Nicholas Kevlahan has directed our attention to a compelling new essay on Hamilton published recently in the Globe and Mail.
Nicholas suggests that the essay is "maybe slightly too negative", but I find myself feeling pretty negative at times, so I can hardly fault the author for that.
In any case, to the extent that we actually are doing some of the right things, we're not necessarily doing them for the right reasons. At worst we're doing them through a kind of Cargo Cult urbanism.
In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas - he's the controller - and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.
That is, we're going through the motions merely because some consultant came in and said, "You need to do X to make the magic happen!"
What we're not doing is actually comprehending how urban economics works. As a result, we're not doing things in the coordinated or coherent manner that would allow our positive steps to reinforce each other.
Likewise, because we're not leveraging or even maintaining those particular qualities of cities that transform them into great innovation machines, our city continues to underperform.
The consequence, of course, is that squelchers can point to the failure of our tentative steps to achieve real transformation and insist they were right all along to oppose any change in direction.
The canonical example may be the stunted bike lanes we have installed sporadically throughout the city - lanes that start nowhere, travel for a short distance and then stop nowhere. Skeptical councillors point at them and say, "Why should we build more bike lanes? People don't use the ones we've already got!"
Missing is the crucial understanding that a transportation route that is disconnected from a bigger network is useless. No one would drive on a road that was not connected to a larger network of roads. Why would anyone expect people to ride bikes on a bike lane that's not connected to a network of bike lanes?
If we can't even figure out really basic network effects like this, how are we expected to understand the dynamic and ecological economies of density, scale, association and extension that generate wealth?
Instead, we persist in the cargo cult urbanism of building industrial employment parks next to highways and hoping the jobs will land.
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