Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Streets Paved with Gold: Urban Expressway Building and Global City Formation in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Streets Paved with Gold: Urban Expressway Building and Global City Formation in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver

Article excerpt


Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are Canada's most significant locations of global city formation today. Their distinctive spatial development and mobility mix were greatly influenced by decisions regarding inner-city expressway building. This article explores the hypothesis that choices made regarding how to move motor vehicles through Canada's three major metropolitan areas between 1960 and 1980 can be better understood by examining the dynamics of global city formation in these jurisdictions.

Montreal implemented a comprehensive expressway network to align with its status as Canada's leading global city during the 1960s. Toronto's attempt to complete an expressway network was partial, reflecting fragmentary global city aspirations during the 1970s. Vancouver, where global city ambitions only began to form during the 1980s, cancelled urban expressway plans and became Canada's 'freeway-free' major city. New insight into the structure of these cities can be gained when a global city analytical framework is applied to their urban expressway development experience.

Keywords: global cities, urban development policy, urban highway conflicts, urban transportation


Aujourd'hui, Montreal, Toronto et Vancouver sont les villes globales au Canada. Leur developpement spatial particulier et la mixite caracteristique de leurs moyens de mobilite ont ete largement influences par decisions prises dans le cadre de la construction d'autoroutes urbaines. Cet article examine l'hypothese selon laquelle les choix relatifs au trafic automobile dans les trois grandes metropoles canadiennes entre 1960 et 1980, sont comprehensibles en etudiant les dynamiques de formation des villes mondiales dans chacune de ces juridictions.

Dans les annees 1960, Montreal a mis en place un reseau autoroutier complet pour affirmer son statut de ville mondiale de premier plan. La tentative partielle de Toronto refletait son aspiration moyenne a devenir une ville mondiale au cours des annees 1970. Vancouver, dont les ambitions de ville mondiale datent seulement des annees 1980, a quant a elle annule ses projets d'autoroutes urbaines et est devenue la grande ville canadienne sans autoroutes. Ce developpement autoroutier inegal nous offre l'occasion de comprendre pourquoi les dynamiques spatiales de ces villes ont evolue selon des trajectoires differentes. Notamment en analysant le developpement des autoroutes urbaines a la lumiere des perspectives propres a chaque metropole, sur son statut de ville globale emergente.

Mots cles: villes mondiales, politique de developpement urbain, conflits d'autoroutes urbaines


Freeways or 'expressways' are important elements in shaping urban form and transportation patterns in cities (Mumford 1963; Newman and Kenworthy 1999). Four decades after distinct quantities and configurations of expressways were built in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the urban transportation and development impacts have become apparent (Germain and Rose 2000; Frisken 1994; Kaplan 1982; Raad and Kenworthy 1999). We argue here that these development trajectories can be better understood by re-examining the forces that have shaped urban expressway construction in the 1960s and 1970s.

While the effect of expressways on Canadian land use has resembled experiences across North America, the degree to which Canada's three largest metropolitan centres have arrived at different balances of preserving urban space and building expressway infrastructure during the 20th century calls for explanation. This article applies global city theory to develop a new perspective on these variations. We propose that the different mobility development paths followed by Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver depend on the timing of their integration into global cultural, financial and communication networks, which influenced both their capacity and motivation to deploy urban expressways. …

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