Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The New Slums

From The Atlantic, an interesting article on the role reversal underway between suburbs and cities. Where suburbs were once seen as the model of the future, abandoning the rundown, crime ridden cities of the time, now it is the cities and urban-esque walkable areas that are seen as having a bright future, while the suburbs may be headed towards crime and squalor. It's an article about the U.S. and cities never turned into slums as badly in Canada as they did in the U.S., but much of what is said seems likely to apply in Canada as well.

Waterloo's transformation of Waterloo Town Square, its downtown mall built like a suburban mall, back into something which looks more urban (with less of a sea of parking, and more through streets and shops facing the street rather than facing inward toward the mall.) is one example. Toronto has also seen a migration of some of the worst areas from downtown into the fringes of the city, and Vancouver is seeing gentrification of the downtown east side which may lead to the same thing one day.

And I'm no expert on Europe, but from what I hear, this pattern (prosperous cities, surrounded by slummy suburbs) is already somewhat the case there.

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  • Hmm. Waterloo is not the most successful example of this, at least not yet. The Town Square mall never seems to get that busy, in no doubt partly due to a small selection of stores and a somewhat inadequate grocery store. The city as a whole is still grossly suburban and spread out.

    Kitchener has what appears at first glance to be a more vital and interesting downtown core, but I've since determined that it's only just barely escaping what must have been a very long period of decay. Still, as it stands it's bizzarely lacking in street-level stores or restaurants which are open for breakfast on very cold Tuesdays in February, as I had the misfortune of finding out last week.

    Of course, it still seems better off than downtown Deadmonton.

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 9:33 PM  

  • Hello Declan

    I think one thing that may be happening (at least in Europe where cities were more compact for a long time) is that new (poor)suburbs are being built around the old ones which so become a prosperous inside.

    That the suburbs then being built would become slums was predicted in one of Frederick Pohl's novels (I think) in the 1960s, but some things predicted aren't happenning. The decay of housing stock (such as that jerry-built at 191 Woodland Drive), for example, has produced the home renovation boom rather than a descent into slum conditions.

    Best Wishes,

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:42 PM  

  • Josh - The one time I was there, the new 'urbanized' Waterloo town square seemed livelier than the old 'Suburban' Waterloo Town Square, but without living there it's hard to say for sure. The one thing that surprised me last time I was in Waterloo was the massive proliferation of mcmansionesque suburbs, so I certainly take your point about the city as a hole (whole). I just thought the changes at Town Square showed that some aspects were moving in the right direction.

    Alan - so far no slums in Woodland Acres. I imagine that the suburban slum phenomenon is more likely to affect big cities which have the critical mass to build affluent walkable downtown districts, but I guess we'll see how it goes.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:38 PM  

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