What is striking about cities in U.S and Canada is their lack of dignity. Besides a few exceptions such as New York, Vancouver, Chicago or Montreal, cities are generally apologetic about their existence. The situation was pronounced for me in recent mayoral election in Toronto. The pre-election debates all involved a strong literature of city vs. suburbs, mostly concerned with allocation of funding and investments. The difference at the top caused a huge divide at the bottom and voters decided based only on how strongly they felt they are suburbanite or city dweller.
The city lost to suburbs.
In reality suburbs are heavily dependent on cities due to their consumerist nature. So the more efficient and successful the cities are the better quality of life suburbs can offer. Cities are centers of economic and political activities; jobs, health services, culture, education and commerce are all also concentrated in the city. Cities inspire and prosper the economy and are facilitators of social innovations and growth. I find it difficult and unreasonable to compromise the growth and success of cities for comfort of suburbs. When suburban life is a choice (partially a forced choice due to pro-suburb policies), the prosperity and success of cities is a must for the well being of a country as a whole. Considering all above it puts me in a great unease when in the context of reinforcing city living I have to also talk about suburbs.
When I started my thesis about city I had no interest in dedicating any part of it to the issue of suburbs, for two reasons: first because the thesis is about densification and encouraging complex urban environments, two: because I only wanted to deal with matters that I have had first hand exposures to and I have never grown up in a suburb (although I lived in one for a short period of time). However, as I’m doing my research, the case of city vs. suburb is ubiquitous in the discussions of planning and urban design; a dichotomy that is continuously fuelling the debates over the politics and economy of North American cities and in my opinion is undermining the importance of cities in this part of the world.
Many believe that this is a false divide and we have to concentrate on the untapped benefits of city living and encourage more urban habitat as the influx of people into cities is at a rise, but also find solutions for suburbs to become self-sufficient communities that have a justification and meaning beyond the patch of grass in the front–lawn and the backyard.
Until then suburbs are in debt to cities and cities have to always have the priority for investment and growth, with zero apology.