Comparing the Pattern to the Plan

Zack Taylor and Marcy Burchfield

Comparing policies and observed development patterns

Chapter 4 outlined the distinctive sets of regional planning principles, policies, and institutions that operate in each metropolitan region. This chapter explores the extent to which the regional land use patterns observed in Chapter 3 correspond to the long-term planning ideas and principles active in each region -- in other words, the degree to which planning authorities in each region got what they said they wanted. The analysis suggests that there is substantial correspondence between policies and land use patterns. The chapter continues with a consideration of possible explanations for these findings, and concludes with a discussion of avenues for further research.

Promoting intensification

Each region differs with respect to planned shares of growth to be accommodated on greenfield land rather than existing urban areas and where growth in existing urban areas is expected to go.

We can conceive of two general ways of promoting intensification through land use planning regulation: containment and centripetal incentives.

Containment policies seek to limit, temporarily or permanently, outward urban expansion onto greenfield land. Nelson, Dawkins, and Sanchez (2007:20) categorize containment policies based on their objectives and strength:

  • Unbounded containment presumes no permanent outer limit to the urban area. The goal of policy is to obtain orderly, staged urban expansion that is fully serviced by necessary infrastructure. Denser forms of development are directed to a defined urban service area, while low-density forms of residential development are permitted outside the urban area only. Urban service areas are periodically extended to meet demand. Their primary example of this type is Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Bounded containment policies impose a medium-term urban growth boundary. It too can be extended, but much less readily. To protect productive agricultural and natural rural areas, urban development outside the boundary is strongly discouraged through zoning. Portland, Oregon, is their example for this model. Depending on how tightly the boundary is drawn, bounded may be more stringent than unbounded containment.
  • Natural containment, while not always given expression in policies, is enforced by physical limitations: mountains, bodies of water, deserts, or limitations on water supply. They put Los Angeles and Phoenix in this category.
  • A fourth type, which they do not name, perhaps because it is not represented in the United States, might be called comprehensive containment. Through zoning, easements, or the outright purchase of rural land, governments can limit urban expansion by comprehensively encircling a city with land that will remain permanently non-urban. Comprehensive containment is therefore more stringent than bounded and unbounded containment. Britain's Greenbelts exemplify this type of containment.

Centripetal incentives seek to make development in existing urban areas more attractive, thereby redirecting growth to infill and redevelopment sites that would otherwise go to greenfield land. One way of doing this through planning regulation is to designate special zones that permit or expedite higher-density development or redevelopment. Streamlined development permit processes and specialized zoning are often supplemented by fiscal measures, such as the rebate or deferral of property taxes or development impact fees, or up-front direct public investment into infrastructure and services. There is a long history of employing such incentives for transit station areas, neighbourhood or district town centres, and the rehabilitation of brownfield lands.

While containment is premised on making development on rural land more difficult, centripetal incentives seek to lower the cost of intensification. Both are generally understood to be components of "smart growth," however defined (Danielsen et al., 1999; Jabareen, 2006; Onyschuk et al., 2001).

Containment policies and the intensification rate

Different forms of containment are used in all three regions, with varying degrees of strength. In Calgary (since the 1950s) and Toronto (since the 1980s), municipalities have been required to designate and manage a supply of serviced land for future urbanization. The outer edges of these zones are temporary -- they are examples of unbounded containment. The conditions under which urban designation is permitted are higher in Toronto than in Calgary; since the beginning of the 1990s, Toronto-area municipalities must (at least in principle) demonstrate that infill and redevelopment opportunities have been exploited before expansions are permitted.

No analogous provision exists at the provincial or regional level in Vancouver, where comprehensive greenfield land protection zones, as well as physical barriers, serve as comparatively inflexible limits on outward expansion. Vancouver's rural land conservation measures are premised on a direct trade-off between urban development and the protection of agricultural and natural areas, while Toronto's and Calgary's are not. Indeed, observers consider the ALR the principal mechanism of growth containment and intensification promotion in the Vancouver region (Berelowitz, 2005; Smart Growth BC, 2002). Vancouver can best be categorized as a mixture of natural and comprehensive types of containment.

Policymakers in the Toronto region have recently moved in the direction of comprehensive rural land protection, albeit by choosing to designate valuable natural features individually. Building on the protected status of the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, which can be interpreted either as large-scale features or as a form of comprehensive land protection, the provincial government recently created a Greenbelt (Ontario, 2005a), which to some extent mimics the intent of the ALR in Vancouver. In the Calgary region, by contrast, periurban agricultural and resource extraction areas have long been protected for their productive value, but have nonetheless been urbanized as needed.

The effects of these policies are visible in the analysis. The intensification rates documented in Chapter 3 correspond to the degree of containment. Vancouver, with its physical boundaries and entrenched urban containment policies, experienced a high rate of intensification during the 1990s, while Calgary, largely uncontained, had a low intensification rate. Toronto's level of containment grew stronger over the study period as the Province developed more prescriptive policies and engaged in comprehensive rural land protection; it is perhaps no surprise, then, that its level of intensification lies between those of Vancouver and Calgary.

