Slow growth and decline in greater Sudbury: challenges, opportunities, and foundations for a new planning agenda.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Economic growth (Analysis)
Urban policy (Analysis)
Author: Hall, Heather M.
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Canada Geographic Name: Sudbury, Ontario; Sudbury, Ontario Geographic Code: 1CANA Canada
Accession Number: 229218928
Full Text: Abstract

In Canadian urban geography, new periods of economic prosperity, recessions, and restructuring coupled with demographic fluctuations have added new and accentuated divisions and disparities creating an increased gap between cities that have growing populations and those that do not. Under these conditions, it seems realistic to expect that 'no-growth' and limited growth cities might begin to develop distinctive planning strategies centered on a theme of decline or 'no-growth' scenarios. However, this has not been the case judging from the absence of literature and by the case of Greater Sudbury. The City of Greater Sudbury is located in northeastern Ontario and is best known across Canada as being one of the countries largest resource-based 'boom-bust' cities and one of Canada's CMAs that has experienced population decline. The 21st-Century City of Sudbury has, however, evolved into a more balanced regional centre. Nonetheless, the population of the City has been fluctuating over the last 30 years, experiencing decline, slow growth, and 'no-growth.' Utilizing policy documents and key informant interviews this paper depicts the constant struggle of Greater Sudbury in maintaining a 'positive' urban identity while dealing with its 'no-growth' reality. It concludes with a discussion of what might constitute alternative criteria for a new vocabulary and a new model of planning and development capable of generating more realistic policy and strategy considerations for 'no-growth' urban areas.

Keywords: Population decline, urban planning, economic development, Greater Sudbury


Dans la geographie urbaine du Canada, de nouvelles periodes de prosperite economique, recession et restructuration jumelees a des fluctuations ddmographiques ont cree de nouvelles divisions et accentue les disparites entre les villes qui ont une population croissante et celles qui ne l'ont pas. Sous ces conditions, il semble raisonnable d'esperer que les villes sans croissance aient commence a developper des strategies de planification distinctes portant sur une thematique de declin ou un scenario d'aucune croissance. Par contre, ceci n'a pas ete le cas. La ville du Grand Sudbury, situee dans le nord-est de l'Ontario, est reconnue a travers le Canada comme etant une des plus grandes ville ressource, ayant connue au fil des ans des hauts et des has. Elle est aussi connue comme une des RMR canadiennes qui a eprouve un declin de population. Bien que le Grand Sudbury du 21e siecle a evolued en un centre regional plus stable, la population de la ville fluctue depuis les derniers 30 ans--eprouvant tour a tour declin, croissance faible et aucune croissance. En s'appuyant sur des documents politiques et des entrevues avec des informants cles, cet article identifie la lutte constante du Grand Sudbury pour maintenir une identite urbaine 'positive' tout en traitant de la realite d'une ville sans croissance. L'article conclu avec une discussion de ce que pourrait constituer les critetes alternatifs pour la creation d'un nouveau vocabulaire et d'un nouveau model de planification et developpement capable de generer des politiques et strategies plus realistes pour les regions urbaines sans croissance.

Mots cles: declin de population, planification urbaine, developpement economique, Grand Sudbury


In Canadian urban geography, new periods of economic prosperity, recessions, and restructuring coupled with demographic fluctuations have created a new and accentuated gap between cities that have growing populations and those that do not. Under these conditions, it seems realistic to expect that 'no-growth' cities might begin to develop distinctive planning strategies centered on a theme of decline or 'no-growth' scenarios. However, this has not been the case. The City of Greater Sudbury is located in northeastern Ontario and is best known across Canada as being one of the countries largest resource-based 'boom-bust' cities and one of Canada's CMAs that has experienced population decline. The 21st-Century City of Sudbury has, however, evolved into a more balanced regional centre. Nonetheless, the population of the City has been fluctuating over the last 30 years, experiencing decline, slow growth, and 'no-growth.' Utilizing policy documents and key informant interviews this paper identifies the constant struggle of Greater Sudbury in maintaining a 'positive' urban identity while dealing with its 'no-growth' reality. This paper is put forward as an initial attempt to unravel the complex process of experiencing and treating 'no-growth' at the local level.

This paper begins with a description of the recent trends in the Canadian urban system which suggest that there are new and accentuated patterns of uneven growth emerging or 'new fault lines' between the number of growing and declining cities (Bourne and Simmons 2003; Simmons and Bourne 2007). This is followed by a brief discussion on how the topic of urban decline and 'no-growth' is addressed in academic urban geography, planning, and policy-related literature. The paper than turns to a case study of the City of Greater Sudbury to document the contradictory perceptions that surround planning in 'no-growth' locales as well as explore the challenges and opportunities associated with 'no-growth' urban areas. It concludes with a discussion of what might constitute alternative criteria for a new discourse and a new model of planning and development capable of generating more realistic policy and strategy considerations for 'no-growth' urban areas.

The Uneven Pattern of Growth and the 'No-Growth' Lacuna

Decline is not a new issue. In fact, many small resource towns and rural communities have dealt with decline for decades. For example, small, isolated out-port communities in Newfoundland as well as mining towns like Schefferville, Quebec and rural communities on the Prairies have all experienced decline over the last 50 years (Copes and Steed 1975; Iverson and Matthews 1968; Bradbury and St-Martin 1983; Davies 1990). Meanwhile, geographers, planners, and policy-makers have been involved in planning for decline within the city for several decades. Research on intra-urban decline has examined downtown and inner-city decline along with derelict brownfields, waterfronts, and industrial lands. What is new, however, is a heightened awareness and growing reality of rising disparities between cities that are rapidly growing and those that are not (Bourne and Simmons 2003).

