New Fault Lines? Recent Trends in the Canadian Urban System and Their Implications for Planning and Public Policy

Article excerpt

Dans le contexte du debat actuel sur la politique urbaine, le present article examine certaines tendances du systeme urbain canadien et documente les impacts de ces tendances sur la planification et la politique urbaine. Bien que les urbanistes ne tendent pas a travailler a cette echelle geographique, la reorganisation du systeme urbain donne un scheme de reference a leurs politiques et leurs plans d'urbanisme. L'analyse met en relief l' impact des facteurs suivants sur les villes: la transition demographique et le vieillissement de la population, la restructuration economique intense et les patterns changeants du commerce international, l'immigration croissante et la diversite ethnoculturelle ainsi que le r61e changeant de l'etat. Ces facteurs combines ont tendance a produire une augmentation de la concentration metropolitaine et une plus grande disparite des taux de croissance urbaine. Ils ont egalement aiguise la bifurcation economique et culturelle entre les centres en croissance et en declin et cree un stress additionnel sur la demande de services et les ressources des gouvernements locaux. En conclusion, l'article reflechit sur le fait que nous sommes en train de creer, comme resultat de ces tendances, de nouvelles sources de disparites au sein de la societe canadienne et du tissu urbain du pays.

Mots cles: Systeme urbain; Developpement inegale; Concentration metropolitaine; Liens externes


With the current debate on urban policy as background, this paper reviews recent trends in the Canadian urban system, and documents the implications of these trends for planning and public policy. Although urban planners tend hot to work at this scale, the ongoing reorganization of the urban system provides the broader context for their policies and plans. The analysis focuses on the effects on cities of the demographic transition and an aging population, intense economic restructuring and shifting patterns of international trade, increased immigration and ethno-cultural diversity, and the changing role of the state. These factors, in combination, have tended to augment levels of metropolitan concentration and increase the degree of uneven growth. They have also sharpened the economic and social divide between growing and declining places, and placed additional stress on service providers and on the resources of local governments. In concluding, the paper asks whether we are creating, as an outcome of these trends, new sources of difference--new fault lines--in Canadian society and in the country's urban fabric.

Key words: Urban System; Metropolitan Concentration; Uneven Growth; External Linkages.

The Context

Cities appear to be back on the nation's political agenda, albeit marginally. At both national and provincial levels, cities are said to matter more than ever for maintaining our economic competitiveness and quality of life (Donald 2001; Bradford 2002). Vague as these expressions may be, they do nonetheless signal a modest shift in both social awareness and political attitudes. At the national level, more than twenty years after the demise of the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs (MSUA) in 1979, and more than thirty years after a series of benchmark studies identified an impending crisis in urban Canada (Lithwick 1970), there is now a renewed debate on the need for--and components of--a national urban strategy (PMO Caucus Task Force 2002). Even if this debate is transitory, as it was in the 1970s, and leads to few, if any, formal policies, at least the "urban question", and the need for urban research, are back in the public mind.

One part of this renewed awareness has been the frequent call for reassessments of the role of different levels of government, and the federal government in particular, in shaping the country's future urban condition. At the municipal level, in parallel, there has been a strong movement arguing for greater autonomy and enhanced fiscal resources from senior governments (FCM 2001), and for more municipal involvement in national decision-making, as well as new calls for coordinated urban infrastructure investment at the regional scale (TD Economics 2002). …