Containment policies and the contiguity of the urban fringe

Authorities in all three regions have long planned for and successfully achieved orderly, fully serviced, and contiguous extension of existing settlements and avoided the "leapfrog" development found near many American cities (Galster et al., 2001; Theobald, 2001). In Toronto and Calgary, contiguity was seen as a means of achieving more efficient provision of water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. In Vancouver, the exclusion of large swaths of land from urban use was intended to produce a clearly defined separation between urban and rural land. More recently, all three regions have sought to increase the efficiency of greenfield development by promoting the construction of more compact and dense urban forms.

The urban fringe analysis in Chapter 3 suggests that these policies have been effective. In all three regions, the vast majority of additional urban land in the urban fringe area -- 94% in Calgary, 91% in Toronto, and 94% in Vancouver -- was added within 2 km of the existing urban area. Likewise, the transition from high to low levels of urban land density in the urban fringe is relatively sharp. In Calgary, higher urban land densities within 2 km of the existing urban area (double those of Vancouver and Toronto) may indicate greater efficiency in implementing contiguous urban development by a single planning authority. Generally, the size of discontiguous urban "patches" declines with distance from the edge of the urbanized edge in all three cities. Taken together, these findings indicate that the development of the urban fringe was fairly contiguous in the three regions during the study period.

The impact of centripetal incentives

The designation of downtowns, nodes, centres, and other already urbanized zones as preferred destinations for growth are regulatory centripetal incentives. In Vancouver, the metropolitan core and designated "town centres" have attracted a significant amount of growth -- almost 20% of all housing development during the study period. Indeed, according to the GVRD, the proportion of the region's total housing located in those areas increased from 13.6% to 15.1% between 1991 and 2001 (GVRD, 2006a:B2). By and large, it seems that the GVRD's town centres policy has been more successful at consolidating nodes than analogous policies in Toronto region, especially outside the City of Toronto itself. Calgary's downtown has been the subject of revitalization policies since the 1970s, yet it has attracted only a small proportion of overall growth.

The GVRD also established a growth concentration area, an area to which new urban development was to be channelled. The 1999 Livable Region Strategic Plan called for the proportion of the region's population within the GCA to rise from 65% to 70% by 2021. Although the GCA was a statement of intent and a monitoring tool rather than a binding regulation, it has proved useful in tracking trends in the location of urban development. GVRD annual reports show that the proportion of regionwide population growth occurring in the GCA was higher in 1996-2001 than in 1991-95. At the same time, our analysis in Chapter 3 revealed a significant shift in the housing stock toward denser dwelling types and, consequently, a rise in gross urban density between 1991 and 2001. This suggests that the GCA and other policies had some effect.


In short, then, it appears that the land use outcomes observed in the Chapter 3 are largely in keeping with the planning policies and principles described in Chapter 4. (See Table 5.1 for a summary.) It would thus be easy to conclude that planning has been effective in these three regions; that planning principles have been put into successful operation. But we cannot definitively conclude that the policies directly caused the observed outcomes. Geographical, social, and economic factors may have influenced land use outcomes independently of, or in concert with, policies and plans. This is what Talen calls the problem of "multicausality" in evaluations of the effectiveness of plans (1996:255). In her view, there are too many causal factors in play to isolate the impact of any one, so finding evidence of correspondence between plans and observed development patterns is the most that can be achieved. Still, the fact that they correspond suggests that the policies have had some effect.

It is also possible that plans are self-fulfilling prophecies. Rather than altering "business-as-usual" development patterns, plans and policies may simply embody them. In other words, plans may reflect what an unfettered market would produce without policy intervention, or what suits the interest of powerful economic actors, including builders and developers. In each of these three cases, however, there is evidence that policymakers in each region intended to counter prevailing trends, or reshape the functioning of the market, by deliberately redirecting growth toward desired development patterns. As noted, authorities in all three regions reacted to scattered and unserviced urban growth in the early postwar period by establishing policies promoting contiguous and fully serviced greenfield development. More recently, both Toronto and Vancouver have sought to direct development activity to particular locations within the urbanized area.

Finally, due to the fragmentation of planning authority across multiple municipalities in Vancouver and Toronto, the regional policies described have not always been uniformly applied. Indeed, as discussed in Chapter 4, some municipalities have resisted regional or provincial policies at different times. Despite this, there has been enough consistency to permit the identification of overall patterns of policies and outcomes in these regions. (Being governed by a single authority, the Calgary region does not experience the uneven application of policies.)

Table 5.1: Correspondence of policies and principles with land use outcomes

Land use outcomes

Regional plans, policies, and principles




Containment type

Relatively unbounded, though constrained on one side by Lake Ontario. The Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt plans signal a transition to comprehensive containment.

Natural and comprehensive (the ALR and Green Zone).


Intensification rate

Intensification rate: 44%

Correspondence: Positive

Plans and policies have increasingly favoured intensification since the 1980s, principally by establishing criteria for rezoning rural land for urban use.

Intensification rate: 80%

Correspondence: Positive

Plans and policies have sought to direct growth away from peri-urban farmland since at least the 1960s.

