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Building suburbs, Toronto-style: Land development regimes, institutions, critical junctures and path dependence


Abstract and Figures

A fundamental characteristic of Toronto-region suburban development has been the creation of a distinctive and robust model of planning for greenfield land development, at relatively high densities, with a mix of housing types, and significant continuity of built form. A plan-led system was created with subdivision control as the primary instrument, and zoning used only to lock in the detailed development patterns negotiated between municipalities and developers, the reverse of most US practice. The system became highly path-dependent because it created a stable institutional setting, reduced risks, and generated a powerful new actor, the oligopoly of large housing developers.
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TPR, 86 (4) 2015 doi:10.3828/tpr.2015.26
Andre Sorensen is a Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Human Geography, 1265 Military Trail,
Toronto, Ontario M1C 1A4, Canada; Paul Hess is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, Geography
and Programme in Planning, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G, Canada; email:;
Paper submitted August 2014; revised paper accepted November 2014.
A fundamental characteristic of Toronto-region suburban development has been the creation of a
distinctive and robust model of planning for greenfield land development, at relatively high densities,
with a mix of housing types, and significant continuity of built form. A plan-led system was created with
subdivision control as the primary instrument, and zoning used only to lock in the detailed development
patterns negotiated between municipalities and developers, the reverse of most US practice. The system
became highly path-dependent because it created a stable institutional setting, reduced risks, and gener-
ated a powerful new actor, the oligopoly of large housing developers.
Keywords: suburbs, land development, institutions, path dependence, critical juncture, zoning,
metropolitan region
The Toronto region has been one of the fastest-growing metropolitan regions in North
America for more than 60 years, expanding from a city-region of 1.3 million in 1953
to almost 7 million people today. Research on the growth and planning of Toronto
has focused largely on achievements and failures at the regional scale: the ambitious
regional plans of the ‘golden age’ of regional planning of the 1960s, their abandon-
ment in the 1970s, and the alleged urban sprawl of the 1980s and 1990s (Filion, 2000;
Bourne, 2001; Frisken, 2007; Solomon, 2007; Sewell, 2009). With its establishment
of the first metropolitan government in North America in 1953, at a time of rapid
postwar urbanisation and an urgent search for governance and planning models to
structure the flood of new suburban development, Toronto is famous for regional
planning. This reputation for regional-scale planning was reinforced in recent years
with the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine in 2002, the creation of the world’s
largest greenbelt in 2005 (see Pond, 2009; Sandberg et al., 2013), and the Province’s
award-winning Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Ontario Ministry of
Public Infrastructure Renewal, 2006).
Building suburbs, Toronto-style: land
development regimes, institutions, critical
junctures and path dependence
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
For us, however, the most remarkable characteristic of Toronto planning is not at
the regional scale, but at the micro- and meso-scales: planning for neighbourhoods
and new communities. At these scales, a fundamental characteristic of Toronto’s
suburban development has been the creation of a distinctive, robust model of green-
field planning and development, at relatively high densities with a mix of housing
types, and a high level of continuity of built form from the 1950s until the 1990s, and
(to considerable extent) today. Contrary to the common sprawl narrative, this conti-
nuity has produced a compact, relatively high-density pattern of regional growth well
serviced by infrastructure with little leapfrog development (Sorensen and Hess, 2007;
Hess and Sorensen, 2015 ).
The decade after the Second World War was a crucial period during which the
current system of planning of the Toronto region suburbs was created. Ontario insti-
tutionalised a planning and development control system that eciently produced a
consistent and relatively high-quality suburban product. Large-scale infrastructure,
including arterial roads, water mains, sewers, schools, and parks, were built in huge
quantities to allow full servicing of all suburban development, while low-density
housing with septic systems for waste water was prohibited near urban areas (Gomme,
1984; White, 2007). The conventional wisdom that this rapid growth was merely
‘sprawl’ has resulted in a failure to investigate the institutional and policy innovations
that helped create a distinctive and enduring planning and land development regime
in the Toronto area.
As a result, we know little about the characteristic urban forms of Toronto’s suburbs
and the institutional structures that produced them. For example, while it is routine
to denounce Toronto’s suburbs as ‘sprawling’, the built-up area of the metropolitan
region, including lower-density areas on the fringe and very low-density employment
areas, constitutes relatively high gross population densities of about 27 people per
hectare across the entire built-up region. This is the same density as Stockholm and
Copenhagen measured in a similar way, twice that of Chicago, an older, larger city,
and five times that of Atlanta, a region with a similar postwar growth trajectory as
Toronto (Sorensen and Hess, 2007).
Most important, a radical new suburb-building model emerged, with large-scale
coordinated development units negotiated with up to a dozen landowners and developers
at a time. This model produced carefully planned and fully serviced neighbourhood units
with schools and parks, employment zones, shopping centres, and a hierarchical road
system of local, arterial, and limited-access expressways. These were not stereotypical
suburbs of single-family detached bungalows, but an ambitious mix of single-detached
houses, duplexes, townhouses, and high-rise ‘towers in a park’. This robust institutional
framework created a new urban pattern and shaped suburban development for the
next 60 years, with a surprisingly consistent output of suburban form from 1946 to the
present, albeit aected since the 1990s by New Urbanist and smart growth ideas.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 413
Elsewhere, we have presented an empirical analysis of the urban form, gross and
net housing density, housing mix, and infrastructure of development of the Toronto
region since 1946 (see Hess and Sorensen, 2015). Here, we focus on the planning
institutions and approaches that shaped that development. But two elements of the
empirical analysis are worth noting: net housing density and a combined index of
urban sprawl, to demonstrate the general continuity of suburban form. We conducted
a detailed analysis of urban form in the region, combining parcel-scale land-use data
with census data on households and population for 530 Study Areas (SAs) in the
region, covering the entire built-up area. Study areas were based as much as possible
on the ‘Concession Blocks’ created by the arterial road grid, as these were important
planning units. In this analysis we focused on residential areas and excluded suburban
growth nodes that have intensified. Figure 1 shows how net housing density in residen-
tial areas has been remarkably stable, with areas built up in the 1946-to-1960 period
only slightly denser than those developed between 1991 and 2000.
We also created a ‘sprawl index’ that combined measures of housing density,
housing mix, land-use mix, street connectivity, and continuity of development at the
urban fringe (where higher numbers indicate less sprawl), as shown in Figure 2. Here
again, the mean scores for SAs in each period are very close, ranging from a low of
289 in 1981–90 to a high of 306 in both the 1961–70 and 1971–80 periods. In this index,
the residential development patterns in the region since the 1950s are characterised
by continuity, not change. The main dierences between areas developed in the 1950s
and those developed in the 1990s and 2000s was that in the latter, more space was
allocated to parks and protected greenspaces, and the land-use share and areal units
Figure 1 Net
housing unit
density (units per
ha) by median
period of SAs.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
of employment lands are greater; these two factors mostly explain the slightly lower
densities (see Hess and Sorensen, 2015).
The focus here is on the planning and governance institutions that produced this
continuity. We show that the region’s suburban form was shaped by a hierarchical
planning system led by provincial policy and articulated first through regional and
local municipal ocial plans, then neighbourhood-scale ‘Secondary Plans’, then
subdivision and site plans negotiated with developers by municipal planning boards.
Significantly, although the provincial government through the Planning Act gave
municipalities the authority to create zoning by-laws, zoning was not the key regula-
tory tool used to shape development in the Toronto region. Unlike US municipalities,
zoning in Toronto did not have a ‘metropolitan dimension’ in determining devel-
opment patterns (see Fischler (1998), on New York). Rather, a plan-led system was
created with subdivision control as its primary instrument; zoning was used only at
the end of the process to lock in the urban forms and detailed development patterns
agreed between municipalities and developers as part of that planning framework.
