Urban intensification vs. suburban flight: An integrated residential land-use and transportation model to evaluate residential land-market form and function.


Municipalities throughout Canada are challenged to make planning decisions to enhance economic competitiveness, the urban environment, and residents’ quality of life. Commonly applied planning interventions influence location incentives, including the diversity and spatial distribution of housing provided by the development community. Location decisions are also influenced by the location, cost, and connectedness of transport networks. The distribution of activities in turn, dictates the transportation behaviour of travellers. Both factors influence the environmental health of cities. The residential built environment and the land management behaviour of residents affect water quality, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration; and transportation mode choice, number of trips, and trip length affect air quality and carbon emissions. Thus, planning decisions such as development incentives and major transit services upgrades influence a complex set of actions and interactions amongst the various stakeholders: developers, homebuyers, governance and the environment. The likelihood of sound planning choices is predicated upon the ability of planners to model and holistically forecast these interactions.

Researchers have made progress in the development of scientifically grounded models to support planning; yet, significant gaps remain. Our proposed research will develop an integrated agent-based simulation model that links residential land market activity, landscaping management, and transportation decisions. The Waterloo Regional Model (WARM) will extend the current state of planning tools to better represent the disaggregate behaviour and interactions of three primary stakeholders: residential consumers, residential suppliers, and travellers in a metropolitan area.

Agent-based models (ABM) are social science based computer simulations that represent the decentralized motivations, constraints, decisions and interactions of system actors. ABMs can be used to investigate factors that shape the balance of urban densification and suburban expansion in rapidly growing Canadian metropolitan areas. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo is a growing, representative mid-sized city that has: implemented novel land use controls in the form of an urban growth boundary; endorsed an $818M rapid transit investment to encourage core-area densification; and seen an evolution in economic base from manufacturing to high tech/education. Working with regional planners, we will develop and test scenarios to investigate whether current policies and planned infrastructure investments — or potential alternatives — will lead to desired levels of urban intensification, accessibility, environmental protection and economic competitiveness. WARM builds on previous models developed by the investigators, but includes several scientifically significant innovations: incorporation of empirically informed resident and developer demand and supply models; integration of a residential ABM with a transportation mode choice model; and representation of urban core and exurban residential housing markets.

The project plans extensive multi-disciplinary, international dissemination of models and results to academics, students, educators, and policy analysts. This will make substantial contributions to needed infrastructure and outreach in this new field. Project results, models, data, and teaching materials will be distributed online through the Global Land Project, the OpenABM website, the new GLOBE land change science case-study comparison portal, and Waterloo Centre for Complexity and Innovation’s (WICI’s) website. The project will also train three MSc students, 2 PhDs, and one post doc, who are expected to further disseminate new methods through employment in the public and academic sectors.

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