Urban sprawl is a fact of life in most North American metropolises.

Keeping young families in Montreal has become a hot issue in the municipal election campaign.

Each of the four main candidates has a plan to address urban sprawl and how to attract that demographic.

But for some voters, even the promise of improvements won’t be enough to keep them within the city limits.

In the last decade, the lure of a suburban lifestyle has led to an average annual net loss of 22,000 people from the island to surrounding communities, according the Institut de la statistique du Québec.

“It’s the American Dream, but it’s also the Canadian Dream for many people to own a house with a piece of land where kids can play in the yard,” said Raphaël Fischler, the director of McGill University’s School of Urban Planning.

“It’s going to be very hard to make people change their minds.”

In part one of a two-part series, CBC Montreal takes a look at urban sprawl and two families on either side of the issue.

Patricia Sarrazin-Sullivan and her family chose to stay in the city. Her three children share one room in the family’s converted Plateau duplex. But for Sarrazin-Sullivan, the shine that draws many to the suburbs is more of a stain.

“There’s no way,” she said. “I walk. I bike to work. I spend a lot of time with the kids, and I don’t sit in traffic forever twice a day. So, for me, there’s no other choice.”

She believes that living in close quarters with her neighbours also fosters a sense of community.

“You can have a very, very fun life if you put aside three bedrooms and a car and garage,” she said. “It all comes back to the essential thing — to spend as much time with your kids as possible.”

Growing sprawl also comes with a greater cost.

“The collective cost is more road congestion, loss of farmland, loss of wetlands in some cases and also greenery,” said Fischler.

“It has meant – maybe in some cases – more segregation.”

However, for many, the promise of breathing room, peace and quiet and an increased sense of safety is enough to make up for the time and money lost to the commute.

Frank Kristoffersen grew fed up trying to find an affordable home on the island. Eventually, he and his family found their perfect home in St-Lazare.

“I was brought up in a house with a backyard, like most people I think, and that's how we wanted to bring up our kids, you know? With a basement and a playroom and all that stuff,” he said.

“And more safety.  I mean they can play on the street here . You can really afford better accommodations for your kids here.”

Part two: Reality check

In part two of the series on urban sprawl, CBC’s Dan Halton looks at the Montreal mayoral candidates’ proposals to keep families in the city and how feasible they are. Part two airs Thursday on CBC News Montreal supperhour.