These new and accentuated divisions have been influenced by several powerful demographic and economic trends. For example, the average fertility rate of Canadian born persons has declined well below the natural replacement rate. Simply put, demographic growth has become increasingly dependent on immigration (Bourne and Rose 2001; Bourne and Simmons 2003). Coupled with this decline in natural increase, in 2006 over 54 percent of the Canadian population lived in the 10 largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). While five mega-urban regions, the Greater Toronto Area, Greater Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver-Victoria and the Lower Mainland B.C., and the Central Alberta corridor, secured most of the national population growth in the 1990s (Bourne and Rose 2001; Bourne and Simmons 2003). In addition, as a result of opportunities and support facilities, large urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal attract the majority of Canada's immigrant population (see McDonald 2004) which further accentuates metropolitan concentration. The pattern of growth across Canada is thus geographically concentrated in a small number of places and regions which include large cities, southern Ontario and Alberta. Meanwhile, a large geographic pattern of slow growth and 'no-growth' is evident in smaller cities and peripheral regions across the country (e.g. Atlantic Canada and cities in Northern Ontario, Northern and Central British Columbia, and Northern Quebec (Simmons and Bourne 2007). (1)

Current economic trends, including globalization, restructuring, and the continued shift towards a more knowledge-intensive economy have favoured large metropolitan areas across the country and areas within their influence zone. This is partly due to their concentrations of financial, political and human resources, diversified economies, and more direct connections to the global system. As a result, economic growth is now concentrated in regions like the Greater Toronto Area and the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greater Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver-Victoria and the Lower Mainland B.C., and the Central Alberta corridor (Bourne and Simmons 2003). All of these factors have culminated to produce a new pattern of uneven growth which in turn has further accentuated existing patterns between a small number of cities and regions that are rapidly growing and a larger number of those that are not. Furthermore, as a result of demographic trends, slow growth and 'no-growth' will likely persist in many cities and regions across the country despite relative economic stability prompting researchers like Trudi Bunting and Pierre Filion (2001) to suggest that some "cities will be compelled to plan for decline rather than expansion" (21).

Despite these trends, research has shown that issues pertaining to slow growth and 'no-growth' in urban areas are largely being ignored in Canadian urban geography, planning, and policy-related literature (Hall and Hall 2008). (2) This research determined that although there is a considerable amount of literature that attests to the uneven pattern of growth and some of this work acknowledges that different growth scenarios require different planning and policy objectives, material information on 'no-growth' in places where conditions of decline prevail are relatively absent (Hall and Hall 2008). For example, Bourne and Simmons (2003), Bourne and Rose (2001), and Bunting and Filion (2001) provide many useful insights into the emerging trends in the Canadian urban system but little information is provided on what planning principles and policies are needed in declining cities.

Literature outside the scope of the Hall and Hall (2008) study remains scarce with regards to planning for 'no-growth' although some progress is being made. In 2007, the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) held special sessions regarding urban decline at their annual conferences. In that same year, Plan Canada devoted a special issue to decline. While these articles provide detailed summaries of the trends and depict the sensitivity that surrounds the topic, they fall short of describing what planning for decline should look like (Foster 2007; Randall and Lorch 2007; Seasons 2007; Shearmur and Polese 2007; Simmons and Bourne, 2007).

Internationally, the topic of 'shrinking cities' is gaining attention in Europe and the United States (Oswalt 2005). In Germany, this literature is predominately descriptive in nature and focuses on the economic, demographic, and political causes of shrinkage and calls for a 'decline paradigm' (Muller and Siedentop 2004; see also Bontje 2004; Franz 2004; Miiller 2004; Lotscher 2005). In the United States, Rybczynski and Linneman (1999) emphasize that planning for 'shrinkage' will require a difficult change in mindset and is fundamentally different from planning for growth while Popper and Popper (2002) introduce "Smart Decline" which "requires thinking about who and what remains ... [and] it may entail reorganizing or eliminating some services and providing different ones" (21). However, suggested planning strategies appear to be focussed more on site specific examples like restructuring or regenerating vacant and derelict industrial areas and neighbourhoods (Popper and Popper 2002; Bontje 2004; Hollander and Popper 2007) rather than developing a planning model or concepts for the entire urban area.

Christopher Leo is one of the few Canadian researchers studying slow growth and the challenges and opportunities associated with this growth trajectory in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Leo and Brown 2000; Leo and Anderson 2006). The underlying premise of his research is to be realistic about growth. These articles identify challenges and opportunities associated with slow growth and try to convey that policies should be aimed at capturing the benefits of the current trend while minimizing constraints. Furthermore, these articles believe that most 'no-growth' and slow growth urban areas have no prospect to change their rates of demographic growth substantially irregardless of the policies they implement (Leo and Anderson 2006). However, little instruction is provided on how to be realistic about growth, other than intelligent management and intergovernmental cooperation.

