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.