This new system represented a break from prewar growth patterns of unplanned,
incremental extensions of the street grid as individual property owners subdivided
and sold o property. The landmark Ontario Planning Act of 1946 was intended to
replace this practice with a new system of planning and development control. The
Planning Act created new powers for municipalities in setting subdivision standards,
reviewing subdivision plans, and planning infrastructure. Although based in part on
the 1912 Cities and Suburbs Plans Act and the 1917 Planning and Development Act,
the 1946 act went much further in setting development standards and allowing for the
co-ordination of larger areas of development.
Figure 2 Mean sprawl index by SA period of classification.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 415
The second main contribution of this paper concerns the institutionalisation of
this new system. The system established in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s was a
turning point in the governance structure designed to regulate the production of
urban space, or, in historical institutionalist terms, a ‘critical juncture’ of new institu-
tion formation (Collier and Collier, 1991; Capoccia and Kelemen, 2007). Such critical
junctures are particularly important when the new institutional arrangements prove
enduring. An emerging area of planning research focuses on such critical junctures of
institutional innovation in planning, the nature of the planning systems established,
and the extent to which these contingent moments of institution-building create
stable, path-dependent systems for regulating the production of urban space (Hess,
2009; Low and Astle, 2009; Sorensen, 2014).
Institutions are defined here as the rules, standard operating practices, and shared
norms that structure the relationships between actors in social and political processes
(Hall and Taylor, 1996). Where path dependence exists, over time it becomes increas-
ingly costly or cumbersome to revert to previously available alternatives (Mahoney,
2000; Pierson, 2004). Pierson (2004) defines path-dependent processes as ‘social
processes that exhibit positive feedback and thus generate branching patterns of
historical development’ (Pierson, 2004, 21). Positive feedback in political and policy
processes tends to take the form of coalitions of interests that benefit from partic-
ular policies and either support continuity or block changes that threaten it. Positive
feedback eects thus act as self-reinforcing mechanisms and increase the costs of or
resistance to major system change.
Not all institutions are path-dependent, but in path-dependent processes, incre-
mental change occurs as steps along an existing pathway, and transition to an entirely
dierent system is unlikely. In a path-dependent system, the critical junctures of institu-
tion-formation and the positive feedback eects that support continuity are important
for understanding the nature of institutions and the political dynamics that create and
maintain them. Historical institutionalism thus provides analytical tools that help us
develop convincing explanations of why particular institutional arrangements persist,
and why planning systems continue to dier widely among jurisdictions (Sorensen, 2015).
This conception of institutional development and change is particularly useful in
understanding the complex institutional configurations established to regulate land
development, that involve multiple actors, a high level of institutional and organ-
isational density, and where multiple institutions and actors are interdependent.
Such systems can generate ‘path interdependence’, because change to one aspect
of the system is dicult – or eciency-reducing – if the others remain unchanged,
as suggested by research on the ‘varieties of capitalism’ (Hall and Soskice, 2001) and
work in evolutionary economic geography (Martin and Sunley, 2006). We refer to the
planning and land development system as a ‘land development regime,’ in which a
‘regime’ is defined as sets of interlocking and mutually supportive institutions that
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
have co-evolved into a coherent system, without necessarily having been conceived
and designed as a whole (see Holtz et al., 2008).
Where land development regimes become path-dependent, it is important to
understand the reasons for such continuity if we wish to adopt new approaches. The
persistence of a land development regime makes it dicult to change to new patterns
and processes of development, as seen in the Toronto region. Many factors have
changed over the last 60 years, including the economic base, governing ideologies,
planning ideas, housing preferences, the size and level of wealth of the region, and
the social and ethno-cultural composition of the population. Yet the core elements of
the land development regime established in the 1940s and 1950s remain in force today.
This paper addresses the following questions: What were the primary institutions
structuring suburban land development patterns in the Toronto region during this
period? When and how was the system established? What was the role of municipal,
regional, and provincial planning policies in shaping patterns of urban development?
How was it possible to co-ordinate the development strategies of diverse private develop-
ment companies and landowners into a coherent pattern of development in the context
of rapid urban growth and a capitalist property market? Why do we see high levels of
institutional continuity over 60 years of suburban development in the Toronto region?
The second section examines the major elements of the new institutional structure
established in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including the new planning systems and
new governance arrangements designed to implement them. The third section shows
how this system was implemented in eastern Metropolitan Toronto, paying attention
to the sequence of interventions and the relationship between plans and the new
neighbourhoods produced. A final section draws together the main findings about the
key institutions, and why they have proven so enduring.
The new planning system
The institutionalisation of planning as a municipal function came relatively late to
Ontario. In Canada, municipal powers are determined by the provinces. Before the
Second World War, Ontario kept a tight rein on the powers of its cities to regulate
development. Starting in 1912 with the Cities and Suburbs Act, the Province of
Ontario gradually expanded the power of cities to oversee and regulate land subdi-
vision to allow for ‘orderly development’, but consistently resisted lobbying by
planning reformers to allow cities to establish comprehensive zoning by-laws or
legally binding city plans.
This situation changed in 1946 when Ontario’s right-of-centre Progressive
Conservative government passed the Planning Act. In doing so, the Province aligned
planning with where it had been in much of the United States a generation previously,
and even went beyond by requiring the institutionalisation of land-use planning as a
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 417
core part of municipal governance within a provincially led system, including require-
ments for planning boards and legally binding Ocial Plans.
The Province went even further with the establishment of the Municipality
of Metropolitan Toronto (Metro) in 1954, a powerful new institution that put the
Toronto region into the forefront of North American planning. Metro was an ‘upper-
tier’ regional municipality created to tackle the problems of rapid urban growth,
particularly the inability of suburban governments to coordinate and fund large-scale
infrastructure such as roads, water, and sewers. Within this framework, ‘lower-tier’
municipalities were responsible for developing detailed plans and zoning by-laws
consistent with Metro goals and carrying out day-to-day development review and
permitting (Frisken, 2007; White, 2007). Thus, in a very short period, Toronto moved
from a having a liberal property regime, with few regulatory controls over develop-
ment, to what may have been the most fully articulated hierarchical planning system
in North America, but one that was always justified within a conservative political
rhetoric that described planning as rationalising, not displacing markets.
That new system had two main elements: the new legal framework of the 1946
Planning Act, and the regional governance system embodied in the creation of
Metropolitan Toronto.
The 1946 Planning Act
The Planning Act, 1946, was a compact bill of 10 pages and 31 articles. Ontario’s first
substantive planning system had three main elements: (1) the establishment of planning
boards, designated planning areas, and ocial plans, (2) municipal powers to buy land
and build infrastructure and public housing, and (3) a system of subdivision control.
Briefly, the first section empowered municipalities to designate a planning area
within which an ‘Ocial Plan’ would be created by the municipality. Such plans
consisted of maps and texts prepared by a planning board, and set out ‘a programme
of future development, including the regulation of the use of land, buildings and
structures or the location of buildings and structures in the planning area and any
other feature designed to secure the health, safety, convenience and welfare of the
inhabitants’ (Planning Act, 1946, Article 1 (g)).
Articles 4 to 7 established procedures for appointing a planning board, and
outlined its duties and responsibilities. During the first decades, planning boards were
composed of prominent citizens appointed by city council; the boards hired sta
and consultants as needed to prepare plans (White, 2003, 12). Articles 8 to 14 set out
the approval process: when the ocial plan had been approved by a majority vote at
municipal council, it was submitted to the Minister of Municipal Aairs for approval.
After ministerial approval, no public work might contravene the plan without approval
of two-thirds of council. Similarly, proposals for private land development, buildings,
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
or structures that contravened the ocial plan could be restrained by action initiated
either by the planning board or by a local ratepayer. Thus ocial plans had statutory
power in controlling development, and were not just aspirational documents, as in the
US, where zoning often superseded municipal plans, where they existed (Toll, 1969;
Cullingworth, 1997).
