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How should mid-sized cities really compete?

Jennifer Keesmaat – the former chief planner of Toronto – recently published an article in Maclean’s called: Toronto’s unaffordable. Why can’t Halifax or Saskatoon take advantage? Her argument: 

“The hard truth is that many mid-sized cities won’t win the future because they are stuck on a suburban growth model. If the future is green and walkable, they will be left behind.”

The model city that is held up is Portland – a terrific mid-sized city of only 640,000 people that has used progressive land use policies to build a livable and dense urban center. (In all fairness, the Portland MSA has over 2.4 million people.)

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I have a penchant for dense urban centers. I live and I work downtown. And I would happily trade square footage for a more sensible commute and lower transportation costs.

But after I read the article, I couldn’t help but think that progressive land use policies, alone, aren’t enough. Cities, like social networks, experience network effects. That’s why there’s so much talk these days of winner-take-all urbanism.

All of this is not to say that progressive urban policies are a bad thing. Quite the opposite. I just think there are many other factors at play if we’re talking about taming the hegemony of our global cities.

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