A vacuum also exists on the policy side with regard to managing 'no-growth' at the local level where decline is often viewed as the "policy elephant in the living room" (Seasons 2007: 1). Thus, while there is a growing body of literature on decline that emphasises the causes, challenges and sensitivity of discussing this trajectory, these articles do not provide an abundance of information on what these urban areas should do or how they should plan for expected slow-growth and 'no-growth' scenarios. The remainder of this paper represents a preliminary investigation into the general tactics of dealing with 'no-growth' at the local level. It is centred on a case study of Greater Sudbury which is located in northeastern Ontario and it utilizes key informant interviews that were undertaken with local planners, economic developers, politicians, and consultants. It depicts how the City of Greater Sudbury is caught in a paradoxical struggle trying to maintain a positive image while dealing with its 'no-growth' reality. The subsequent section provides contextual background on the demographic and economic trends in Greater Sudbury. This is followed by a discussion of the key trends that emerged from the interview process.

Case Study: The City of Greater Sudbury

The City of Greater Sudbury is best known across Canada for its original mineral-based 'boom' in the first half of the 20th century which was accompanied with unsustainable and unattractive mining practices that left the landscape blackened and devoid of most vegetation. (3) This was followed by a slowdown in the mining sector that has characterized the area to a greater or lesser degree since the late 1970s due to a combination of circumstances including increased international competition, a lower demand for nickel, oversupply, unstable markets, deindustrialization and the shift to a more service-based economy (Stephenson et al. 1979; Saarinen 1990; Buse 1993; Wallace 1998). Employment at Inco and Falconbridge (4), the two dominant mining companies, began to fall from its peak in 1971 at 25,700, to 17,700 by 1981 and 10,500 by the end of the decade. In 2005, employment between the two companies was roughly 6,000 (Saarinen 1992; City of Greater Sudbury 2007a; Wallace 1998). Despite restructuring, mining is still a major player in the Sudbury economy. Upturns in mineral prices witnessed over the years have a profound effect on the economy and morale within the community and the reverse is also true. A large entrepreneurial mining supply and services sector has also emerged created by many of the miners who were previously employed but were laid-off during restructuring. However, this sector is still susceptible to the same international forces that control the mining sector.

In 1985 Sudbury had been chosen by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Richardson 1985) as a case study because it had managed urban-economic adjustments after experiencing decline and the economic situation appeared to be stabilizing (Saarinen 1990; Richardson 1985). This is attributed to Sudbury's growth as a regional service centre for northeastern Ontario in terms of medical care, retailing, tourism, government, and education (Saarinen 1990). The City is now home to numerous health-care facilities including the northeastern Ontario Cancer Centre, three hospitals including the General (St. Joseph's), Memorial, and Laurentian (with the creation of a new mega-hospital underway), and has recently become home to the first medical school opened in Canada in over 30 years. The City also offers various major retail establishments and tourist opportunities like Science North, Dynamic Earth, and a rich natural environment for outdoor recreational activities. Numerous federal and provincial government offices are now located in Sudbury due to both federal and provincial job relocation programs. Sudbury is also the education capital of northeastern Ontario with four major post-secondary institutions including Laurentian University, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Cambrian College, and College Boreal.

The peak population of the City was approximately 170,000 in 1971. As seen in Figure 1 the population has fluctuated since that time reflecting periods of slow growth and 'no-growth' but never surpassing the 1971 population. Growth had been characteristic until 1971 as a result of demographic trends including the baby boom, a younger population, high birthrates, and continuous in-migration to the region (Saarinen 1990; Hallsworth and Hallsworth 1993). Fuelling this demographic growth was the growth in the mining industry. However, as a result of economic restructuring, by 1981 Sudbury was one of only two CMAs in Canada to experience population decline along with Windsor, Ontario (Saarinen 1990; Statistics Canada 1981). By the 1990s, the region began to experience modest demographic growth which can be attributed to a number of factors including Sudbury's growth as a regional service centre, increasing nickel prices (Wallace 1993) and intra-regional migration from other northern communities experiencing economic misfortune.

In 2001 the population once again declined by more than 6 percent and much of this decline was related to youth out-migration and the lack of international migrants moving to the City thereby resulting in an aging and homogenous population (see Southcott 2002 and 2003; Statistics Canada 2008). In 2006, only 2.1 percent of the City's population consisted of visible minorities, the median age was 41.0 as compared to 39.0 years for Ontario, and modest growth was recorded (1.7 compared to 6.6 percent for Ontario) once again (see Figure 2) (Statistics Canada 2008). This is most likely attributed to nickel prices, which have hit record highs in recent years, and an in-migration of people predominantly from other northern communities, especially those in the forestry industry. (5)

Despite the aforementioned population trends, the new Official Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury confronts what it describes as a "dispersed pattern" of development that creates difficulties for the "efficient provision of services and infrastructure" (Meridian Planning Consultants and the Planning Services Division 2006, 9). It is interesting to note that despite a relative decline since 1971 the City is still dealing with dispersed development. This is largely a result of the physical terrain of bedrock and over 330 lakes, the massive geographic size of the municipality which is the largest in Ontario based on total area (Growth & Development 2007), and the historical settlement pattern. ]his last point is a politically sensitive issue and one in which nearby communities are often forced to compete against each other for regional and provincial resources. The solution is a settlement area which includes fourteen former areas designated as 'communities.' (6) There is no hierarchy for development based on distance even though some are located in excess of 40 kilometres from the central city of Sudbury which is the economic, service, and population core. The plan also introduces 'phasing policies' to "guide new development in designated areas" in an attempt to curb outward dispersion, channel growth, and be consistent with provincial policy (Meridian Planning Consultants and the Planning Services Division 2006, 27). More importantly, it describes population projections as a being difficult in the region due to the cyclical pattern of growth evident in the past. Instead of forecasting, three scenarios are presented based on out-migration, natural increase, and in-migration; thus representing uncertainty but also an unwillingness to accept decline in an official document. (7)

