Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Pedestrians are reflected on a building as they walk in downtown Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada is not an urban society. It is a suburban society. More than two-thirds of Canadians live in suburbs; in our largest cities the figure is over 80 per cent. Fifty-five per cent of Canadians live in detached homes. Four of the five best-selling vehicles in Canada are pickup trucks. (The fifth is an SUV.)

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to hasten the flight from downtown to suburb, from the condo tower to a house with a garage and a backyard, from public transit to owning a car.

To understand the future of cities, understand the suburban family living on a curvy street in a house with the garage sticking out and a Ford F-150 in the driveway.

Story continues below advertisement

What does this family need or desire? How, other than relying on market forces and keeping out of their way, can we make their lives better? These are the questions that matter when we talk about the future of cities.

The pandemic has revealed flaws in the assumptions behind downtown living. Many millennials, unable to afford the stratospheric prices of houses in the core, live in high-rises. This is not an ideal environment when two adults suddenly have to work from home and there isn’t even a balcony, let alone a backyard.

Some of this will go away once everyone is vaccinated. But working from home is likely to become much more common, which is why in my city, Ottawa, Shopify wants to sublet its downtown headquarters.

Suddenly, the idea of thousands upon thousands of people wasting hours each day funnelling into city centres in the morning and then back home at night seems faintly ridiculous. Who wants to go back to doing that five days a week?

If the future of the city involves more people working at least part of the time from home, housing will have to adapt. As it turns out, the detached suburban house is quite well suited to the task.

People downtown grapple with issues such as congestion, homelessness, affordability. They assign a high priority to combatting global warming. They seek redistributive solutions: social services, subsidized housing, anti-racism initiatives, bike lanes, a carbon tax.

But the priorities of many suburbanites – including the 51 per cent of immigrants in Greater Toronto who live in suburbs – are aspirational rather than redistributive; they are more interested in getting ahead than in giving back. They don’t ride bikes between November and April, and they don’t seek to defund the police. As for global warming: pickup trucks.

Story continues below advertisement

If your response is that we must must get suburbanites to change their way of living and thinking, how do you plan to win their votes?

People in city centres should be thinking less about compelling suburbs to change, and more about what they’re going to do with all those empty downtown office towers and the shuttered stores in the malls beneath them, now that suburban workers are spending at least part of their work week at home.

They might ask how they’re going to get suburbanites to come downtown to shop and eat and see a movie or a play if they don’t work there much any more, cool new restaurants are opening in their own neighbourhood and everything they want to see is streamed.

That doesn’t mean many suburban dwellers don’t want changes. Looser zoning and fewer regulations might encourage the return of the corner store and other shops within walking distance.

Public transit may be reshaped to serve each community rather than acting as a hub-and-spoke commuter system.

The pandemic has revealed that retirement homes can be life-threatening. In our aging society, houses need to be redesigned to accommodate multiple generations of one family. Actually, they already do. Drive around any suburban neighbourhood with detached homes. Note how many jam three or four cars into the driveway. That may well be a multigenerational family, including grandparents and adult children who can’t afford to move out.

Story continues below advertisement

People thinking about the future of the city need to show suburban dwellers more respect. Stop telling them what their values and priorities should be, what future you envision for them.

They are most of us. They will decide their own future. And just in case you haven’t noticed, they like big trucks.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies