When Is A City Too Big? By The Contrarian

There is a theory in urban planning that there is an optimum size for a city.  Quality of life gets better as the city gets bigger up to the optimum size, and then the problems grow while the benefits do not, and quality of life is diminished.

As towns and cities get bigger, more and better recreation facilities can be afforded; there is more variety of shopping and things to do; folks have to travel less for medical specialties; education facilities including a university become possible; public transit gets better; major league sports franchises arrive; high level cultural amenities such as an opera hall or a symphony orchestra are possible; world class medical care, hospitals, specialists become available.

As towns and cities become bigger, the sense of community, of belonging, disappears; traffic congestion gets worse; there is more and more crime and the community is not as safe; smog is a factor, and air and water pollution problems emerge; the connection to the land is lost, local food is not available.

Somewhere in there, the lines cross, the things that get better reach a plateau, more than one university or large hospital is no improvement, while the problems of pollution and crime and gridlock, and above all loss of community just keep growing.  Textbooks suggest the optimum size is around 300 000 people – large enough for a university, a major league franchise, a world class hospital.

Some of us might think the optimum is a lot smaller, say like Thunder Bay, and some might argue it needs to be even bigger, say a half a million.  The point is we can all agree there is an optimum and bigger after that is not better for anybody.

Of course, cities need to be spaced out so that they are not merely suburbs, there needs to be enough distance between so there is space to handle pollution problems, and open country for food production and recreation opportunities.  Textbooks suggest that spacing needs to be at least 50 miles of open country between urban areas.

So, we can all agree there is an ideal, say cities of no more than 300 000, spaced no less than 50 miles apart.  This is recognized by such initiatives as the Green Belt idea around Toronto; now languishing as Ontario half-heartedly resists the blandishments of developers. Or the effort a few decades ago to spread government services/jobs around the province, such as printing lottery tickets in Sault St Marie (whoop-de-doo!).  But overall, only half-hearted efforts to address the ‘too big’ problem.

Canada was built by immigrants, who came here to make a home, and who went to the end of the road to make that home, that is, literally built the country.  They came to be citizens and accepted our language and our culture.  But in recent decades, much of what we do pushes immigrants to our largest cities, cities which by any measure are already much larger than the optimum.  In ghettos where they do not learn our language and our culture, and do not become Canadians, their prospects are limited, and we have in fact done them a great disservice.

One has to ask, what useful purpose does it serve to bring people here and put them into ghettos in cities already too large?  All the while busily emptying our countryside in favour of growing those too big cities even bigger?  Instead, we should be encouraging new immigrants to disperse across the country and help to build a strong and united Canada?  Buys votes, I suppose.