Comparing Canadian And American Cities

Patrick M. Condon presents a fascinating report about the differences between planning, the growth of sprawl, and transportation investment in Canadian vs. US cities.
July 8, 2004, 11am PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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In the past fifty years a new and important difference has emerged between the US metropolitan areas and their Canadian counterparts. What explains these differences, and what can be learned from them? This 18-page, creatively illustrated paper provides an introduction to the question for the sake of seeding discussion and provoking debate.

A few excerpts:

A Different Way of Settling the Land...Differences in culture generated different settlement patterns. In the USA, the areas west of the Appalachians were settled by individual homesteaders, ranchers, and prospectors looking for anew life and financial gain. In Canada the arm of the Crown was more significant. Police power, corporate presence, and missionaries pioneered strategic locations together, establishing forts that were Christian mission, corporate branch office, and policestation all in one.

A Different City FormFlush from the victories of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson speculated on the ideal street plan for the American capital, the first democracy since the fall of Athens. It was natural for him and others to associate classical Greek forms with democratic ideals. Thomas Jefferson’s plan for Washington DC revived the democratically uniform and undifferentiated grid of Classical Greek colonial cities. Jefferson was understandably dismayed when President Washington chose L’Enfant's more hierarchical radial forms for the new capital. In Canada no such debate took place. Canada was simply a successful and relatively stable outpost of the British Empire where Enlightenment ideas were slower to penetrate.

"But despite all that, and after much consideration, this author has concluded that by 1940, US andCanadian cities had become virtually identical. Examination of aerial photographs from the earlytwentieth century show an identical city form. The city of the 600 foot by 300 grid was the standard in both countries. Urban densities were similar, as was the land use mix. The notable exception was and is in the number of churches - Americans are twice as likely to go to church as Canadians and thus have twice as many churches per capita. Otherwise, the gradual congruence of the pre WWII Canadian and American city appears to be driven by technology rather than economy, culture, or ideology, and that technology appears to be the streetcar.

"The only truly significant difference we find between the modern American city and its Canadian counterpart is the dramatic disparity in per capita expenditure on highways. This seems to have affected the economic playing field in both obvious and unanticipated ways."

Condon is a Professor and the UBC James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments (Vancouver, BC Canada).

[Editor's note: The link below is to an approximately 2 MB PDF document.]

Thanks to The Practice of New Urbanism Listserv

Full Story:
Published on Monday, October 24, 2005 in Funder's Network For Smart Growth And Livable Comm
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