Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil Engineering


Brian W. Baetz


Despite its popularity over the past 55 years, suburban sprawl development is widely criticized in the planning literature. Suburban sprawl is automobile dependent, socially segregating, and overly consumptive of raw materials, land and energy. Typically constructed at densities that do not support effective transit systems, suburban sprawl is often viewed as an unsustainable development form. Interest in urban sustainability evolved following the publication of Our Common Future in 1987, such that many communities now have vision statements and objectives for achieving sustainable community designs. There also has been a revival of neo-traditional planning concepts for the design and construction of new neighbourhoods to resemble those constructed prior to WWII (a period of lesser automobile dependence). Despite these efforts, there are many existing suburban areas surrounding cities in North America that need retrofitting, so that they may become increasingly sustainable. This dissertation develops a conceptual model providing decision support for suburban retrofitting, with the intent that the retrofitted suburbs exhibit a greater degree of sustainability than existing conventional suburban developments. This model, applicable at the neighbourhood scale, represents a departure from current sustainable community planning which is more focussed on greenfield developments. The conceptual model provides retrofitting methodologies for nine aspects of conventional suburban development, including those for increased density, added commerce and employment components, and reduced water, energy and material consumption. Automobile dependence is, in part, addressed by enhancing pedestrian networks and the implementation of neighbourhood traffic calming measures. Three prototype decision support tools have been created to assist a municipal planner or engineer in retrofitting a conventional suburban neighbourhood. These tools could be used at various stages within the planning process: (1) during the development or review of a community's Official Plan; (2) at the time of major street or utility reconstruction (to coincide with traffic calming installation); or (3) when more modest alterations to the neighbourhood are being considered (e.g., addition of street trees or pedestrian paths). The decision support tools can be used independently to model specific retrofitting aspects of neighbourhoods that may be of current interest to planners (e.g., traffic calming). When integrated with one another, they could be used to develop strategies for how a city might incorporate future population growth within existing built up areas, thereby maintaining a strict urban growth boundary. The prototype decision support tools are compiled for use in ArcView GIS and allow the user to generate and evaluate retrofitting scenarios for pedestrian connectivity, neighbourhood traffic calming and neighbourhood greening. GIS is the most suitable framework for these tools as it is a primary component in neighbourhood and regional planning processes. Sample applications are provided for case study neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ontario to demonstrate the use of these tools, particularly to illustrate the key benefits one can achieve by retrofitting conventional suburban areas.

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