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Are livable cities just a dream?

M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005
 

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M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005

One of the reasons consumerist "solutions" to climate change and peak oil are doomed to failure is the fact that most of the carbon-guzzling population lives in urban areas, designed around the assumption of perpetual availability of cheap fossil fuels, and inimical to the kinds of eco-friendly living habits that will have to be adopted if we are to survive these ecological crisis.

An excellent analysis of the problem of the urban environment under capitalism is found in a presentation made by Dave Holmes to the Climate Change | Social Change Conference in Sydney, Australia, in April 2008.

Here's an excerpt from his notes:

Dave Holmes wrote:
When one sees a modern city from the air, especially at night, it is a truly awe-inspiring spectacle. What always strikes me is the immensity of the project, a testimony to the power and creativity of human beings. However, on the ground and actually living and working in this wonder, things are quite different and the social and ecological problems crowd in and fill one’s view. The truth is that our cities have always been dominated by the rich and powerful and built and operated to serve their needs — not those of the mass of working people who live and toil in them.

* * *

Problems of urban life

And today the destructive effect on the quality of urban life of the capitalist pursuit of profits before anything else is growing alarmingly. Here is a short and far from complete list:

• Modern capitalist cities are absolutely dominated by cars and the trucks. This leads to massive, life-threatening pollution and a vast network of roads and car parks which scars the urban landscape. People live on islands surrounded by seas of asphalt and concrete — 40% or more of the city surface is asphalt and concrete. The city creates its own, warmer climate.

• Motor vehicles also directly kill and maim large numbers of people each year; still greater numbers die from the pollution. Vehicle emissions are also a major contributor to greenhouse gases and the climate change which threatens the human race with utter catastrophe.

• The corollary of this is that public transport systems are weak and take second place to the motor car. Similarly, the great bulk of freight is carried by trucks not rail.

• Developers aided by governments have created the appalling urban sprawl with all its ecological and social consequences (erosion of farmland, huge distances between home and work, etc., etc.). The word “developers”, of course, is an appalling euphemism — capitalist sharks would be a more accurate description.

• And now, in the name of urban consolidation, these same developers are being encouraged to build their often crappy blocks of units anywhere and everywhere. In Melbourne this has led to a great deal of angst in the suburbs. And one result is no better than the other.

• Then let’s look at what the developers actually construct. Modern houses and buildings are generally not only hard to maintain but ecologically wasteful and often extremely unhealthy (emissions from building materials, plastics and cleaning agents). They could be designed differently — we could easily have ecologically sensible houses instead of the current extremely wasteful “McMansions” favoured by the building industry.

• In the cities, public land — modest though it is — is constantly being alienated by greedy developers in league with councils and city and state governments.

• Not only are house prices soaring beyond the reach of most workers, but homelessness is growing sharply (estimated to be over 100,000 nationally) as governments refuse to build public housing and rely on the market to solve everything (preferring to give subsidies to people to rent from private landlords).

• Shopping centres (malls and supermarkets) dominate much of city life. They kill most of the neighbourhood shops and force people to rely on cars to do their shopping. But these juggernauts are purely the result of the capitalist thirst for profit — they appear before us as facts of life; people never get to discuss what is really needed. Moreover, the ubiquitous shopping mall represents a serious privatisation of social space — we all have to use them and they thus fulfil a social function but access and control is wholly in the hands of the private owners.

• And as the supermarkets and malls kill off many of the neighbourhood shops, their place is taken by chain outlets (7-11, Coles Express, petrol station shops) all offering emergency supplies — at much higher prices.

• Within the city we have the hypertrophy — a monstrous swelling — of the city centre (full of truly ugly buildings all jostling for position) and the bleak wasteland of the sprawling suburbs.

• In the sixties, “decentralisation” was a buzzword. Governments encouraged a modest movement of services and industry to regional centres. But today country towns and villages are dying as governments cut services and jobs and banks close branches. This has a multiplier effect. People move to the city (or at least to the big regional centres) and the rural crisis intensifies.

• There is a movement back to some regional centres but — under the wonderful capitalist system we have — it becomes ghastly caricature of what is really needed. The rich and middle classes build holiday homes in coastal towns forcing up prices and making life impossible for ordinary people (working-class pensioners and renters) who have to move elsewhere.

