The changing landscape of Canadian metropolitan areas
Section 2: The census metropolitan area landscape

Landscape characteristics have historically been among the main determinants of the location and development of villages, towns and cities. Many early settlements were established on rich plains where residents benefitted from arable land for cultivation and forests for hunting and trapping. As well, waterways facilitated transportation and high ground provided a vantage point for defensive purposes—for example, Winnipeg, which has thrived at the confluence of trade routes, or Québec, built overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

Environmental features such as land cover contribute to the landscape and have fundamental implications for the availability of natural capital and the provision of ecosystem goods and services. For example, wetlands provide flood protection, wildlife habitat and water storage capacity, while forests, city parks and green space can improve air quality, moderate temperatures and provide social and health benefits such as education or recreation opportunities.

However, as land cover changes, so too does the suite of goods and services provided by the natural environment. The transformation from more natural covers to built-up landscapes, characterized by a high percentage of impervious surfaces including roadways, parking lots and roof tops, increases stormwater runoff, creates urban heat islands and reduces the number and diversity of animals and native plants.Note 1

While Canada's built-up area represented only 0.1% of the country's total area in 2011,Note 2 urban expansion results in the loss of prime agricultural land because numerous communities across the country were originally established on fertile agricultural land.Note 3 The expansion and intensification of built-up area also results in the loss of green space and natural land covers. These changes are normally permanent—once agricultural or natural land is used for urban purposes, it is unlikely to return to a natural state.Note 4

This section provides information on some of the factors that can influence land use in cities and summarizes the state of land cover and land use for CMAs across Canada, as well as the changes that have occurred between 1971 and 2011.

Land use patterns in cities

Land use in cities has many economic, environmental, health and social impacts. At the time of the industrial revolution, cities were compact and walkable, and were clustered around port and rail hubs. However, the adoption of cars as the main mode of transport, along with a wide range of political, social and cultural factors, led to the development of low density housing in the periphery of cities—a phenomenon often termed 'sprawl.' This type of dispersed development has become the prevailing pattern for city growth throughout much of North America.Note 5

More recently, larger metropolitan regions have developed complex polycentric forms characterized by suburban business districts, also known as 'edge cities.'Note 6 Workplaces have become more decentralized—in recent years, job growth in Canada has occurred more rapidly in peripheral municipalities than in central municipalities.Note 7

Land use patterns can affect the availability, diversity and value of housing, commercial buildings and industrial sites. Differences in physical activity,Note 8 perception and occurrence of problem behaviours (e.g., vandalism, littering, noise, vagrancy, drunkenness and prostitution)Note 9 and strength of social connectionsNote 10 have all been attributed, at least in part, to land use patterns in cities, such as whether people live in urban or suburban, central or peripheral, or high-density or low-density neighbourhoods.

Land use patterns also affect transportation including commute times and modes of travel. For example, in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver census metropolitan areas (CMAs), residents of central municipalities are more likely to use public transit, while residents of neighbouring municipalities are more likely to drive their personal vehicle. At the same time, CMA resident workers living in newer homes generally have to travel farther to get to work compared to those living in older homes.Note 11 These trends have an impact on the environment—motor vehicle use by households is responsible for more than half of household greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for one tenth of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions.Note 12

Although the main direction of urban growth has been outward, with lower population densities in the periphery of cities, in some cases there has been an effort to increase density.Note 13 Higher density mixed use development is a key aspect of 'smart growth,' a set of land use and development practices recommended by many land use planners and others that can be applied in urban, suburban and rural areas.Note 14 More compact forms of development can help create walkable and transit friendly neighbourhoods, reduce pressure to convert agricultural and natural land in the periphery of cities and reduce the need for new roads, other infrastructure and community amenities.Note 15

Densification can be seen today in the new condominium towers dotting major cities and the townhouse developments replacing single family homes. The addition of duplexes, secondary suites and other infill development can increase density in existing neighbourhoods while minimizing changes to neighbourhood character. However these changes can also be contentious due to concerns about the increased number of people and their effects on traffic, parking, parks and other community infrastructure, as well as the increased height and density of buildings and effects on privacy, views, shading, tree canopy, city heritage and loss of affordable rental stock.Note 16

Both expansion and intensification can happen at the same time, with development outward in the periphery and upward and infill growth in the city centres—as can be seen, for example, in some CMAs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area around Toronto. As well, new residential development in outlying areas can be low-density—characterized by single detached homes and large lots—or high density, with a higher proportion of apartments or townhouses.