Since the 1970s, comprehensive rural land protections have limited the supply of developable land.

Intensification rate: 22%

Correspondence: Positive

Plans and policies have long favoured incremental outward expansion onto greenfield land.

Nodal development

% of all dwellings in downtown and nodal planning areas: 6%

Correspondence: Weak

Nodal policies have existed in the City of Toronto since the late 1960s and in the region as a whole since the 1980s. Some have been more successful than others.

% of all dwellings in downtown and town centres: 19.4%

Correspondence: Positive

The town centre policy has existed in various forms since the 1960s.

% of all dwellings in downtown: 1.8%

Correspondence: Weak

Downtown redevelopment policies have existed since the 1970s, but only a small amount of development activity has occurred there.

Contiguity of outward greenfield development

% of urban patches within 2 km of the existing urban area: 85%

% of urban land in the urban fringe area added within 2 km of the existing urban area: 91%

Correspondence: Positive

Planned and fully serviced outward growth has been embedded in policy since the 1950s.

% of urban patches within 2 km of the existing urban area: 95%

% of urban land in the urban fringe area added within 2 km of the existing urban area: 94%

Correspondence: Positive

Planned and fully serviced outward growth has been embedded in policy since the 1950s.

% of urban patches within 2 km of the existing urban area: 80%

% of urban land in the urban fringe area added within 2 km of the existing urban area: 94%

Correspondence: Positive

Planned and fully serviced outward growth has been embedded in policy since the 1950s.

Possible explanations for the correspondence between plans and observed outcomes

Accepting Talen's caution regarding the difficulty of disentangling multiple potential causes, this section proposes several possible explanations for the correspondence between plans and land use outcomes. Four related lines of explanation are considered: path dependence and the continuity of regional institutions, the flexibility of governance arrangements, the existence of factors that overcome barriers to institutional collective action, and the existence of a shared planning culture.

Path dependence and the continuity of regional institutions

Path dependence is the notion that institutional choices, once made, are difficult to reverse. Once a new government, agency, or department is established, a staff hired, and work begun, they tend to continue. The cost of changing or dismantling entrenched organizational structures, practices, and relationships is higher than maintaining the status quo, and so relatively inflexible "paths" take shape. Each action depends on previously made choices. Path dependence is an important concept in historical institutionalist studies in political science and sociology, which seek to explain why some institutions and policies persist over time while others change (Mahoney & Rueschemeyer, 2003; Steinmo, Thelen, & Longstreth, 1992).

Path dependence leads us to expect policies to be relatively stable and coherent over time, especially if reinforced by institutional structures, and to be more effective if they are consistently applied over the long term. Therefore regions with a higher degree of continuity of planning institutions and governance structures over time will likely exhibit a stronger correspondence between planning policies and outcomes.

Among our three cases, Calgary exhibits the greatest degree of institutional continuity. Since the 1950s, the City of Calgary has incrementally expanded its territorial jurisdiction through annexation as its population grew, resulting in an administratively unified urban region. Between 1951 until 1994, a regional planning agency provided for control of subdivision activity in the fringe area beyond the City's borders. Since 1994, the fringe zone has been regulated by intermunicipal agreement. Still, the long-term policy of progressive annexation has ensured that the vast majority of the metropolitan population falls within the City's boundaries. As a result, the impact of the abolition of Calgary's Regional Planning Commission in 1994 has perhaps been less extensive than if the planning authority in the region were more fragmented.

By comparison, the Vancouver and Toronto regions feature more complex intergovernmental systems. The desire to achieve policy consistency across multiple municipal jurisdictions led both regions to establish regional authorities early in the postwar period. In Vancouver, however, regional planning and governance arrangements have proved much more durable than in Toronto. The Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board lasted 20 years and the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) has, so far, lasted another 40. The LMRPB's original set of planning ideas was carried on by the GVRD, modified and extended over time, and has survived the abolition of regional planning between 1983 and 1996. As with Calgary, therefore, Vancouver's planning and governing institutions have shown remarkably continuity in their form and policy content.

In Toronto, attempts to institutionalize regional planning have rarely lasted long. A coherent and consistent set of regional planning policies has been applied only through provincial intervention, and provincial attention to regional affairs has been intermittent at best. Created and ultimately destroyed by the Ontario government, the Metro Toronto Planning Board (1953-71) is the only independent regional planning authority Greater Toronto has ever had. Provincial experiments with direct intervention such as the 1970s Toronto Centred Region concept and the Office for the Greater Toronto Area (1988-98), did not last long. The Greater Toronto Services Board (1998-2001) was abolished by the provincial government before it had the chance to acquire planning powers. Only after the end of the study period were new institutions for regional planning created, although the provincial government, not municipalities, took the commanding role.

