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Some thoughts on how we plan cities

I came across this discussion on Twitter yesterday about how so many of the spaces we love in cities would not conform to today’s modern city planning practices:


This is a topic I’ve been thinking about lately and so it’s a timely discussion. In fact, I’ll often come across spaces in Toronto where I’ll think to myself: This is a really great space. But it’s highly unlikely that it could be built this way today. Naturally the question then becomes: What does this say about modern city planning?

City planning is obviously important. But at the same time, we are almost certainly making mistakes and doing things that we will later regret. I say this not because I’m particularly critical of planning today, but because cities are enormously complex entities and it’s difficult to believe that we’ve figured everything out at this point.

One thing I wonder about is if we aren’t over-planning and being too prescriptive about our cities. Some of you will probably argue the exact opposite. But hear me out.

Vancouver is a city that has long been considered to be the gold standard in modern city planning. We talk about its podium + tower building typology. We talk about its “gentle density.” And we talk about its great public and recreational spaces, among many other things.

But when I was there last month having dinner with a friend of mine, she said something to me that stood out. She said: “Brandon, Vancouver is a boring city. If it weren’t for my family being here, I would happily move to Toronto, New York, or somewhere else.”

Cities are amazing places because they unleash human ingenuity. They allow new and unforeseen things to emerge. The challenge, I think, is to not sterilize that away when we plan and build. And all of us involved in the building of cities are probably guilty of doing that to an extent.

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