The pros and cons of elevator suburbs

MLewyn's picture
Jane/Finch strip mall

As I was looking through my Twitter feed last night, I noticed an article on Canada's "elevator suburbs"- suburban streets (often, but not always, in low-income areas) filled with mid-and high-rise apartment buildings and shops, with lower-density housing on side streets.  How do these places stack up (pun intended) from an urbanist perspective?

I lived in Toronto for a year, and visited some of these places- most memorably the corner of Jane and Finch (one of Toronto's poorest neighborhoods) and the corner of Bathurst and Steeles (a much more affluent area, but one with a pretty similar urban fabric).  On the positive side, these places are dense enough to support transit: although the Toronto subway does not serve them, bus service is regular enough that you don't have to carry around a bus schedule.  And both corners have walkscores in the 60s and 70s, because shops tend to be within a couple of blocks of apartment buildings.

What's not so good about these places?  Street design.  The streets in these areas tend to be wide enough to be uncomfortable for pedestrians, and most buildings are separated from the street by parking lots (though on the positive side, the parking lots are not the size of football fields- but from a pedestrian perspective any setback is too much).

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