[Article also available HERE]


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002
This paper strikes me as very, very odd. The evils he is talking about have nothing to do with urbanity and everything to do with oil, car and development industry-driven sprawl, crappy design and products in general, and capitalists taking advantage of public concern about the environment to build shitty densified complexes.

It is almost contrarian - if people all live in lower density forms they will have to drive everywhere, infrastructure (sewers, electricity, roads etc) will be much more massive - so they will pollute more.

I read a paper a couple of days ago about the remarkable progress the Socialist/Green mayoralty of Paris has made in terms of air quality and quality of life there by promoting public transport - including some new tram lines - and cycling and discouraging overuse of the car.

I've often suffered from the pollution when in Paris so that is good news. Of course the city's high density (as an old city, but with a lot of 19th and early 20th-century intervention) is a help in that. But it is pleasant news, because French and other Latin/Southern Europeans don't have the reputation of being as concerned about the environment as the more northerly Europeans.


M. Spector
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lagatta wrote:
This paper strikes me as very, very odd. The evils he is talking about have nothing to do with urbanity and everything to do with oil, car and development industry-driven sprawl, crappy design and products in general, and capitalists taking advantage of public concern about the environment to build shitty densified complexes.

It is almost contrarian - if people all live in lower density forms they will have to drive everywhere, infrastructure (sewers, electricity, roads etc) will be much more massive - so they will pollute more.

This response strikes me as very odd.

The author is talking about "livability" of cities. He talks about "oil, car and development industry-driven sprawl, crappy design and products in general, and capitalists taking advantage of public concern about the environment to build shitty densified complexes" (your words), which seems to me to say a lot about livability.

You describe it as "almost contrarian". It's certainly contrarian in the sense that it's anti-capitalist. Were you using the word "contrarian" in some other sense?


M. Spector
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Quote:

The fundamental way we live — how we generate our power, get around, grow our food — is not decided by us but by the big corporations. Without the rule of corporate capital we could set in place radically different, ecologically sustainable arrangements.

For example, the cars most of us use are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. But what choice do we really have? We don’t favour private cars over public transport because we are a society of petrol-heads; it’s a consequence of the deliberate policies of capitalist governments protecting the interests of their big-business masters. The auto industry and its associated sectors make up a very large part of many national capitalist economies and oppose moves to improve public transport-.

Trying to stabilise — and indeed reduce — the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is a life-and-death challenge for humanity. We need to phase out fossil fuels and all the problems that go with them (carbon dioxide emissions and the fact that they will not last forever). But big business thinks it can make a few adjustments and carry on as usual. The changes required are simply too fundamentally in contradiction with huge economic interests to be easily contemplated.

Source


It's Me D
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Joined: Apr 22 2008
M. Spector thanks for another very interesting topic; I've also been meaning to get back to the Ecosocialism II thread and this one has got me in the right mindset so hopefully discussion in both will pick up!

As for the article M. Spector introduced I approve of most of the criticism of cities but I had a problem with the idea of "capitalist cities" as it implies that "socialist cities" would be free of the problems identified. In practice socialist cities have nearly all the same problems identified and I think even in theory the problems are associated with cities themselves and the solution requires moving away from the form of cities entirely, rather than addressing what I see as superficialities. Now don't get me wrong its not that I'm against "socialist cities" if that means something radically unlike what is currently the form of a "city" (and I believe it would have to) but then a new term seems appropriate if we are discussing a new form. To illustrate this I believe human populations must live where the resources needed to sustain these populations are found; this can never happen in cities, or at least I don't think the term city fits this conceptualization.

Pogo:

quote: "Take the cars out of the city and they become much more liveable."

This seems like an oversimplification; do you mean "cars" or road-borne vehicles? Replacing private cars with public transit is an excellent step but what about the endless trucks bringing raw materials needed by city dwellers from around the world?

It seems to me that taking people out of the city would be more effective.

Lagatta:

I understand your criticism of suburban and rural development as currently practiced, it is certainly as valid as the article's criticism of urban development as currently practiced. Obviously the current consumptive models of development in both urban and rural areas aren't working, we don't need to pick one as better, we need to make a third option.


M. Spector
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Joined: Feb 19 2005
I'm glad you find this interesting, D. I think it's one of the most crucial issues we will have to deal with as we search for eco-friendly and non-exploitative ways to live.

