Book Review – The Boundary Bargain

Boundary Bargain

My goal is to read a book a month (or so) and provide a short review as well as relate the book to SWO in it’s current context.

Zachary Spicer book The Boundary Bargain. The book outlines  the evolution and nature of the cities and rural areas in Ontario and the consequences  of this divide.

Providing a historical overview dating back to the early cities of Upper Canada to outline the evolution of how towns grew into cities and how they interacted with the rural countries that surrounded them; Spicer set the contextual stage for many of modern challenges of sprawl and inter-governmental cooperation. To illustrate these challenges Spicer uses three case studies: London-Middlesex; Guelph-Wellington County and Barrie/Orillia-Simcoe County to illustrate the ongoing tension between urban centres and their surrounding rural partners. These cases provide a detailed background of the political and economic evolution of each community that led to their boundary tensions before digging into their own unique urban/rural challenges: from London where suburbanization is being driven by county representatives along city’s fringes, has led to the City refusing to provide services and to talk of annexation. To Guelph where a cooperative arrangement has been put in place to allow Guelph to expand as needed but questions of whether appropriate intensification will occur. To the Simcoe County where Barrie and Orillia are separated cities on different trajectories with Barrie being the fastest growing cities in Canada and Orillia growing at a negligible rate; within the rest of the County you find that it is split between rapidly growing suburban communities closer to the GTA and slower growing northern communities that struggle to maintain their economic base.

Spicer concludes by looking at the institutional mechanism  that can potentially overcome the artificial boundaries that exist between cities and their surrounding counties. Providing examples from the “New Regionalist” paradigm he examines the feasibility of potential institutional solutions to these boundary issues which range from: basic inter-departmental cooperation to department amalgamation across a region to the formation of single tiers of government.

SWO Impacts

Overall this book does a wonderful job at illustrating the institutional challenges that face many cities and counties across Ontario. With thirteen separated cities/counties remaining (by my count) in Ontario; the book provides insight on how our region (and others) could potentially move forward to improve cooperation and coordination – particularly in the planning space.

Given the projected population growth for Ontario and the insights that have been gleaned from the conversation that have already occurred on the podcast (Tillsonburg looking to go through a boundary change for new residential land; North Perth growth challenges with the spillover from the KW Region – etc.) that highlighted the forthcoming growth challenges facing many of the smaller communities, mechanism to channel this growth in positive and proactive manners are important.

Given that there are few mechanisms with the governing structure and institutions in most of Ontario (Greenbelt and broader Golden Horseshoe Master Plan aside) to oversee suburban development in the context of urban/rural institutions certainly can point towards future potential challenges and opportunities for communities across the region.


Note: the first half of this review was original written on my personal blog here – I reused segments of that text.

You can listen to my conversation with Zachery Spicer during Season 2 of Council Conversations here.

Patreons can listen to an expanded version of this book review and some additional analysis here.

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