Time to re-think the way we build cities

New model means growing up and not out, and swapping private space for public spaces

Terrence BelfordFrom Friday’s Globe and Mail

It may be time to ask a key question: Are Canadian cities marching in the right direction? Many very smart people say no.

And it is not just academics either. About this time last month, IBM Canada, a company not known for taking a keen interest in housing, decided it was time for all stakeholders in the future of this country to start talking about the issues we face when it comes to building cities that will maintain top quality of life as they grow.

It conducted a cross-Canada survey about the issues surrounding cities that people are most concerned about. Not surprisingly, about half rated traffic and public transit as No. 1. Almost one-third said their city was not on the path of long-term livability and nine out of 10 said we have to change the way we manage cities.

So why would the company want to raise these issues?

“We think it is time we start discussing the future of our cities,” says Pat Horgan, vice-president of operations for IBM Canada. “By 2050, almost 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban centres, compared with about 50 per cent today.

“That means making big changes and IBM thinks we all have a responsibility to work together to ensure their future as livable places.”

James McKellar, professor of real estate and infrastructure at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says hats off to IBM for wanting to generate discussion but he thinks the company is placing the focus in the wrong direction.

“Talking about roads and traffic is the wrong paradigm,” he says. “That places the focus on the old way of growing cities in North America. To ensure livability, we have to embrace an entirely new model.”

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