It seems to me that if goods are coming to consumers from far and wide it makes more sense in terms of efficiency of distribution to concentrate the consumers in one place and bring the goods to them, rather than disperse people out of the cities, as you seem to suggest. The whole question of whether we can and should continue to tolerate globalized consumption patterns, where most of our goods, including our food, travels thousands of km to get to us, instead of supporting localized production, is another topic in itself.

Yes, we will need public forms of transit to replace the private automobile, and again, transit is more efficient when population densities are high, rather than spread out. But with comprehensive planning we can design cities where people can live, work, socialize, recreate, and obtain the goods and services they require without having to travel great distances.

Considerations of that nature, such as the personal and social well-being of the urban dweller and the conservation of the environment, are foreign to capitalism, because they don't enter into the picture when the main consideration is maximizing profits (the hard-wired raison d'кtre of the capitalist system). That's why we speak of "capitalist cities" as being something very different from what we can only imagine to be "socialist cities" (since the latter have never existed). It is only when the priorities of society change - away from the absolute imperatives of growth and the production of private profit - that it is possible to produce urban environments that are sustainable ecologically and geared to the needs of those who live in them.

And you are absolutely right to think that a "socialist city" would have to be "radically unlike" the current conception of a city as we know it. It is, to us, almost impossible to imagine what such a city would be like. It would be a part of a larger transformation of the whole of society from everything that we see now to completely different ways of living and working, in harmony with the planet.


M. Spector
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Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004
quote:Originally posted by M. Spector:
Urban sprawl: bad for your health, the planet and your pocketbook

quote:Rising fuel prices will create pain for Alberta suburbanites. The suburbs are an artifact of the age of cheap and abundant oil. But as CIBC economist Jeff Rubin reported in April of this year, we are leaving that age and entering an "age of scarcity."

I'm still not convinced that concentrating large numbers of people in cities is good for the environment let alone natural. What does David Suzuki say about it?

Canadian William Khrem had something interesting to say about concentrating people in large cities. Who really benefits? Tracking the Social Lien Through the Economy


DrConway
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Joined: May 6 2001
You know, what really drives me nuts about people who go "ban cars! densification!" and so on is that it implicitly blames individuals for their choices which are molded by the societal framework in which we live.

Here's a classic example:

Everybody in the GVRD agrees that it's the height of lunacy to create circumstances where it's cost-effective to live in Langley and drive 45 minutes each way so as to work in Vancouver proper.

Yet none of the gang of idiots running the cities here wants to prick the golden egg of rising property prices, which is causing the exact opposite effect of what they want, which is higher density and lower overall commute distances.

The fastest way to make people live closer to where they work is to crash property prices through the floor in the GVRD.

'course then all the people who bought houses thinking they could flip 'em for few hundred grand would whine and piss and moan for ages and ages. You can't win.


Frustrated Mess
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Joined: Feb 23 2005
Yes, but Dr, that's just "One of the reasons consumerist "solutions" to climate change and peak oil are doomed to failure."

It is time to end the growth model.


DrConway
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Yeah, but you can't snap your fingers and overnight, BAM! we're all in eco-friendly high-rise condos made out of solar panels.

Fastest way to end the problem of ridiculous dependence on the automobile is to make housing cheaper.

But like I said, this kills the golden goose of rising property tax revenues from rich people speculating and driving up housing costs.

I'm just smirking at the schadenfreude I will enjoy when in a year, housing will have fallen enough in the GVRD that rents will drop. I have little pity for people rich enough to enjoy a million dollar apartment, condo or house wich I will never be able to afford.


wage zombie
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I think this thread might be the best place to post this:

Carless in Vancouver, Part 1: Boots on the Ground

I saw Part 3 on the dailykos rec list this evening. it is one person's account of a recent trip to Vancouver for an eco-city conference.  There are lots of nice pictures and descriptions of what's currently happening in Vancouver.


Catchfire
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How demolishing freeways is reviving American cities

Quote:
Next American City: One of your most well-known achievements as mayor of Milwaukee was demolishing the Park East Freeway. Next American City just held a panel discussion about urban highway removal, where we heard many of the same, understandable fears that people have about traffic, funding, economics, etc. As local leaders around the country are now seriously considering highway removal in some form or another, how do you suggest convincing concerned residents that such a move is right for them and their city?

John Norquist: Well, you have to change the discussion from pure traffic count comparison to traffic distribution. A robust street grid, with lots of connections, will distribute traffic much better than a few large freeways.

