This second part of the report has painted a mixed picture of the study areas. Although Urban Growth Centres represent an important step towards meeting objectives in the Places to Grow strategy, as well as in earlier planning initiatives focusing on the Greater Toronto Area, existing nodes fall well short of reaching these objectives. Findings have further revealed glaring discrepancies between the present conditions of the different study areas and the requirements of such goals. For example, public transit modal shares are far from the objectives stated in official plans and densities will need to increase substantially to meet Places to Grow goals.
Nevertheless, the existence of planned nodes which have been successful in juxtaposing functions that are usually segregated in the suburban realm demonstrates the feasibility of the nodal approach. Indeed, the mixed use of suburban nodes and their relatively high densities distinguish them from their surroundings.
This analysis has also demonstrated the ability of the different nodes to attract residents by their location, land use, functional features, and housing costs. In many study areas, this attraction has contributed to demographic growth. The travel patterns of the study areas also figure among their achievements. For the most part, study areas record levels of transit use that exceed those of their respective urban surroundings and a certain amount of pedestrian-based synergy between their office functions and their stores and restaurants.
The information on study areas points to numerous obstacles that prevent them from meeting the planning objectives established for nodes and corridors. Perhaps the worst obstacle confronting most nodes at present is their failure, for more than 15 years, to attract new office space. Nodes (and downtown Toronto) are victims of an overall decline in office building development and of a growing predilection of office space developers and tenants for low-density, automobile-oriented suburban business parks. This tendency represents a serious challenge to the Places to Grow macro-scale goal of augmenting reliance on public transit within the GGH. It is impossible to provide good-quality public transportation services to offices located in low-density business parks.
The failure of nodes to attract sufficient office employment also impedes the full achievement of mixed-use goals for nodes and cripples the potential for inner synergy. In some nodes, inner synergy is also hindered by an environment that is ill-suited to walking. The activities in these nodes do not interact as much as they could, with adverse consequences for their future development.
Variations in study area modal shares echo not only the quality of services within their boundaries, but their location within the GGH and the nature of transportation services available within their catchment areas. For downtowns, nodes, and corridors to achieve their transportation objectives, considerable attention must be given to the nature of the connections tying them to their catchment areas.
The nature of the pedestrian environment (and therefore the intensity of the street life and the overall atmosphere) of the study areas and their location within the GGH are reflected in the socioeconomic attributes of their residents. It appears that by choosing to live in one of the central study areas, all of which offer an appealing pedestrian environment, residents who belong to small households, are highly educated, and earn above-average incomes, make a lifestyle choice. What is more, their occupations are sometimes associated with values that predispose them to inner-city living.
In contrast, suburban study areas, where the environment is mostly automobile-oriented, are populated by residents whose income is lower, who live in larger households, and who are more likely to be immigrants. It is easy to conclude that for them, living in a suburban node or corridor is more a question of affordability than a lifestyle choice, although the convenience of living close to employment, stores, and transit no doubt plays a major role in their residential location decision.