Second, articles 15 to 22 established municipal powers to buy land and build infra-
structure and public housing. Article 15 empowered municipalities to buy land within
the plan area to build public works, and articles 16 to 22 allowed municipalities to
build housing within the planning area ‘to relieve the existing emergency in housing
conditions’ (Article 20).
Third, was a new approach to subdivision control. Before 1946, subdivision plans
had been approved as a matter of routine and municipal governments had no power
to require amendments as condition of approval. Under the Planning Act, subdivision
control became a key regulatory device, enforced by a requirement that the landowner
must have an approved, registered plan of subdivision in order to sell lots. In practice,
negotiating subdivision plans was the responsibility of municipalities, but the provincial
Minister of Municipal Aairs had final approval authority for all plans of subdivision.
Article 23 allowed municipalities to designate an urban development area within
which ‘no parcel of land within the area shall be divided for sale or sold in part or agreed
to be sold in part unless the land is shown on a registered plan of subdivision’ (Article
23.1). This powerful control meant that landowners needed legal registry to sell lots or
secure a mortgage. Article 25 set out the procedure for approval of a registered plan of
subdivision and gave the minister power to approve or deny applications. The legisla-
tion established a broad set of issues that municipalities should consider when deciding
whether to approve a plan of subdivision (see Box 1). This new planning system did not
go entirely without challenge (Milner, 1963), but the 1955 consolidation of all amendments
over the first decade reveals only 16 minor additions and clarifications (Planning Act, 1955).
Box 1: Considerations for approving a plan of subdivision, Planning Act, 1946
‘In considering a draft plan of subdivision, regard shall be had, among other matters, to the health, safety,
convenience and welfare of the future inhabitants and to the following:
a) whether the plan conforms to the official plan and adjacent plans of subdivision, if any;
b) whether the proposed subdivision is premature, or necessary in the public interest;
c) the suitability of the land for the purposes for which it is to be subdivided;
d) the number, width, location and proposed grades and elevations of highways, and the adequacy thereof;
e) the dimensions and shape of the lots;
f) the restrictions or proposed restrictions, if any, on the land, buildings and structures proposed to be erected
thereon and the restrictions, if any, on adjoining lands;
g) conservation of natural resources and flood control;
h) the adequacy of utilities and municipal services;
i) the area of land, if any, within the subdivision that, exclusive of highways, is to be dedicated for public purposes.’
Planning Act, 1946, Article 25 (4)
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 419
The Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto
In 1953 the Province established the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto as a feder-
ation of 13 existing municipalities. This move created a two-tier governance structure:
local governments retained responsibility for local planning, land use regulation, and
local public works, and Metro assumed responsibility for regional services: public
transportation, water supply, sewers, and expressways. Local councils chose represen-
tatives to send to Metro Council (direct elections were introduced later). Metro could
also issue bonds for public works projects, and because of its rich tax base and excel-
lent credit rating, Metro could borrow more cheaply than its former suburbs, where
most of the new infrastructure for growth was needed (Williams, 1999; Frisken, 2007).
Under the Planning Act, the Metro Planning Board was given planning jurisdic-
tion over an area about three times the size of Metro – 1,865 square kilometres or 720
square miles (Lemon, 1985, 134). Figure 1 shows part of the Metropolitan Toronto
Ocial Plan of 1959, indicating Metropolitan Toronto within the larger Metropolitan
Toronto Planning Area, the area built up by 1958 (dark grey), and the area proposed
for future development up to 1980 (light grey). When Metro was formed in 1953, about
half its area was urban, and half was undeveloped.
Figure 3 Central part, Plate 8 of the Metropolitan Toronto Official Plan 1959.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
The Metro government prioritised eciency in the provision of services, such
as water supply, sewers, and roads, to minimise costs, maximise utilisation, and
prevent unplanned sprawl. There were two main ways to achieve eciency. First,
in building infrastructure, economies of scale and of co-ordination were possible.
Small, fragmented suburban municipal units lacked technical expertise and finan-
cial capacity, and their systems suered from duplication and lack of co-ordination.
Second, Metro could build large-scale integrated systems using water from Lake
Ontario, and discharging treated waste water into Lake Ontario. No longer would
suburban municipalities surrounding Toronto draw their water supply from wells and
discharge treated sewage into rivers and streams, causing pollution. Lake Ontario–
based systems were cheaper and more reliable.
The focus on eciency and economy was also manifested in the timing and
sequencing of growth. Metro required phased development to ensure that serviced
areas were built out first, and infrastructure was not built too far ahead of develop-
ment. Metro planning was later criticised as lacking an overall design for the urban
region, and of being little more than ‘large-scale municipal plumbing’ (Bacon, 1984,
115), but the Metro system ensured that development proceeded concurrently with the
provision of infrastructure, an approach still hard to achieve in places such as Florida
40 years later (DeGrove and Miness, 1992; Ben-Zadok, 2005). The coordination of
Figure 4 Metropolitan planning Area Draft Land-use Plan, 1966.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 421
land development and infrastructure is still a key part of the ‘smart growth’ agenda
(Hare, 2001; Downs, 2005).
Metro also protected parks and natural heritage systems from development, partic-
ularly the ravines, rivers, and creeks that cut into Toronto’s relatively flat plateau.
Large-scale employment zones were distributed around Metro, as were shopping
malls, low-density and high-density residential areas, and public facilities such as
schools (Figure 4). Development was contiguous, not leapfrog as in the US (Lang,
2003; Teaford, 2006). The use of development charges, parkland dedication, and
other measures eectively ensured that developers contributed a major share of the
infrastructure and land for public space in each development area.
Metro had little direct involvement in development at the micro scale of the neigh-
bourhood; that was the jurisdiction of low-tier municipalities. Metro did, however,
create detailed demographic projections, which it translated into density and land-use
distribution requirements for the 16 planning districts within its boundaries. Each
district prescribed land use requirements for industry, as well as shopping, commer-
cial, cultural and community centres, and open space, and each included a full range
of housing options, including apartments. The districts were seen, therefore, as semi-
autonomous units within the metropolitan framework. Lower-tier Ocial Plans were
expected to be consistent with Metro’s plans. In the late 1950s, Metro also planned the
regional transportation system, including expressways and arterial roads, and the water
and sewer network, including timing and phasing, with land use and density targets
geared to the capacity of these systems (White, 2003). These plans created a powerful
set of constraints within which developers and municipal planners had to work.
The new system in practice – Scarborough
In practice, detailed planning for new developments arose out of an interplay between
Metro plans, policies, and guidelines, and lower-tier municipal Ocial Plans, partic-
ularly the negotiation of detailed subdivision plans with individual developers or
groups of developers. The fact that suburban municipal governments had legal power
to review a long list of features before approving subdivision plans gives no indica-
tion of the degree to which such powers were exercised, nor how eectively. Here,
we examine the application of the new Ontario planning system in the Township of
Scarborough during the 1950s and 1960s. With the largest area of undeveloped land
within Metropolitan Toronto when it was established in 1954, Scarborough was at the
forefront of establishing new planning and development practices.
The new approach allowed the coordinated development of large areas using
the precepts of modernist-style planning. The earlier system was based on the
incremental, uncoordinated extension of street grids through minimally regulated
subdivisions prepared by land subdividers who sold lots individually to buyers, or in
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
small amounts to speculative home-builders who built a few houses each year. Paved
streets, water, and sewers were installed or upgraded over time.
Unplanned and unserviced subdivisions were a serious problem before the war,
and many suburban municipalities had been bankrupted in the 1930s because of
heavy investments in providing water and sewer systems retrospectively (Harris,
1996). A major goal of the new system was to plan large areas comprehensively and
ensure ecient investment in infrastructure concurrently with development. Metro
set out regional-scale land use, population and jobs projections by planning district,
and planned arterial roads, water supply and sewer systems. Local municipal plans
translated these projections into land use plans, including the layout of residential
neighbourhoods with collector streets, local shopping areas, schools, and parks.
