Category Archives: link

(160) Too many monsters

It almost seems too easy to pick on the McMansion or Monster Home these days.  The bloated starter castles of credit- and bubble-driven pseudo prosperity indeed symbolize failure of the most brutal kind.  A recent study suggests that America has some forty million more of these homes than it actually needs.  Hard to imagine forty million of anything, let alone houses.  All that drywall, copper wire, wood, metal, plastic – the furnishings needed for them, the labour and energy put into them.  Talk about overshoot.
Big giant houses, no money down, to go with big giant SUVs and big giant plastic cups of endlessly refillable corn sugared soft drinks.  Did a bunch of seven-year-old boys design such a society?

Today’s monster home is likely to be tomorrow’s slum rental.

U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find: 40 million houses too many – one explanation for falling prices U-T San Diego

Photo: Merfam via Wikimedia Commons

(159) Suburban poverty and the brain

There goes the neighbourhood!Is it just us or does a diagram of the human brain look like a map of a suburban neighbourhood, replete with winding cul-de-sacs?  Perhaps, after a full year on the topic at hand, we simply need a vacation?  Not speculative, of course, is the general relationship between where a person is and how they feel.  Two items from Australia and one from Ireland indicate that depression is not just an economic term.

Depression surge in rich suburbs over cash worries: affluent areas see huge jump in demand for mental health services

Sick suburbs

What price a home?


(158) Strap Hanger [Book review]

Taras Grescoe, a Montreal-based writer, is a sensible, optimistic lover of urban life.  He couldn’t have been otherwise to undertake a project of visiting fourteen cities in North America, Asia, Europe and South America to check out their public transit systems.  Grescoe reports on the history, present state and potential of each place with journalistic guts for the detail in the choices facing these cities.
Sprawl and cars prove inescapable and hateful in Grescoe’s worldview soon enough.  Some places, like Beijing, are early on the curve that rises to saturation levels of automobile ownership.  Other cities, like Copenhagen, are down the other side of that curve and evolving, not always easily, into something else.  Still other places, Toronto for example, are somewhere in-between, on the crest of change.  It was important for us to see suburban poverty fully acknowledged as part of a package of miseries waiting for communities unable to adapt.  Grescoe doesn’t hide his advocacy of public transit, why should he?  What indeed, will happen to cities that do not consciously make themselves over to be more walkable, transit-centric, bikeable and just generally interesting places to be?  They will become crowded, unhealthy, unmanageable places that discourage business and culture alike.
But Grescoe’s is not just a mindless reiteration of THE TRUTH ABOUT CITIES as laid down by Jane Jacobs decades ago in her own battles against the American interstate highway system.  He acknowledges the difficulty, cost and entrenched resistance transit systems face in the planning stages alone.  Strap Hanger points out the global importance of getting this right in an urbanizing world with a growing population, a changing climate, a world increasingly dominated by weird and inequitable economics.  Grescoe balances the kind of personal story your well-travelled best friend comes up with over coffee and the big picture of trade offs and economics cities are challenged by.  Strongly recommended to students, voters, taxpayers, motorists, politicians, economists, and, of course, those in public transit vehicles everywhere, holding onto straps.

STRAPHANGER: Vancouverism and smart transit planning
excerpts in Spacing Montreal

Cities visited in Strap Hanger are: Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogota, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal.  A dozen pages for source information and further reading are included.

(157) North Carolina

North Carolina appears to fully conform to the pattern of suburban poverty.  A pretty unfortunate circumstance considering that in recent years its largest city has become a major financial centre reporting remarkable employment growth (at least in that sector) as well as plenty of sprawl-based development.  Charlotte is even home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame!
Perhaps then, suburban poverty will be a topic in detail for speechmakers and election strategists when the Democratic convention gets going there in September?  We wouldn’t bet on it.  Not after considering a recent report from the North Carolina Justice Centre that indicates more than 650,000 North Carolinians have moved into poverty in roughly a decade.

