A recent report from the Canadian Urban Institute on office sprawl – The New Geography of Office Location and the Consequences of Business as Usual in the GTA - makes crystal clear a few key points:
1. Office sprawl continues in the Toronto area. While often neglected, non-residential sprawl is as or more important than residential sprawl. The report notes that 66 million square feet of office space – more than that found in Calgary and Edmonton combined – accommodating 325,000 workers, has been built over the last 20 years in car-dependent suburban locations.
2. At present, within the Toronto region as a whole, 108 million sq.ft. of office space is located beyond the reach of high order transit. Even after current transit plans for the region are built, approximately 98 million sq.ft. of space will remain unserviced by high order transit.
3. At the same time, there is no shortage of development opportunities within already built-up areas, and especially within walking distance of existing subway stations.
4. Mispricing drives office sprawl. CUI’s analysis shows clearly how office development patterns shifted after property tax differentials emerged between Toronto and the surrounding municipalities in the late 1970s. Higher non-residential tax rates in Toronto deflected development just beyond the city’s boundary to suburban, car dependent locations. Another factor is the time and cost involved in gaining planning approvals for redevelopment in Toronto.
What are the implications of CUI’s analysis? Existing transit infrastructure is being underutilised, especially the potential for offices outside the core, that would generate work trips against the peak flow. New transit investments are not addressing the single biggest source of traffic congestion: car dependent office districts. We are not getting the most out of these expensive and region-shaping investments. Comprehensive district plans need to be developed to retrofit the car-dependent office areas, plans that delineate a strategy for moving them toward more mixed-use, balanced and amenity-rich places that can be accessed by means other than just the car. This includes removing existing planning and mispricing obstacles.
To access CUI’s report, click here.