The Globe and Mail published a timely article today on the need to support changes that Canadian cities are undergoing. Currently, about 2/3 of Canadians live in auto-dominated suburban environments, but both younger and retiring people are demanding more compact, walkable urban environments with complete shops and services.
The article summarizes planning principles supported by our time's forefront urban thinkers on how to build great neighbourhoods:
- Focus on People, not Cars - Jan Gehl posits that by improving streetscapes and the experience for people walking and on bikes, cities can address people's happiness rather than focusing on strictly moving cars.
- Decrease Speed Limits - Gil Penalosa emphasizes that planners must encourage people to walk, because walking has physical and mental health benefits. To make people feel safe walking, cars need to be slowed down to 20km/h to 30 km/h, which will also reduce automobile collision deaths.
- Strengthen City Governments - Richard Florida stresses that 80% of Canadians live in 2% of our land mass, so we as a country need to wake up to the fact that we're an urban nation, and that our cities need the appropriate level of funding and power to address infrastructure and social challenges
- Leverage Density - Brent Toderian points out that density can lead to public benefits, like community centres, parks, and other features that make urban living more comfortable while also helping communities achieve sustainability goals.
- Embrace Big Data - Anthony Townsend helps us remember that so much data is available about our cities and communities - people's movements are tracked by cellular GPS; people share their bike rides on Strava; our buildings have intelligent energy systems; and, so much more. Learning about what works in our cities and making our communities even more effective is a great opportunity.
- Mix Uses - Vishaan Chakrabarti imagines buildings where people can rent a room and take advantage of child care, shared kitchen and work spaces, and more. This supports entrepreneurialism and gives people more free time by reducing commutes.
- Turn Streets into Destinations - Janette Sadik-Khan reminds us that our streets are our last great public spaces - places that can easily become mini parks and gathering places.
- Redevelop the Inner Suburbs - Ellen Dunham-Jones says that our biggest challenge is connecting affordable housing with affordable transportation. Many of our suburban properties - malls, office parks - aren't performing like they used to, as people are looking for traditional neighbourhood design. These under-performing areas are often in great locations and supported by good infrastructure, so there is a great opportunity to redevelop these areas.
This article is timely, because many of these principles are being built into the Downtown Action Plan that Modus is currently developing for the City of Fort St. John. CJDC-TV News recently interviewed Moira Green on the intent of the Downtown Action Plan, and you can see this video below. For more information, check out this link for more information and reports completed in Phase 1 and 2.