That being said, at one time decline was discussed and planned for in an official document. In 1986, the Sudbury Corporate Plan called for a consolidated urbanized area, infill development, and strict limitations on infrastructure additions to minimize and cut costs after experiencing a decade of 'no-growth' (Filion 1988). In 1987, the City of Sudbury (8) completed its secondary plan and the introduction acknowledges that in a city experiencing 'no-growth' or decline "land use planning has to have a different focus" as well as different "policies and programs" (2-1). It mentions that qualitative development of the built form including community conservation, infilling, and redevelopment become imperative. The use of the term 'qualitative development' is notable because it introduces new vocabulary to discuss 'no-growth'. This shows that planning for 'no-growth' is not an abstract concept however in the current context it is not occurring.

The subsequent sections express how those involved in the planning process at the grassroots level in Sudbury have dealt with 'no-growth'. It is based on twenty-seven key informant interviews that were undertaken with local grassroots planners, economic developers, politicians, and consultants during the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007 (Hall 2007). There are a number of clear trends that ran throughout the interview responses including the rationalization of Greater Sudbury's situation, the obsession with growth, concern about the financial implications of 'no-growth' as well as the mentality that any growth is good growth. Other trends identified include planning standards that are premised on growth, the 'no-growth' silver-lining, and the need for a new vocabulary as well as a new model of planning and development. The underlying theme running throughout the responses is the perception that planning for 'no-growth' is associated with a negative image which would directly contradict the City's attempts to promote a positive image.

Discussing Decline in Greater Sudbury

The interview process made it clear that discussing decline in a local situation is a delicate matter. Throughout some of the interviews key informants were shocked and almost appalled over the suggestion that Sudbury was not growing. Their reaction was essentially one of "how dare you call Sudbury 'no-growth'." During these interviews, the tone was sometimes defensive and one key informant wanted to establish before the first general question was asked, "even though you identify Sudbury as ... [a] declining community, it no longer is." (9) In addition, feelings of discomfort and fear associated with discussing this issue were described by a couple of key informants. One mentioned that decline is not a word that is spoken around 'here' due to the political sensitivity associated with the issue, while another suggested that Sudbury should plan to stay level and not to grow however they continued to say, "... I don't know if I would say that in a public forum." These key informants highlight the extremely sensitive nature of this topic.

What soon became evident was the deep emotional attachment to place or topophilia that many key informants had for the City (see Tuan 1974; 1977 for place and topophilia). Many expressed their love for Sudbury by describing the rich quality of life that they cherish and were quick to defend the City. Coupled with this is the long history the City has had fighting negative stereotypes and promoting economic development. Consequently, some key informants were extremely concerned about having any type of perceived external negative image associated with the City. As a result of this deep-rooted topophilia for Sudbury and in an attempt to dispel any negative images many key informants were inclined to defend Sudbury's growth issue.

The cyclical nature of resource-based growth trends over the last 35 years in the Sudbury case also allowed some key informants to deny 'no-growth' because of the absence of a constant straight downward trajectory. This cyclical population pattern was depicted earlier and reiterated by key informants like one who stated, "... I really don't see Sudbury as being in decline really, it's just fluctuating ..." Decline was often referred to as a past trend that Sudbury had experienced while using alternative benchmarks to discount overall long-term trends. This was best described by one key informant who recognized that comparing the 1971 population to the current population does amount to 'no-growth' but if you use a different census period then growth is evident:

The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed the initial big bust in Sudbury. Since that time the community has improved substantially and current perceptions can be more subjective which leads to this explanation. To further rationalize the situation numerous definitions or indicators of decline were provided and some key informants were quick to suggest that population growth is not the "number one factor to go by." Thus, as a result of their passion for the City it could be argued that some key informants were quick to defend the overall situation while looking at short-term positive trends and the following sections provide greater insight into why this occurred.

Challenges Without Growth: Image, Revenue, and Planning

Since the inception of North American cities, population and economic growth along with new urban development have essentially been perceived as ingredients for maintaining and improving on the existing quality of life. The entrenched attachment to growth was emphasized by Molotch (1976) who depicted the city as a "growth machine" emphasizing the political economy of place. Essentially, local land-based coalitions and those in power always agree on one thing: growth is good. Furthermore, Molotch (1976) states that "the clearest indication of success at growth is a constantly rising urban area population" (310). Growth is depicted as the magic potion that creates jobs, reinforces the tax base, and provides resources to solve social problems (Logan and Molotch 1987).

There is also a stigma associated with decline that if growth is not occurring then something must be wrong and needs fixing. Even the words 'slow growth' and 'no-growth' or 'decline' have negative connotations attached to them, especially the latter (Leo 2002; Leo and Anderson 2005 and 2006). Essentially, anything other than growth is treated like the plague--feared and avoided which is evident by the lack of literature on the topic (Hall and Hall 2008). Furthermore, urban issues steeped in contemporary boosterism are a product of globalization which has resulted in increased connectivity and competition between countries, regions, and cities (Begg 1999; Raco 1999; van den Berg and Braun 1999; Wolfe 2003; Avraham 2004; Bourne 2006). As several researchers comment, cities are viewed as the engines for economic growth in the new economy and are competing for investment and talent (Begg 1999; Bradford 2002, 2004 and 2005; Kitchen 2002; Donald 2005; Bourne 2006). To compete, image and quality of place are important factors and no city would want to be labelled as declining or not growing.

