Sprawl In Canada and the U.S.: A Comparison


This article by Michael Lewyn of Planetizen is a preview of his research on sprawl in the US and Canada.  Despite following similar courses in our development history, there are some significant differences between us and our neighbor to the North (other than their superior healthcare).  First of all, Canadian cities are growing.  Lewyn compared the ten cities in each country that had the largest population in 1950 and found that eight of the American cities had lost population (St. Louis has lost about 59%), while all of the Canadian cities had grown.  This is partially because of an aggressive annexation policy in Canada, but controlling for that, six of their cities still grew, and the other four did not experience losses comparable to their American counterparts.

Canadian cities are also less car-dependent.  In the US, 8% of trips are taken by transit.  In Canada it’s 14%.  Canada is still considerably more car dependent than Europe (Lewyn mentions that less than a quarter of trips in Zurich and Copenhagen are by car), so it sort of functions as a middle ground between American auto-dependence and European auto-freedom.

Some of Canada’s advantages, such as lower crime rates and higher gas prices, are either not related or distantly related to planning.  And while Canada still supports sprawl through excessive highway funding and single-use zoning, it doesn’t do so to near the degree of the US.  So there are more lessons we can learn from Canada than just healthcare.

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