For example, when the Embarcadero Freeway, a double-deck freeway, was torn down, a majority of the trips—according to a study by the city of San Francisco—got shorter and faster because of the increased connectivity. With the freeway, there were a lot of trips where you overshot your destination and had to come back. It also attracted trips that didn’t add any value to the neighborhood: People going from Oakland to Marin County were cutting through San Francisco. When the freeway was torn down and replaced by a boulevard, it suddenly didn’t look so attractive to go that way, and [drivers] found a different way to get to Marin Country or, in some cases, didn’t make the trip.

NAC: What about funding? Your tenure as mayor has been described as fiscally conservative, which makes you something of an anomaly among urbanism fans and advocates. What do you think is the best way to fund large-scale projects like urban highway removal?

JN: Well, they’re smaller-scale than rebuilding the highway. Particularly if it’s an elevated freeway, it’s going to cost a lot of money to rebuild. A lot of freeways are headed beyond their design life, so they have to be rebuilt. You can’t just resurface them again. It’s cheaper to just tear it down and replace it with a surface street, so you win the cost argument by comparing it with rebuilding the freeway. 

As far as other funds that are available, you can try for some of the TIGER grants, and things like that, that might facilitate some of these things. New OrleansNew Haven—there’s a number of places that have either gotten TIGER II money or are applying for it. But I think the biggest single way to finance these things is to compare them with rebuilding the existing structure. In the case of Milwaukee, it cost about a third as much to tear it down as it would’ve been to rebuild it.

NAC: What are some of the highway removal projects around the country—not including Milwaukee—that you consider particularly admirable, and maybe worth copying?

JN: Well, there are a lot of them that aren’t completed. But the ones that are, they’re all admirable. New York’s West Side Highway was closed in 1975. It fell down once in ’73, and they repaired it, and it fell down again in ’75. At the end of its 40-year design life, it fell down right on schedule. And it was just really expensive, and politically unpopular, to rebuild it. A lot of the politicians wanted to rebuild it, but as soon as they figured out which way the wind was blowing, they changed their minds. Probably the most important conversion on the West Side Highway was [former U.S. Sen.] Pat Moynihan. Not only did he come out against rebuilding the freeway and against the Westway—which would have been a tunnel—but he became the leader in the Senate on transportation, and was really the father of the ISTEA program.

Anyway, the result of the West Side Highway coming down was [that] it really helped the rebirth of the real estate market in Chelsea, Tribeca, Battery Park City. In Portland, the riverfront section of the expressway was removed and there was a huge property value increase. People could see the [Willamette] River, and without the freeway in the way that made a huge difference. And then in Seoul, South Korea is the most spectacular one of all: They took out a freeway with over 150,000 cars a day and replaced it with two moving lanes on each side of a river, which they restored. And it works just fine because they have a really rich street grid in Seoul.

There are a whole bunch of projects pending where there’s some real good opportunity to have more success in tearing down freeways. Basically, freeways don’t belong in densely populated cities. They create more problems than they solve. They’re very expensive, so almost nobody’s building new ones. That tells you that they’re sort of doomed: When you’re not doing new ones, you’re going to eventually have to remove the old ones.


Gaian
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Yeah, just as Jane Jacobs was a bit too far ahead of her time - five decades - in predicting an increase in "the small and special stores," in the city, even while the larger stores move to the suburbs. (The Death and Life of Great American Cities,1961).Also, the importance of sidewalk play to teach children social/civic responsibility. Jane would have delighted at the tearing down of Toronto's elevated Gardner expressway, but I've forgotten what she said about the possibility of a Ford as mayor - about the deadening effect of a citizenry conditioned to respond only to "taxes."

lagatta
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Trains and goods trams would be much less polluting than truck transport, but of course another aspect of environmentally-friendly goods distribution would be more local production. I once found organic carrots from California at a Loblaws - in July.

The Ford Brothers are an example of "barbarism" (as the contrary of ecosocialism) but almost in caricature.


Michelle
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lagatta, so nice to see you!  I agree that it's completely ridiculous, the way the food system works so that we get produce from so far away when we grow lots of it right here in season.

I somehow missed this thread until now, and I've really enjoyed reading it through.  I don't think liveable cities are just a dream - but I do think it takes the kind of planning that we certainly won't see in Toronto any time soon. 

