Suburban Retrofitting – Visions, Desires, and Changes for Neighbourhoods in Mississauga, Ontario
This paper gauges the attitudes and levels of support that residents of the City of Mississauga have towards suburban retrofitting pre-pandemic. Suburban retrofitting incrementally changes the land-use, built-form, and street network patterns of suburban neighbourhoods, typically ones built after World War II, in order to make them more walkable, permeable to automobile traffic, to bring non-residential land-uses closer to residential areas, and to intensify land uses. In effect, the purpose of suburban retrofitting is to urbanize the suburban by facilitating a transition from automobile-oriented neighbourhoods to compact, walkable mixed-use neighbourhoods.
The problematique of auto-dependent suburban sprawl is relevant to Mississauga as much of the City developed in the Post-WW2 era according to this development ethos that is characterized by traffic congestion, excessive loss of agricultural and environmental lands, overburdened infrastructure, significant carbon footprints, new patterns of socio-spatial inequalities and ecological hazards, etc. In short, suburban sprawl as a political-economic project and development ethos has been a significant contributor to the climate change crisis. Suburban retrofitting presents an interconnected web of tools to correct the damaging maladies of sprawl and create more resilient, sustainable cities that can be part of a paradigmatic solution to anthropologically-driven climate change.
Through surveying City residents and assessing their levels of support for major changes to the land-use, built-form, and street network patterns of their neighbourhoods, it was revealed that the majority of respondents supported moderate changes to land-use patterns and major changes to the built-form and street network patterns. Some residents supported mixing in retail, office, and employment uses throughout predominately residential neighbourhoods, but most were supportive of adding in community uses that were not major departures from existing land use patterns. A desire for higher density built forms was expressed by most residents, suggesting a shifting preference towards more efficient patterns of development. The results suggest that residents were supportive of moving away (but not too drastically) from the sprawling, low-density, compartmentalized pattern of land uses that has historically characterized the City. Most residents also supported a transition away from cul-de-sac styles of street networks towards a more interconnected network, which could more readily support transit expansion and usage.
Subsequent correlation analyses further implicate demographic shift in the City as a possible catalyst for future support towards suburban retrofitting. In correlating survey answers with respondents’ demographic characteristics such as age, sex, labour status, income bracket, race, tenure, and mode of transportation, this paper found that there were division along axes of income and age: low-income individuals desired major changes to land-use, built-form, and street network patterns, while middle to high-income individuals desired only minor changes. Furthermore, young adults supported major changes to land-use patterns , while middle-aged adults supported major changes to built-form patterns. For the aging Mississauga that has significant pockets of neighbourhood poverty, the results suggest that suburban retrofitting entails not only a physical transformation across its suburban fabric, but also a demographic and attitudinal rethinking towards more socially and environmentally sustainable forms of suburban living.