The overarching concern mentioned by key informants in Sudbury was that planning for 'no-growth' is associated with a negative image and stigma that something is wrong which contradicts the perceived positive successful image associated with growth that is needed to compete in the global economy. For example, one key informant explained that, "We are programmed to believe that growth is good and if you are not growing then there is something wrong" while another felt that "if you're not growing, you're dying." Furthermore, for some they believed that having this negative image attached would lead to disinvestment. For example, one questioned why anyone would want to invest in a place that admits it's not growing while another expressed similar concerns about being labelled declining because when, "... the community is seen as being a declining community ... there [are] no resources or investments put into that community." Additionally, one key informant suggested that accepting 'no-growth' as the only reality "flies in the face of all the initiatives that people are working towards." As Avraham (2004) describes, a negative city image is perceived as an obstacle to the attainment of a brighter future. Essentially, accepting and planning for 'no-growth' in the Sudbury case was perceived by some as accepting a negative image that would lead to disinvestment and counteract local economic development which explains the continued practice of planning for growth.

Coupled with this negative perception of planning for 'no-growth,' is the long history the City has had in combating negative image perceptions related to the mining industry. By the 1960s, mining practices related to smelting had left the Sudbury landscape polluted and barren of natural vegetation. As a result, a common misconception is that the City was selected by the Apollo training missions in 1969-70 as a practice walk on a moonscape (Wallace 1993). This image has proven difficult to abandon despite a land reclamation program and re-greening efforts which have resulted in an environmental success story for the City. In 1992, the City received a United Nations commendation for its efforts and it has largely transformed the moonscape landscape into one of restored natural beauty (Wallace 1993). Although this historical image has been significantly transformed it does remain affixed to Sudbury and the last thing the City wants is another negative image perception centred on the theme of 'no-growth.'

Another challenge associated with 'no-growth' is that growth is seen as an essential component for municipal revenue. There are three main sources of revenue for Canadian municipalities: user fees; unconditional or conditional grants; and taxes on the assessed value of property. Moreover, in recent years municipalities have been subjected to fiscal downloading of responsibilities from the federal and provincial governments to municipalities while at the same time reducing grants (Vojnovic and Poel 2000; Bradford 2002 and 2004; Kitchen 2002; Mintz and Roberts 2006; Sancton 2000 and 2006; Federation of Canadian Municipalities 2006). Thus, without substantial new urban growth the purse strings on the municipal budget become tighter and the challenge becomes how to deliver up-to-date and quality services and infrastructure without considerable new growth occurring. In the Sudbury case, 'no-growth' concerns relating to a lower municipal budget were expressed by many key informants. As one mentioned that it "... affects the ability of the government to maintain the city's infrastructure ..." while another discussed how "... you can't provide the same level of services ..." A solution would be to increase taxes however that option is unattractive from a political standpoint. Thus, if cities, like Sudbury, are expected to change and improve under 'no-growth' conditions this financial enigma needs future attention.

Another major challenge associated with planning in the context of 'no-growth' or decline is combating the extension of the 'growth is good' thinking into the 'any growth is good growth mentality.' Leo and Anderson (2005 and 2006) describe in their work on Winnipeg that new urban growth is perceived by city officials as a panacea regardless of where it is located in a slow-growth context. This obsession with growth "to take anything anywhere..." was echoed by a number of the key informants in Sudbury. However, Leo (2002) describes this mentality as a problem due to the lack of "heavy pressures for new development, with assurances of growing tax revenues, to cover up mistakes" (226). This was reiterated by one key informant who believed that growth can hide your mistakes and that "if you don't have the growth it becomes blatantly obvious." Furthermore, the any growth is good growth ideology becomes an issue because city officials fail to see that more development also produces more pressure on municipal services and increases expenditures (Siegel 2002). The ability to provide and maintain services and infrastructure is often reduced in 'no-growth' scenarios, therefore promoting or accepting urban growth under this mentality could counteract its desired panacea role.

One last notable concern that was identified is the lack of a planning model to provide the tools and standards for managing 'no-growth.' Planning standards and norms were developed in the postwar era during a period of vigorous population, economic, and urban growth (Wolfe 1994 and 1995). At the time, planners were focussed on planning and managing urban growth with little thought of decline. Essentially, professional planning is not accustomed to planning for 'no-growth' scenarios. This led some key informants to discuss how "planning historically has been tied to growth" and to question whether the current framework provides the proper tools and standards. In fact, one key informant questioned the Planning Act: "... what does it say about decline?" The Act is not alone in that there is also a lacuna in the academic literature as theoretical and professional research on 'no-growth' is severely limited (Hall and Hall 2008). In addition to the absence of a planning model and literary guidance to assist in managing 'no-growth,' planners lack the formal education and training to deal with this trajectory. This was emphasized by one key informant, who stated that,

Although current planning curriculum is beginning to recognize the existence of 'no-growth' cities this recognition does not move past a description of the causes and courses are still largely devoted to managing growth. Thus, the foundations need to be laid to develop policies and theoretical approaches to 'no-growth' to fill the voids and to provide guidance and training to planners in cities experiencing 'no-growth.' Otherwise they will continue with existing tools and plan for growth.