On the face of it, it seems that path-dependent dynamics are in play, and are reinforced in two of the three metropolitan areas by a high level of institutional continuity. Calgary and Vancouver have had relatively stable institutions and planning policies over the long term, and have achieved outcomes that correspond to stated policies. Toronto's more inconsistent institutional and policy frameworks have produced inconsistent results. Where policies have been consistently applied, even if by different institutions at different times, they appear to have been effective. For example, Metro's early insistence on a contiguous urban fabric coupled with full servicing was later embedded in provincial policies. Policies that have been less consistently adopted and applied by Toronto-area municipalities and the provincial government, such as planning for nodes and town centres, have been less successful.

The flexibility of governance arrangements

Another possible explanation is that regional institutions are more likely to endure if they can adapt to changing circumstances. The institutional features of British Columbia's regional districts appear to have played a pivotal role in ensuring their durability. To use Tennant and Zirnhelt's (1973) phrase, they were a "gentle imposition" of the provincial government, designed to enable groups of proximate municipalities to resolve regional issues without extensive (and politically costly) provincial intervention.1

In the Vancouver area, this arrangement led to incremental expansion of services provided by the regional district: hospitals (1967); regional planning (1969); water, sewerage and drainage, and public housing (1971); parks and pollution control (1972); and collective bargaining and solid waste management (1974). Some of these services -- water, sewerage and drainage, and planning (under the LMRPB), for example -- were already regionalized under single-purpose bodies. The flexibility of the regional district is illustrated by the fact that municipalities outside the regional district were able to participate in particular GVRD-provided services as time went on. For example, Langley and Maple Ridge contracted with the GVRD to receive water and sewer services before becoming full members in 1989. In short, the GVRD has been able to respond to changing circumstances by adding responsibilities and territory over time.

The Toronto region's structures have proven less flexible. Frisken notes that municipalities outside Metro have long seen regional cooperation as an infringement on their autonomy. Moreover, in its early years, Metro had limited interest in what happened beyond its borders (Frisken, 2008:317-18). The creation of the regional municipalities and the demise of the Metropolitan Planning Board in the early 1970s institutionalized this divide. Since then, regional policies regulating the pattern of urban development have been put into effect only through provincial fiat. It is impossible to know what would have happened if the provincial government had chosen a different institutional structure when it created Metro in the early 1950s, or extended Metro's upper-tier government outwards to cover the growing fringe areas instead of creating the regional municipalities in the 1960s and 1970s, or followed the Golden Commission's recommendation in 1996 to consolidate the upper-tier governments in the GTA. If instituted early enough in time, a "thinner," more flexible structure akin to the British Columbia's regional districts might have fostered greater bottom-up regional collaboration with less provincial intervention, and been better able to adapt to the ever-wider territorial expansion of the region.

By following a long-term policy of periodic annexation of surrounding territory, the City of Calgary has also proved to be a flexible structure of regional government. By internalizing most urban development in the region into a single municipality, Calgary has avoided much of the need for intergovernmental collaboration in the region.

Overcoming barriers to institutional collective action

Proponents of smart growth have long seen the creation of regional planning institutions or metropolitan governments as essential conditions for the creation and implementation of a coherent program of region-wide growth management (see discussion in Phares, 2004). In the United States, advocacy for the creation of two-tier systems of general-purpose metropolitan government or special-purpose planning agencies peaked in the 1960s and 1970s (ACIR, 1961, 1977). In that country, a few successes and numerous high-profile failures have illustrated the high costs, political and otherwise, of superimposing new institutions with coercive powers on top of existing local governments that jealously guard their autonomy.2

More recently, literature on the new regionalism has emphasized voluntary mechanisms of intermunicipal cooperation (Norris, 2001; Vogel, 2002). In this literature, the central problem is one of identifying the conditions under which municipal authorities will or will not work together to achieve regional goals. Feiock (2009) conceptualizes this as a problem of institutional collective action. In metropolitan areas where authority is divided among multiple municipalities -- that is, governmentally fragmented regions -- or ones in which the central city lacks the capacity or weight to drive the regional policy agenda, the costs of intermunicipal cooperation are expected to outweigh the benefits. The reasoning is simple: the more players there are at the table, the more difficult it is to achieve agreement on objectives and enforce compliance to them.

In a related argument, Lewis (2004) has described the effects of what he calls supersuburbs, large suburban municipalities that offer a more diverse (and "urban") set of services to their residents, are more institutionally complete, and compete directly with the central city for economic development. In his view, these suburban municipalities, by establishing a polycentric power structure in the region, are expected to undermine regional collaboration, or least a regional agenda imposed by a dominant, hegemonic central municipality. (In the Toronto region, for example, the City of Toronto is the central city, while Mississauga would qualify as a supersuburb.) Lewis reports that supersuburbs are rare in the United States; there are only 245 suburban municipalities with a population of over 50,000 in the entire country, most of them in the western states.

What light can our findings for Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary shed on the largely American debate on governmental fragmentation and institutional collective action, and to what extent can this literature help us understand urban development outcomes in the three regions?

