In Visible Cities
Most of my life has been spent in cities (or in transit toward them). It is only in the last decade or so¹ that the majority of humanity alive has begun to call cities their home. I’m always impressed by those able to avoid the more obvious cities (Toronto, New York, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris, New Delhi) for “lesser” ones and nurture their livelihood there. I’m thinking of Jim Siemens and Anna Ringstrom (Oxbow Architecture), Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield (Gaspereau Press), Av and Karen Singh, and others.
Cities (hopefully) offer you a bit of everything at decent prices*, convenience, inconvenience, injera bread, dosas, burgers, falafel wraps, the choicest thai food, dumplings and more. Cities do this in a remarkable swath of ways and a long list of seemingly simple things add up dizzyingly fast for the systems to work and hopefully play together. Think sewage, waste, libraries, water delivery, gas, electricity, transit, mail, internet, healthcare, schools and more.
And yet there are concerns I have long held about the trajectories of cities, certainly Canadian, but others too. They aren’t just focused on the technicalities around issues such as traffic, bicycle lanes, infrastructure, internet, affordable or attainable housing, green spaces, electoral representation, participatory budgeting, or voting reform. Or even solely the ability to respond to changing population trends, ageing or “disabled” populations, or a sizeable youth demographic.
All the cities I’ve considered making my long-term home: Thunder Bay, North Bay, Halifax, Kingston, Halifax, Whitehorse. An important priority and consideration for me is quick access to and a (perceived) harmony with nature. Similarly important, a healthy relationship with farmers i.e. food producers.
I met a produce (fruit + vegetable) truck driver in Prince Rupert years ago, while waiting for a ferry. They told me about what teachers on Haida Gwaii called the heartland (cities) and the hinterland (countryside). At this point I had been thinking and ruminating, what I thought was, deeply, widely, actively about the most important problem I personally could work on. I was striving to figure out, and still am, the utility of purpose beyond joy.
One of the growing disparities, inequalities, disconnects in our societies and individual lives is the lack of middle ground between those who live in the heartland and the hinterland. Once again, this is not just about affordability, access, placemaking, who gets a chair at the table. Those are all symptoms of a larger lack of discourse. The manifestation of the same imbalances society has persistently had will continue to pervade new projects (and technologies)
There is no doubt to me that one of the most important conversations which isn’t happening is that between urban and rural communities. This is how we further insulate ourselves from not just an essential cross-pollination but in fact a vital component of good community health.
We need more bridge builders and then we need us all to meet at various points along the bridge: urban, suburban, rural, subrural. Ideally we meet halfway but not always, and not just at the extremes as we seem to be more and more lately.