Factors affecting land use patterns

Land use patterns themselves may also be influenced by a number of factors such as population growth, commuting costs and times, the value of land for housing and land use planning and zoning rules.Note 17 Natural landscape factors such as the location of mountains or water also influence the availability of land and the shape of urban development.Note 18

In 2011, 69% of Canada's population, 23.1 million people, lived in CMAs, an increase of 74% compared to 13.3 million in 1971 (Table A.4).Note 19 Canada's most populated cities—Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal—experienced the largest increases in population from 1971 to 2011, followed by Calgary and Edmonton (Chart 2.1). However, the fastest growth occurred in smaller CMAs such as Abbotsford–Mission (+309%), Barrie (+298%) and Kelowna (+258%) (Chart 2.2). Population grew in all CMAs except Greater Sudbury.

Access to transit and commute times affect where people choose to live, since getting to work takes time and money and has an effect on quality of life. Time spent commuting and traffic congestion are often irritants, which can decrease people's satisfaction with their commute. In medium and large CMAs, car users with longer commutes were the most dissatisfied with their commuting time.Note 20

In 2011, commuters with the longest average travel times in Canada—around 30 minutes—lived in Toronto, Oshawa and Montréal (Table 2.1). Commuters with travel times more than 45 minutes were most likely to live in Oshawa, Toronto and Barrie.Note 21 One recent study of residents of Greater Toronto found that given options between living in transit friendly, walkable neighbourhoods with shorter commute times or detached homes with large yards, but that required a car to get to most destinations, most would prefer the former, but were limited by the price of housing.Note 22

The cost of land can also influence the growth of cities.Note 23 Increasingly, in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, first time home buyers and others wishing to purchase a detached home must move to more distant suburbs or neighbouring cities, such as Barrie or Abbotsford, due to the high cost of housing (Chart 2.3).Note 24 Others opt for townhouses or condominiums in the city centre, which tend to be cheaper than detached homes, but which are frequently smaller and have less outdoor space.

Many cities and regions have developed land use and growth plans that direct where and what kind of development should occur in order to accommodate projected increases in population.Note 25 Some of these policies encourage increased density in areas that are already built-up and use urban containment boundaries or other tools to limit urban expansion.Note 26

Land use in and around census metropolitan areas, 1971 to 2011

Cities across Canada differ in size, shape, density and land cover. This section compares the spatial extent of built-up area,Note 27 arable landNote 28 and natural and semi-natural landNote 29 to improve the understanding of land use patterns and agricultural and natural land conversion in and around CMAs from 1971 to 2011 and also presents some measures used to characterize city form.

Built-up area change

Built-up area includes buildings, roads, parking lots, parks and gardens. It is where most Canadians live and work, including residential, commercial, institutional and industrial areas. Overall, the total built-up area of CMAs across the country, which includes roads and settled areas, covered 14,546 square kilometres (km2) in 2011, up 157% compared to 5,651 km2 in 1971 (Figure 2.1, Table 2.2 and Table A.1).

In 2011, the CMA of Toronto had the largest built-up area in the country, with 2,184 km2 of roads and settled areas (Chart 2.4). Other large CMAs included Montréal, ranked second with 1,571 km2, Edmonton with 1,094 km2, Vancouver with 995 km2, Calgary with 700 km2 and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.)Note 30 with 635 km2 of built-up area.

These metropolitan areas experienced substantial increases in built-up area from 1971 to 2011. The largest increases in built-up area were in Toronto (+1,189 km2), Montréal (+816 km2), Edmonton (+752 km2), Vancouver (+503 km2), Calgary (+427 km2) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+417 km2). Of these CMAs, the highest growth rates occurred in Edmonton (+220%) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+191%).

Over this same period, mid-sized and smaller CMAs also experienced considerable expansion of built-up area—for example, Halifax (+319 km2), Québec (+292 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (+261 km2) and London (+247 km2). Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) had the highest growth rate, with built-up area increasing 391% from 1971 to 2011.