Metro released its first draft Ocial Plan in 1959, but it was never approved by
Metro Council, and so was not legally binding. Nonetheless, Metro had a signifi-
cant impact on development, because the Metro Planning Board worked closely with
lower-tier municipal governments such as Scarborough when they were developing
their own ocial plans. And of course, when Scarborough was preparing its plan, it
was believed that it would have to conform with the Metro plan when it was approved.
Metro also reviewed proposals for subdivisions within its area of jurisdiction and
made recommendations to the Ministry, which kept the power of final approval.
Despite its ambiguous status, the 1959 Metro Plan provided an overall develop-
ment concept for Scarborough, with major residential and employment areas, major
Figure 5 Metro Official Plan 1966, Part of Land-use Plan Map 2, and Actual Land-use 2011.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 423
shopping centres, and parks. Figure 5a shows the plan, which is close to what exists
today (see Figure 5).
Phasing of development is one of four core principles in the 1957 Scarborough
Ocial Plan, which predated the first draft Metro plan, but reflects its principles. The
Development Plan shows three phases of development to guide the capital works
programme of ‘schools, electric power, water, roads, sanitary sewers, storm drainage,
parks, conservation works, erosion control, public housing, fire, police, library, and
other administrative facilities’ (Scarborough Township Planning Board, 1957, 10). The
first phase covered the area south of Highway 401, Toronto’s main east–west axis. This
area was largely built up by 1958. Phase II, north of the 401, was the target for planned
growth. Phase III in the northeast was designated ‘agricultural’ in the first Metro
plans, and eventually became the site of the Metro Toronto Zoo and Rouge Park.
The plan explicitly noted that development would be phased to match the provi-
sion of infrastructure:
(a) New Phases of Development will not be commenced before Servicing Areas have
been established and assigned priorities in the Capital Works Program. (b) No inten-
sive urban development will be permitted before essential services are available. … (d)
Package plants and other temporary methods for treating sanitary drainage in advance
of the progressive extension of trunk sewers will not be permitted. (e) Phases of devel-
opment will be substantially complete before successive Phases are commenced.
(Scarborough Township Planning Board, 1957, 11–12)
This approach eectively controlled the sequence of land development. As the plan
states: ‘sanitary and storm drainage works control the rate and direction of growth most
eectively, since these must be progressively constructed commencing at the low point in
a watershed’. As water mains and sewers had to be linked through each new subdivision,
areas farther from the lake and from trunk water mains and sewers had to wait. This
approach allowed planners time to negotiate with developers about the detailed design
of new subdivisions before developers submitted formal subdivision plans. The plan
was also clear that servicing would be phased in conjunction with planning: ‘servicing
areas are to be undertaken in combinations which provide for complete development of
residential communities’ (Scarborough Township Planning Board, 1957, 11–12).
A second influence of Metro planning was the technocratic approach, starting
with detailed demographic projections for population and jobs for the region that
were allocated to sub-regions. Scarborough and other municipalities under Metro
had to accommodate these projections, translated into land use plans. This was the
basis of Scarborough’s Schedule ‘A’ Land Use Plan, which prescribed land uses for the
whole of Scarborough Township (Scarborough Township Planning Board, 1957, 5).
Population projections were broken into five-year intervals from 1956 to 1981, calcu-
lations were made of land requirements in each major category, population and job
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
Figure 6 Township of Scarborough Official Plan, 1966, Schedule B, Community Plan.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 425
densities were specified for dierent sub-areas, and all was translated into a poten-
tial tax assessment for residential, commercial, and industrial areas, and an overall
population and jobs balance. This approach follows the ‘best practice’ planning ideas
of the time (see Chapin, 1957), to which Metro Toronto adhered much more closely
than most planning authorities.
Figure 6 shows the Community Plan for Scarborough of 1957. Whereas Metro
numbers applied to large districts, the Scarborough Plan defined 31 ‘communities’.
and allocated each a share of development. Every community was to have a shopping
centre with a designated amount of floor space. Gross population estimates, popula-
tion density, and community parks were also established at the community level.
Neighbourhoods were designated within the communities, each to include all uses
‘necessary to the function of the neighbourhood as a unit’, (Scarborough Township
Planning Board, 1957,5) including ‘single-family detached dwellings … semi-detached
dwellings, duplexes and double-duplexes, multiple family dwellings, schools, parks,
churches, public utilities, and neighbourhood commercial uses’ (Scarborough Township
Planning Board, 1957, 5).1 Figure 6 shows how Metro targets for population, land-use,
and public facilities were translated into a detailed prescription for each community and
neighbourhood. Each had a diagram indicating the number of elementary-level school
rooms, commercial floor area, park areas, and church sites, as shown in the enlarged part
of the legend at the bottom of Figure 6. These numbers were used to guide property
developers though detailed ‘Secondary Plans’ and ultimately subdivision control. The
Milliken community shown in Figures 7 and 8 is enlarged at the top of Figure 6, showing
‘neighbourhood requirements’ boxes in each neighbourhood.
‘Secondary Plans’, a key part of the system, gave further definition to the precise
layout of neighbourhoods, including population and density targets, and requirements
for schools, parks, churches, shopping centres, areas of higher-density housing, and
collector roads (Scarborough Ontario Planning Board, 1966). Secondary plans had
legal status as amendments to the Ocial Plan, and went through the same approval
procedure, involving the planning board, council, Metro, and finally the Minister of
Municipal Aairs.
Secondary plans were frequently amended as details were worked out. In north
Scarborough, secondary plans used Don Mills – a distinctive master-planned suburban
‘new town’ developed from the early 1950s just outside Toronto – as the clear but
unacknowledged model (Sewell, 1993; Sorensen, 2011). The plans for Milliken,
for example, copy Don Mills in the ring road that makes a broad loop around the
intersection of two arterial roads, defining a ‘community core’. The core has four
1 Metro also mandated high-density housing areas throughout the suburban area, and a share of social rented
housing to be incorporated within each area. These were usually located along arterial roadways, outside the
neighbourhood units, and, in Scarborough, were sometimes organised into clusters around the community
shopping centres.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
quadrants, one containing a major shopping centre, and the other three high-density
housing. Neighbourhood units with low-rise housing were organised around elemen-
tary schools and small parks arrayed around the core.
What is remarkable in these communities is that the municipality coordinated and
controlled the actions of multiple landowners to achieve the detailed arrangement of
streets and land uses that had been achieved by a single owner in the master-planned
Don Mills development. The Township of Scarborough began to establish priorities
for the extension of municipal services within the Phase II area in 1964, including
developing secondary plans for community areas such as L’Amoreaux with aected
property owners (Township of Scarborough Planning Board Minutes, 29 October
1964; 5 November 1964). Written comments were accepted from 10 development
companies, planning firms, and landowners. About 20 firms and owners registered
separate subdivisions in L’Amoreaux between 1965 and 1977, when most of the area
was built out (records of subdivision, Toronto Land Registry Oce). The planning
board of Scarborough asked planning consultants to prepare municipal Secondary
Plans, and those consultants acted for many landowners in preparing plans of subdi-
vision. Landowners also negotiated with each other to share the burden of providing
Figure 7 Milliken Secondary Plan 1983.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 427
land for park and school sites, a process often facilitated by planning consultants.
Developers negotiated minor changes with the township, such as street configurations,
school sites, and changes in allowed densities, but overall, the municipal plan was fully
implemented, as shown in Figures 5, 7 and 8.
Figure 7 shows the Milliken Secondary Plan in 1983, before land development
had started. The plan delineates arterial and collector roads, some of which are still
‘Proposed’ (indicated by dashed lines). A ‘Community Shopping Area’ occupies the
northwest quadrant of the Don Mills–style oval, with high-density housing in the other
three quadrants. Also indicated are neighbourhood parks with schools, a community
park, a high school near the shopping centre, and a district park in the northeast, as
well as a pedestrian/bicycle system linking the three neighbourhoods. Figure 8 shows
that subsequent development closely followed the 1983 Secondary Plan.
