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I had the good fortune to visit southern California for a family vacation recently. We stayed in the Los Angeles County area, specially in an unincorporated area named La Crescenta. However during the past week I also managed to spend a lot of time visiting a city called Pasadena as I have family there.

So I decided to do a small comparison between Pasadena and Mississauga to see if there were any similarities and differences between the two, since they are technically both suburbs, or “edge cities” as cited by author Joel Garreau, of larger metropolises.

Pasadena is a city of approximately 140,000 people, about 20% of Mississauga’s current population as of 2016. As with many small sized suburban cities, Pasadena followed a model of urban planning that builds on a very traditional street grid pattern serving as the centre/core with neighbourhoods spreading out from that point. It is a model of development that is recognizable around most metropolitan regions of the United States.

The similarity would be while Pasadena and Mississauga used a similar model of urban development, Mississauga took it to a scale previously untried by any American municipality, which turned Mississauga from empty farm fields to Ontario’s third largest city and Canada’s sixth largest. Other similar suburban cities, like a Pasadena, a Schaumburg, Illinois, or a Bellevue, Washington were smaller in square km, so the scale of growth in those American examples was expanded into an exponential scale in Mississauga.

Another thing about Pasadena is because of its smaller geographic size, people are packed more densely closer together (and in general America has up to 10 times more people than Canada, so as one peruses through the streets of Pasadena or anywhere in southern California you get the sense that there seems to be more people than in Mississauga.

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Both cities have very interesting municipal government buildings. The Pasadena City Hall is more traditional architecture than the more post-modern looking one that is the Mississauga Civic Centre. While the Civic Centre resembles a barn that serves as a kudos to Mississauga’s agrarian past, the Pasadena City Hall gives off a more European Cathedral vibe. On a side note, the Pasadena City Hall was also used by the hit comedy show Parks and Recreation as the location of the city hall for the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Although Mississauga has been the location where various movies have had scenes shot in over the years, no TV show has ever used the Mississauga Civic Centre as the primary location for an extended period of time.

The present day community of Streetsville was its own separate town from Mississauga, and residents there fiercely clung to their independence until their final moments in 1973 when they were amalgamated to create the City of Mississauga. Former mayor Hazel McCallion once even tried proposing the expansion of Streetsville’s borders west to Ninth Line to stave off amalgamation into the larger municipality. In comparison, Pasadena has an interesting neighbour named South Pasadena. They were originally part of Pasadena, but people in the southern portion considered themselves “south Pasadenans”. In February of 1888, in order to control their own territory (my cousin told me that because South Pasadena wanted to sell alcohol), South Pasadena voted 85 to 25 for incorporation as a city, which happened next month of that year in March with a population of slightly over 500.

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The streetscape is particularly intriguing. Pasadena may technically be classified as a suburb of Los Angeles, that by no means says that there is very little to do there, like people today in Mississauga still believe in the traditional sense. All along the main streets, like Colorado Blvd, there are the boutiques, high trendy restaurants and shops that seems to have alluded the central part of Mississauga that is not Port Credit. Also, because of the city’s history as an arts district and place for the arts community, the architecture even for franchise like Starbucks has a very artistic vibe to it.

The roads in Pasadena are somewhat narrower, making drivers seem closer together, but that is also because of a high amount of available street parking adjacent to businesses and restaurants. And the parking there is various; you either pay at the meter (in coins, so those old fashioned meters), park for about an hour between certain hours, or find yourself in one of the actual big box brand stores (like a Target) that has available parking spaces for Target and non-Target customers (the latter would be very discreet in not revealing they’re only parking at Target just so they could venture to other establishments along Pasadena’s main boulevards). Mississauga has big box stores with plenty of parking spaces available so that is the stark contrast, and most paid street parking is in the Square One area or Port Credit (most residential areas people park on the street also).

There is also the matter of public transportation. Sure, Mississauga has slightly improved bus services now and the Mississauga Transitway, not to mention GO train commuter rail service from Metrolinx slated to become Regional Express Rail in the next decade or so, but it seemed to be Pasadena (as well as Los Angeles’ surrounding communities) were decades ahead already. The Los Angeles Metro Rail, a vast Light Rail Transit (LRT) system which stretches to every conceivable corner of Los Angeles and environs, has been in operation since 1990.

Pasadena is home to six Metro stations along the system’s Gold Line (which actually opened just last year and is currently planned to be further extended out east) not to mention operating her own bus transit system within city limits while being serviced by bus systems from Los Angeles (Mississauga has a similar arrangement with MiWay, GO Transit and some Brampton ZUM buses coming into Square One). But just the fact that an extension of the long existing LRT system has made its way into a city like Pasadena shows that their public transit is miles ahead of anything Mississauga has to currently offer.

My final point is that while Pasadena, like Mississauga, is a ‘suburb’ in the traditional sense, it is laid out more in a street grid pattern than Mississauga. Mississauga is more sprawling and suited for cars, while surprisingly Pasadena started with core areas like Old Pasadena and then expanded from there but keeping that traditionally looking street grid pattern. Mississauga only acknowledged a desire to move to a more grid system by way of amending the MiWay bus routes, but her very nature as a sprawling suburb will probably limit that transformation to a few specific densified nodes within the city.

Anyway, just some random thoughts from an occasional wayward traveler who took a trip down south recently.