Comment 5899

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2007 at 21:57:47

Hi zanis_e_v,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I suspect you're right about the demographics of changing family arrangements causing a 'spreading-out' of population that looks like flight from the downtown under a simplistic analysis.

I would just like to address one point you made: "old neighbourhoods are old sprawl". Of course, the meaning of "sprawl" defies precise definitions, but I think it's safe to point out some general characteristics.

For me, "sprawl" means separation and movement above all else. That is, in sprawl development, uses are kept separate, like food in a partitioned child's dish, and residents have to travel a distance to reach any destination.

Specifically, residents of sprawl have to travel by personal vehicle, for which the transportation infrastructure is optimized with wide streets encompassing multiple lanes and abundant "free" parking, all of which reinforces separation.

This essence is expressed more purely in each sprawl iteration, so that in newer subdivisions, even the $279,900 houses are kept separate from the $259,900 houses lest the latter bring shame upon the former.

Take a look, if you will, at Westdale, a master-planned suburb of Hamilton built in the 1920s. It's a classic Garden City streetcar suburb, with various types of houses mingled around a neighbourhood Main Street, itself composed of stores, apartments, and houses, with abundant parks and a network of trails.

Naturally, some of this diversity has evolved over the decades, but the design of the place is fundamentally amenable to use mixing and accessibility, whereas today's sprawl suburbs are fundamentally opposed to use mixing and accessibility.

Compare the Meadowlands in Ancaster, a rat's nest of rididly segregated, winding residential lanes and crescents connected to the adjacent big-box plaza through just two arteries, both of which empty into a single main throughway (Golf Links Road), which is the only path to either the houses or to the big-box plaza. (Predictably, the gridlock on Golf Links is horrendous.)

You could live walking distance from the Power Centre as the crow flies, and still be over a kilometre away by public roads (there are no trails or paths as far as I can tell).

If you manage to reach Golf Links, you have to cross a five-lane road and cut across a huge parking lot (not to mention fording ditches and scaling retaining walls) to get to any stores.

I think there's a fundamental difference between the suburbs of the early 20th century and the suburbs of today. It's not just a matter of scale but also of design: yesterday's suburbs were built around a community centre, but today's suburbs are built around automobile access between segregated pods.

If some of those sprawling zones (I hesitate to call them "neighbourhoods") manage to evolve and densify in the future, it will be despite their underlying logic, not because of it.

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