Cities and their hinterlands are changing, and have been for some time. The black-white dichotomy of suburban-core is becoming ever more unhelpful in describing the different types of places in or related to cities where people can live and work. Some new definitions or labels may be in order.
Here are my thoughts on some definitions of metropolitan and related spaces. I’d welcome your ideas, or links to existing work in this area by others.
Lets start with what we had maybe 20 years ago.
Twin Cities – Cities that were founded separately, for different reasons. They have their own historic “downtown” centre of gravity. During the 20th century, because of the automotive age, they became linked by a ribbon of freeways; they also likely came to share a major airport as well as some “suburbs” that grew to sprawl in between the historic poles. Twin cities have distinct identities and even economies in the sense that not many people live in one twin and work in the other. Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and possibly Seattle-Tacoma could be called Twin Cities.
Satellite Cities – Cities or smaller metro areas that are close enough to a major metropolitan area that citizens or business people might make easy day trips there and take advantage of specialized amenities, but are far enough to be distinct entities. They don’t share suburbs or airports. The Kitchener CMA (+ Guelph) would be a good example of a satellite (to Toronto). Tucson in some ways qualifies as a Satellite to Phoenix and San Diego and Los Angeles might also be considered a Satellite pair.
Bedroom Suburban District – Bedroom suburbs do not have the same economic centres of gravity as major metropolitan areas, satellites or twins. Typically, many more people would leave them daily to go to work than there are jobs in that suburb. Plus many of the jobs there would be retail, restaurant or personal services, mostly serving the bedroom community population.
Industrial Suburban District – A suburb that contains a lot of low density industrial lands and business parks. Manufacturing might have been there in the mid 20th century, while today it could be home to more warehouse-logistics space as well as suburban office parks and flex spaces. Sometimes within the same municipality there might be an industrial suburban half and a bedroom suburban half, with little relation or interaction between the two other than they pay taxes to, and are served by, the same municipal government.
Urban Suburban Districts - Places that are within a major metropolitan area, but seem more urban. They have mid and even higher density, walkable residential areas often next to taller office towers and higher density employment lands. They also have rapid transit links into the major metropolitan area’s downtown. What they may lack is that “historic downtown” and they likely have regional branch offices of businesses rather than the metro area’s head office.
Today many suburban municipalities are shifting from all or mostly low density, separated bedroom and industrial districts into something more complex. Mississauga (Toronto CMA) and Surrey (Vancouver CMA) are attempting to create new high density town centres from the shells of shopping centres. Office and residential spaces combined with new transit options are being created to reshape these places into urban suburban districts. What shall we call these places — Urbanizing suburbs?