Turning City Philosophy Upside-Down

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 25, 2007

One of the questions we struggle with at RTH is: why do city governments keep getting it so badly wrong when they launch revitalization plans?

Part of it is undoubtedly due to conflicting allegiances. Many suburban residents really don't want intensification. They moved out of the city precisely because they want privacy and space (or at least the perception of such qualities).

However, I'm convinced that much of it is also due to an upside-down, looking-glass view of revitalization itself.

To create healthy, vibrant neighbourhoods that provide a high quality of life:

A neighbourhood that brings many people into contact and groups a variety of destinations in close proximity is a neighbourhood that a) feeds the human psychological need for social contact, and b) provides a sense of safety, comfort and accessibility.

The segregation and exclusion of sprawl almost completely fail to meet these fundamental needs, and only superficially meet the equivalent human need for space and privacy.

Note: it's possible for suburbs to be dense and diverse enough to function as neighbourhoods. The hundred-year-old residential areas of the older city were built as suburbs, but were created on the model of a relatively self-contained community. That's why they're still so desirable today.

Likewise, congestion slows automotive traffic and gives pedestrians and cyclists a chance to integrate with the cars. It removes some of the incentive to drive - especially to drive short distances - and improves the civic realm even as it increases the incentive to get out and walk.

Done right, congestion tames our machines so they are less of a threat to the actual people who constitute a local economy and society.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted May 26, 2007 at 11:30:26

for good examples of this in Hamilton look at Locke South, Westdale and James North. All three are in various stages of of their success, but all 3 have the basic things in common that you mention. Congestion in Hamilton doesn't mean New York City style traffic jams. It means a safe flow of traffic such as we see on Locke, King in Westdale and now James North. Is it any wonder these areas have become vibrant, successful neighbourhoods while the one-way freeways in between each district still suffer with little business, no people and loud, noisy cars and trucks dominating the landscape. Ask any resident in any neighbourhood in the city - "would you prefer dinner on a patio in Hess Village or on Upper James?" It's a silly question, yet city hall still seems confused by such a basic concept.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 27, 2007 at 12:03:25

Agree in general, but a certain level of low density suburbs is part of a diverse housing mix. Just make it sensible: e.g. young retirees who don't have massive need for commuting. That would sort itself out economically if cities would stop subsidizing sprawl by giving away greenfields to developer pimps.

Such places could fulfill the mythos if their occupants could just stop hurting each other's quality of life (and therefore their own). That selfishness is worst in the burbs, but it holds for the whole city.

Examples of hurting each other: -Lawn maintenance (noise, air, soil, water pollution terrorists) -fast traffic scaring people off streets -wood smoke, no, it's neither pleasant not healthy -nuisance noise, especially that generated solely for visual vanity like two weeks of custom stonecutting just to trim the driveway

Enjoy your homes people, with all five senses. This has to start with being minimally considerate to your neighbours.

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