A year ago, I lived in the Plateau-Mt. Royal neighbourhood of Montreal, Canada. One of the most densely populated parts of the city and a former working class neighbourhood, over the past few decades it has arguably become the hippest part of the city, with countless restaurants, bars and cafés and many beautiful parks. My apartment was a 2-minute walk from a grocery store, with several more stores within a 10 minute walk. It was located beside restaurants, cafés, bars, yoga studios, libraries, boutiques and specialized stores. I could satisfy my everyday needs within a 10-minute walk of my apartment, and could easily jump on a bus or the metro to get all over the city.

Plateau-Mt-Royal neighbourhood

Later that same year, I lived with my parents in the home I grew up in, about 25 km from the Plateau in the suburb of Pointe-Claire. Pointe-Claire is a typical suburb, with separated land uses (check out this blog for more on Pointe-Claire), large shopping complexes, and congested arterial roads. Just 1 km from my parents’ home is a large shopping center, so there is roughly the same number of stores, cafés, and restaurants within a 10-minute walk of both dwellings. However, in Pointe-Claire the vast majority of these stores, restaurants, and cafés are inside one building. There is no straight path on foot between the neighbourhood and the shopping center – the shortest path is through a back alley, across two directions of traffic on a busy road and through a vast parking lot. Not a walker’s paradise. The longer path follows a residential street grid, passing single-family homes and several car dealerships before reaching the same parking lot. As a result of this design, few people walk to the shopping center.

Pointe-Claire

This situation emphasizes the importance of mixed-uses urban planning. In Pointe-Claire, the commercial area and the residential neighbourhood are totally separate, with a large arterial road and a parking lot wedged between them. The mall does nothing to invite pedestrians, as everything from the parking lot to the large setback, is geared towards access by automobile. In the Plateau, my apartment sat above a coffee shop, and all the residential streets were adjacent to some commercial strip, keeping residents close to local businesses – and walking to get there.

What are other negative effects of the urban design of suburbs?

Credits: Photographs by Devon Willis. Data linked to sources.