I live in a dense area on the Danforth, but I work way up north in the Don Mills/North York area, which is basically sprawl.  Taking transit to work is hell with transit as it is right now in Toronto.  What I wouldn't give for Transit City, where they had planned to put light rail along Don Mills Road.  Currently, it takes me over an hour to get to work by transit. On my electric bike, which goes at a maximum of 32 km per hour, it takes me half an hour and it's an 11 km ride. 

I have no desire to get a car because they're too expensive, they're a pain in the ass to find parking for, and they wreck the environment.  But if you work or live anywhere other than downtown in the city, the incentive to buy a car goes way, way up because of the terrible transit and sprawl.  No wonder there is such a divide between downtowners and the inner suburbs.  Getting an e-bike has been a godsend.

I've also joined AutoShare, and as a member, I can take a car when I need it for any trips out of the city, or for times when I have to lug a lot of stuff somewhere in the city.  It's a way of having a car when I really need it and paying only for the time I use.  I think that contributes to better liveability too - sharing a car with others means you don't drive as much, and you find alternative forms of transport as a regular thing.


Catchfire
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Will Self: Walking is political

Quote:
That our mode of being in the industrialised – and now post-industrial – built environment is in some sense profoundly awry is by no means a new observation. Writing in the 1840s, Friedrich Engels notes the "brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest", which "becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together in a limited space". What he characterised as the fundamental principle of society everywhere, was nonetheless "nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious, as just here in the crowding of the great city".

But writing 20 years earlier, Thomas de Quincey had already perceived in the great moiling of London's thoroughfares a fundamental alteration in the nature of human connectivity. As a teenage runaway he was, by his own account, saved from starvation on the streets by a young girl, Ann, with whom he spent some weeks. On their parting he arranged to try to meet with her on the corner of Titchfield Street at a given hour in the evening. If either of them failed to make this rendezvous they were to try again the following evening – but she didn't come after many nights, and although he searched for her throughout the city, De Quincey was never to find her again. He says: "This, amongst such troubles as most men meet in life, has been my heaviest affliction. If she lived, doubtless we must have been sometimes in search of each other at the very same moment through the mighty labyrinths of London."
Quote:
Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust, her magisterial history of walking, writes of her own experiences of danger during nighttime promenades in San Francisco: "I was advised to stay indoors at night, to wear baggy clothes, to cover or cut my hair, to try to look like a man, to move someplace more expensive, to take taxis, to buy a car, to move in groups, to get a man to escort me – all modern versions of Greek walls and Assyrian veils." And so she realises that "many women had been so successfully socialised to know their place that they had chosen more conservative, gregarious lives without realising why. The very desire to walk alone had been extinguished in them …" She later observes that "Black men nowadays are seen as working-class women were a century ago: as a criminal category when in public."
Quote:
So far as they are concerned, the journeys to work, to shop, to be entertained, to liaise with their social circle are all the utilisation of the built environment – such unpremeditated and willed walking as there is remains within these contexts, the most egregious example being the shopping mall itself. Yet a little over a century ago, 90% of Londoners' journeys under six miles were still made on foot – many of these would have been commutes, but even a walk to work involves a physical possession of the built environment and the exercise of orienting skills. Year on year, the number of journeys taken on foot declines – indeed, on current projections walking will have died out altogether as a means of transport by the middle of this century. No longer subjected to the measure of man – or woman – or her oversight, the city has already acquired distorted lineaments: vastly extended thoroughfares are lined by cul-de-sacs, while the architecture defined by Rem Koolhaas as "junkspace" presumes that only a corridor can be a viable destination – especially if it has a cash machine. Suburbia, and the inter-zone between the city proper and its rural hinterland, is the tangible form of this disregard, being a collection of locations that no longer convey any sense of place.

 


lagatta
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Hi Michelle! Yes, I don't post at rabble as much as I'd like as my home computer is allergic to it - I always get logged off. I have to wait until I'm using a computer elsewhere. This should change soon, as I'll be getting a newer computer.

I don't think liveable cities are just a dream either - they are something we have to work and struggle for. I've been involved in urban cycling movements since the 1970s (Le Monde à bicyclette). The late Claire Morissette, on of its founders, also founded CommunAuto, our carshare scheme, and indeed I have friends with children who can do without a car because of that, which they use for "big shopping" and travelling outside the city, to rural areas especially.

An electric bicycle - cool! Your commute would be rather long to do with a regular bicycle, and of course some of it is an uphill climb if I remember Toronto geography well.

