Canada's 'Slab Farm' Blind Spot

In Canada, more people live in suburban high-rise apartment buildings than any other housing type. Doug Saunders looks at the country's belated recognition for its "elevator suburban" identity.

The high-rise postwar apartment buildings that Saunders calls 'slab farms' dot the fringes and suburbs of Canada's major cities. "Millions of Canadians live in these aging apartments on the outskirts, making us the world leader in non-downtown high-rise living," he says. "Forget the U.S.-generated image of suburban lawns versus downtown density: We’re a nation of peri-urban apartment dwellers."

"Yet, we pay them little attention," adds Saunders. "The apartments in the middle distance are derided by suburban homeowners and governments as too urban, too poor and too transient; downtown dwellers don’t consider them part of their world, although it’s the people in these buildings who come downtown each day to work as cashiers and cleaners and draw on urban social services."

These “cities without cities,” which are often home to low-income immigrants, are ill-suited to the needs of these residents as they lack "the public-transportation links, retail and educational clusters, entrepreneurial opportunities or middle-class housing opportunities that make for successful urban life."

Saunders describes several initiatives aiming to transform the ubiquitous slab farms into thriving urban-style neighborhoods. "With a few simple changes," he argues, "we could restore them to the centre of Canadian life."

Full Story: We're a nation of suburban apartment-dwellers, but afraid to admit it


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