Too pricey to die? Cemeteries running out of burial space
Can you afford to die?
That's the question some might be asking themselves in the years ahead, as burial spaces fill up in many populated regions of the world, including Canada.
Poor urban planning has left many communities struggling to find the space to bury their dead, because cemeteries simply don't have the room to expand anymore. The problem is driving up the cost of a burial plot and driving others to consider alternatives, because some people simply can't afford the luxury of spending eternity six feet under.
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In many communities, urban sprawl has engulfed cemeteries that were once situated outside of town, leaving them unable to expand to meet future demand, according to Nicole Hanson, an environmental cultural planner who researched the phenomenon for her thesis at York University’s urban and regional planning program. That's left those cemeteries with little alternative to rezoning roadways and green spaces so they can maximize burial space on their existing land.
Toronto, for instance, is nearing tipping point.
"We're going to be running out of space to bury the dead in about 10-15 years," Hanson told CTV's Your Morning on Wednesday.
She pointed out that, while some might be willing to consider alternative burial methods like cremation, many still require a full-body burial for religious reasons.
"Land is not available for a variety of cultures that need that land," she said.
The cost of a burial plot can range widely, depending on where it's situated. A single plot in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery can cost approximately $15,000-$25,000, while a spot outside the city might cost only a few thousand dollars. However, the cost of a plot does not account for other expenses like a headstone, a casket and a funeral, which average to a total of approximately $4,000-$6,000.
Municipal or provincial governments will usually step in to assist with burial for low-income families, or to bury unclaimed bodies. Bodies must be buried according to their religious tradition (i.e. full burial for those who follow certain sects of Christianity and Islam), but the province typically won't spend to the amount that one might have preferred on the funeral and other elements.
Hanson acknowledged that cremation is a cheaper alternative to full-body burial, but an urn full of ashes can also take up valuable space.
"Land is still being used with cremation because we still have to allocate burial space within cemeteries," she said.
New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the territories have set themselves up well to deal with the problem, but B.C., Alberta and Ontario are struggling, Hanson said.
She suggests there might be a cultural shift on the horizon if the problem continues, whether it's a move toward cremation or a more creative approach to burial at existing cemeteries.