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We fear density, but at what cost?

October 25, 2012

A great piece from the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume on the challenges brought forth by both density and sprawl.

The very word conjures up visions of shadowy canyons of bleak high-rise apartment buildings and over-crowded buses lurching along congested streets. It inspires fears of endless line-ups, cavernous waiting-rooms and no place to sit.

But density also means the museum, art galleries, film festivals, Nuit Blanche and major league sports. It includes some of the best universities in the world, not to mention countless restaurants, shops and amenities, everything from skating rinks to pools to….

Density generates economic activity, i.e. jobs and wealth. And in the 21st century, as never before, the business of the world is transacted in large urban centres.


Sprawl, which gives us lots of space in which to place our houses, also demands a lot of municipal infrastructure because it also yields multitudes of cars, which in turn demands extensive (and seemingly endless) road construction. Roads can’t be built forever, which means congestion and congestion means not just delays for workers, it means delays for the delivery of goods. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates that congestion costs Toronto more than $6 billion a year – one only need observe the gridlock on the Gardiner Expressway (or any other of Toronto’s clogged arterials) to see why.

Surrey, as has been acknowledged, is moving towards density. The work on-going at Surrey Centre is the best example of this. But there are dense developments popping up all over the city. When we build density, alternatives to car travel is a must.

And it’s not just Dianne Watts who apparently gets this imperative – Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie seems to get it too.

From the Sun, last month:

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said that while he would like to start planning for the new crossing, the province has to work immediately on reducing the number of cars that continue to choke pressure points on the highway and on the tunnel’s on and off ramps.

“If the government wants to do something to address the issue now they would be announcing additional sustainable funding for TransLink to provide buses,” Brodie said. “What we need is a solution right now and the solution is to get more buses.”

It’s a regional issue. The mayors get it, why won’t the Province?

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