In general, Canadian metropolitan areas tend to be less fragmented than American regions of similar population. While the Toronto region as defined in this study contains 27 municipalities, Philadelphia contains about 400, Boston and Detroit about 300, and Dallas 200 (Demographia 2006). The supersuburb phenomenon also seems to be more common in some of Canada's large metropolitan regions than in the United States. In the Vancouver region in 2001, the City of Vancouver accounted for about 28% of the population of the GVRD, while ten suburban municipalities, or almost half, met Lewis's criterion of having more than 50,000 residents. Even in 1971, the City of Vancouver accounted for less than half of the region's population, and six of the 15 incorporated suburban municipalities in the GVRD (40%) had populations of over 50,000 (see Table 5.2).

The story is similar in the Toronto region (See Table 5.3). Before Ontario's comprehensive restructuring of municipal government in the early 1970s, the region outside Metro Toronto was composed of a patchwork of townships, towns, and villages, the vast majority of which had populations of less than 50,000. The creation of the regional municipalities of Hamilton-Wentworth, Halton, Peel, York, and Durham not only renovated the existing county structure, but also reduced the number of municipal units at the lower tier. Amalgamations in the 1990s further reduced the overall number of municipalities in the region. Metro's share of the regional population was 63% in 1971 and 49% in 1991, while the former City of Toronto's was 21% and 14% in those two years. Both of these proportions declined further between 1991 and 2001.

Table 5.2 Vancouver region municipal populations, selected years





Anmore (part of Electoral Area B before 1987)




Belcarra (part of Electoral Area B before 1979)




Bowen Island (part of Electoral Area C before 1999)
















Electoral Area A




Electoral Area B




Fraser Mills (amalgamated with Coquitlam 1971)




Langley, City (joined GVRD 1989)




Langley, Township (joined GVRD 1989)




Lions Bay




Maple Ridge (joined GVRD 1995)




New Westminster




North Vancouver, City




North Vancouver, District




Pitt Meadows (joined GVRD 1995)




Port Coquitlam




Port Moody












Vancouver, City (central city)




West Vancouver




White Rock








City of Vancouver as % of GVRD population




Supersuburbs (suburbs > 50,000)




Total number of suburbs




Supersuburbs as % of all suburbs




Values for municipalities with populations of over 50,000 are shown in boldface. First Nations reserves are omitted. Note that some municipalities, including Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, participated in some regional services prior to becoming full members of the GVRD. "Suburb" refers to municipalities outside the City of Vancouver. Source: GVRD, Annual Reports (1971, 1991, 2001).
Table 5.3 Toronto region municipal populations, selected years

Upper- / Single-tier municipality






Metro Toronto (pre-1998)

City of Toronto (post-1998)

6 (6)

Toronto (former)





abolished 1998)





North York




East York


Wentworth County (pre-1973)

Hamilton-Wentworth RM (1973-2001)

City of Hamilton (post-2001)

8 (1)






abolished 2001)









Stoney Creek


Halton County (pre-1973)

Halton RM (post-1973)

5 (1)




Halton Hills









Peel County (pre-1973)

Peel RM (post-1973)

7 (1)










York County (pre-1971)

York RM (post-1971)

8 (0)







Richmond Hill












East Gwillimbury









Durham RM (created from

parts of Ontario and Durham

Counties in 1974)

13 (1)

























Toronto region




City of Toronto (former) as % of regionb




Metro Toronto as % of regionb




Supersuburbs (suburbs > 50,000)c




Total number of suburbsc




Supersuburbs as % of all suburbs




Values for municipalities with populations of over 50,000 are shown in boldface.
a Large-scale municipal reorganization in the 1970s means that few municipal boundaries in 1971 correspond to those in later years. The first number in the "1971" column indicates the number of census subdivisions. The second number in brackets indicates those with a population of more than 50,000.
b The area of the former City of Toronto had a population of 713,130 in 1971 and 676,352 in 2001. Metro Toronto had a population of 2,086,015 in 1971.
c In 1971 and 1991, "suburb" refers to a census subdivision outside the former City of Toronto. In 2001, it refers to a census subdivision outside the amalgamated City of Toronto.
Source: Statistics Canada, Census Tract Bulletin 1971: Series B (1974); Statistics Canada, E-STAT.

Municipal restructuring and population growth increased the number of supersuburbs in the Toronto region over time. Since before 1971, each of the six lower-tier municipalities within Metro Toronto had a population of over 50,000. By 1991, North York and Scarborough had populations that rivalled that of the central city, the former City of Toronto. Outside Metro, but within the region defined in this study, about 10% of suburbs3 had populations of over 50,000 in 1971. This rose to 37% in 1991 and to 48% in 2001.

In short, Vancouver and Toronto are governmentally fragmented (although Toronto has become less so over time owing to municipal restructuring) and feature suburban municipalities that rival the central city in population, expenditures, and institutional sophistication.

Counting up the number of municipalities in a region can only tell us so much. It may be that the total number of local governments in a metropolitan area, or even their relative size, is less relevant than the effective number of authorities involved in planning. The effective number can change over time, even if the actual number of municipal governments does not. The appearance of fragmentation can be deceiving.