Contradictory Reality. The "No-Growth' Silver Lining

The irony that emerged during the interviews was that Sudbury has many benefits as a result of its lack of growth when compared to perceived 'successful' cities that are rapidly growing like Greater Toronto. There are many positive attributes which result from the lack of extreme growth pressures like the affordability of housing, land and other commodities/services, the abundance of natural amenities, less traffic congestion, a slower pace of life, and lower levels of pollution (Robinson 1981; Simard and Simard 2004; Leo and Anderson 2005 and 2006). Basically, slow growth and 'no-growth' cities have important quality of 'place' elements that are not available in larger growing cities. Key informants described Sudbury as "... a hidden secret," "... an extraordinary place to live" and "... an attractive place to be." Furthermore, a number of key informants described the many opportunities associated with Sudbury in terms of natural amenities, affordable housing prices, and being able to work, live, and play within the same City.

In terms of natural amenities, Sudbury is home to over 330 lakes and is surrounded by a rich natural environment. More importantly these natural amenities are abundant and readily accessible from anywhere within the City and as one key informant emphasized, "... we can get to the wilderness within 10 minutes ..." As a result, the City has just-in-time recreation (10) because many of the popular outdoor recreational activities like hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, snow-mobiling, and cross-country skiing are all available within the City limits. More importantly, Sudburians do not have to travel far or long to reach nearby natural amenities that Torontonians frequently spend long hours stuck in summer weekend traffic trying to reach in Muskoka.

Also related to the environment and as a result of its location and reduced levels of population, Sudbury has very few smog advisory days during the summer months. In 2006, when compared with larger growing cities in Ontario like Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo with 11 smog advisory days, Sudbury had far fewer smog advisory days with only 4 (Ministry of the Environment 2007). Also, it should be noted that when Sudbury was rapidly growing in the 1960s the natural environment was barren and polluted which was described by one key informant as "... the most dreadful looking place we'd ever seen ..." Since that time, key agents in the City have done a remarkable job cleaning up the natural environment. Thus, often peripheral 'no-growth' cities offer natural amenities that are unspoiled due to the lack of extreme growth pressures evident in growing cities or, as in the case of Sudbury, the reorientation of the economy can lead to efforts to rejuvenate the environment.

Another piece of the silver lining that was made apparent by some of the key informants is how affordable it is to live in Sudbury as a result of the lack of extreme growth pressures. As one key informant described, "... you can buy a house here for easily less than $150,000 maybe $120,000 and you can buy a nice three bedroom house ..." In fact, the average housing prices in Sudbury are below the provincial average and far below those of a growing place like Toronto. In 2006 the average residential housing price in Toronto was $352,388 compared with $150,341 in Sudbury (CMHC 2007). Thus, cities like Sudbury could market and embrace the opportunities associated with 'no-growth' which include affordability, an abundance of natural amenities, and quality of place. Accepting 'no-growth' and celebrating it has the potential to alter the negative image that is currently associated with it. Furthermore, 'no-growth' cities like Sudbury have the opportunity to position themselves as affordable and healthy locations in which to work, live, and play.

The Need for New Planning Vocabulary and Concepts

From the onset of this research, the word decline (or 'no-growth' or slow growth) has been associated with a negative connotation that appeared to be feared and avoided and this was supported by the lack of literature on decline and its treatment by most key informants. Growth is seen as a panacea (Leo and Anderson 2005 and 2006) and as one key informant described, 'no-growth' is equivalent to dying. In addition, as noted earlier one key informant mentioned that decline is not talked about around 'here' while another feared discussing it in public. Furthermore, some key informants were very concerned about Sudbury being labelled as a declining city. However, as identified in the Sudbury case, decline is different from growth but it is not horrific. Decline or 'no-growth' has challenges and opportunities just like growth. Despite this, it became evident that a new vocabulary and discourse is required to discuss this topic and to combat the stigma associated with creating a model to plan for decline or 'no-growth.'

To combat the negativity associated with the word 'decline' (or 'no-growth') one key informant actually suggested finding alternative words to describe the topic because it's "... just such a boo word...." In the literature words like 'shrinking cities' in the United States (Rybczynski and Linneman 1999) and 'urban areas in difficulty' in Europe (Atkinson 2001) have been utilized. However, both imply a certain degree of negativity especially the latter. For this research decline and 'no-growth' were used interchangeably which were also met with feelings of discomfort from key informants. Throughout the interviews some key informants used alternative words like 'static,' 'level,' and 'sustaining' to describe the situation in the Sudbury case which led to the belief that planning focused on staying level, sustaining the status quo, and/or supporting static growth might not conjure up the same feelings of negativity and discomfort. In addition, one key informant suggested planning for 'structural change' or 'transition planning.' Developing a new vocabulary may assist in diminishing the negative nuances associated with the words decline or 'no-growth' and assist with the creation of a new model of planning and development. The establishment of a new vocabulary would likely promote the development of a new discourse in which all concerned could discuss, debate and decide on policies and practices to assist cities and their citizens experiencing these trends.

