Small Town Transit-Oriented Development in Eastern Ontario and Sweden
Transit-oriented development (TOD) – the practice of planning dense, mixed-use nodes around a transit station – is becoming increasingly common in Canadian and North American urban planning. However, there has been little attention paid by practitioners and scholars to small towns, and how a theory intended for large urban areas can be applied to a smaller setting. With a potential new VIA Rail line being developed between Windsor and Quebec City, the town of Perth, Ontario may become home to a commuter railway station for the first time in over half a century. Can transit-oriented development work in Perth, a town of fewer than 6000 people? This paper explores the question of whether a regional railway station can stimulate transit-oriented development in a small town such as Perth. It examines the existing literature on TOD and makes use of a number of case studies of different scales. In compares VIA Rail as a commuter railway network to the commuter railway system in the Region of Skåne, Sweden, and examines five small towns with existing railway stations: Tierp, Gnesta, Skurup and Svedala (all in Sweden), and Smiths Falls, Ontario. Over the course of this paper, several conclusions are formulated. First, although TOD is possible in small towns, it must cater to the scale of said towns. Second, a railway station on its own is not sufficient to stimulate compact development; transit-supportive policies must be in place. Third, small towns are extremely sensitive to the current housing market, and their growth rates tend to be tied to housing affordability issues in nearby cities. Finally, increased connectivity can have the detrimental effect of reducing commercial activity in small towns, as the ease of access means that businesses have less incentive to locate in smaller markets. These lessons are applied to Perth in order to determine what a TOD plan might look like for the town.