Our findings reveal consumer travel behaviours that are clearly at odds with smart growth principles. The suburbanization of retail, employment, and housing (i.e., the growth of the suburban market), coupled with the rise of clusters of retail activity (power centres), at major highway and arterial intersections, have contributed to the reported steady increase in car-based shopping trips. The Growth Plan promotes mixed-use development as a more sustainable form of growth, but to date there are few examples of mixed-use developments with integrated retail, and therefore limited mixed-use success stories upon which to base retail investment.
While the Growth Plan was developed with a view to changing the region for the better, the processes investigated in this report have remained at the periphery of the discussion. Expansion of retail capacity is mentioned, but little has been provided to date in the way of tools or guidelines for planners who deal with retail development applications. Retail is seen as a land use that should be available within certain mixed-use built environments, yet specific recommendations to reshape the retail-travel relationship are still needed. The Growth Plan contains no measurable retail targets (e.g., thresholds, planning ratios) that regional and municipal planners can use to direct retail to Urban Growth Centres. Meanwhile, debates over residential intensification targets and employment forecasts have tended to overshadow consideration of the consumer commercial landscape.
Further research and objective data is needed to develop retail-based policy that supports growth management objectives. It is to be hoped that this research into the interrelationship of retail development and travel flows will spur a debate on places to shop and how consumers get to those places--a debate that will lead to the creation of planning tools and strategies to achieve the goal of developing compact, complete communities.