Crucially, none of this planning was achieved through zoning. Ocial and Secondary
Plans rather than zoning by-laws prescribed the preferred form of development,
Figure 8 Milliken Actual Land-use 2011.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
which was implemented through subdivision control under the Provincial Planning
Act. Indeed, the Scarborough Ocial Plan stated that ‘a comprehensive zoning by-law
covering the whole Township is not contemplated, since the degree of precision in
dening land use zones required by such a by-law is not attainable in undeveloped
areas.’ Rather, ‘subdivision control is the medium through which the Township will
guide private capital employed in the development of the municipality….in confor-
mity with Secondary Plans, Tertiary Plans, and Site Plans’ (Scarborough, First
Revision, 1960, 13). The Scarborough Planning Board routinely made registration of
new subdivisions contingent on prior registration of adjacent subdivisions.
The list of conditions before a subdivision plan would be registered was long: land
to be ceded to the municipality for road widenings and corner roundings; details of
the size and type of dwellings to be built on each plot; easements for public works;
designated sites set aside for acquisition by School Boards; and ‘satisfactory arrange-
ments with Council re all internal services, storm, and sanitary sewer connections’
(Scarborough Planning Board, April, 1965). Zoning was not a framework to guide
development as in the US. Instead, zoning was left until after specific subdivision plans
were negotiated and agreed with developers, and then a zoning by-law was drawn up
and approved to lock the specifics of development in place.
As the Scarborough Ocial Plan of 1957 explains, ‘Zoning, in the form of
restricted area by-laws, will be used in the following ways… A restricted area by-law
is to be placed on each new sub-division when registered. These by-laws are to be
consolidated into one comprehensive by-law for each community as it approaches
full utilization, and the final land use pattern may be predicted with some exactitude.
Community By-laws will conform to Secondary and Tertiary Plans’ (Scarborough
Township Planning Board, 1957, 14). This approach was followed throughout the
build-out of Scarborough, and in Metropolitan Toronto generally.
This plan-led approach to land development control and planning allowed a
relatively flexible approach to mixing housing types, densities, and other land uses, as
zoning by-laws and plans were created after the land-use pattern was decided by negoti-
ation between developers and municipality. Planning started with regional-scale Metro
targets for population, jobs, infrastructure and municipal revenue targets, these were
given detailed spatial expression in the Scarborough Ocial Plan, and its Schedule B
Community Plan shown in Figure 6. These detailed targets were then incorporated into
Secondary Plans for each community, and achieved through detailed negotiations over
registered plans of subdivision with multiple landowners. Zoning was applied after plans
of subdivision were approved and registered. This sequence is key, and is the opposite of
practice in the US, where zoning and municipal plans were not consistent, and zoning
was the important statutory policy. In Scarborough, the plan had precedence, with
zoning secondary and not a key component of the land development regime.
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 429
Discussion and conclusions
Our findings shed light on major characteristics of the Toronto land development
regime and help us understand the significance of institutions and continuity in land
development regimes.
The Toronto region’s robust planning system for land development was, we argue,
successful in achieving ecient land development at a time of rapid population growth,
with full infrastructure provision, mixed housing types, at relatively high densities. This
pattern of development contrasts with that of US cities, where municipal fragmenta-
tion and a lack of regional planning resulted in low-density, scattered, uncoordinated
development over huge areas. Toronto’s system is an important achievement, and it is
worth understanding the nature of this system and the roots of its eectiveness.
We are not suggesting that the system produced an ideal urban form. We agree
with the criticisms of the last 30 years: land uses are too segregated, and the suburbs
are too automobile dependent and limited in active transport options, and thus
generate far too much trac congestion. But today’s problems reflect the fact that
the system established in the 1940s and 1950s was successful. Despite two decades of
reform attempts, the Toronto regime continues to produce the urban form ideals of
the 1950s: large areas of single-use, automobile-dependent suburbs with relatively
high densities and mixed housing types.
The fact that it has been hard to alter the pattern of development – despite recent
eorts to implement New Urbanist, Smart Growth, Greenbelt, and intensifica-
tion policies – is one reason Toronto is an interesting case. Filion has examined the
limited success of attempts to change development patterns in the Toronto region
and elsewhere over the last 30 years (Filion, 1999; 2001; 2003; 2010; Filion et al., 1999).
He suggests that a combination of ‘investment potential, production and consump-
tion tendencies, vested interests, administrative arrangements and urban dynamics
have generally contributed to keep prevailing development patterns in place over
the last decades’ (Filion, 2010, 5). He also argues that consumer preferences for large,
single-family homes, municipal reliance on property taxes, and the rise of large
auto-oriented retail formats contribute to the perpetuation of dispersed, automobile-
oriented development forms.
We agree that these factors contribute to the continuation of automobile-depen-
dent urban development, but we consider this explanation too all-encompassing, and
believe that a more parsimonious explanation is possible. A historical institutionalist
conceptual framework helps to explain continuity in this case, as well as contributing
to our understanding of the nature of path dependence and positive feedback in land
development regimes.
The planning and development control system established in the 1940s and 1950s
in the Toronto region is a complex, multi-layered system, with multiple actors, scales,
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
laws, ocial plans, and sets of rules-in-practice that structure suburban land develop-
ment. Starting from a limited set of planning regulations before the Second World
War, this quickly established regime produced a powerful set of interlocking and
mutually reinforcing institutional frameworks that are highly eective in regulating
the production of new urban space.
There are four key elements. (1) All municipal governments were required to estab-
lish planning boards and produce ocial plans. Once approved by local councils and
the provincial government, no public works or land subdivision could contradict these
plans. Both local governments and local residents were empowered to report infringe-
ments. (2) Ocial Plans were broad structure plans. Detailed planning was carried out
through secondary plans, which were passed as legally binding ‘Amendments’ to the
Ocial Plan. Secondary Plans were at the scale of neighbourhoods and communities,
and were negotiated with land developers before development, using the leverage of
municipal control over water and sewer mains, and planning authority to refuse permis-
sion to subdivide and sell land for non-conforming subdivision plans. Land-use zoning
by-laws were not an important part of the planning system, as they were applied after
all details had been agreed and fixed in Secondary Plans. (3) Metro (and later other
regions) set targets for overall distribution and shares of dierent land uses and popula-
tion densities to ensure an adequate municipal property tax revenue stream, full use of
infrastructure, and a variety of housing types. (4) Large-scale public works for transport
and water and waste water were planned and built by Metro and the province.
Although the Metropolitan Toronto Ocial Plan was not legally binding, the
Province’s intent to create a hierarchical, policy-driven planning system was fulfilled.
Metro as a regional planning organisation had a powerful impact on (though not
control over) detailed outcomes on the ground in terms of population density and mix
of housing types. In Metro the hierarchical nature of plans, a new form of indica-
tive planning based on long-range population and revenue calculations, and massive
investments in infrastructure allowed suburban municipalities to carry out not only
the intent but also the details of the larger-scale regional plan.
As seen in Scarborough and the examples of the L’Amoreaux and Milliken
Secondary Plans, municipalities exerted significant control over the design of devel-
opment within the framework of the Metro Plan. Rather than landowners being
able to develop as-of-right under pre-established zoning, Scarborough negotiated
detailed designs with land developers, including the location of specific housing
types on an almost site-by-site basis through subdivision control. A range of housing
types, including high-density housing, was encouraged. Zoning was secondary,
applied at the end of the process. In this way, Scarborough and other lower-tier
municipalities in Metro such as North York produced areas as comprehensively
designed as private, master-planned communities such as Don Mills (see Stewart
and Hess, 2014).
