City Size and Academic Focus: Exploring Trends in Canadian Urban Geography, Planning and Policy Literature.

Author:Hartt, Maxwell
Position:Report
 
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In 2008, Hall and Hall examined the increasing unevenness of the Canadian urban system and the overrepresentation of growth-related research in the urban geography, planning and policy-related Canadian literature. By classifying journal articles published between 1994-2005 according to their implicit or explicit viewpoint towards urban growth and decline, they were able to determine the prevalence of both growth-centric and metropolitan-centric research. The results supported their hypothesis that growth is overwhelmingly presented as expected and natural. They showed that urban research in Canadian academic journals is predominantly focused on large cities and that very few articles, only 4%, concentrated on small cities even though they made up 9% of the total national urban population. Furthermore, virtually no articles discussed decline or no-growth as ongoing trends requiring additional research. When decline was discussed, it was generally presented in the context of attracting growth and the anticipated challenges associated with growth management. The authors concluded by stressing the critical need for research on shrinking and no-growth urban areas in the Canada context.

Since the publication of this article there have been continued calls for more research on small, mid-sized and shrinking Canadian cities. Hartt (2016), Schatz (2010), and Warkentin (2012) have all highlighted the need for more research on Canadian shrinking cities. Each echoing Filion (2010) in that no effective planning model for shrinking Canadian cities exists. According to Hall (2009), Canadian urban research is heavily fixated on large urban areas and tends to ignore or discount peripheral depopulation and the associated costs. Donald and Hall (2015) assert that there is a pressing need for additional research on declining small and mid-sized cities. Denis-Jacob (2012) calls for more work on small Canadian cities, while Bunting et al. (2007) argue that mid-sized cities have received little consideration in either the policy or research literature. They assert that additional research would be timely as urban density issues are of increased policy concern for cities of all sizes.

In addition to calls from the academic literature, the need for additional research on small, mid-sized and shrinking Canadian cities is evidenced by the themes of recent academic and practitioner events and programs across Canada. In 2016, national not-for-profit Evergreen launched its Mid-Sized Cities Program. Their objective was to help Canadian mid-sized cities, which they recognize as being traditionally overlooked in urban research and policy discourses, to "become leaders of sustainable and inclusive city-building" (Evergreen 2017). And in September 2017, the Small and Adaptive Cities Conference was held at Memorial University. In the program, conference chair Tomas Sanguinetti (2017, 2) states, "research on small and medium-sized cities is routinely overshadowed by a focus on global or world cities."

The flurry of activity regarding small, mid-sized and shrinking Canadian cities since the Hall and Hall (2008) study begs the question of if, or how, the academic focus of Canadian journals has shifted? Has the call for additional research on small, mid-sized and shrinking cities has been answered by Canadian urban journals? Or have Canadian urban journals continued to concentrate on growth and large urban areas? These questions lead to wider discussions surrounding the role of academic journals and the challenges and opportunities for Canadian urban journals moving forward.

The paper is structured as follows: first, we delve into the literature regarding small, mid-sized and shrinking Canadian cities. Next, we examine recent trends in Canadian urban populations across large, mid-sized and small cities. Third, we explain the approach, research methodology, and specific academic literature resources to be examined. Then we present the findings, which detail the proportion of published articles in Canadian journals stratified by urban size, geography and economic sectors. Lastly, we compare our findings to the original Hall and Hall (2008) paper to ascertain changes in the urban landscape and literature.

Small, Mid-sized and Shrinking Cities

The Evergreen Mid-Sized Cities Research Collaborative, a group of over 20 researchers representing more than 12 Canadian universities and colleges, define mid-sized Canadian cities as those having a population between 50,000 and 500,000 residents (Sotomayor et al. 2017). Cities with populations within the range of 10,000 to 50,000 are classified as small cities, and cities with more than 500,000 residents are considered large cities. This categorization captures Canada's unique urban geography--one that is comprised of many small cities and only a few large ones (McCann and Simmons 2000). In this paper we consider all census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and census agglomerations (CAs), as defined by Statistics Canada (1), to be cities. As noted in Table 1, in 2011 there were a total of 147 CMAs and CAs in Canada: 86 small, 53 mid-sized and 9 large. Large cities made up 64% of Canada's urban population, while mid-sized and small cities contributed 29% and 8% respectively.

According to Seasons (2003), most Canadian mid-sized cities are located in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia and the majority of these are concentrated within the greater Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver regions. While considerable growth has been seen in the number of suburban mid-sized cities in the last few decades, many mid-sized cities are also central cities of urban regions (e.g. Kingston, ON). Seasons (2003) continues to explain that in other parts of the country such as Atlantic Canada, mid-sized cities are dominant urban centres (e.g. Halifax, NS) as they are located outside the sphere of any large metropolitan areas. According to the Evergreen mid-sized cities research collaborative (Sotomayor et al. 2017), mid-sized Canadian cities have been disproportionately impacted by globalization and deindustrialization. Furthermore, mid-sized cities are faced with challenges relating to aging and declining populations, slow economic growth, rising social inequality shrinking tax revenue, and sprawl and car-oriented development (Flatt and Sotomayor 2015).

Like mid-sized cities, small Canadian cities are extremely diverse. Some are suburban communities within the commuter shed of mid-sized and large cities, while others are predominantly rural. Denis-Jacobs (2012) notes that many small Canadian cities are located in peripheral areas and suffer due to their remote location. As the Canadian economy has shifted away from staples, a new crisis of hinterland development has taken shape (Leadbeater 2009; Filion 2010). Leadbeater (2009) defines the hinterland to be any area beyond the commuter shed of a large metropolitan centre and has highlighted the precarious circumstances of small resource-reliant cities. The crisis of hinterland development is due to the increase in productivity and environmental limits in resource industries, massive increases in the concentration of both domestic and international capital, and major shifts in state policy resulting in cutbacks in employment and social programs. Together these changes have resulted in decreased employment, both in the quantity and quality of jobs, and consistent outflow of young persons from resource-reliant communities (Schatz et al. 2013). Filion (2010) predicts that some resource-based centres may benefit from international demand cycles, but generally most will decline.

Filion (2010) further hypothesizes that the future of Canada's urban system will be predominantly steered by demographic and global economic trends rather than explicit policy decisions. He argues that shifts impacting economic and demographic processes, and in turn policy decisions, will result in a highly polarized Canadian urban system. An urban system characterized by a few large urban areas experiencing high growth and many smaller areas caught within self-reinforcing cycles of decline. Polese and Shearmur (2006, 41) echo Filion's argument and add that:

The proposition that geography and exogenous forces can overwhelm even the best-conceived local economic development strategies should now be uncontroversial. It is difficult to imagine how purely local strategies, no matter how innovative or collaborative, could alter the forces [contributing to decline]. The demographic transition is a fact, and...

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