Canadian cities: stuck in the past?

August 2, 2008 at 11:05 pm | In canada, cities, leadership | 2 Comments

Christopher Hume takes aim at sclerotic Toronto, but his critique could apply to quite a few Canadian cities, including (much-smaller) Victoria.  See his Aug. 1 Toronto Star article, The future out of reach for city fearful of change. Toward the end, he writes:

City hall’s resistance to change has been noticed by many observers who point out that few of the new powers made available in the provincial City of Toronto Act two years ago have actually been applied.

Former chief planner Paul Bedford, for instance, wonders why a city intent on intensification hasn’t implemented minimum height requirements for new buildings. This is obvious and necessary; even the mayor has talked about it.

The key thing in that passage is the Canadian subtext: that Canadian cities “are but creatures of the Provinces,” a fact that goes back to the British North America Act of the last half of the 19th century, where Federalists convinced Provinces to join Confederation by promising that they (the Provinces) would retain complete control over “their” municipalities and cities.

At the time, no one in the wonderland of resource-extraction that was Canada thought that one day cities would figure prominently as independent engines and hubs for the country’s economy.

What’s interesting with regard to Hume’s passage is that provinces are apparently making moves to empower cities so they can act as independent actors on the political and economic stage — Hume’s reference to the City of  Toronto Act (granted by the province of Ontario) alludes to this.

A very recent parallel in BC would be this province’s Bill 27, which empowers cities to create Development Permit Areas and to initiate “green” development by giving municipalities heretofore unheard of power.

But as Hume also indicates, the cities — whether from force of habit or entropy — don’t seem to act with any sort of alacrity to wield their new powers.  And that really does speak to a failure of leadership at the municipal level.

PS: Vancouver is really very fortunate in having a City Charter (late 19th century).  It’s the only city in BC to have one, probably one of only a very few in all of Canada.  Perhaps the Charter has helped to create a climate of assertive independent-mindedness, which can’t have been unhelpful in facilitating Vancouver’s transition to the 21st century.

Diigo Bookmarks 08/01/2008 (p.m.)

August 1, 2008 at 5:30 am | In links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 08/01/2008 (p.m.)
  • At some level — perhaps because this article is about residential architecture in what looks to my eyes like an 80s “Dallas” (TV show) model (i.e., very expensive custom McMansions — emphasis on “custom” and “expensive”) — the article gives me a “yuck” reflex. At the same time, there are some links and points I need to take a closer look at, and try to think about this in terms of urban design vs. in terms of very privileged people having shrink sessions with architects by commanding super-sized SFHs.

    tags: nyt, architecture, residential

  • I posted this to my Facebook “notes” already, but it’s such a great piece it needs to go on Diigo and the blog, too.

    A must-read, especially for “the rest of us,” analysis and commentary from Rebecca MacKinnon on what it was like at the July 08 FutureBrainstorm Tech conference at Half Moon Bay in California…

    Among the things MacKinnon discusses, there’s the question of what might happen to internet freedoms in some (engineered or actual) post i-9/11 “event”.

    And of course there’s the matter of “benevolent dictators,” which her title already alludes to. The “benevolent dictators are the guys currently running the major internet apps / venues. Reading MacKinnon’s article, I was reminded of early “cradle to grave” type paternalistic capitalists — for example, the people who ran Beverly, Mass.’s United Shoe Machinery Corporation, the first-ever company named in anti-trust suits way back in the very early years of the 20th (!!) century. Notably, not all mid- to late-19th and early-20th century capitalists fit the bill of the caricatured “Robber Baron” — some were “benevolent.” (Or paternalistic.) But when push came to shove, it didn’t last.

    Neither will this model?

    tags: rebecca_mackinnon, web_2.0, capitalism, business, democracy, socialcritique

  • H/t @Frymaster on twitter who pointed to this: brief (3+ minute) video clip of a guy describing his purchase on eBay of an old 50s style motel sign, and his outrage (and sadness for the state of our visual / signage world) when he learns what low quality crap will replace the old sign. He is SO right…

    tags: design, signage, visual_pollution

  • Ryan Avent argues a perspective against NIMBYism here, which never occurred to me before: that “the biggest problem with public involvement and development is that some of the biggest beneficiaries of new development have no seat at the table–those who’ll be living at to-be-constructed residences. Even if you bring all neighborhood stakeholders in, educate them, and get their opinion (eliminating squeaky wheel bias), you’re still not getting the views of all interested parties.” He continues as follows:

    “However the planning process addresses public participation, policy should begin with a pro-density bias to reflect that fact that other things equal, developments will always be less dense than is socially optimal. That’s because the people who would like to be residents of an area but aren’t benefit from development but have no political say in the matter.”

