“No longer merely suburbs, but part of the edgeless city”: on Toronto’s northern expansion

The Toronto skyline. Image: Getty.

The northern suburbs of Toronto are in a period of great transformation. Infrastructure development and new private investments are contributing to the growth of the communities of Vaughan and Markham, two urban cores of York Region to the north of Canada’s biggest city.

These towns are in the middle of a suburban growth that is changing their environment towards a more urban and less rural landscape. While Vaughan is building a Metropolitan Centre also thanks to the opening of a new Toronto Transit Commission subway station, Markham has turned into a new venue for both private and public investment in the almost never-ending urban development of the Greater Toronto Area.

They’re both what are known as boomburbs: suburban communities in the midst of tremendous growth that were rural areas not so long ago, and aren’t the core cities in their metropolitan areas.

Vaughan Metropolitan Center TTC subway station under construction (2017). Image: City of Vaughan.

Vaughan and Markham are no longer merely suburbs of Toronto, but are becoming part of the Torontonian “edgeless city” due to the constant urban expansion.

A “growth plane” for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, comprising the portion of southern Ontario that envelops the western end of Lake Ontario, was drawn up in 2017. Here, Vaughan and Markham stand at the boundary of what’s known as the Greenbelt area, as shown by a map created by Neptis Foundation, an independent foundation based in Toronto that conducts research and spatial analyses of Canada’s urban regions.

At the same time, Vaughan and Markham are the main engines of the population increase in York Region, which, according to forecasts by Hemson Consulting (a policy and planning analysis company), is expected to grow from the current 1.1m people to 1.5m by 2031.

In more detail, Neptis Foundation shows how the red line of designated urban expansion land sharply crosses both Vaughan and Markham, as the map below illustrates:

The Urban Fringe in GTA and Hamilton. Image: Neptis Foundation.

The “growth-machine theory” may be useful to understand the expansion of Vaughan and Markham. In their classic Urban Fortune (1987), Harvey Molotch and John Logan stated that the political and economic essence of any given locality is growth and a common interest in local initiatives of social and economic reforms, at least in the American context.

Given that Vaughan and Markham represent two satellite cities of Toronto, I argue that their current expansion represents a manifestation of the growth machine theory as suburbs are transformed into cityscapes where pro-growth planning and public-private investments play a fundamental role.

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre

In November 2015, the City of Vaughan approved a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) to encourage the development of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

Two years later, the opening of the TTC Line 1 subway extension represents the first step towards the revitalised Vaughan downtown, as well as a new gateway to downtown Toronto. Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, where the subway station is located, will be a new inter-modal public transit system, able to connect the overlapped transport networks of Toronto, the GTA and York Region.

But mostly, it will be the venue of new prestige offices (KPMG is going to have new headquarters there), hotels and retail opportunities, as this video by the City of Vaughan illustrates:

It’s a modern town within the town, located at the southwestern edge of the city. The forecast for this massive project is illustrated in the seductive video above that imagines a dreamy future for Vaughan, the fastest-growing municipality in all of Canada between 1996 and 2006, achieving a population growth rate of 80.2 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

This growth looks unstoppable as the construction of the Metropolitan Centre will automatically attract private investment and, basically, more people and more money. Municipal forecasts predict that by 2031, the Metropolitan Centre alone will be home to 11,500 employees and 25,000 residents.

But what will be the consequences of this new enclave of Vaughan? Will the city experience gaps between social classes due to the growth mismatch between this brand new area and some of its outskirts, including the Italian ethno-burb of Woodbridge? Will the cost of living increase in the entire community of Vaughan?

Some of these questions are also key issues in Markham’s development.


‘Community-building’ in Markham

My Facebook timeline, according to both my interests and “likes,” is constantly displaying a Toronto Star ad. When I decided to click it, I was a little surprised: the link sent me to the interactive page Creating a Community, a fancy website sponsored by BILD (the Building Industry and Land Development Association) that provides detailed information about the development of Markham, framed under the keyword “community”/

Markham’s population grew from 208,615 inhabitants in 2001 to 328,966 in 2016, and it’s now statistically the most diverse community in Canada, according to urban planning experts Roger Keil and Jean-Paul Addie. Markham was a rural area until 25 years ago, and has rapidly morphed into a new city.

In a way, what’s known as New Urbanism is changing Markham’s landscape via real estate developments and allegedly participatory urban planning called “creating a community” by Markham officials.

On the Creating a Community website, the meteoric growth of Markham is summarised in a timeline in which the partnerships among institutions, the private sector and citizens are seen as successful drivers of the community-building process. Infrastructure development and brand new high-rise buildings seem to represent the main efforts to improve Markham’s status within York Region, according to this Toronto Star video:

However, attracting higher economic classes than those who have historically populated the town seems the main reason behind the emphasis on supposed community-building, albeit some developers pointed out the aim of “keeping people in Markham”. A Facebook comment in response to the ad by the Toronto Star reveals a certain unhappiness felt by Markham’s current residents in the face of so much dramatic change:

The development of Markham seen by a citizen. When Facebook is the expression of citizens’ unrest. Image: Facebook.com.

This comment shows how tricky “community-building” can be. What input do longtime residents truly have when private corporations and developers are pushing a pro-growth agenda to turn a suburb into a city?

Markham’s growth could also result in an increase in cost-of-living similar to Toronto’s over the last few decades. In the light of the aforementioned growth-machine theory, are suburbs being transformed into new places of potential wealth despite their historically middle-class population? If so, what does community-building really have to do with anything?

As aruged by Jamie Peck, professor from University of British Columbia, typical city politics, along with the push for economic competitiveness, have also now arrived in the suburbs, as Vaughan and Markham become in-between cities where the demarcation between rural and urban, or rather between centre and periphery, looks thinner. The expansion of Toronto’s urban territories has arrived.

The ConversationNevertheless, the consequences for everyday living spaces — and the people who have long called these suburbs home — remain unknown. And they’re seemingly not on anyone’s priority list.

Lorenzo De Vidovich, PhD Candidate in Urban Planning, Design and Policy | Urban welfare researcher, York University, Canada.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.