The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says in its latest Housing Market Insight (HMI) report that they detect “moderate or elevated evidence of overvaluation” in Hamilton and communities (barely) within commuting distance of the GTA. They suggest price appreciation in those areas is driven by factors besides a general house price increase experienced over the last two decades due to favourable economic conditions.
Because of the phenomenal growth of GTA house prices, CMAs like Hamilton, Barrie and Guelph are seeing an influx of buyers, and in turn an increase in home prices. While increasing prices in centres within commuting distance is not new, the report says the spillover is now reaching even further afield, most especially in St. Catharines-Niagara.
I continue to hope that moves to such outlining centres will result not in Toronto-bound drivers spending yet more time in their cars, but in efforts to attract commercial and manufacturing concerns to these other areas. As it is, CMHC estimates that a 10% increase in GTA house prices would result in a 14% increase in prices in Hamilton; similarly, a 10% drop in GTA house prices would result in a 14% drop.
According to a report by global management consultants McKinsey & Company and Bloomberg New Energy, “the way people move around the urban environment is primed for dramatic change” thanks to “a number of social, economic and technological trends.” By 2030, they say, we’ll be faced with three new urban models.
While cities rely on mobility — whether it’s taxis, delivery trucks, public transit, etc. — it’s also responsible for some of the biggest downsides of urban life: congestion, pollution and noise.
The joint report, “An integrated perspective on the future of mobility,” says that while globally, mobility in 2030 will on average look much as it does now, there are some 50 urban areas that may be leading the way towards alternate paradigms.
The electrification of vehicles, car-sharing and autonomy are three trends most imminently poised for takeoff; the report offers as anecdotal support the dramatic drop in the cost of lithium battery packs in the last five years, the proliferation of car-sharing and ride-hailing services around the world, and the possibilities offered by self-driving. With urbanization expected to increase average density by 30% over the next 15 years, demand will only rise.
Singled out as future-minded examples are Amsterdam, Singapore and Stockholm. All have efficient public transit, encourage cycling and walking, and have successfully limited both traffic congestion and pollution. To successfully leverage electrification, car-sharing and autonomy, leaders in urban design and management must also embrace integrated energy systems, public transport and infrastructure.
The diverse individual specifics of each city will affect the degree to which these three trends are embraced; for example, in megacities in developing countries, such as in Delhi or Mumbai where congestion and poor air are the most pressing issues, a shift to cleaner transport such as EV may be the leading edge of change because of a lack of adherence to traffic regulations and poor infrastructure, whereas in a city like Los Angeles, where the problems are the same but the circumstances differ, it may make the most sense to first embrace self-driving technologies. Of course with every up there’s a down; as the report points out, lower cost EVs and the ability to get around on our own without actually driving may increase the demand for mobility and in turn worsen congestion.
Densely populated but high-income cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore may see high-quality public transit and shared vehicles at the forefront of change, thanks to their access to smart software platforms that can manage traffic to give them the door-to-door on-demand service they demand.
Where does Toronto fit and what can we expect? Like all such prognostication, it’s anyone’s guess, but I think our primary roadblocks (no pun intended) are dire public transit and a lack of infrastructure for family life that continues to drive urban sprawl. It would be easy to say that weather is a hindrance to cycling and walking, but there are many cold cities that manage it better, including Amsterdam, where bicycles are everywhere.
We have neglected pedestrian-friendly streets in favour of cars, cars, cars and we do very little to promote the wellness benefits of cycling and walking, not to mention fostering better relationships among cyclists, walkers and drivers. It’s getting better — at least we have a few bike lanes — but there’s a lot more we could do.
I think as the technology gets cheaper, we will see a rise in the presence of electric vehicles, and we’re already seeing a growing acceptance for and encouragement of ride sharing, with some condo developers including car-share parking on premises. According to the Toronto Star in 2015, traffic congestion alone cost the GTA $5 billion annually.
We’re talking about imposing tolls for driving downtown, but why are we still just talking? And why aren’t we talking about opening up our underused HOV lanes to single-person vehicles for a fee? It wouldn’t change the number of vehicles on the road, but it would generate revenue that could potentially improve our public transit faster.
We also need to be looking at some out-of-the-box solutions. Did you know that the package-delivery giant UPS plans left-turn-free routes to optimize fuel savings and delivery times? Why do we still allow left-hand turns from so many of our major roads? Our traffic signal timing seems pretty off to me sometimes, too. We should be looking not just at adding elements, but also taking away or fixing elements that don’t work.
There’s no question that we need to see a change in our mobility patterns. Where do you think we’ll see it first?