Since 1971, ten new CMAs—cities that did not meet the criteria to be considered CMAs in 1971—also experienced large expansions in built-up area, although this growth is likely overestimated since a key data source for 1971 only covered CMAs that existed at that time.Note 31 Built-up area grew by 172 km2 in Kelowna, by 165 km2 in Kingston and by 160 km2 in Sherbrooke. The fastest growth occurred in Kelowna (+1,402%) and Abbotsford–Mission (+669%).

Land use intensity

Characterizing the form of city growth—whether it is compact or dispersed—is often determined based on density measures, such as population, dwelling or employment density.Note 32 These measures can be used as indicators of land use intensity.

In 2011, population density was highest in Toronto (3,368 persons per square kilometre), Montréal (3,356 persons/km2), Vancouver (3,100 persons/km2) and Calgary (2,685 persons/km2)—an indicator that these CMAs had more compact forms of development compared to other large CMAs such as Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (1,952 persons/km2) and Edmonton (1,665 persons /km2) (Chart 2.5).

Among mid-size and smaller CMAs, Winnipeg (2,346 persons/km2), Hamilton (2,320 persons/km2) and Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo (2,273 persons/km2) had the highest population densities in 2011. Guelph (1,683 persons/km2), Abbotsford–Mission (1,652 persons/km2) and Barrie (1,645 persons/km2) were the most densely populated newer CMAs.

A similar comparison of the dwelling density shows that Montréal (1,490 dwellings/km2) had the highest dwelling density, followed by Vancouver (1,273 dwellings/km2) and Toronto (1,255 dwellings/km2) (Chart 2.6). Québec (1,038 dwellings/km2) had the highest dwelling density among mid-size CMAs, followed by Winnipeg (983 dwellings/km2) and Victoria (951 dwellings/km2), while Guelph (711 dwellings/km2) and Sherbrooke (708 dwellings/km2) had the highest dwelling densities among newer CMAs.

From 1971 to 2011, average CMA population density dropped from approximately 3,460 persons/km2 to close to 2,250 persons/km2, although it increased from 2001 to 2011.Note 33 Average dwelling density also decreased in CMAs, but to a lesser extent, falling from approximately 1,020 dwellings/km2 in 1971 to 930 dwellings/km2 in 2011. The decrease in the average size of households is one factor that may have contributed to these trends. From 1971 to 2011, average household size in Canada dropped from 3.6 to 2.3.Note 34 The number of one person households rose from 13% to 28%, while the number of households with four or more people dropped from 44% to 23%.Note 35

From 2001 to 2011, population density increased most in Toronto (+411 persons/km2 or +14%), Vancouver (+327 persons/km2 or +12%), Calgary (+290 persons/km2 or +12%), Barrie (+258 persons/km2 or +19%), Oshawa (+237 persons/km2 or +13%) and Edmonton (+226 persons/km2 or +16%). These CMAs needed less new settled area to accommodate each additional person residing in these CMAs, an indicator of the relative efficiency of land use (Chart 2.7).

Dwelling density increased most in Toronto (+200 dwellings/km2 or +19%), Vancouver (+176 dwellings/km2 or +16%), Calgary (+151 dwellings/km2 or +16%), Barrie (+121 dwellings/km2 or +23%), Edmonton (+121 dwellings/km2 or +21%), Oshawa (+120 dwellings/km2 or +18%) and Victoria (120 dwellings/km2 or +14%) over the same period.

Though overall more people lived in CMAs in 2011 compared to 2001, population density decreased or remained flat in 12 CMAs, with the largest declines in Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (-9%), Saguenay (-9%), Sherbrooke (-8%) and Québec (-5%). Dwelling density decreased or was flat in six CMAs.

Another factor influencing changes in population and dwelling density is the change in the average size of dwellings. More than half of homes built since 2001 were over 1,500 square feet compared to a quarter of homes built before 1978. As well, 13% of homes built since 2001 were over 2,500 square feet compared to 5% of homes built before 1978.Note 36 This trend suggests that fewer people are living in more space—though how much land is used depends also on the lot size.

Comparing the type of dwellings is another way to look at the issue of density.Note 37 Areas with a high proportion of single detached housing stock can be considered lower density, whereas areas with a high proportion of apartment and multiple unit buildings, such as row houses, can be considered higher density.

