Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Suburban Plague

From the Toronto Star, some signs of intelligence coming from the urban planners in Ontario. At long last a recognition that the suburban landscape with its dependence upon the automobile is detrimental to society – and more importantly, demonstrating the will to change things.

The "Places to Grow" Plan sets out a blueprint for population growth in the high density Southern Ontario region. I wish them well. As a distant neighbour of Calgary, I would sure like to see some of that intelligence transplanted to Alberta – I fully expect to see those ticky tacky boxes come spreading over the hills at me one day. I'm not going to hold my breath – intelligent Alberta government is an oxymoron.

The plan protects farmland from the spreading suburbs, makes use of higher density development in city cores, and emphasizes the growth of neighbourhoods with dwellings, services, and jobs located in closer proximity. The plan incorporates the switch from automobiles to public transit, which is certain to generate howls of outrage from your well-heeled car dealers, auto manufacturers, and the juvenile laddies who dote on their cars.

Suburbs! What on earth generates such slavish attachment to one and two hour commutes by car and the loss of weekend time to mowing a lawn? Grass should be only grown to feed something, not to waste water on, treat with poisonous chemicals, and then manicure to an inch high so that the clippings can be sent to landfills. Don't all those chappies with their baggy shorts and lawnmowers feel foolish out there? They should.

The growth of real communities, where everything a family needs is within walking distance would be within our grasp if suburbs gave way to higher density dwellings. A cousin of mine had a five minute stroll to work every morning because he was smart enough to buy into a development which had the light industry and housing close together. His daughter has a two hour drive into London to work since she bought her own home. When I was a youngster in a Southern England town, all the stores we needed were withing walking distance, and school was a seven minute train ride to the next.

Looking at Calgary, I've long thought that a change of regulations and an upgrade of utilities could hand a nice little nest-egg to older householders. Or to anyone who cared take advantage of owning land they didn't need. When the chore of looking after a hundred foot lot, while living on only half of it, becomes too great, the owner should be able to consider subdividing it, and providing space for another family in the mews, which was formerly a back lane. Older districts could be re-zoned successively, and their utility systems altered to allow for the doubling of population density. With a higher population density, frequent public transit could connect with the industrial parks.

It has to be better than sitting in an auto for hours. Go to it, Ontario. Maybe intelligence is catching.


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