Particular difficulties

Over the past few decades, urban areas grew wealthier and less crime-ridden, while house prices soared and became less affordable.

As a result, an ensuing flight to the suburbs gained momentum. Then schools expanded, roads were built, shopping malls sprung up and suburban treasuries were overflowing.

More and more of the North American population was living the dream of neat lawns and picket fences. This epitomized the post-war generation’s view of the good life; something that could go on forever.

Then, in order to appease this swelling segment of the population, many companies moved their headquarters to, or at least near, suburban enclaves. Immigrants too partook of this lifestyle, and success fed on success. Stronger unions meant that even workers on assembly lines could be transformed into suburbanites.

The population of suburbs expanded at almost incredible rates. For instances, at Montreal, along the so-called Lakeshore, places such as Pointe Claire and Dorval were transformed from farmland into population centres. Toronto, among others experienced similar gains as its suburbs, Mississauga and Oakville, became city-like themselves.

This is past history. More recently, during the sub-prime housing bubble, people with poor credit scores assumed mortgages that could not be sustained as interest rates climbed.

Then this dream-like bubble burst. People tend to think of poverty as urban. It is true that poverty rates tend to be higher in urban areas. However, it is in the suburbs where you will find the fastest growth in the number of poor people. The massive expansion of housing projects that encouraged people to move to the suburbs came to an abrupt end.

Many factors contributed to the subsequent collapse of suburban enthusiasm. Rising interest rates and soaring unemployment among the laid off assembly-like workers were significant factors.

As baby boomer families aged, and their children moved away, the demand for suburban homes experienced a sharp decline. There was a concomitant upswing in the population’s move back to cities, as exemplified by high-density development and the tremendous proliferation of condos.

School were less of a problem for this sector of the population, and onerous commuting was further incentive for a return to city living. Prices on homes turned less affordable, despite low mortgage rates; renting now is fashionable.

Clearly, the suburbs must confront particular continuing problems. It appears then that the Canadian way of living increasingly will mirror that in Europe.



Bruce Whitestone