “I think that’s a great suggestion and there should be more of that. The cleanups of the brownfield sites on the Cataraqui Bay, an excellent idea.”
He also said more development for housing at Canadian Forces Base Kingston would be beneficial because military staff living on the base could walk or cycle to work.
He also had a suggestion for development that might ruffle some feathers in Kingston.
“I’m going to be really unpopular here and suggest that the Collins Bay pen farm is right in the middle of the geographic centre of the metropolitan area.”
He said the land around Collins Bay Institution could be developed for housing.
“You could take half of it for open space and it could take 10 years of growth for Kingston there. It already has service, already has good transit and is in the centre of the city,” Gordon said.
“You don’t have to build halfway to Bath or above of (Hwy.) 401 or almost in Gananoque in order to build.”
He said that overall, Kingston has the second-highest amount of people who walk or cycle to work in the downtown and immediate surrounding areas. The census was performed in July, so the Queen’s students who travel by bicycle or foot wouldn’t have skewed the statistics, he said.
But that’s mostly in the active core, he said. Hardly anyone cycles or walks to work from Kingston’s west-end neighbourhoods or from north of Hwy. 401.
He said that’s why cycling in the downtown is such a contentious issue.
“That’s why all the discussion about bike lanes and cycling is in this area.”