Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“Wake up and smell the exhaust”

with 4 comments

That exhortation comes from Christopher Hume writing in the Toronto Star – about a month ago. Devon Rowcliffe and Jim Harris picked it up on facebook today – and I thank both of them since I missed it when it came out. While he is talking to the GTA he could equally be talking to the GVRD

…we are rooted in the mindset of the 1970s, blissfully unaware that a new reality has dawned.

Let’s look instead to cities that lead, cities that are reinventing themselves as places where people live because they want to not because they must, places that are remaking themselves in the image of a human being, not a car, places that offer quality of life not just low taxes.

Cities as disparate as New York, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and now Sydney, Australia, are moving to reclaim their public realm for people. Historic squares that were turned into parking lots in the years after World War II are now being returned to pedestrians. Café life in Copenhagen, for instance, which didn’t exist 40 years ago, now flourishes. And, yes, they know what winter is.

Whole precincts in these communities and others have been set aside as pedestrian zones. And local merchants notwithstanding, business prospers in these designated areas.

Vancouver is, of course, the city that cancelled its Sundays only closure of Commercial Drive – becuase the local merchants complained of reduced takings.

It doesn’t help that we have fallen 25 years behind the rest of the world in public transit, which alone has seriously harmed the GTA’s ability to keep pace. Now we are desperately trying to catch up, but many fear the (high-speed) train has already left the station.

How ironic that as we become more like the U.S., the U.S. wants to become more like us.

Indeed I heard a clip on the radio today of Bill Clinton, speaking to a rather less than sold out house at the CNE, about how great Toronto is. Perhaps this is the problem – for them and us. Americans keep coming here and telling us we are doing better than they are – but that is not much of a test.

Hume talks about becoming more competitive internationally. I think we should do it even if we don’t attract any more visitors or footloose investors. We should do it because we care about our own well being, our own environment – and that of the world we inhabit. Indeed this push for economic growth is what is driving us to extinction. Building a freeway that will put an end to Burns Bog – paving over Delta farmland to store empty containers – increasing the number of single occupant vehicle commuters along the Fraser Valley and (probably) throwing billions at a tube to UBC when most of the region is starved for decent transit all seem to speak of  “the mindset of the 1970s” – before the first oil scare of course.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

4 Responses

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  1. […] for us carbon pigs [The Vancouver Sun] Arts groups angry at cancelled grants [The Province] “Wake up and smell the exhaust” [Stephen Rees's Blog] CANADA Climate change adaptation not optional [The Vancouver Sun] […]

    re:place Magazine

    August 31, 2009 at 5:43 am

  2. “Cities as disparate as New York, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and now Sydney, Australia, are moving to reclaim their public realm for people….
    …Whole precincts in these communities and others have been set aside as pedestrian zones. And local merchants notwithstanding, business prospers in these designated areas..”

    Let me add–again–that it is the same thing all over Europe, South America, Israel, North Africa, Japan, China…and has been for over 30 years in thousands of places…

    I love the irony of Hume complaining about the GTA poor transit..when, compared to Vancouver, they do have a great subway system, 7 lines of commuter trains that run all day long and billions of $ earnmarked for several LRT lines etc.
    http://www.urbanrail.net/am/toro/toronto.htm
    http://www.gotransit.com/publicroot/en/schedule/sysmap.aspx

    Red frog

    August 31, 2009 at 9:12 am

  3. from C. Hume as quoted above by Stephen: “Let’s look instead to cities that lead, cities that are reinventing themselves as places where people live because they want to not because they must, places that are remaking themselves in the image of a human being, not a car, places that offer quality of life not just low taxes..Cities as disparate as New York, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and now Sydney, Australia, are moving to reclaim their public realm for people..Whole precincts… have been set aside as pedestrian zones”

    DOES the lack of responses means that the majority of regular contributors to the blog, along with occasional readers, can’t really conceive of whole areas of Vancouver being WITHOUT cars EVERYDAY of the year??

    At several car-free days I tried to explain to some of the (young, educated, articulate) organizers of these events that a car-free days in many towns around the world only meant that a BIGGER area than USUAL was car-free for a special day but that majors shopping and entertainment streets in these towns were car-free 365 days a year.
    I could tell that they just didn’t believe me. It just was too “foreign” a concept for them to grasp. If even somewhat left-leaning (politically) and ecology-minded young people can’t visualize pedestrian districts as the heart of several major hubs in Metro Vancouver we are indeed DOOMED!

    Red frog

    September 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

  4. I didn’t reply because I didn’t feel I had much to add to this discussion. It’s hardly news to me that North America is way behind the rest of the world.

    When I was a child my parents took me on a 5 week trip through the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Those countries had more pedestrian, cyclist and transit facilities in 1976 than I’ve seen anywhere in North America.

    David

    September 3, 2009 at 10:20 am


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