Poverty gave a body blow to N.C. suburbs Charlotte Observer

Suburbia vs. sustainability: like other Sun Belt centers, Charlotte is nervous about density, even as it prepares for Democrats to gather in convention

All’s not well in N.C. suburbs as poverty rises Charlotte Observer

(156) Ireland

Ireland’s 2008 economic blow out, complete with real estate bubble and a major banking rescue at public expense was troubling indeed.  They were the first European Union country to fall into the Great Recession and have struggled since.  The days of the Celtic Tiger may never return since they were based on the greed and sleaze of an out-of-control financial sector combined with the wilful lunacy of a vast real-estate bubble.  One of our interns travelled to the Republic of Ireland in the late 1980s and recalls that early in the boom years there was visible progress in the nation’s standard of living and that working people were benefitting from an optimistic economic picture.  Now, with Ireland’s history of poverty bred by colonialism and conflict you’d have thought they’d be a little more careful in regard to who gets to do a number on who.
It was with interest, therefore, that we came across this book available online in .pdf format: Suburban Affiliations: Social Relations in the Greater Dublin Area.  It remains curious that Ireland chose the cars/suburban sprawl model of economic development, leveraging every last penny on a risky orgy of overbuilding.  Perhaps some clue to the madness will be found here…

Suburban Affiliations Social Relations in the Greater Dublin Area

(155) Tree cover

Money doesn’t grow on trees but it sure doesn’t mind having them around.  That’s what some recent research into the relationship between tree cover and income has determined.  The relationship appears to be reliable and is demonstrable numerically: the richer you are the more tree cover around you.  This is visible from space, people.

Income inequality can be seen from space

photo: Wikimedia Commons

(154) Long Island

Long Island is one of the places where post-war North American suburbia came into existence.  This week readers in Canada and the States can learn where things are at now in an HBO special called Hard Times: Lost On Long Island.

“…a sobering look at the realities of long-term, white-collar unemployment in America, as seen through the eyes of several Long Island residents who lost their jobs in the wake of the recent recession.”

Hard Times HBO Canada
Hard Times US site

(153) Atlas of Suburbanisms

One of the editorial interns at came across a fantastic resource today: The Atlas of Suburbanisms from Waterloo University.  Just getting to say a word like suburbanisms brings a joy to our hearts, …let alone the content!
The content is, of course, what’s important and as a tool for literacy in Canadian suburbia this site is powerful stuff.  The focus is Canada’s three largest urban-suburban agglomerations: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.  Other communities are also examined.  The information is timely, well presented.  The more we read, the more we look at the maps and tables and analysis the more impressed we are with this site.  Part of the problem of understanding suburban life lies in the difficulty of agreeing to the language to apply to it.  The Atlas of Suburbanisms takes us beyond this initial confusion, shows us what is there, …shows us ourselves!

Atlas of Suburbanisms

(151) From sea to shining sea: suburban poverty

This week in suburban poverty has seen multiple versions of a headline roughly like this: “US poverty at highest levels since 1960s”.  Media outlets, mainstream and alternative alike, appear to be acknowledging there is a problem more than ever.  So they should, and doubly so as there is an election on in the United States.  The data in this coverage is from an Associated Press survey done in anticipation of this fall’s 2011 US census data.
For many, the sixties are ancient history and yet others recall in some fashion a decade when social issues, including poverty, were seen to be in the realm of resolvable problems.  There was even talk of a “war on poverty” and a Great Society under Lyndon Johnson.  It looks like the gains made in the era of Kennedy photo ops in Appalachia are in danger if one in six Americans are now in poverty!

Bill Boyarsky: The Poverty Epidemic Hits the Suburbs TruthDig

US poverty on track to reach 46-year high; suburbs, underemployed workers, children hit hard Washington Post

US poverty on track to rise to highest since 1960s Guardian