Consider the Toronto case. Throughout the 20th century, the provincial government maintained oversight over subdivision and infrastructure provision. In the 1950s and 1960s, a single authority, the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board, regulated the structure of greenfield development.4 By 2001, the region as defined in this study was composed of two single-tier municipalities (Toronto and Hamilton) and four upper-tier regional municipalities which between them contained 24 lower-tier municipalities. Since in Ontario lower-tier official plans are required to conform to upper-tier plans, the main elements of urban structure are defined at the upper tier, including expansions to the urban area. As a result of this hierarchical system, the Toronto region can be thought of as being segmented effectively into six semi-autonomous planning authorities, over which the provincial government has intermittently exerted a unifying influence.

Vancouver contained 21 municipalities, one unincorporated electoral area, and one treaty First Nation in 2001. The restoration of the GVRD's planning authority by the 1996 Growth Strategies Act means that we can speak of the region having one effective regional planner. While achieving consensus on regional planning goals has not always been easy, the evidence suggests that, contrary to some pessimistic predictions (Tomalty, 2002), area municipalities have come around in the end.

In Calgary, the problem of intergovernmental cooperation and intermunicipal collective action is moot. The region has long possessed a unified planning authority -- the City -- and its ability to set a regional planning agenda has not been challenged by small suburban municipalities.

In short, governmental fragmentation and the presence of supersuburbs cannot on their own explain the presence or absence of correspondence between planning policies and the urban development outcomes observed in Chapter 3. Indeed, the greater sophistication and capacities of the larger Toronto- and Vancouver-area suburban municipalities may have strengthened rather than weakened their ability to implement regional planning policies. To the extent that the political and fiscal costs of intermunicipal cooperation have been offset in the two cities, other factors are responsible. Post (2004) proposes several possible influences, including the existence of shared objectives or trust, the presence of leaders who advocate for a regional perspective in policy making, and coercion or intervention by senior governments.

Trust and leadership appear to have been especially important in Vancouver, as the continuity of regional institutions over the long term has given local politicians, planners, and administrators a stable forum to develop durable relationships. Artibise et al. (2004) characterize Vancouver's experience as "do-it-yourself regionalism": bottom-up, intermunicipal cooperation, buttressed by extensive community involvement that has boosted local governing capacity (1993:364, 358). The continuation of regional planning activities during the 1983-96 period, after planning by regional districts had been abolished by the province, is testament to the strength of this capacity. The enactment of a mutually acceptable regional plan after the restoration of regional planning powers in 1996 can be credited in no small part to the leadership of former Mayor of Vancouver (later Premier) Gordon Campbell.

Provincial government intervention, either in the form of policy direction or legislation establishing institutions for regional cooperation and planning, has reduced the number of effective planning authorities in all three regions. In Calgary, provincial support for the City's incremental annexation reduced the effective number of actors to one. In Vancouver, the region's municipalities have long jealously guarded their autonomy, consistently resisting direct intervention by the Province and, in the early 1960s, a proposal for a Toronto-style, two-tier metropolitan government. Still, the regional districts and the consensus-based process through which regional plans are established and enforced are enabled by provincial legislation. In Toronto, regional institutions and policies have come into existence only through provincial action. And when provincial interest in regional affairs has waned, barriers to collective action have increased.

Perceived limits to growth and planning culture

Another important factor in lowering the political and fiscal costs of cooperation is the presence of shared planning and governance norms and ideas. Certain principles, cultural predispositions, norms, and visions can become embedded in day-to-day practice. All of these constitute explicit or implicit rules that guide action, organize collective behaviour, and limit the range of options that may be considered. They need not be formalized or articulated. A tacit consensus held by politicians, planning professionals, or the general public can be as difficult to dislodge as an official policy. The impact of these sorts of social institutions have been widely discussed in the social sciences (Hall & Taylor, 1996; Mahoney & Rueschemeyer, 2003; North, 1990; Pierson & Skocpol, 2002; Thelen, 2002) and, increasingly, in the literature on planning (Verma, 2007).

Sanyal draws special attention to a particular kind of social institution -- planning culture, "the collective ethos and dominant attitudes of planners [as professionals] regarding the appropriate role of the state, market forces, and civil society in influencing social outcomes" (2005:xii). Professional planners have a privileged role in shaping land use policies. As a result, the ideas and approaches embedded in local planning practice must be taken seriously. These are the product of practitioners' training, local innovations in response to challenges, and the diffusion of ideas throughout the profession as a whole. Planning cultures are path dependent. The everyday reproduction of particular ideas, norms, and practices in planning and regional intermunicipal collaboration further entrenches them.

The experience of all three cases also suggests that geography -- physical limits to urban expansion -- plays a formative role in shaping planning culture. Perceptions of limits (or the lack of them) are embedded in the planning policies of all three regions. We have seen that Calgary, which is relatively unconstrained by geography, has exhibited a high degree of consistency in planning ideas. Calgary does not suffer from a lack of planning, nor does it lack effective institutions and policies. Its planning policies have been primarily and consistently directed toward the efficient production and servicing of low-cost housing on greenfield land, rather than intensification.

