Places to Shop and Places to Grow

This study describes the rise of power retailing, shows where power centres are clustered in the Greater Toronto Area, and draws on data from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey to describe consumer travel patterns associated with retail development within Canada’s largest city-region.

Although only one new enclosed shopping mall has been built in the GTA since the mid 1990s, between 1995 and 2005 the number of big-box stores essentially doubled to more than 1,100. Most were built in the suburbs and on the urban fringe, where large areas of land are available relatively cheaply. In particular, power centres and power nodes tend to locate near highway interchanges. 

Whereas shopping malls typically incorporate transit facilities (with transit stops or even hubs close to mall entrances) and are designed so that shoppers can walk from one store to another, power centres are generally developed with the automobile in mind. Individual stores are often so spread out, and the pedestrian environment is so exposed and dysfunctional, that shoppers visiting two or more stores will typically drive from one store to another within the centre.

The peak times for weekday driving to malls and power centres are mid-morning, early afternoon, and early evening (after work). For the most part, shoppers time their trips so as not to coincide with the peak periods of travel for work, but the afternoon peak commuting period is nonetheless intensified by a certain amount of travel for shopping, including trips made to malls and power centres.

These trends run counter to the policies of the new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (MPIR, 2006), which promote compact, complete communities. Many of the Urban Growth Centres (UGCs) identified in the plan are served by power centres, and these power centres may compete with other retail opportunities (e.g., commercial strips and enclosed malls) serviced by a range of transportation alternatives. 

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe presents a vision of sustainable communities in which people travel less by car, use transit more, and have opportunities to live, work, and shop in mixed-use areas, yet it offers minimal guidance for using retail to achieve growth management and sustainability goals. Its policies focus rather on residential intensification and on other forms of employment, such as offices. Although the Province is continuing to develop its policies for employment, including retail, further research focused on the role of retailing in achieving sustainability is needed to better align contemporary patterns of growth and travel demand with current land use and transportation planning goals.