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Urban Issues & Congestion - General

Canada's cities are growing very rapidly, driven largely by mass immigration.

Balanced immigration would be ~ 60,000 annually, while the current level of 6 times that is designed to inflate housing costs and provide cheap labour for an expanding commercial economy. Growing cities may have policies in place to increase density which increases congestion but they will inevitably grow outward. In virtually every major city in Canada, this means sprawling onto prime farmland.

Increasing density means more people per square kilometre, less green space per person, clogged traffic arteries and longer commutes. Both air quality and quality of life suffer. Constant growth also means endless construction of new and upgraded buildings and infrastructure.

  • Congestion
  • Loss of prime farmland
  • Myriad of social issues
  • Inflated housing costs
  • Debt
  • Higher service costs and taxes
  • Lower quality of life
  • Endless construction

Commute times are longer and transportation costs increase in a large urban area. If a city has not properly laid out a transportation plan ahead of actual growth, the costs of retro-installation through already built-up areas is astronomic and possibly not feasible.

As we saw in the Alberta floods of 2013, allowing an urban area to simply grow from the initial settlement without due regard to larger environmental considerations (in this case river and flood patterns) will inevitably lead to massive costs being inflicted on the community and its citizens.

Size is a problem for urban areas in its impact on the quality of life and disposable incomes of its citizens. A high rate of growth exacerbates every social and economic problem and urban growth of any kind comes at a heavy environmental price.

Canada is currently committed to growth-forever of its urban areas with no regard for the welfare of its citizens, the health of the environment nor the ever-increasing energy supplies and finances needed to maintain the growing and complex infrastructure.


Sustainable change starts with you!

Here’s how you can affect change.

Learn how you can drive change through the media and your politicians as well as your own actions here.

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Urban Issues & Congestion - Advanced


While our cities expand, the quality of life within them is declining and the costs of running them and living in them is increasing. Very little needs to be said about congestion and gridlock which are apparent to all but the factors contributing to them must be taken out of the closet and made part of everyday discussion.

In trying to maintain the business as usual approach to policy, governments of large urban areas are forced to reconcile the “grow-forever” goal with the “live like it’s the ‘50s” aspirations. As Mayor Rob Ford (a great ‘50s guy) of Toronto put it when asked about his opposition to public transit and bike lanes “People want to drive cars.” And big cars, judging by his own large SUV. More cars, larger cars, higher density and longer commutes guarantee constriction of traffic flow and the failure to recognize this is the reason for the increasingly severe gridlock in Canada’s major cities.

The source of congestion? - the same length of roads used by an increasing number of people for longer distance travel. In Toronto, there are 5600 kilometres of roads. That was the number in 1962 and that was the number 50 years later in 2012. But the population has increased from 1.8 million people to 2.6 million. Also, the number of people living outside of the Toronto area and commuting into the city has increased from 300,000 to 3 million. The road system was not designed for this and congestion and wasted time and energy are the predictable outcomes.

While Toronto stumbles around the mass transit issue, whatever is decided on, will be an immensely expensive band-aide solution that will not be able to accommodate the millions of immigrants the growth lobby wants to settle in the area on a never-ending basis.

The situation is much the same in Vancouver where the population has gone from 390,000 in 1962 to over 600,000 in 2012 while the greater Vancouver area went from 800,000 to over 2 million people over the same period.

Montreal’s road system has been famous for decades as the poster child for immobility. Simply out, gridlock, high-stress transit, high cost of living and low quality of life are not in the national interest.

Population Growth of Vancouver 1881-2001











An Overdue Comparison

Farmers feed cities but Canadian cities are eating farmland. Canada has the highest rate of farmland loss in the western world due to urban expansion. See Land Use.

Oil sands development has come under a great deal of criticism for turning hundreds of square kilometers of boreal forest into pools of toxic sludge. Few would argue that the oil sands are an environmental nightmare. What is less commonly appreciated is that the growth of cities in Canada far outstrips the environmental damage done by the oil sands.

Part of the perception problem is optics. Tailings ponds appear far more environmentally nasty than shopping malls and suburbs. But both the oil sands and urban sprawl destroy environments with some key differences. The oil sands have destroyed large tracts of boreal forests. Some level of regeneration and recovery may be possible although neutralizing the tailings ponds requires technology humans do not yet possess.

Suburbs in Canada are general built on farmland. Not just any farmland, but the best farmland we have. This land will never be returned to agriculture. We have paved over more square kilometres of prime farmland to make suburbs than we have mined square kilometres of forest for the oil under them.