With or without population growth urban development will continue with an aging population and simply because people will likely want new homes that they can build and fashion themselves. There will also be a demand for new and up-to-date infrastructure. However the key will be to ensure that development occurs in the most suitable and least-cost locations to reduce future cost burdens on cities whether growth is likely to occur or not. Rather than using existing terminology like growth management and smart growth as labels for planning processes or concepts which imply substantial growth, terms like sustained development, controlled development, re-aligned development, or qualitative development (which was used by Sudbury planners in the 1980s in place of planning for 'no-growth') are suggested (see Table 1). These new ways of thinking or concepts of planning and development encompass many of the concerns and suggestions that key informants made regarding various planning strategies like protecting the built form (for example the downtown), resisting the extension of infrastructure, shrinking boundaries, and refocusing development to existing areas. This list is not exhaustive but rather represents the beginning of a longer discussion that is needed in the literature about appropriate and/or acceptable terminology concerning planning in 'no-growth.'

The underlying theme to these suggested new concepts of planning and development is to control and eliminate infrastructure and service expansions while focusing on maintaining and improving the current built form. Potentially these new concepts of planning and development could also assist with reducing the "any growth is good growth" mentality described by researchers (Leo and Anderson 2005 and 2006). It is worth noting that development is less provocative and more useful as a term. It can be used in both growth and decline scenarios as a qualitative approach to improving urban, economic, cultural, social, environmental and demographic challenges. As mentioned earlier, these concepts are only the beginning of a longer discussion that is needed in the literature about appropriate and/or acceptable terminology concerning planning in 'no-growth.'

Related to this is the tendency of municipal governments to rely on development to balance their budgets as a result of downloading and other issues which have left them bereft of sustainable financing that is in their control. In the Sudbury case, key informants expressed concerns regarding expansions during up-turns and then being stuck with having to provide and maintain those expansions during the down-turns. As one key informant explained, Northern Ontario has a tendency to go up, down, up, down but on a downward trajectory. Thus, the key for these alternative strategies is not to overbuild and to promote a very controlled or sustained manner of development to minimize costs in the absence of guaranteed future growth.

Changes to planning legislation are also needed if we expect 'no-growth' locales to plan for this trajectory. Modifications to the Provincial Planning Act might include tools for shrinking settlement boundaries while changes to the Provincial Policy Statement might include specific guidance for 'no-growth' localities. Currently, tools are all premised on conditions of growth. Combined with this, planning schools should consider adding courses on planning for 'no-growth' to ensure that future planners are not ill-equipped to manage such scenarios. Suggestions include teaching both the theory and history of metropolitan growth and decline as well as courses that focus on the challenges and opportunities associated with 'no-growth' and developing alternative planning and development styles for 'no-growth.'

Another possibility would be to open a planning school in Northern Ontario (or other declining regions) that specializes in 'no-growth' which would produce research and specialists. In terms of professional organizations and training, the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) and/or the various provincially affiliated organizations (e.g. Ontario Professional Planners Institute) may consider holding workshops in 'no-growth' cities and/or offering training to planners experiencing and treating this scenario. In addition, a Canadian national research network could be created like the Shrinking Cities Group, based out of California, to produce research and provide a network for academics to further study and research this topic.

In terms of an alternative vision, researchers Rybczynski and Linneman (1999) suggest that cities experiencing 'no-growth' should not be focussed on how to grow big again but how to prosper and have a great smaller city while other suggestions include the importance of planning for sustainability, liveability, and quality of life (Gonzales 2006). Furthermore, Molotch (1976) foresees opportunities in a city that asks "... what it can do for its people rather than what it can do to attract more people" (328). In Germany, Oswalt (2005) describes a new slogan that is emerging: "shrinking as a new potential" (13) to suggest that decline can result in a new compact urban core. Meanwhile the concept of Slow Cities or CittaSlow, which evolved out of the Slow Food movement in Italy, is a deliberate attempt to limit population growth. The founding principles of CittaSlow include "... working towards calmer and less polluted physical environments, conserving local aesthetic traditions and fostering local crafts, produce and cuisine" (Knox 2005, 6). This model moves away from the obsession with rapid growth and instead encourages slow growth as the ideal trajectory for cities. Declining and slow-growing cities in Canada could draw on the CittaSlow movement to inspire a new reality in which quality of life, quality of place, quality of employment opportunities, and sustainability become central to policy-making.


This research was put forward as an initial attempt to unravel the complex process of experiencing and treating 'no-growth' in one Canadian CMA, Greater Sudbury, Ontario. The preliminary phase of this research established that there is effectively no conceptual groundwork either theoretical or applied on 'no-growth.' It identified the scarcity of previous research on the topic especially at the municipal or grass roots level as a fundamental problem because the absence of a framework to provide guidance to 'no-growth' metropolitan areas contributes, in part, to the well-established contradictory practice of planning for future growth rather than 'no-growth' which was identified as a concern in the literature (Leo and Anderson 2005 and 2006; Bunting and Filion 2001 and 2004; Bourne and Rose 2001; Bourne and Simmons 2003). More fundamentally, 'growth' solutions to 'no-growth' are unrealistic and prevent the acceptance and management of 'no-growth' as an acceptable trajectory for a city's future. Through interviewing those involved in the planning process at the grassroots level in Greater Sudbury this research is able to provide an initial investigation on how 'no-growth' is treated at the municipal level.

