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Vancouver isn’t immune to the urban-suburban divide

In the comment section of my post about Vancouver’s transit referendum, a reader suggested I take a look at an article by Peter McMartin called, The real Vancouver emerges (from the ruins of the plebiscite)

McMartin’s argument is basically that Vancouverism – the name given to the city’s progressive architecture and planning approach – isn’t as widespread as it might seem. The reality is that Vancouver, much like Toronto and other cities, is divided.

“Vancouverism might be a reality for two or three neighbourhoods huddling in the downtown, and that greener, more progressive ethos might hold sway in one or two more.

But Vancouver — and I speak of it in the metro sense — is the sum of its parts, and most of its parts are suburban in their sensibilities, and that includes not just all of the suburbs but most of the neighbourhoods in the City of Vancouver proper.

They’re resistant to change. They abhor densification. They’re conventional in their sensibilities and they’re highly dependent on the automobile. More importantly, they’re not just dependent on the automobile, they prefer it.”

Here in Toronto, we know our city is divided. And many people see it as evidence that amalgamating the city in 1998 was a big mistake. The inner suburbs are holding back old Toronto and elitist old Toronto just doesn’t understand the priorities of the inner suburbs.

But I’m not convinced that amalgamation is to blame.

Most cities have long histories of amalgamating adjacent towns, villages, and cities, and I suspect that there was opposition all along the way. At what point is amalgamation acceptable and and what point is it problematic?

The anti-amalgamation camp here in Toronto seems to believe that it would have allowed old Toronto to continue doing what it wants to do and allowed the inner suburbs to do what they want to do.

But this to me feels parochial.

Our cities need to think bigger than that. We need to think as cohesive urban regions. And as Vancouver demonstrated this past week, that’s not always easy. But I don’t think the answer is to just think smaller and ignore the people whose views don’t match our own.

Interestingly enough, what a lot of this comes down to, I think, is built form. 

Because different kinds of built form will encourage and often mandate different kinds of transportation choices. And how you get around a city will inform a big part of what you value and what you vote for.

Over time though, I believe that we will see built form start to level out across our city regions through continued intensification. Many people won’t be happy about this change. But it is likely that it will end up creating more cohesive cities. 

Built form is no small thing.

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