Archive for satellite cities

Finding the right labels

  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?

From Suburb to Satellite City

Writing in the Globe and Mail, John Bently Mays insists that some suburbs are thriving:

If pundits are going to discuss the future of North American suburbs — and this is surely an excellent time to do so — then they should have in mind a clear picture of the very dynamic phenomenon they are talking about. If the upmarket suburbs of Sacramento are lapsing into desolation, the exurban communities around Toronto appear to be doing everything but.

Although Mays was challenging something Richard Florida wrote about the increased demand for urban core living, Florida responded by clarifying his message:

I do not think we are seeing a decline of the suburbs. What is happening is a move back toward the core by certain affluent groups for whom time, costs, and location matter. This is what Alan Enerhalt calls the “demographic inversion.” … This demographic inversion is but a part – an important part, but just a part – of a much bigger spatial shift, I call the great intensification.

What we’re also seeing is certain suburbs and even some exurbs reviving or creating a more urban core. Municipalities with their own historical districts are seeing demand from residents to live and/or work in these authentic, inspiring places.

While most suburbs by definition export people to jobs in the urban core, some are doing well at generating employment opportunities.  Corporations and governments have generated jobs in the suburbs, and not just back office, service industry positions (although these have been common).  In addition, residents of many suburbs — including immigrants in places like Toronto and Vancouver — have over time been creating their own businesses and have supported others as consumers or workers.

Assuming fuel prices remain high, and individuals continue to value time more than in the past, then some suburbs whether close to urban cores or more distant may evolve into self-contained satellite cities with weaker links to the region’s major metro area.

Some who currently commute will find a similar job closer to home.  Others will move to the evolving satellite city to be closer to their work.  And some will keep their urban core jobs, but be able to tele-commute one or two days per week, or perhaps work in a local branch office occasionally.  All of this will contribute to creating a more self-contained place — not just a space in which to live — where people will be able to reach jobs, schools and amenities on food, bicycle, bus or in less than a 10 minute drive. This will keep them supporting local businesses as well interacting more in their community, building social cohesion, which many suburban spaces lack.

High speed rail for Tucson-Phoenix?

Would high speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix help reduce carbon monoxide emissions and other pollutants? Or would it generate more in the long run by integrating two automobile-centered cities that are arguably separate entities at the moment?

Planetizen ran an except from and Arizona Republic feature that argues for a 95-mile high speed rail link that starts at the Phoenix Airport, stops in Maricopa, Casa Grande, Eloy, Marana, and Tucson, ending somewhere between Grant and Orange Grove roads near I-10.

As cities start to sprawl into each other, a question that is emerging and will emerge in many areas is whether to encourage the integration with more transportation options — whether more freeways or something “greener.”

So, lets look at the Phoenix-Tucson rail link suggestion.

First, is there demand for the high speed rail? Does anyone commute from Tucson to Phoenix of vice versa on a daily basis? Probably only a handful of people do who have a spouse with a career in the other city. When I lived there it seemed that people lived and worked in Tucson, or lived and worked in Phoenix, and each would have almost nothing to do with the other. When I mention to people I now meet who are from Phoenix that I went to grad school a the University of Arizona in Tucson, they often say they’ve never been, or only once or twice.

Yes there is a lot of traffic on the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, but how many people would use rail instead? Much of this traffic might be headed to L.A.

Because both cities, but especially Phoenix, are based around the automobile (Phoenix is a good example of a car-tropolis), someone using the rail link would have to have no need for a car once they reached their destinations. Even with some better street car and metros under construction or consideration, this seems a long ways off in the future histories of these cities.

Would the high speed rail promote green development in the area? I’d argue that no, it wouldn’t do this. In fact, it might do the opposite by promoting sprawl along the I-10 corridor instead of higher density living in Phoenix and Tucson. Although some ex-urb type sprawl is happening, much of the space between Phoenix and Tucson is sparsely populated desert or agricultural land. Casa Grande, Eloy and Marana don’t seem like dense urban areas that would generate high daily demand for rail travel to Phoenix or Tucson. Eloy, for example has 10,000 people in 71 square miles for a very low population density.

Putting a high speed rail stop would likely encourage people from Phoenix or Tucson to move to these places, with their cheaper housing costs, making them into suburbs. This would result in more asphalt, more concrete, more desert paved over.

Plus, there is no transit in these communities, so anyone living there needs a car. Because there are not the same levels of amenities in these towns as in the big cities, they’d likely be driving to the city on a regular basis to do the bulk shopping required when you don’t live in a walkable neighborhood. So, even if the main breadwinner commuted by rail, the rest of the family would be burning fossil fuels in their daily lives, and the family home itself would contribute to more environmental consumption than if they lived in Tucson or Phoenix.

If we’re talking about making ecologically sound mega-regions, perhaps the answer is not in making it easier for people to live at one end of the megalopolis and work at the other side.

Satellite Cities – Something to watch for

Many talented workers, young and old, are looking for ways to enrich their lives and balance career and family. Some find life in bigger cities inspiring, enriching, fun, and worth whatever housing or commuting sacrifices are necessary.

Other people are looking for a different mix. They want some of the cultural and entertainment opportunities big cities offer — concerts, theatre, sporting events, etc. But don’t necessarily want to live side-by-side with 2 to 8 million other people.

For these individuals, what I’m calling satellite cities may be the answer. That is, small cities that are about 30 – 60 minutes drive beyond the last spots of sprawl from the bigger city. Satellite cities offer the atmosphere of the smaller city — downtown, work, school and friends are all in close proximity — and some of the benefits of the larger city such as driving into down for a concert or the big game.

For a city to be a satellite and not a suburb, it needs to have it’s own history and character as well as the majority of the population living and working in the area (and not the bigger city). That is, it needs to be relatively self-contained in terms of employment and residences. Population wise, I’m thinking that satellite cities as having about 150,000 – 300,000 people, +/-. They also could be part of a satelitte region of 2-3 such cities in close proximity, as with Guelph (see photo), Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo Ontario that serve as a satellite region to Toronto (one of North America’s largest cities).

Some satellite cities have siginifcant universities and may even be the university town of 50-100 years ago, now all grown up with a diversifed industrial and employment base. In some cases the university may offer a platform on which to support different economic clusters.

In Canada, besides the Guelph-Cambridge-Kitchener — Waterloo satellite, there are others to watch. Kingston Ontario; the townships southeast of Montreal; Red Deer and Lethbridge Alberta; and perhaps Squamish BC although the latter’s employment base is not keeping pace with residents who frequently commute to Vancouver or Whistler to work.

For the US, I’ll have to think about it. Everett might have been a satellite of Seattle, but the bigger city seems to have caught it and there is no break. At one time Ft. Worth offered a nice satellite to Dallas, but again infill development has largely merged the two together. A similar situation seems to exist for Phoenix or Los Angeles — at one time there were nice satellite cities, but they;ve become suburbs. Send me your suggestions of great US satellite cities to watch for as the new sites of subtle, “under the radar” economic development.

I have more ideas on this topic that I’ll post soon.

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