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 431
In 1970, as suburban growth moved beyond the boundaries of Metro Toronto,
the provincial government decided to create four ‘Regional Municipalities’ around
Metro: Halton, Peel, York, and Durham. In their legal structure and operating
practices, these new ‘upper-tier’ governments replicated the planning regime and
development control rules-in-practice established by Metro. The planning of the
region was fragmented into competing jurisdictions, but this did not lead to scattered
development. Instead, growth continued to be based on concession blocks laid out
systematically in Secondary Plans negotiated with major developers, with zoning
plans applied after the details had been agreed. Areas contiguous to the existing
built-up area were developed before those farther removed were released for develop-
ment. New communities were relatively dense, serviced with main infrastructure, and
had mixed housing types. While planning in the Toronto region ceased to be region-
ally managed in the early 1970s, the planning and development control system first
established with the 1946 Planning Act and institutionalised by Metro Toronto was
replicated, creating the stable, ordered process of development that continues today
throughout the Toronto region.
Municipalities still regulate local development according to regional plans,
demographic projections, and planned infrastructure capacities. Lower-tier munici-
palities are still deeply involved in planning for greenfield development on the
urban fringe, and work with planning consultants and developers to create detailed
secondary plans, rather than disconnected subdivisions. Developers still co-ordinate
their subdivision plans, and swap land to share the burden of providing school
sites and parks.
The system persisted because it worked well for everyone involved. It produced
a reliable, consistent product, reducing risks for all the major actors. These included
federal and provincial governments, upper-and lower-tier municipal governments, the
development industry, planning consultants who worked for both governments and
developers, and homebuyers.
The federal government provided mortgage finance and policy guidance through
the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which sought to expand
home-building and homeownership at aordable prices. The province was respon-
sible for planning laws, maintaining ultimate authority over plan approvals; it also
designed and financed infrastructure such as trunk sewers and water mains, electricity,
highways, and commuter rail. Municipalities negotiated with developers, approved
subdivision plans, collected development charges to finance growth-related regional
infrastructure, and built public facilities. Developers acted as land assemblers, negoti-
ated with municipalities about housing types, densities, and road layouts, and built
infrastructure internal to developments, such as streets, sidewalks, water pipes, and
sewers. For homebuyers, the system provided a reliable and consistent product, easy
to mortgage and resell.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
Municipal tax revenue was adequate for ongoing maintenance and services, and
per-unit development charges paid for most infrastructure related to growth. The
regional upper-tier governments were responsible for regional-scale planning and
wholesale service delivery to municipalities, while lower-tier municipalities carried
out detailed planning, and provided retail services such as water and sewers. The new
regions also inherited from Metro a well-established set of rules-in-law and rules-in-
practice that structured the relationship between levels of government and developers,
which still structure land development practice today. The province achieved the
technocratic vision of planned, cost-eective regional development, and fostered
the emergence of an urban region that has seen rapid growth averaging about 1
million new residents per decade for the last 60 years. But all of that rapid growth was
carefully planned and regulated. Every home is connected to the large infrastructure
grids, and every neighbourhood has local schools and parks.
A further reason for continuity was the arrangement of cascading plans from
province to region to municipality, so that changing priorities of a single actor was
insucient to shift the overall direction. Each actor was locked into multi-year rolling
investment projects regulated at multiple levels, financed by future user fees or home
sales. Alternative approaches threatened future revenues and increased risk.
The new land development regime also created a major new actor. No large-scale
homebuilders existed in Ontario before the 1950s, but several appeared thereafter
and quickly became dominant players. Only very large, well-capitalised companies
can hold on to urban fringe land for years as they await their turn to develop, invest in
the required infrastructure up front, and market hundreds of houses at a time. Large,
well-capitalised companies were a policy objective of the CMHC, and as the insurer
of most home mortgages, CMHC’s policies favoured stable, large-scale developers.
Indeed, the emergence of several large-scale land and housing developers was so
rapid that there was concern about development oligopolies in major Canadian cities
(Lorimer and Jacobs, 1970; Spurr, 1976).
For developers, the certainty provided by the new system and a steadily growing
population allowed long-term, profitable investments in land banks. These land banks
included virtually all developable land in the region by the 1970s (Bunce, 1985). Given
the capital necessary to build subdivisions, newer, smaller developers faced high
barriers to entry, and the house-building industry came to be dominated by a few
large well-capitalised firms. By virtually eliminating the small-scale house-building
industry, the new land-development regime made any return to the pre-war system
much less likely.
The land-development regime established in Ontario in the early postwar period
consists of interlocking and mutually supportive institutions that have co-evolved into
a coherent system, or regime, which continues to structure urban growth today. This
system has benefited the major actors involved, generating positive feedback eects
Building suburbs, Toronto-style 433
that support continuity and path-dependence. This system fostered the emergence
of large-scale land developers and home-builders, whose huge land-banks ensure
continuity, and whose campaign donations finance all the major political actors, at
provincial, regional, and municipal government levels. We suggest that a major aspect
of path-interdependence is the tendency of such regimes to reinforce and strengthen
– or even create – powerful actors who are also major beneficiaries of the regime. It
is the path-interdependent regime as a whole that reinforces continuity. Individual
components can and do evolve and change, but all actors must in significant measure
conform to the overall logic of the system if they wish to continue to benefit from it.
The fact that the system also generates significant costs may not reduce its durability
if those costs are borne mostly by others.
Critical junctures of institutional innovation, such as the creation of a new
land development regime in the Toronto region in the 1940s and 1950s, can create
institutional capacity that reshapes the trajectory of development. Such capacity is
particularly evident in the governance of land development, where new institutions
and institutional capacity have several important consequences. First is the impact
on patterns of land development, which in the Toronto region changed dramati-
cally after the war, becoming more plan-conforming, modernist, and automobile
dependent. This change produced an enduring spatial imprint in the land developed
under the new rules, particularly as a key modernist design principle was to create
suburban forms that resisted incremental change after initial build-out. Second, the
new institutional capacity encouraged the emergence of new actors, including the
large-scale home-builders, shopping mall developers and industrial estate developers
who were able to operate at the new scales the new regime made possible and profit-
able, and a vibrant consultant planning industry which worked for both developers
and municipal planning boards and made important contributions to the rules-in-
practice that linked these actors. Third, the new regime generated new municipal
governance capacity, supported by the planning consultants, that established new
norms of extended and disciplined negotiation over secondary plans and subdivision
approvals. These rules-in-practice became routinised during the Metro years, and
represented standard operating procedure by the time the four new two-tier regional
governments were established around Metro in the 1970s. This planning capacity,
and the routine co-ordination of multiple adjacent development proposals through
secondary plans was essential to the large-scale implementation of New Urbanist style
development in Markham and elsewhere around Toronto in the 1990s (Gordon and
Vipond, 2005; Skaburskis, 2006). This shift, combined with rising land prices, clearly
contributed to the recent increase in residential densities, and reduced sprawl index
(mostly because of tighter street grids) after 1990, seen in Figures 1 and 2. But the
land development regime also demonstrates fundamental continuity of the overall
modernist and automobile-dependent land development pattern.
Andre Sorensen and Paul Hess
Finally, an important characteristic of path-interdependent land development
regimes is that it becomes much more likely that dierent jurisdictions will develop
idiosyncratic solutions to common problems, because of the branching process of
policy development and developmental pathways of subsequent evolution. In this
regard, the use of zoning in Ontario is significant. Although this tool is in some regards
identical to that used in the US, in practice it is quite dierent, as the zoning by-laws
are drafted and passed only after detailed subdivision and block plans have been
approved. Timing and sequencing is extremely important in these processes. The
Toronto land planning regime supports a plan-led system, rather than the zoning-led
systems of much of the US. This distinctive use of a common planning tool provides
a valuable explanation of the enduring variety of locally specific planning regimes,
compromises, and urban outcomes in dierent jurisdictions.