Once removed as environmental assets, the area occupied by the oil sands will do little additional damage. Downstream pollution and wildlife deaths will be important problems here but basically, the exploited oil sands, once they have given up their oil will remain resource-input dormant. Not so suburbs. They require large amounts of resources to maintain in the form of energy and raw materials. Suburbs are a huge and never-ending resource sink. Built them once and they will always remain hungry.

Corrupted Process

Urban decision-making is in the hands of politicians who get the vast majority of their campaign funds from developers. (see Funding City Politics by Robert MacDermid) Developers want population growth as do news media corporations and big box retailers whose fortunes are tied to the size of the local market.

Meanwhile, the average citizen would like a clean, safe and stable community with living costs and travel times at levels which will allow a high quality of life. That popular interest is diametrically opposed to that of the interests of those groups who have control of the policy making process.

How badly public policy can stray from representing public interest is well illustrated by the Calgary flood example. (more in Institutional Corruption) There, consideration of the certainty of major flood damage was put aside in the 1980s so the development community could maximize its short term profits.

Calgary Flood 1932

Calgary Flood 2013

Even knowing absolutely that the public interest would best be served by dramatically expanding flood danger zones, the city politicians of the 1980’s failed to implement the recommended legislation.

The economies of scale of municipalities are negative once they go over a certain size (possibly 60,000 to 100,000 people) as the graph below indicates. The larger the city, the more it costs to run and to live in. The costs of congestion and aging infrastructure put a great deal of pressure on city finances to the point where all programs of improvement have to be sacrificed to simply maintaining service levels or even managing decline.

 PerCapitaTax By Size Of Municipality









Beautiful, livable cities can be built and many now exist all over the world but the pressures of constant growth in a world of finite resources (see Scarcity) will push a city beyond its potential to offer its citizens a high quality of life. Until we plan to preserve and improve the good aspects of a city rather than using a city as a vehicle for endless expansion, we will see urban life and urban finances continue to decline.


Sustainable change starts with you!

Here’s how you can affect change.

Learn how you can drive change through the media and your politicians as well as your own actions here.

Share this article on your social media accounts to spread awareness.


Learn more about urban issues:


Urban Issues & Congestion - Reference

Subject MatterSource

Calgary flood damage predicted
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CBC News

The suburban dream of high lifestyle and low taxes has come crashing to earth
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Toronto Star

The Current Dispersed Scenario vs the Increased Intensity recommendation.
Download PDF Doc
City of Calgary

A guide to the costs of sprawl development and how to create livable communities in Ontario
Download PDF Doc
Sierra Club

Compare All Cities By One Metric
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Investing in a better future: A review of the fiscal and competitive advantages of smarter growth development patterns.
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Mark Muro

Population growth and rising infrastructure costs in Australia
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Jane O'Sullivan

Albemarle County and neighboring communities should begin work immediately to achieve a stationary population size in the foreseeable future.
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The analysis considers the long-term life-cycle costs of various linear infrastructure and community services, and differentiates between public and private (i.e., developer) costs.
Download PDF Doc

Human occupance of flood-prone lands
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The Community Impact Model (or CIM) is intended to promote better land use decision-making through a better understanding of the fiscal impacts of land development.
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Fodor Associates

Municipal campaign funding and property development in the Greater Toronto Area
Download PDF Doc
Robert MacDermid

The Case Against Urban Sprawl
Response by Canadians for a Sustainable Society to: REALIZING OUR POTENTIAL
City of Orillia – Municipal Strategic Plan
Download PDF Doc

A simple way to explain overshoot is analogizing Earth?s resources and ecosystems to your savings account at the bank - See more at:
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A new study suggests the vast majority of commuters remain reluctant to use public transit, despite public campaigns encouraging people of its environmental and cost benefits.
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The largest cities in the world by land area, population and density
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City Mayors Statistics

Toronto the unhappy: A study conducted by the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards has found that despite having the country's largest GDP and population, the megacity ranks lowest on the happiness scale.
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Impact Index

Urban Issues

Immigration Impact

Causes of increase in Congestion in Canadian cities
  • Immigration 70%
  • Domestic population growth 15%
  • Shift from Rural areas to Urban centres 10%
  • Longer commutes 5%

The causes of increased congestion in our major cities is due to the increase in population mainly driven by immigration but augmented by residual domestic population growth and shifts from smaller centres.  Urban sprawl forces longer commutes which means increased demands on road networks which are not expanding.

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