Understanding the suburbs through Mallopoly: a game of territorial agglomeration

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Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 11:00am

Developing ways to make our contemporary suburbs more livable, humanly scaled, and civically oriented is challenging without a better understanding how they work: why they grew the way they did and the economic pressures that continue to influence the way they’re designed.

Enter Mallopoly, a new website developed by Assistant Professor Michael Piper with students from the Daniels Faculty, including collaborators: Emma Dunn (2015) and Zoe Renaud (2015); the development team: Mina Hanna (2015), Rachel Heighway (2015), and Salome Nikuradze (2016); and course participants: Jordan Bischoff (2015), Janice Lo (2015), Ayda Rasoulzadeh (2015), Beatrice Demers Viau (2015), and Anna Wan (2015). Based on Monopoly, the popular board game about land speculation in the late 19th century mercantile city, Mallopoly provides a graphic manual to help urbanists understand an economic logic for the built form of polycentric urban regions, such as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“The goal is to provide designers with a fresh understanding of these places,” explains the Mallopoly team on their website. This fresh understanding can then be used as a basis for “imagining new civic futures for suburban agglomerations.”

The team describes how this game of city building is organized around malls — the new anchors for the many centres and edge cities that make up the contemporary megalopolis. Over the last thirty years, other large buildings have grouped up around malls producing a quasi civic aggregation of stand-alone buildings whose latent formal logic has yet to be fully understood in architectural or morphological terms.

From Mallopoly’s website:

Like many cities in North America, the GTA has been decentralizing since the post-war boom; the prevailing economic cause being cheap land at the periphery. Sustained governmental and market measures that ensure affordability, access to property; and the rise of the middle class after the war all contributed to Toronto's expansion. During the early phases of urban dispersal, buildings seemed to repel each other with maximum entropy producing a scattered urban form. Car use obviated the need for physical coherence between buildings, helping to produce a built form that seemed to spread like confetti.


In the proposed game, players would start from the downtown core of Toronto and move along the highway to come across “interchange spots” where they could purchase a property. Like the board game Monopoly, players could either purchase a low value property to build cheap and fast or save to densify more inherently valuable sites. After determining where to build, players of this game would then draw a “technique card” to determine how to build, or the type of spatial relationship they are to use between the new buildings and existing mall agglomeration.

The property values and spatial relationships are all based on a study of the polycentric urban form in the GTA. In a sense, the rules to this game are a mirror to reality, and the game itself an opportunity to learn about it. From this understanding, the Mallopoly team argues, new rules can be written that may bring about well informed, yet optimistically motivated alternatives to the current state of the suburbs.

Images above from mallopoly.ca

Mallopoly began as a research studio on Toronto malls at the University of Toronto coordinated by Michael Piper. It has since developed into this online publication.

Michael Piper, Emma Dunn, Zoe Renaud
Development: Mina Hanna, Rachel Heighway, Salome Nikuradze
Research studio: Jordan Bischoff, Janice Lo, Ayda Rasoulzadeh, Beatrice Demers Viau, Anna Wan