We’d rather live in a faux city than a genuine, certified, authentic suburb. But then, that’s just us. The author of this piece on Salon.com takes a critical look at new approaches to placemaking. The ones that distinghuish themselves with a recognition of the need for improvements to liveability and atmosphere over traditional suburbia through walkability, higher densities, access to transit, sustainability, less car dependence and better aesthetics. Many jurisdictions in North America have adopted such approaches, or at least the language of New Urbanism or Smart Growth. Will Doig calls out recent attempts at placemaking as simply a gussied up version of the original exodus to the suburbs after 1945. He looks past the pleasant-sounding, positivism of contemporary urban planning and placemaking and finds “shiny new cities, set in the suburbs.” Seems a little harsh, …but this discussion is extremely important.
After the 80s crash, again in 1992 and after the dot-com crash of 2000 or so there was reason to question the sustainability and necessity for returning to high-levels of global economic growth. The persistance of the Great Recession sees reasoned arguments emerging again for managing advanced economies on behalf of something other than whacky, destructive boom-and-bust cycles. If capitalism is to be the dominant economic structure a new approach will be adopted in some form, sooner or later. Why not take it on now by choice, when there are still some resources and some leeway left? Thoughts from Germany…
photo: Adam Crowe via Flickr
We mean that headline without any sarcasm. None at all. Who would but admire the current mayor of Phoenix, Arizona for trying to feed himself on barely thirty bucks for a week? That’s the food stamp budget for a single person. Out of a population of six and a half million just over one million Arizonans are in poverty and using food stamps. Mayor Greg Stanton recorded the experience on a Facebook page and, as you might expect, it wasn’t easy. But you know what? A mayor should show solidarity with his people, especially those in hard times. That is what Mr. Stanton is trying to do. Good for him. There are some interesting links in this piece if you are curious about the US food stamp program. The program is actually in serious jeopardy as deals cut between Obama and the Republicans will strike at keystone social programs in January.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton Lives On Food Stamp Budget For A Week
(45) Dollartrauma at Dollarama
How Do You Take Your Poison? Chris Hedges on Truthdig re January
We found it convenient to ignore most of the editorial content that surfaced in the media early this month in connection to Labour Day. Too much of it was pious and nostalgic. We’ll make a belated exception for this piece from Sid Ryan, a fixture in Canada’s labour circles for decades. Mr Ryan calls attention to what a joke it is here for many working people. We may be better off than workers elsewhere, particularly in America, but this is scant relief to those in low wage service sector jobs where security and benefits appear to be evaporating. Case-in-point, the treatment of Zellers workers after the takeover of the chain by American retailer Target. To this picture Mr. Ryan reminds us to add a new federal program for fast-tracking temporary foreign workers who can be paid up to fifteen percent lower wages. Just what we need in Ontario as the condo/real estate boom begins to stutter. Soon, there will hardly be a job left for anyone in this province. One of our editorial interns asked us to point out that in decades of working dead end jobs no union ever came anywhere near them.
Suburban poverty is a genuinely global condition. Even with a remarkably different set of economic circumstances and historical precedents — including sixty-plus years of communism/fascism — we find suburban poverty in the People’s Republic of China. Vast amounts of it in fact.
Is This Beijing’s Suburban Future? Atlantic
Poverty drives one million Beijing workers into undergound ‘mouse holes’
The National (Abu-Dhabi)
Just around the corner from the site of Mitt Romney’s recent public suicide we find Tampa, Florida. Like many a town in that flat and sunny state, the one so beloved by Canadians, Tampa bought into the sprawl-based economy and now finds itself paying a price. Reports of enormous struggle for working people and the poor made it into the Huffington Post recently. As we’ve discovered elsewhere, the lack of public transit in the suburbs makes things tough. Thonotosassa, just northeast of Tampa near I-75 could almost be the sunbelt poster child of America’s new suburban poverty. A link within this piece to a Tampa Bay Times article from last year tells us of an increase in those in poverty from fifteen percent of the community to forty percent! It doesn’t sound like the sunny weather makes up for it.
photo: Tampa CIty Hall: TampAGS via Wikimedia Commons
Okay, let’s see if we got this straight. A couple of US academics just issued a report on research indicating that the level of economic inequality in the United States right now is worse than it was in 1774.
Time to use the F-word. WHAT THE FUCK is with that?
People, please now, …the steam engine and the Model T were not even on the drawing board then. In 1774, the drawing board hadn’t been invented. Slavery was legal …and would be in America for another hundred years.
Not worse in the Great Depression of the 1930s but in the 1770s.
For fuck’s sake, America.