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... Ontario was relatively slow in developing its urban planning system, with Ontario's first planning law granting municipal development control powers (The Planning Act 1946) passed well after those of most US states [81,82]. The timing of the 1946 law was important, as the legitimacy of large-scale government planning had been enhanced by successful wartime mobilization, and by the memory of widespread municipal bankruptcies during the 1930s that were attributed in part to the failure to plan and manage urban growth during the 1920s [83]. ...
... The timing of the 1946 law was important, as the legitimacy of large-scale government planning had been enhanced by successful wartime mobilization, and by the memory of widespread municipal bankruptcies during the 1930s that were attributed in part to the failure to plan and manage urban growth during the 1920s [83]. The second half of the 1940s also saw a severe housing shortage as little housing had been built during the 1930s and the war, there was widespread overcrowding in existing housing, and hundreds of thousands of demobilized troops were returning home, prompting what was described in the legislation as the 'existing emergency in housing conditions' [81] (p. 418). ...
... Such infrastructure was supplied incrementally by local governments and financed with property taxes and borrowing against future revenue. The Planning Act 1946 provided municipalities with the legal authority to set subdivision standards, review subdivision plans, and refuse permission for subdivision plans that did not conform with local plans or standards [81]. This enabled the use of subdivision control as a discretionary regulatory tool because land developers needed an approved, registered plan of subdivision to be able to sell lots [81] (p. ...
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Sustainability transitions research has emerged as one of the most influential approaches to conceptualizing the potential and practice of transformative system change to avoid climate catastrophe. Evolving from work on socio-technical systems via Geels’ multi-level perspective (MLP), this conceptual framework has contributed to understanding how complex systems in the contemporary world can be transformed. This paper contributes to the sustainability transitions literature in three main ways. First, the paper develops a conceptual framework focused on the urban property systems which regulate and support urban property, infrastructure and governance that are historically produced, are densely institutionalized, and through which public norms of property and governance are deeply embedded in and continually inscribed in urban space. Second, the paper suggests that urban property systems are continually and vigorously contested and demonstrate different modes of institutional change than those recognized by the existing sustainability transitions literature. Third, the paper illustrates the approach with a case study of the contested governance of property development in Toronto, Ontario, long one of the fastest growing cities in North America. The Toronto case suggests that institutions embedded in urban property systems are consequential and deserve more attention by those concerned with low-carbon transitions.
... These mechanisms may concern the functional role the studied institution gains in the broader context of co-existing institutions, the institution's legitimation when it is increasingly perceived as the only legitimate authority in its domain or how the institution distributes power among actors, as the dominant groups tend to support institutional settings that maintain and foster their power [40]. Path dependency analysis is applied also in land use and transport planning research [41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50]. ...
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Land use and transport integration has been considered a must-have approach in achieving sustainable urban development. However, successful applications of the concept have been few, as institutional reforms to support land use and transport integration have lagged behind. Accordingly, this article argues that understanding difficulties in land use and transport integration requires an analysis of the long-term evolution of formal and informal institutional frameworks in planning practices. For this purpose, this article presents a case study of land use and transport planning in Finland’s Helsinki Metropolitan Region, which combines interview research on planners’ perceptions with a document analysis of the historical trajectories of the region’s plans, policy documents and related institutional and organizational changes. The historical-institutional approach of the article draws on discursive institutionalism as a novel analytical approach for studying how land use and transport integration is institutionally conditioned.
... These in turn support the emergence of detailed rules-in-practice and legal-administrative cultures and capacities that vary between jurisdictions and that are constitutive of and embedded in urban property systems (see, e.g. Sorensen and Hess 2015). ...
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This chapter argues that the urban transitions producing megacities and megacity-regions generate intensive processes of institutional change both of urban governance systems, and of urban property and infrastructure systems, that have major long-run impacts. Urbanization is framed as a contingent process of institutionalization of space through the production of urban property systems, urban built forms and infrastructures, and local governance systems. These processes of institutionalization are uneven in their timing, sequencing, and pacing in different jurisdictions, and produce enormous differences in outcomes between places. Urbanization should therefore be understood as a dynamic and contingent process that produces systemic institutional transformations and institutionalizations of urban space. Urban institutions and patterns are not 'locked in' as cities change constantly, but the patterns of property, infrastructure and governance produced during processes of urbanization have major and enduring socioeconomic consequences. This conceptual framework is illustrated with the case of Japan.
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Social, political, and economic change sometimes occurs during relatively brief periods in which previously relatively stable institutions are transformed and new approaches established. Historical institutionalists refer to these as critical junctures. Processes of incremental revision and evolution are also important, but if critical junctures sometimes produce enduring legacies, then these processes of rapid institutional change are an important topic for research and theory development. Planning history offers many examples of such relatively short periods of significant change that produced lasting and distinct outcomes in different jurisdictions. The study of critical junctures has been a major theme of comparative historical analysis and historical institutionalism for three decades. This has contributed to the development of robust conceptual frameworks detailing the structure and mechanisms of such change processes and associated research methods that are valuable for planning history and comparative urban research. This paper reviews this research, develops a conceptual framework relevant to planning history and urban governance, and points to processes of rapid institutional change characteristic of cities, suggesting that planning and urban institutions are particularly prone to critical junctures because of multi-level governance contexts, urban complexity, the impacts of urban disasters, and the challenges presented by urbanization and technological and social change.
Problem, research strategy, and findings The multilane arterial roadway is a central feature of post–World War II (WWII) suburbs that challenges efforts to create more transit-oriented regions. Retrofitting suburbs is an important planning goal, but research examining the urban form of arterials and their potential for transformation has been scarce. We analyzed four suburban corridors in the Toronto (Canada) region developed during different periods of suburbanization. We found that the walkability of corridors declined as modernist planning ideas were more fully implemented, and then walkability increased as new urbanist ideas began to influence planning in the 1990s. Over time, however, the retrofit potential declined across all corridors studied, with patterns of lots and development becoming ever more static. Understanding these patterns is important to developing successful strategies for retrofitting suburban arterials. Takeaway for practice Arterial roadway corridors present potential to bring transit-oriented, walkable urban places near large areas of automobile-dependent suburbs and should be a primary focus for retrofitting research and practice. We present here a set of metrics that rely on readily available data, are not complex to carry out, and produce mapping and visualization that is legible and allows comparison across corridors. We suggest that local governments should be routinely studying and evaluating the potential for retrofit and intensification of all such corridors within their jurisdiction. Planners should seek to develop approaches to managing future corridor development to permit greater adaptability in response to future economic, transportation, and climate changes and vulnerabilities.
The paper explains the current state of greenfield development for housing in major German cities. The respective projects are a result of the ways metro regions are structured both administratively and physically, the resulting governance arena that is dominated by the core cities but characterized by a number of constraints that make large greenfield developments increasingly difficult, and the complex socio-economic and cultural realities in relatively “mature” post-industrial urban environments. The paper demonstrates that the resulting development model builds on an attempt to realize “urban” features and qualities in the periphery. It seeks to meet the changing demand for housing and to respond to multiple sustainability requirements. In this respect, it differs significantly from “modernist” suburban development in the 20th century both in terms of physical structures and the roles of the participating stakeholders. For this purpose, the paper analyzes the governance arenas surrounding important greenfield projects that are currently developed. It shows how contested decision making is in a complex environment of contradicting claims to urban planning and housing policies, and that the new neighborhoods can neither be seen as mere appendices of existing peripheral settlements, nor will they ever be able to act as autonomous “new towns”. The planning and implementation efforts depend on the ability of the core cities of metro areas to coordinate fragmented governance arenas, to mobilize supporters and to overcome tenacious resistance from a loose coalition of opponents to peripheral development.