Long before the Second World War, Vancouver's constrained setting -- a basin bounded by water, mountains, and the border with the United States -- impressed on planners and citizens alike the need to regulate urbanization, even though it would be many decades before potentially developable land in the region would be fully exploited. Even today, according to Metro Vancouver land use figures (2006), non-rural residential, institutional, industrial, commercial, and roadway lands account for about one-quarter of the region's land area, while agriculture and "open and undeveloped" lands account for about 19% and 9%, respectively. The ALR and the Green Zone represent voluntary constraints on growth, albeit ones backed up by long-term physical limits. Vancouver could have chosen a different development path, but instead adopted conservation-oriented planning ideas and principles that have been consistently followed for half a century, even during the 13-year period after regional planning was abolished by the provincial government in 1983.

In Toronto, by contrast, there is no immediate physical limit to outward urban expansion north of Lake Ontario. Perhaps as a result, no early consensus emerged in Toronto on long-term limits to growth. In fact, Toronto's location on a large freshwater lake made the provision of comprehensive water and sewer services easier than in Vancouver and Calgary. In effect, the creation of Metro in the early 1950s constituted the harnessing of the lake's infrastructural potential to the rapid economic expansion of the 1950s and 1960s, which in some sense has continued to this day. Only with the rise of environmentalism and the perception of the costs of growth in the 1970s and 1980s did planning practice shift its emphasis from enabling expansion to managing growth.

Other possible factors

Beyond institutional continuity and flexibility, factors that lower barriers to collective action, and planning culture, it is important to acknowledge some additional possible influences: the potential for intensification in existing urban areas, land economics, the public acceptance of intensification, and the size of the urban area.

The existing use of land enables or constrains policy choices. One region's existing urban area may contain more opportunities for intensification than another's. Older cities such as Toronto and Vancouver may have a greater supply of fallow industrial lands ripe for redevelopment than newer ones like Calgary. In Chapter 3 we saw that in Toronto's Core Areas and Older Suburbs, housing of all types increased through the study period in absolute terms. In Vancouver and Calgary, by contrast, the number of single detached dwellings decreased, while the higher density forms increased. This may suggest that redevelopment in Toronto is occurring on former employment lands rather than in low-density residential areas. The analysis suggests, however, that, on its own, gross density is a poor proxy for the availability of opportunities for infill and redevelopment. For example, Calgary, with the lowest gross urban density, has the lowest intensification rate of the three regions studied.

The historical development of the rural fringe also matters. A supply of what Hardwick (1974) calls "rurban" development -- very low-density, semi-rural residential areas whose parcels can be further subdivided -- may also be an important source of developable land. Indeed, the planned filling-in of these sorts of areas is occurring in parts of Langley and Surrey today.

The gap between the price of new and previously developed land may also be important. If all other factors are held the same, greenfield development is expected to be less expensive than infill, which in turn is expected to be less expensive than redevelopment. It may be, however, that containment and centripetal incentives in Vancouver have reduced the price gap between greenfield development and intensification to the point at which redevelopment becomes a price-competitive option on a wider scale for private developers. If so, this would help explain the finding that intensification is more spatially dispersed in Vancouver than in the other two regions. Without comprehensive data on land and construction costs, however, it is not possible to ascertain whether this is the case.

Regional differences in public receptivity to intensification should also be acknowledged. Some have argued that Vancouverites prefer higher-density urban environments, while Calgarians prefer the opposite (Berelowitz, 2005:220; Sandalack & Nicolai, 2006:89). Yet people can and do move freely among these and other cities as economic cycles affect the labour market and the location of jobs, and apparently adjust to the "housing cultures" of other cities. Consumer demand for certain types of housing is often treated as a given, when it may be a much more fluid concept.

The public acceptance of intensification and denser greenfield development is likely also a product of perceived costs and benefits (Boarnet & Crane, 2001). Increases in traffic congestion, for example, have led to calls for intensification strategies that would shift travel behaviour away from the car toward mass transit and reduce the need to travel by car to employment and amenities.

Larger urban areas may face different problems in this regard (Prud'homme & Lee, 1999). The population of Calgary has only recently surpassed one million, a milestone Toronto had reached by the end of the Second World War and Vancouver by 1971. Problems associated with the large geographic spread of the Toronto region relative to Vancouver, and of both regions relative to Calgary, may have played a role in shaping planning ideas and public perceptions in each region over time. Indeed, there are signs that Calgary is starting to perceive limits to growth (CBC, 2006). It may not be possible, however, to untangle the complex interactions among demographic change, the cost of housing, changing preferences for different housing types and surrounding built environments, and the cost and convenience of different locations within a given region.

Implications for governance and policy

This report brings together an analysis of satellite and census data with policy history to expand our understanding of how and why three Canadian city-regions have grown over time. Vancouver is often held up as a model of sustainable development and good planning, while Calgary and Toronto have been condemned for unplanned, automobile-oriented, low-density sprawl. Rather than play into these stereotypes, we hope to foster discussion about the merits of different approaches to planning and metropolitan governance. Indeed, contrary to the common characterization of typical suburban development as "unplanned," the policy review shows that the urbanizing fringe of all three regions has long been highly regulated.