    Got that? In ciites, you should plan for optimal density (because that’s ecologically efficient, too), but the NIMBYs will argue against density, and they will make those who want to move into the neighbourhood pay the additional cost of keeping density *below* optimal levels. As Avent puts it, “we need to determine whether the burden is on current homeowners to pay for the right to exclude additional residents, or if the burden is on non-residents to pay for the right to live there. Current policy is de facto the latter.”

    tags: nimbyism, urban_development, density, affordability, the_bellows, ryan_avent

Immigrants to Canada shifting to smaller cities?

August 1, 2008 at 12:39 am | In canada, cities, victoria | Comments Off on Immigrants to Canada shifting to smaller cities?

Two articles in the Vancouver Sun, published a day apart, repeat a finding by Citizenship and Immigration Canada that immigrants are choosing small to mid-sized cities over the big 4 (or 5) in Canada: Smaller cities benefit from the latest immigration boom, by Shannon Proudfoot (Friday, July 25, 2008) and Shifting economy leads to a shift in immigrants away from large cities (no author given) (Saturday, July 26, 2008).  Not sure why this warranted two articles on two separate days, but given that immigrants represent positive human capital, it’s newsworthy if there’s a shift away from the bigger cities.

(Aside from that, Canada still has lots of work ahead in allowing highly skilled immigrants to work in the fields they’re qualified in.  There are too many horror stories of doctors and engineers working in low-level jobs because their qualifications aren’t recognized, or recognition is mired in some bureaucratic process.)

Excerpts, from the first article:

Canada’s mid-sized cities are enjoying an immigration boom while the stream of newcomers flatlines or even declines in the large urban centres that typically act as magnets, according to new figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The change reflects shifting economic and employment prospects across the country and the successful efforts of smaller centres to woo newcomers, experts say.


Toronto, whose share of Canada’s immigrants slipped to 37 per cent last year from 50 per cent in 2001, welcomed 87,136 immigrants last year — down almost 26,000 from two years earlier. In Vancouver, immigrants those same two years dropped to 32,920 in 2007 from 39,498 in 2005. The flow of new arrivals to Montreal has virtually stagnated at about 38,000 per year.

At the same time, the country’s smaller centres are enjoying major boosts. Saskatoon more than doubled its immigrant intake between 2003 and 2007, to 1,618 people from 631, while the number of newcomers to Halifax jumped to 1,926 from 1,101 in the same period. Victoria’s immigrant intake shot up to 1,270 from 950 over that period, while Kelowna jumped to 531 from 304, Chilliwack jumped to 189 from 104, Nanaimo jumped to 284 from 173 and Abbotsford grew to 1305 from 1201.


One reason for slowing immigration to Toronto and Montreal is the decline of the manufacturing sector due to the strong Canadian dollar and faltering U.S. economy, says Charles Beach, an economics professor at Queen’s University. “Traditionally, the big absorber of immigrants was manufacturing jobs because if your English or French was not as fluent as it might be, you could still learn to run a machine pretty well,” he says.

On the other hand, note that “The federal government has introduced several programs designed to encourage immigrants to settle in diverse areas of the country, says Karen Shadd, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.”

The second article adds a bit to the first:

Mid-sized cities are beginning to attract an increasing number of immigrants due in large part to shifting economic and employment prospects.

The federal government, naturally, credits its own initiatives, such as the provincial nominee program that allows provinces to select immigrants to fill specific labour needs; and the development of tools that help smaller centres draw and retain immigrants.

In particular, this article notes that immigrants in the largest cities will probably earn more money:

Still, Canada’s major urban agglomerations remain the preferred destination for the vast majority of immigrants, with 67 per cent of newcomers calling them home.

Larger cities tend to offer an established community of family and friends and a greater number of economic opportunities — either low-skilled jobs that require few language skills or businesses that cater to particular ethnic groups.

In fact, studies have shown that immigrants who settle in larger cities experience labour market advantages over those who settle in smaller cities and they can earn substantially more.

In general, the aspect of positive “human capital” is in the forefront in both articles.  As the second one notes:

The influx of immigrants benefits small cities by raising their municipal tax base, increasing the labour pool and bringing greater cultural diversification to their communities.

Yep, it’s not just a country of hewers of wood and drawers of water — i.e., resource extraction — anymore.  People power matters more.

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