I travel to Amsterdam at least once a year (no, of course I'm not paying the ticket...) and they have done much in terms of cycling, trams and local trains. There are problems of course - scooters are allowed on bicycle paths, and this has caused problems, and as in many cities, gentrification is pushing poorer "working families" out of the city centre, even in formerly working-class areas. And while almost everyone owns at least one bicycle - often a couple; a clunker to get around town and a faster bicycle to tour the countryside - there are still too many cars in suburban areas (though bicycles always have separated or secured lanes).

Catchfire, local (Outremont) blogger Mary Soderstrom has written quite a bit about green and walkable cities. http://marysoderstrom.blogspot.ca/



Catchfire
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I know Mary's blog well! In my blogger days we corresponded once or twice. Love her writing. Thanks for the refresher, lagatta (and I echo Michelle's delight in seeing you back, if only infrequently. I wish we could fix that bug for you...)


sknguy II
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M. Spector wrote:

...It is only when the priorities of society change - away from the absolute imperatives of growth and the production of private profit - that it is possible to produce urban environments that are sustainable ecologically and geared to the needs of those who live in them..

Your point here draws me to what I see being the crux of the matter. I live in a rural area myself, and globalization, particularly in the area of telecommunications, has made things much more accessible to me over my lifetime. Living as a ruralite for most of my life the only reason I had become an urban dweller was during my period of post secondary education. I've had neither the need or desire to seek an urban life beyond that and am grateful to have found a rural lifestyle.

What is the purpose of cities? This 2009 UofT report asks (I should say frames the question) what role cities will play in the global economy. Although their purpose has evolved over time, for the most part cities have always served economic needs. And most will continue to think of cities in terms of being an economic engine or tool. I agree that reframing the purpose of cities would require a serious shift in thinking. But can economic practices be forced to adapt and accommodate an environmental purpose for cities? Well... they could. As long as there is a clear commitment to an environmental purpose for cities, and that the committment remains true and on target. Pressures from land developers to serve the needs for profit would be immense.


Bacchus
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Michelle wrote:

 

I have no desire to get a car because they're too expensive, they're a pain in the ass to find parking for, and they wreck the environment.  But if you work or live anywhere other than downtown in the city, the incentive to buy a car goes way, way up because of the terrible transit and sprawl.  No wonder there is such a divide between downtowners and the inner suburbs.  Getting an e-bike has been a godsend.

I've also joined AutoShare, and as a member, I can take a car when I need it for any trips out of the city, or for times when I have to lug a lot of stuff somewhere in the city.  It's a way of having a car when I really need it and paying only for the time I use.  I think that contributes to better liveability too - sharing a car with others means you don't drive as much, and you find alternative forms of transport as a regular thing.

Where I live (North Etobicoke in Toronto) Transit sucks though its stable and regular just over-used and not good for general life(just getting to/from school or work).

Just going shopping for groceries can be hard unless you are lucky enough to live near a mall or grocery store and can walk. I see lots of people forced to use taxis for their shopping especially since you cannot do enough shopping using transit to be able to carry it all on the bus.

 

If I lived downtown I wouldnt use a car (and I have friends that do exactly that) but here in the suburbs? Just about everyone who can, does.


quizzical
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Has there ever been a sustainable ergo "liveable" city in history?


Catchfire
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Urban trees reveal income inequality

Quote:
Wealthy cities seem to have it all. Expansive, well-manicured parks. Fine dining. Renowned orchestras and theaters. More trees. Wait, trees? I’m afraid so.

Research published a few years ago shows a tight relationship between per capita income and forest cover. The study’s authors tallied total forest cover for 210 cities over 100,000 people in the contiguous United States using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s natural resource inventory and satellite imagery. They also gathered economic data, including income, land prices, and disposable income.

They found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation. The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees. Given the recent problems New York City has had with its aging trees dropping limbs on unsuspecting passers-by—and the lawsuits that result—it’s no surprise that poorer cities would keep lean tree inventories.

 

 


Michelle
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That makes sense to me, the study about trees and income.  Just thinking off the top of my head, the most well-heeled neighbourhoods in Toronto have gigantic, sprawling trees on the properties. 

