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Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 11

Settlement Patterns: Ontario’s Greenbelt as a Case Study

The process of urban sprawl has characterized the Greater Toronto Area since the construction of the first suburbs in the 1950s. Efforts to curtail the conversion of agricultural land to suburban development have resulted in the formation of the “Greenbelt”—a swath of forested, agricultural, and rural land protected from development that encircles the metropolitan region. The greenbelt follows the natural features of the landscape including the sensitive ecosystems atop the Niagara escarpment (light green and orange) the head waters of the Oak Ridges moraine (dark green). The goal is to intensify development in areas enclosed by this protected zone and Lake Ontario. Market forces and the demand for lower-cost housing however, have now pushed development beyond this zone into areas defined as “exurban.”

The task: Using Google Earth and street view, visit a collection of points along a line that traverses the city, the suburbs and the areas beyond. Describe densities and the typical development form, as well as the type of land use.

Step 1: Disable all layers in Google Earth, except for “Borders and Labels.” Load the chapter11.kmz file.

Step 2: Enable the 3D buildings layer. Begin by examining the density of several locations within the metropolitan area of Toronto. Double click the “Downtown Toronto” marker. You can click on the 3D buildings to determine their function. Open the “Density Transect” folder and double click on the “Financial District” marker.

Question 1: How would you describe the density of this area (e.g., low, moderate, or high)? What types of businesses are represented here and what region do they serve?

Step 3: Continue to the other “Density Transect” locations, noting how far you are from the downtown core of the city and using street view to examine the built environment.

Question 2: Classify the placemarkers as urban, suburban, rural, or exurban and comment on their density.

Step 4: Double click on the “From Grain Production to Market Gardening” tour.

Question 3: What is the strip of land unclassified by the greenbelt layer bordered by Milton to the east and Guelph to the West? (Hint: search for Geographic Features) Based on your observation what has the effect of the greenbelt been on the location of recent exurban development?

When you have answered the four questions above, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answers.


Question 1: This area represents the highest density within the Toronto metropolitan region. Land values here are very high and the typical functions present are financial services and business headquarters. High value residential development is also present, in particular along the lakeshore. Many of the functions in this area serve the entire country, rather than the surrounding region.

Question 2:




Financial District


Very high density

Kensington Market


Moderate density

Palmerston Avenue


Low-moderate density

Bimini Crescent


Low density

Concession Road 10


Very low density

Campi Road


Low density

Bennett Road


Low density

South Guelph


Very low density



Very low density

Question 3: The strip of land is the Niagara Escarpment, a protected zone and a UNESCO world heritage site. The protection of this and other landforms in the area and the attempt to curtail urban incursion into agricultural areas has inadvertently promoted development outside the greenbelt in exurban regions like Guelph and Bradford.p>