In 2011, single detached dwellings made up the largest proportion of dwellings in Barrie (71%), Peterborough (70%) and Windsor (70%) (Chart 2.8). They were least common in Montréal (33%), Vancouver (34%) and Toronto (41%). Dwellings in apartment buildings with five or more storeys were most common in Toronto (28%), Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (18%), London (16%) and Hamilton (16%). Other dwellings including semi-detached dwellings, row houses and dwellings in low-rise apartment buildings with fewer than five storeys, were most common in Montréal (59%), Québec (52%), Vancouver (51%) and Victoria (51%).

The residential building stock has changed over time. In 1971, 61% of building permits issued across the country were for multiple-unit dwellings, but the proportion of permits for single dwellings outpaced those issued for multiple-units from the early 1980s until 2006.Note 38 This trend also varies widely by CMA.

In Toronto, 64% of dwellings were built between 1971 and 2011 (Table 2.3). Of these dwellings, 30% were in high-rise apartments with five or more storeys, compared to 22% of dwellings built before 1971. In Montréal, 54% of dwellings were built since 1971 and of these 40% were single detached dwellings, compared to only 24% built in previous decades. In comparison, 73% of dwellings in Vancouver were built from 1971 to 2011 and newly constructed dwellings were increasingly in high-rise buildings—26% of dwellings built from 2001 and 2011 compared to 13% built from 1971 and 2001 and 9% of dwellings built before 1971.Note 39

Looking at mid-size and small CMAs, just under half of Winnipeg's dwellings were built between 1971 and 2011, 59% of which were single detached dwellings, down from 67% of dwellings built before 1971. In Hamilton, meanwhile, 52% of dwellings were built since 1971, with other dwellings, particularly row houses, making up a larger share of the new housing stock.

In Abbotsford–Mission, which was classified as a CMA for the first time following the 2001 Census, 86% of dwellings have been built since 1971 and the proportion of single-detached dwellings built has dropped from close to three-quarters for homes built prior to 1971 to less than half for newer construction. In Barrie, which became a CMA following the 2006 Census, 80% of dwellings have been built since 1971 and single detached dwellings remain the most popular dwelling type, accounting for 71% of these homes.

Arable land use change

Arable land is critical ecological infrastructure, part of the natural capital that allows for the production of food and other agricultural products while providing other ecosystem goods and services including carbon sequestration, recreational and aesthetics benefits. See Textbox 2.1: Why use the census metropolitan area-ecosystem (CMA-E) geography? for information on the geographical unit used in the following sections.

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Textbox 2.1 Why use the census metropolitan area-ecosystem (CMA-E) geography?

Every five years, the Census of Agriculture collects information on farming in Canada, including the area of each crop and land use; the number of each type of livestock; land management practices; farm expenses and other topics.

Census of Agriculture data, however, are not compiled by census metropolitan area (CMA). This report uses cropland, summerfallow and tame or seeded pasture data from the Interpolated Census of Agriculture, which reallocates farm areas to the Soil Landscapes of Canada (SLC) polygons. These arable land areas were aggregated to the CMA-E geography. For this reason, data for arable and natural and semi-natural land, the latter of which is calculated as a residual, are available only by CMA-E.

CMA-Es, which include the SLC polygons within and surrounding the CMA, are a useful geography for presenting aggregate information on metropolitan areas' arable and natural land assets. SLC polygons are the finest environmental geography for which census data are disseminated and also represent a fundamental building block of ecosystems, since they delineate the major permanent natural attributes of soil and land.

However, these arable and natural land data do not have the spatial accuracy to be usefully mapped at this scale. Data presented on the growth of settled area on arable or natural and semi-natural land are instead calculated by overlaying the growth in settled area from 1971 to 2011 on the Canada Land Inventory: Land Use (CLI: LU) base layer.

CMAs and CMA-Es vary in size, shape and topography. CMA-Es are not spatially mutually exclusive—they overlap where a SLC polygon crosses more than one CMA boundary, as is the case in Vancouver and Abbotsford–Mission or Toronto and surrounding CMAs including Hamilton, Oshawa, Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo, Guelph, Brantford and Barrie. For this reason, land use or population data for CMA-Es should not be summed to generate a total and caution should be used when comparing data. See maps of CMA-Es in Section 3 and Appendix B for more information.