This article is published as part of the Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography special issue ‘Revisiting the green geographies of welfare planning’, edited by Johan Pries and Mattias Qviström. ABSTRACT In the midst of the growing ecological crisis, the ‘compact city’ has become the mainstream urban paradigm for the sustainable future of western cities. However, the uneven implementation of densification policies can have adverse impacts on the amount and quality of urban green spaces, which are vital resources for local communities. This paper explores the controversies of introducing compactness in the case of Toronto’s ‘towers in the park’: housing estates built in comprehensively planned neighbourhoods from the 1950s through the 1970s. It does so through the lenses of urban design and landscape planning, by tracking the evolution of narratives that underpin the current urban regime, and by assessing their legitimacy from the perspective of residents. The findings highlight a persistent mismatch between Toronto’s dominant urban design paradigm and the sociomaterial context of its uncritical application. Exemplar episodes of tower infill show two discursive tropes to justify compactness: the alleged underuse of open spaces, and the creation of a proper public realm by replacing these spaces with buildings and streets. Beyond uncovering the fallacy of both claims, this paper outlines an alternative perspective for more equitable strategies for common green spaces, outside unconditional protection and zealous quest for “value uplift.”
Coastal communities face chronic and episodic risks and uncertainty associated with climate change. Increasing hydroclimatic risks as a result of sea-level rise necessitate an innovative approach to protect assets and guide future development. This chapter details an experimental method for delineating climate action zones (CAZs) based on clusters of unique environmental profiles. Using CAZs as the foundation for adaptation, architects, planners, policymakers, and communities can collaborate to make decisions around environmental risks and uncertainty across multiple scales. Through this research, we argue for a shift from traditional “end-state” land-use planning and urban design toward a more agile approach that can keep pace with changing ecological conditions to develop strategies informed by contextual characteristics. Using Broward County, Florida, as an example, we explore strategies to build a more robust approach to resilience in the coastal zone.
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My study aims to identify checks and balances in planning systems through a detailed examination of three systems, where rapidly growing urban regions are located. Ontario serves as a prime example for vertical checks on decentralized decisions, mainly via an appeal board and binding planning documents. Horizontal checks predominate in decentralized British Columbia (BC), demonstrating the crucial significance of restraint in decision-making within a balanced triangle of mayor/councillors, planning bureaucracy and community. Checks and balances in centralized Israel have been based on a three-level hierarchy of commissions and plans. The two more centralized systems – Israel and Ontario – are more susceptible to pressures for reform, but exhibit the multidirectional nature of reforms and path-dependent constraints on radical transformations.
Discretionary planning supports the provision of public benefits when changes in zoning create additional value on private development sites. This paper draws on two case studies in Toronto, exploring how discretion shapes the broader political and planning policy context in which public benefits are secured from private development. The cases show that even within the same city planning department, variations exist in the application of discretion in planning decisions, which lead to different approaches to securing public benefits. Discretionary planning tools, such as density bonuses, are of consequence for political conflicts over local priorities, democratic accountability, and the built environment.
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In this article, we use parcel-based land-use data to analyze 50years of residential development in the Toronto region. We test two hypotheses: (1) Toronto's form does not conform to conventional definitions of suburban sprawl and (2) Toronto's suburban development shows high levels of continuity over time with relatively high densities and mixed housing types. Contrary to recent research suggesting a convergence of urban forms among North American metropolitan regions, Ontario's robust planning system has created a distinctive, highly consistent pattern of residential development that has, for half a century, achieved many of the core goals of smart growth including relatively compact, contiguous, and concurrent development. This form continues to be automobile dependent, however, and is not producing many of the benefits ascribed to smart growth. Rather than continuing to adopt United States-inspired smart growth policies, a more ambitious set of initiatives will be required to address current regional challenges.
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This paper outlines an historical institutionalist (HI) research agenda for planning history. HI approaches to the understanding of institutions, path dependence, positive feedback effects in public policy, and patterned processes of institutional change offer a robust theoretical framework and a valuable set of conceptual and analytic tools for the analysis of continuity and change in public policy. Yet, to date, there has been no systematic effort to incorporate historical institutionalism into planning history research. The body of the paper proposes planning history relevant definitions of institutions, path dependence, critical junctures, and incremental change processes, outlines recent HI literature applying and extending these concepts, and frames a number of research questions for planning history that these approaches suggest. A concluding section explores the potential application and leverage of HI approaches to the study of planning history and international comparative planning studies and outlines a research agenda.
In recent years, economic geographers have seized on the concepts of `path dependence' and `lock-in' as key ingredients in constructing an evolutionary approach to their subject. However, they have tended to invoke these notions without proper examination of the ongoing discussion and debate devoted to them within evolutionary economics and elsewhere. Our aim in this paper, therefore, is, first, to highlight some of the unresolved issues that surround these concepts, and, second, to explore their usefulness for understanding the evolution of the economic landscape and the process of regional development. We argue that in many important aspects, path dependence and `lock-in' are place-dependent processes, and as such require geographical explanation. However, the precise meaning of regional `lock-in', we contend, is unclear, and little is known about why it is that some regional economies become locked into development paths that lose dynamism, whilst other regional economies seem able to avoid this danger and in effect are able to `reinvent' themselves through successive new paths or phases of development. The issue of regional path creation is thus equally important, but has been rarely discussed. We conclude that whilst path dependence is an important feature of the economic landscape, the concept requires further elaboration if it is to function as a core notion in an evolutionary economic geography.
The Oak Ridges Moraine is a unique landform that generated heated battles over the future of nature conservation, sprawl, and development in the Toronto region at the turn of the twenty-first century. This book provides a careful, multi-faceted history and policy analysis of planning issues and citizen activism on the Moraine’s future in the face of rapid urban expansion. The Oak Ridges Moraine Battles captures the hidden aspects of a story that received a great deal of attention in the local and national news, and that ultimately led to provincial legislation aimed at protecting the Moraine and Ontario’s Greenbelt. By giving voice to a range of actors-residents, activists, civil servants, scientists, developers and aggregate and other resource users, the book demonstrates how space on the urban periphery was reshaped in the Toronto region. The authors ask hard questions about who is included and excluded when the preservation of nature challenges the relentless process of urbanization.
The first comprehensive zoning ordinance is generally seen as an exception: while the rest of the country adopted zoning to protect single-family residential areas, New York did so to rationalize office buildings. This article argues that the resolution was less exceptional and more mainstram than is generally thought, and that its scope was metropolitan rather than local. The authors of the code addressed issues that are still at the top of the planning agenda: residential segregation and suburban flight from the central city, infrastructure development and fiscal balance. A second look at the early work of the New York planners shows how varied their objectives were and how applicable their thinking still is.
This paper explores why Toronto's policies for improving pedestrian conditions are not better reflected in the design of arterial streets as the city tries to refashion them into pedestrian-oriented ‘Avenues’. Professional frameworks shaping street design date from the first half of the 20th century and reflect a consensus between the fields of planning and engineering. Recently, this consensus has broken down in terms of the design of arterial streets. The role of engineering standards in this story has been told, but this study also examines how other institutionalized practices continue to operate making design changes difficult. Understanding why this occurs has lessons beyond Toronto and is intended to help cities to better match street-making practices to new visions of pedestrian-oriented streets.
This study covers the implementation of Florida Growth Management Act (GMA) from 1985 to 2004. The purpose is to evaluate and compare the implementation of three leading GMA policies: consistency, concurrency and compact development. Consistency mandated co-ordination and compliance among state, regional and local plans. Concurrency dictated the volume and pace of local growth because it required public facilities that support development to be available 'concurrent' with the impact of such development. Compact development aimed to restrain suburban sprawl from spreading towards natural resources and agricultural lands and direct it towards urban areas of mixed land uses and high densities. Each policy dominated the GMA implementation in a defined period. Each changed the implementation course of the Act. The different purposes, critical issues, implementation processes and outcomes of the policies create the 'three faces' evaluation story of the GMA. Shedding light on turmoil and policy change in this multifaceted initiative, the evaluation corrects the image of the Act in literature that is largely preoccupied with the implementation of consistency. The study concludes with implications for Florida and other states that either contemplate or implement similar policies.