Of course, the ugly new sprawl neighbourhoods in the inner burbs and 905 areas don't, even though the houses out there cost a fortune, but I think that's because there has been a conscious decision to squeeze ever-more-giant houses on the same size lots, crowding out the green space.  A three or four bedroom bungalow won't do anymore for a family of three or four - you have to have five bedrooms, an industrial-sized kitchen, a living room big enough to entertain parties of 40 people that you never have over anyway but the fantasy is nice, two storey foyer entrance with spiraling staircase, three bathrooms including a luxury jacuzzi off the master suite, and a finished basement complete with family room and pub for the adults.

So they clear-cut the trees for the housing developments and then plant spindly little saplings in the postage-stamp yard in front of the 2 car garage that takes up 3/4 of the front of the house.  And then charge you half a million bucks for the house.


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

The tree thing is flagrant if you look along avenue Bernard just south of where I live - as soon as one reaches the wealthy arrondissement (formerly an independent enclave city) of Outremont, one sees a green forest, or even in wintertime, a hell of a lot more branches above the street. As if by magic, the snow and ice are always cleared there too.

The same, of course, can be observed upon entering Westmount.

Indeed, it doesn't apply so much to rich suburbs and exburbs. Think they don't give a shit about what is outside their huge ugly houses.

La rue Bellechasse has NO sidewalk trees, or houses with trees in the tiny front yard (few houses have such tiny yards on that street, in the blocks between St-Laurent (its end at the west) and St-Denis. I walked along this to verify the dearth of trees.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

Living in a city that has had a left wing government continuously for 25 years gets us trees for everyone.  We have over 25% of the landmass in parkland. Of course we also have trees on private lots and more of them in the rich areas but there are parks with trees in every part of our city. 

I think that adequate green space is one of the keys to a livable city.  Every election the city finds land it proposes to become parkland. The people always pass the referendums by in excess of 90%.  The land could be dedicated without the vote but with the vote it will make it far harder for any future council to start stripping the city of its parks piece by piece as has happened in other cities.  If cities could get to 30% parkland they would be far nicer places to live. 


lagatta
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Joined: Apr 17 2002

Oh, I certainly agree, and my arrondissement (Rosemont - Petite-Patrie) is doing a lot to encourage greening, as is the Plateau Mont-Royal arrondissement just to our south.

I believe you live in Vancouver though? Lovely place, but as you know too well, becoming prohibitively expensive. I guess all of us have urban problems to deal with...


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001
Interesting. I think the tree situation for us has more to do with the age of the neighborhood. We live in a place where trees don't grow on their own, so people do tend to plant them and few of our neighborhoods have a serious amount of density, so there is space for a tree. I live in the oldest part of town - not the most expensive, and in my childhood it was definitely a low rent district. But the trees! Huge old elms that make the streets green tunnels in the summer! the only bare parts of the nabe are where old structures have been torn down and new buildings put up, but there are regulations about whether you can take out a city tree that are quite rigorous.

kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

lagatta wrote:

Oh, I certainly agree, and my arrondissement (Rosemont - Petite-Patrie) is doing a lot to encourage greening, as is the Plateau Mont-Royal arrondissement just to our south.

I believe you live in Vancouver though? Lovely place, but as you know too well, becoming prohibitively expensive. I guess all of us have urban problems to deal with...

Close, I live in Burnaby. It is still expensive but it also has older walk up apartment flats that have "reasonable" rents.  Those housing stocks might be why we have more refugees in Burnaby than in most neighbouring cities.  That and maybe the parks and services. 

Burnaby was originally developed the same way it is being developed now and that is in conjunction with transit.  The original Interurban line ran from Vancouver to New Westminster near the turn of the last century and around the stops the various town centers grew up.  Now our city counsel pushes high rise development within walking distance of sky train stations. No large car dependent projects are being built in this city.

Part of the parkland has been amassed by selling density bonuses. Instead of say 15 stories they will allow an additional few stories but only in exchange for amenities.  That means paying for public spaces that become city owned and swapping unused land in the city owned by the same developer that is suitable for  future park.

 


6079_Smith_W
Online
Joined: Jun 10 2010

Regarding the lower mainland, one thing I did not notice until I went to Seattle was how much public waterfront there is in Vancouver (and much of it natural). I never tried the entire thing, but I am sure you can walk most of it. Not so in Seattle. It took me a long time to find a place to get down to the water, and much of it is private land.

Same difference between Saskatoon - you can walk a river trail right through the city on both sides - and the older city of Winnipeg, which is cut up by private lots. Too bad, because for half the year you can walk that river.


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