U.S. Income Inequality Worse Now Than In 1774: Study
We find resources for the discussion at hand on the intertube pages at Atlantic Cities again and again. A youngish writer leaves the higher profile parts of London for its more anonymous suburban reaches in the piece linked below. We enjoyed this item because it got us thinking about the contrast between the author’s notion of suburban and what constitutes that reality in North America.
London was a massive city long before the present era, one in which places with eight or ten million people are shilling-a-dozen. With its long head start London has an extensive transit network, the likes of which is unmatched in North America with the exception of New York City. In terms of population density and automobile ownership London is not suburban in American and Canadian terms though the latter statistic has risen considerably in most of the UK since the 1980s. Dare we think that the 100 year-old suburbs of London represent a denser, better connected model for communities half the age or less in North America? Or is it apples and oranges? If suburbs in North America grow deliberately into better places will they attract creative people, writers in a way they really do not at the moment? An interesting question.
photo: Birkbeck Station in south London
Chris McKenna via Wikimedia Commons
Easily placed on suburban-poverty.com’s “buy this book” list, Walking Home shares the fruits of an enviable career working to help save cities, make them meaningful places. Greenberg is an architect/planner schooled early in the value of real cities during an era in which they were abused and derided, mainly on behalf of the automobile. Walkability, mixed uses, respect for historic precedent and the enhancement of the public realm and the taming of the car were the stuff of Greenberg’s career. His book touches on Amsterdam, Copenhagen, New York, Boston, Paris, Detroit, Washington DC, Saint Paul, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, and Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) and other places.
Greenberg allied with Jane Jacobs during his time in Toronto, Canada, where he found a progressive city genuinely open to progressive urbanism and enjoying a heyday of liveability and growth. Like Jacobs, a transplanted American, Greenberg built experience in a number of Canadian cities and in Europe. The United States proved resistant to progressive urbanism but in time Greenberg built significant experience there with the growth of interest in New Urbanism and the emergence of the sense that all was perhaps not so well with car-centric, zoning-driven suburban sprawl and the neglect of major city centres. All good and interesting reading at suburban-poverty.com where the link between the physical reality of suburbia, its design and character has been established as a source of its emerging poverty. Here’s how we resist that poverty – with a maximum application of brain power to our environment.
Because of the slow acceptance of the kind of change advocated by the New Urbanism, smart growth and similar schools of thought, tracing themselves, like Greenberg to the influence of Jane Jacobs, we often encounter improvements to suburbia as nothing more than conceptual schemes, pie-in-the-sky ideas that are attractive enough on paper or in student design charettes but that are scarce-to-non-existant in the real world. The world where we find ourselves driving past the same old strip malls to return a DVD about Peak Oil to a library surrounded by a parking lot. How good it feels to encounter someone who has actually been making it real out there for decades.
Greenberg’s experiences in Canada were welcome reading. Greenberg found a laboratory here where he was able to exploit differences in the system and social consciousness of Canadians in the 1970s and 1980s that gave him practical experience. He laments the changes wrought here with the adoption of miserable and misguided neo-conservative ideology since. Greenberg’s take on how Toronto lost its position of leadership is depressing reading. A similar hint of tragedy and the squandering of opportunity was found in a recent posting, a review of Taras Grescoe’s book Strap Hanger.
One of Toronto’s massive suburbs, Mississauga, also appears in Walking Home. Even there, money and committment are finally being attached to the idea of a better built city. Also, the home of suburban-poverty.com this is heartening to see. At one time the old, downtown, preamalgamation City of Toronto offered a positive model to the headless monster of a high growth Mississauga. We now find both places struggling to do better. Toronto to keep what it has in terms of new/smart urbanism. Mississauga to get its hands on some of that magic after decades of unoriginal, low density development.
Without the best possible design human communities will flounder, become unsustainable, unpleasant places where living and doing business will be retarded. A failure to really grasp how to build proper cities will impoverish their residents as quality of place is a major selling point. The value of quality of place is undeniable, either as a selling point within a growing global economy or in the retreat from the chaos and disorder of the global economy. Greenberg’s project work and philosophy offer powerful arguments in support of quality of place. This book should have very wide appeal to nearly any kind of political view, to voters, citizens, taxpayers, activists and students alike.
One fault, so small in comparison to the rest of the book we hate to bring it up, but… We wish Walking Home had better illustrations or a URL for a purpose-built web site. So much of the matter of city-building is visually-driven that the text would have been powerfully complemented by better imagery. This is the Internet age and the delivery of such material is neither costly nor complicated.
Ken Greenberg Talks Flexible Urbanism in New Book
Review on Spacing Toronto site