Essentially, most key informants identified that admitting and being labelled as declining or not growing was perceived as accepting a negative image, synonymous with death, which would affect the City's ability to compete in the global economy and attract investment. While there are some definite opportunities that emerge as a result of the lack of growth when compared to growing metropolitan areas, there are also some very real challenges and concerns. Without a new reality, which includes alternative concepts, visions, vocabulary, and changes to the training of professional planners, 'no-growth' metropolitan areas will continue to incessantly plan for future growth. Although this paper offered some insights, further research is needed on alternative concepts and whether they carry the same sensitivity as planning for decline. More importantly, more discussion is needed on how success is measured in our communities. Put simply, is population growth the only or best indicator? In the end, this research asserts that 'no-growth' is different but it doesn't have to be bad or imply death. Sudbury is a slow growth, 'no-growth' if not declining metropolitan area that has changed considerably despite never surpassing its peak population. In the future, as the rift between high-growth and 'no-growth' cities and regions widens distinct social, economic, and planning policy considerations will be required. This will necessitate a balance between the top and the bottom to create new planning models and policies which encompass the hard decisions and local sensitivity that is needed.


I am indebted to all the key informants who took time out of their busy schedules to share their experiences with me. I would like to sincerely thank Trudi Bunting along with my committee Pierre Filion, Mark Seasons, and Rob Feick. Also, I owe a very big thank you to William Crumplin for his insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper and for his continued guidance and support. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers. Finally, I am grateful to the SSHRC Canadian Graduate Scholarship and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) programs for their financial support. The usual disclaimers apply. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the American Association of Geographers Conference (2007) and the Canadian Association of Geographers Conference (2008).


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Heather M. Hall

Department of Geography

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(1) For caveats on using census data see Simmons and Bourne 2007.

(2) This study was based on articles published between 1994 and 2005.

(3) Prior to the 1970s, vegetation in the City was severely impacted by acid rain and logging which was used to provide fuel in the smelting process known as roasting beds. The result was blackened exposed rock and very little vegetation in many parts of the City.

(4) Inco and Falconbridge were both bought out in 2006 and are now known as Vale-INCO and Extrata Nickel.

(5) The author recognizes that, in comparison to the collapse of other mining communities in Canada and around the world, a 10% decline over 35 years is not that drastic.

(6) In 2001, the City of Greater Sudbury was created by an amalgamation of seven major areas each comprised of a number of towns and communities.

(7) Meridian Planning Consultants & the Planning Services Division (2006) definitions: The out-migration scenario is based on the twenty-year historical trend for out-migration. In this scenario, out-migration outpaces growth resulting from in-migration and the natural increase component. Out-migration was averaged to be a net of 650 persons per year leaving the City. The natural increase scenario assumes a net migration of zero and is based on births and deaths. The immigration scenario assumes a return to the population peak of 1971. Population projections based on these scenarios for 2021 would be 135,407, 150,012 or 169,579.

(8) Includes only the core city of Sudbury and doesn't include other towns and cities in the regional municipality.

(9) This response was rationalized due to the high price of nickel and population estimates that suggested Sudbury had stabilized.

(10) This term was coined by Betsy Donald during her presentation on Kingston, ON at the 2007 Innovation Systems Research Network (ISRN) meeting in Vancouver.
Sudbury has fewer people today than it had in 1971. Now if that's
   your measure of declining cities then we meet that measurement.
   We've never gone past that in the years that I've been here....
   continues on to say.... Today, in terms of what you pick as a
   benchmark, I don't believe we're declining ...

I suggest it's probably easier to plan for growth because we've all
   been trained...that planning is about planning for future
   development, planning for situations where populations are
   increasing and we need to ... change ... or urbanize the landscape
   in some way.

Table 1: New Concepts of Planning and Development

New Vocabulary               Description

Qualitative Development    * Focus on the existing built form

                           * Promote infilling, redevelopment, and
                             conservation (Planning & Development
                             Department, 1987)

Re-aligned Development     * Re-aligning or scaling back settlement
                             boundaries and services

                           * Still have to deal with the psychology
                             of shrinking boundaries but
                             re-aligning has less negative nuances
                             than shrinking

                           * Reflect current versus previous

                           * Maintain and improve existing built

                           * Opportunities for downtown

Controlled Development     * No infrastructure or service
                             expansions to facilitate new growth

                           * Developers pay the costs associated
                             with new development

                           * Phasing development within settlement

                           * Identify holding spots, vacant spots
                             and opportunities for redevelopment
                             and infilling

Sustained Development      * Maintain and improve existing built
                             form and infrastructure

                           * Impact analysis to determine how
                             change will affect the city

                           * Use innovative urban design

                           * Opportunities for downtown

Internal Zonation          * Hierarchy of a limited number of
                             recognized zones (or settlement areas)
                             for development

Figure 1: Population--Regional Municipality of Sudbury, 1971-2001

1971    1,169,580
1976      167,705
1981      159,800
1986      152,475
1991      161,210
1996      164,049
2001      153,920

Sources: Statistics Canada 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001; City of
Greater Sudbury 2007b

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Figure 2: Population--City of Greater Sudbury *, 1996-2006

1996    165,618
2001    155,601
2006    158,258

Sources: Statistics Canada 2002, 2008

Note: The City of Greater Sudbury (formed in 2001) includes new
jurisdictions not part of the former Regional Municipality which
account for the slight population differences between those shown
here and in Figure 1.

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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