Why the Suburbs are What they Are: John Sewell Explains


This is not a Toronto story. Sure, it is about a lecture given by the former Mayor of Toronto John Sewell and it is about the development of Toronto and its suburbs, but the lessons are universal. As Kim Storey said in her introduction, "Listening to John Sewell is like going to the optometrist- he sharpens your focus." Mayor Sewell is giving four lectures on The Shape of the City: Challenges to Growth. We attended the first on Monday Night at the Gladstone Hotel.


This first lecture was about the development of the highway infrastructure that enabled suburban growth. The Minister of Transport in 1934 envisioned a double carriageway based on the best ideas of the autobahn in Germany. Astonishingly they thought that these roads would not promote development around them but would act as links between centers and that the value of land near the highways would go down rather than up. It was the first time that new roads were planted in fields rather than an incremental expansion of existing routes. Never before had roads been planned from scratch and nobody understood the consequences.

Of course, development exploded around these highways and by the 60's they were at capacity. An underfunded commuter rail system was developed but it used leased tracks and could never be self-sustaining, because the roads certainly were not. Now, we have endless sprawl of low density development feeding tens of thousands of commuters onto roads that were not designed for this purpose, into communities that do not have the infrastructure to support the load.

We look forward to next week and talking about sewers.