It is easy to assume that Vancouver's relatively high density can be attributed to constrictions on growth caused by the presence of mountains and sea, and that Calgary's low density is the result of the lack of geographical restrictions on its expansion, but the reality is not so simple. As much as Vancouver's mountains and ocean and Calgary's open prairie function as long-term physical determinants of growth patterns, their more important effect is symbolic, insofar as they shape the local practice and culture of planning.

What are the implications of this study for metropolitan governance and planning policy? In general terms, we have found that local governments and decision-makers have the autonomy and capacity to chart distinct growth paths, even constrained as they are by provincial and national governments, as well as powerful economic, social, and geographic factors. This finding counters the argument that intermunicipal competition for economic growth leads to convergence on a particular package of market-oriented policy prescriptions for urban development (Harvey, 1982; Logan & Molotch, 2007; Peterson, 1981). At the same time, it lends support to more recent studies that seek to link different institutional configurations and social and political alignments to the development of the capacity to make different policy choices, and bring about different outcomes (Savitch & Kantor, 2002; Sellers, 2002; Stoker & Mossberger, 1994).

More specifically, this study suggests that planning policies intended to organize and direct urban growth are more likely to be effective if they are consistently pursued over the long term and are buttressed by supportive regional institutions.

This study also underlines the importance of senior governments -- Canadian provinces or U.S. states -- in shaping the institutional environments within which regional planning and politics operates. The American "new regionalism" literature has focused on the ability of municipalities to organize on their own to achieve regional objectives. In Canada, to a substantial degree, provincial interventions and institution building have determined the political and fiscal costs and benefits of intermunicipal collaboration. Alberta's framework of incremental annexation, combined with the regional planning districts, dropped the cost of intermunicipal collaboration almost to zero. British Columbia's regional district system has also proved to be a flexible facilitator of intermunicipal cooperation. In Ontario, however, the empowerment of multiple local planning authorities without local mechanisms of regional integration has put the province in the role of regional planner, a role that it has not consistently embraced.

Avenues for future research

Perhaps the most important achievement in this study is the creation of a method that allows for consistent longitudinal comparisons of cities for which high-quality satellite imagery and fine-grained census data are available. Previous comparisons of cities have foundered on differences in defining local jurisdictions and different ways of tracking and recording growth in different places. Our method enables "apples-to-apples" comparison of urban form to assess the long-term outcomes of plans and policies in city-regions in other provinces, states, and countries. For example, an evaluation of the much-lauded Portland region in Oregon might shed further light on the effectiveness of urban growth boundaries at promoting intensification. As new iterations of the census are released, the empirical analysis can be applied to more recent periods. (Going backwards to 1981-91 or earlier periods is difficult, owing to census data incompatibilities and the fact that higher-resolution satellite imagery is available only for years after 1984.)

This study focused only on residential growth. A fuller picture would include an analysis of designated employment lands -- in Calgary, for example, an analysis of employment land might help explain the high rate of land conversion between 1991 and 2001 relative to the other two regions.

Future research should also include the use of finer-resolution satellite imagery (such as SPOT Image with Landsat Thematic Mapping) to determine, for example, whether large-lot, low-density developments can be better captured to better understand their role in processes of urban development and metropolitan growth.

More research should also be conducted on the use of spatial metrics to describe urban development patterns. Some metrics that were examined on a trial basis for this study were set aside because it was not clear how to interpret the results in light of urban development policies. Much of this type of research was developed in the field of ecology; very little research relates spatial metrics to theories of urban growth and development.

Finally, the study could benefit from deeper examination of local and provincial plans, policies, and politics. In seeking a useful level of abstraction, this study did not engage in close analysis of the impacts and behaviour of elected, community, and interest-group leaders; the roles of individual planning professionals in introducing and reproducing particular practices and norms; and the intricacies of the political processes by which new institutions and policies are created. This project should be considered a foundation on which more detailed analyses can be built.

1. The one large-scale provincial incursion into the local planning process, the Agricultural Land Reserve, has been embraced by both municipalities and the private sector, and survived the transition of power to governments of other political stripes.
2. Indeed, of the hundreds of metropolitan areas in the United States, very few have general-purpose authorities charged with planning or the provision of services that are institutionally separate from local governments. In Portland, Oregon, for example, the Metro government is directly elected, while in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Metropolitan Council is appointed by the governor of Minnesota. These are the exceptions. In every other metropolitan area with a regional authority, that authority exists through voluntary agreement of area municipalities and often without any basis in state law.
3. Note that Table 5.3 shows the number of census subdivisions, not the number of incorporated municipalities. In 1991 and 2001, these are identical. In 1971, however, census subdivisions subsumed incorporated villages, towns, and townships. As a result, the stated total number of "suburbs" should be considered a minimum. For example, the Vaughan and Markham census subdivisions within York County include parts of Thornhill, which was incorporated as a police village in 1931. The village was administratively independent of neighbouring Vaughan and Markham Townships.
4. The Ontario government's Community Planning Branch retained final approval over subdivisions. The MTPB's recommendations to the Minister were generally followed.