Sunday, June 1, 2014

Opinion: Triumph of the City

I've always been fascinated by cities - their history, the people who choose them and why they've evolved so differently.

Right now, I'm reading 'Triumph of the City' by Edward Glaeser, who argues that cities are our greatest invention because they make us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier. A bold statement, but a very important one nonetheless.

As someone who has lived in a few different cities in the last five years, this subject matter really hits home and one argument he makes about urban development really struck a chord, and I felt compelled to write about it.

"Perhaps a new forty-story building won't itself house any quirky, less profitable firms, but by providing new space, the building will ease pressure on the rest of the city's real estate.  Price increases in gentrifying older areas will be muted because of new construction. Growth, not height restrictions and a fixed building stock, keeps space affordable and ensures that poorer people and less profitable firms can stay, which helps thriving cities remain successful and diverse.  Height restrictions do increase light, and preservation does protect history, but we shouldn't pretend that these benefits come without a price." 

Here, I don't think Glaeser is arguing that we should neglect a city's history, but instead, he's highlighting that as a citizens of cities, we need to be more open to high rise development - and if not, understand the consequences.

We constantly see opposition to new buildings, especially in historic neighborhoods, but first-hand, I witnessed how just one large scale development project in my old Vancouver neighborhood, is helping to change the face of one of Canada's poorest areas.  i.e., Woodwards in Gastown.

In order for cities to thrive and continue to fulfill their purpose of connecting people and ideas, the local laws need to support the development of affordable housing - and often times, that means through high rise development (even if that means blocking someone's view or taking out an old building).

Those are my two cents but to learn more, check out 'Triumph of the City'.


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