The Urban Growth and Change Research Group

Dawn Parker’s research group is conducting long-term, highly empirical research to explore interactions between residential location and transportation decisions, using Kitchener-Waterloo and the natural experiment of its light rail implementation as a living laboratory case study.

The outward growth of cities after the Second World War and associated urban sprawl has created extensively documented negative impacts. As a result, contemporary planning policy and investments promote intensification–concentration of activities in vibrant urban cores and nodes and corridors that support accessibility and more efficient municipal expenditures. Rapid transit (RT) has potential to catalyze intensification, assuming that it causes intensification and economic vitality. However, while numerous studies have demonstrated correlation between these factors, due to data and methodological limitations, causality has not been established.  Establishing causality is challenging, as some relationships may be direct–new RT investments may make adjacent lands more desirable–producing direct changes in property values. Yet, some impacts may be indirect, as RT investment might increase the density of complementary land uses, creating positive agglomerative feedbacks. Confounding the identification challenge, such feedbacks can occur independent of, and may themselves induce, RT investments. Further, RT investments often occur with complementary physical investments, higher land values, or policy changes to achieve planning goals. 

The team’s research responds to a natural experiment to explore the causal dynamics between the just-implemented Ion light rail transit (LRT), core-area intensification, residential land use and markets, and transportation behavior in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, working with local government and industry partners. Research in the UGC research group has two streams:  data gathering/analysis and modeling.  Working in partnership with the Region of Waterloo, they are gathering and analyzing qualitative and quantitative information from the pre-build stage through completion of the LRT construction. To date they have surveyed residential land owners, renters, and developers, buyers, sellers, and real estate agents, with results reported in four completed student theses. A just-approved PhD thesis combines survey, land transaction, and assessment data for an in-depth, multi-method statistical examination of space-time price trends and their relationship to demographic buyer cohorts. In-progress research is chronicling retail changes along the LRT corridor to assess any retail gentrification trends.  An additional study for the Region and cities examines property value impacts of cycling infrastructure.  The team will be using these data to build a series of agent-based models that model the joint evolution of residential land-use change and transportation behaviour. In addition to the partnership with Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and Teranet that facilitated their most recent research, the research team is exploring new collaborative partnerships with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Bank of Canada.