Note that Census of Agriculture data are spatially referenced to the location of the farm headquarters, which may not be where the farm land is actually located.

End of Textbox 2.1

CMA-Es that had a large amount of arable land were mainly located in the Prairies and in southern Ontario and Quebec (Table A.1). CMA-Es in these areas were also likely to have arable land make up a high proportion of their total land area (Chart 2.9). For example, 11,633 km2 of arable land was farmed in Regina in 2011, accounting for 73% of its total land area.

Between 1971 and 2011, the amount of arable land decreased most in the CMA-Es of Toronto (-1,063 km2), Regina (-975 km2), Saskatoon (-909 km2), Winnipeg (-615 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (-584 km2) and Edmonton (-564 km2). However, the largest rates of change occurred in Kelowna (-52%), Greater Sudbury (-30%), Moncton (-29%) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (-27%).

Arable land increased in five CMAs—the largest increases occurred in London (+192 km2 or +3%) and Calgary (+85 km2 or +1%). An increase in arable land implies a decrease in natural or semi-natural land. It could result from bringing natural land for pasture or idle farmland into production or conversion from other natural land covers.

The growth of settled area between 1971 and 2011 occurred in similar proportions on arable land and on natural and semi-natural land (Table A.2).Note 40 CMA-Es with the largest increases in settled area on arable land include those in the Golden Horseshoe—for example, Toronto CMA-E with 961 km2—as well as Montréal (+448 km2), Edmonton (+402 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+295 km2), London (+256 km2) and Calgary (+214 km2).

CMA-Es with the highest proportion of settled area expansion occurring on arable land were located mainly in southern Ontario and the Prairies. The majority of growth in settled area in Windsor (85% or +134 km2), London (73% or +256 km2), Hamilton (72% or +487 km2), Edmonton (70% or +402 km2) and Saskatoon (69% or +108 km2) occurred on land that had, in 1971, been classed as arable land.

Loss of agricultural land by soil capability classification

Other land suitable for agriculture can also be lost to urban expansion—for example natural land for pasture, woodlands and other land on farms, as well as land that is not actively farmed—for example abandoned fields. Land in Canada has been classed according to the soil capability for supporting arable culture and forage crops. Land with few soil or climate limitations for sustained crop production—termed dependable agricultural land (class 1 to 3)—is mostly located in the Prairies and southern Ontario and Quebec.Note 41

Land that was developed between 1971 and 2011 in many of the CMA-E in southern Ontario, in particular those surrounding Toronto, was overwhelmingly on this best quality agricultural land (Table A.3).Note 42 In Toronto, London, St. Catharines–Niagara and Windsor, 85% of the land converted to settled area from 1971 to 2011 was dependable agricultural land. This loss represented 9% of the stock of dependable agricultural land located in these CMA-Es. In comparison, less dependable agricultural land was lost around Vancouver and Victoria, but this represented 26% of the stock of class 1 to 3 agricultural land in these CMA-Es.

Natural and semi-natural land cover change

Natural and semi-natural land includes ecologically and economically important ecosystem assets such as forests, grasslands, shrublands, barrenlands, wetlands and water.Note 43 These areas generate many essential ecosystem goods and services that benefit society. Ecosystem goods derived from natural areas include timber, fish, mushrooms, berries and plants, while ecosystem services include carbon sequestration, flood protection, clean air and water, recreation and other cultural services. From an ecological perspective, natural land may also provide a diverse range of habitats supporting biodiversity. See Textbox 2.2: Access to nature for information on how Canadians experience nature.

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Textbox 2.2 Access to nature

Access to nature plays a role in overall well-being.Note 44 Studies have shown that green space, which includes public parks, trees, shrubs and vegetation, promotes opportunities for social interaction among neighbours, as well as an overall sense of community.Note 45 Urban design that includes green space can facilitate physical activity.Note 46 Green space has also been linked to health benefitsNote 47 including mental health benefitsNote 48 and restorative effects,Note 49 as well as positive effects on children's cognitive functioningNote 50 and resilience.Note 51

According to the 2013 Households and the Environment Survey, 85% of households reported having a park or public green space near their home and 72% reported that they participated in outdoor activities close to their home (Table 2.4). Overall, 85% had trees, bushes or hedges on their property, 57% grew vegetables, herbs, fruits or flowers for personal use and 28% made purchases to feed or shelter birds, to watch birds or travel for bird watching trips.

