Yes, cities do matter

Having always been a city dweller myself, what happens to or in cities, particularly whatever city I happen to find myself in, is of great interest to me. Needless to say that I have been a fan of Richard Florida.

When Florida published his seminal book on cities well over a decade ago, I was hooked. In it, he called for creative types and knowledge workers (i.e., people like myself) to flock to cities. It would make them great places to live and work in, he wrote.

Now, everything has turned to sh.., er, crisis mode. In his latest book, we meet a more forlorn, more pessimistic Florida. My interest has definitely been piqued, and I look forward to reading the new book.

According to the review, it appears that Florida now criticizes all urban development in its current form, virtually condemning cities.

I don’t think we can generalize like that. There is not one global urban crisis, but a crisis in each individual city. Some cities work just fine, while others are dysfunctional, to say the least (e.g., Toronto, Calgary).

In Toronto, for example, and Florida’s adopted home, Florida’s original advice about attracting the creative types has been misinterpreted – what the city did instead was to build an infinite number of high-rise condos in some of the most ridiculous locations – Yonge and Eglinton, or Bloor and Yonge. These construction projects have destroyed once vibrant neighbourhoods and communities, leaving in their trail an ocean of devastation (congestion, both at street level and underground).

And it’s not creative types and knowledge workers that Toronto has pulled in, but mostly the filthy rich who don’t know where to park their cash, so they buy condos, driving up real-estate prices to astronomic levels, and then let them sit empty not just for weeks or months, but years.

And don’t get me started on Calgary. Even before the decline in oil prices and the end of the line for Calgary and Alberta’s economy, the city was not even close to the model of the average Canadian city. It was rather more like an American city, dominated by cars, with most areas completely unsuited for pedestrian traffic. Downtown Calgary, with its ridiculous one-way streets, is therefore a ghost town after business hours – hookers, bums and drug addicts stumble around, but there is nowhere for reasonable people to go and just hang out (say, a coffee shop – and the ones that are there close at 4 or 5 in the afternoon). And outside the downtown core, Calgarians tend to hang out in strip malls and other places of little appeal.

It goes without saying that every city has pros and cons, some more in one category than others, but that’s just a fact of life (and size, of course). New York and London, for example, are great cities, and they are truly deserving of the name. I don’t know, but these two cities have somehow managed to evolve in the right direction thanks to common sense and functional brains. They, too, have lots of issues to tackle, but overall they stand out as urban role models. And there are plenty others as well, but Toronto is certainly not one of them.

Author: Werner Patels

Translator - Thinker - Writer

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