These percentages vary by CMA and by various socio-economic and dwelling characteristics. For example, households composed of families with children were more likely to participate in outdoor activities than households composed of seniors only. Residents of homes built in 2010 or later were less likely to report that they lived near a park or public green space or that they participated in outdoor activities.

Trees in cities, including street trees, trees in parks and on public or private property, provide environmental benefits and help beautify communities. Many cities in Canada currently have plans to manage their urban forests.Note 52 Tree cover in cities is affected by the natural environment—cities in areas that are forested are more likely to have a higher percent of urban tree cover than cities surrounded by grasslands or deserts, but differences due to local land use also exist.Note 53

For medium and large population centres across Canada, the urban tree canopy cover is estimated at 4,412 km2, approximately 27% of the total area of these cities.Note 54 This percentage varies for different regions of the country (Map 2.1).

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The amount and proportion of natural and semi-natural land cover differs for each CMA-E (Table A.1 and Chart 2.10).Note 55 CMA-Es with higher proportions of arable land, generally located in the Prairies and southern Ontario, had lower proportions of natural and semi-natural land, while the opposite pattern occurred in other areas.

In 2011, Greater Sudbury had the most natural and semi-natural land of all CMA-Es, covering 35,052 km2 and accounting for 98% of its total area. Other CMA-Es with large natural areas included Halifax with 15,322 km2 (95% of total area), Thunder Bay with 11,710 km2 (96% of total area), Saguenay with 11,482 km2 (93% of total area), Edmonton with 8,541 km2 (43% of total area) and Winnipeg with 7,882 km2 (41% of total area).

Natural and semi-natural land also made up a significant share of the total CMA-E land area in Kelowna (96%), Saint John (94%) and Moncton (93%). The CMA-E with the lowest proportion of natural area is Windsor, accounting for 13% of its land area, followed by London (19%) and Regina (23%).

Most natural and semi-natural land in CMA-Es in 2011 was categorized as forest.Note 56 CMA-Es where forest accounted for the largest share of natural area include Victoria (94%), Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (85%), Québec (82%) and Vancouver (81%).

Overall, the largest decreases in natural and semi-natural land between 1971 and 2011 occurred in Montréal (-1,140 km2), Toronto (-748 km2), London (-737 km2), Calgary (-704 km2), Vancouver (-540 km2) and Halifax (-471 km2). Natural land increased in Regina (+566 km2), Saskatoon (+480 km2) and Trois-Rivières (+10 km2)—the result of a decrease in arable land.

CMA-Es with the largest increases in settled area on natural and semi-natural land include Montréal (+462 km2), Toronto (+448 km2), Halifax (+297 km2) and Vancouver (+296 km2) (Table A.2).Note 57 CMA-Es with the largest proportion of urban expansion occurring on natural and semi-natural land include Greater Sudbury (87%, +259 km2), Thunder Bay (87%, +130 km2), Halifax (86%, +297 km2) and St. John's (83%, +91 km2).

Most growth of settled area on natural or semi-natural land from 1971 to 2011 occurred on land that was, in 1971, categorized as forest or natural land for pasture, with other land accounting for a small share.

CMA-Es with a high proportion of settled area converted from forest include Halifax (95%), St. John's (92%), Saint John (86%) and Trois-Rivières (73%). CMA-Es with a high proportion of built-up area converted from natural land for pasture include Calgary (83%), Saskatoon (73%), Regina (67%), St. Catharines–Niagara (63%) and London (58%).


The conversion of arable and natural land to built-up land covers due to urban expansion in the periphery of cities comes at the loss of ecological infrastructure. This natural capital provides vital ecosystem goods and services—for example, flood and groundwater protection, habitat provision, food production, green space and recreation—which may be difficult to quantify, but which exist nonetheless and provide important benefits.

This issue of Human Activity and the Environment summarizes the state of land cover and land use change in and around Canada's largest cities and includes CMA-specific profiles with tables, charts, maps and relevant links (Section 3) allowing researchers, land use planners, students and others to visualize the extent of urban expansion in Canada's largest metropolitan areas between 1971 and 2011.

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