The Nature of Suburbia

A while back, I was having a conversation with someone from the city. In part, we were chatting about street safety, traffic calming and speed reduction. I commented that I’m only partially sympathetic to suburban and exurban calls for traffic calming in their neighbourhoods. My sympathy ends when the very same people are unwilling to support traffic calming, safety enhancements and speed reduction measures inside the city.

I was thinking, specifically, of a community event George Darouze hosted in Osgoode ward a month or so earlier. I didn’t know Darouze’s voting record off hand, so I couldn’t say that he was falling into this hypocritical trap…but I’ll decided to keep an eye on his voting habits.

(Harder and Hubley have consistently shown to be hypocrites on this matter.)

I was thinking about this again with a subsequent meeting in Fairwinds about traffic safety and traffic calming. It’s great that the community association wants to make their neighbourhood safer and more walkable (just like it’s great that that’s what should happen out in Stittsville with the new CDP). But how realistic is it?

North American suburban culture is built on the automobile. Its existence came about because of driving and because of driving long distances (hence all the urban freeways). Street and neighbourhood design is also car-centric, with all the cul-de-sacs, curving roads and low walk- and bike-ability. If you want to build a walkable community, you’re better off with a grid and you need short blocks. You need to be able to cross the street regularly, and you need to have amenities on these walking routes. It’s not about having a mile of the Trans Canada Trail running adjacent to your neighbourhood.

Basically, if you want walkability, you have to change the very nature of your suburban community. You need to de-suburbanize suburbia. It needs to urbanize or rural-ize. The reason you can’t walk to Tanger mall easily is because it was built for drivers, as was Kanata, as was the development of Stittsville.

And this brings me back to the hypocrisy thing. I live in an eminently walkable and bike-able community. I live close to transit (it’s not great, always, but it’s there). I live in density and mixed-use development. My community does not need cars to the same degree as Fairwinds or Osgoode. It’s misanthropic to suggest that we need to calm traffic in the car-centric suburbs, but let drivers race to and through our sustainable inner neighbourhoods.

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One thought on “The Nature of Suburbia

  1. The conversation around walkability, safety, etc. is quite a bit different in the surburbs. We just aren’t as “mature” as the inner neighbourhoods.
    Downtown, you care about the width of sidewalks. Suburban, we would just like sidewalks period.
    Downtown, when you talk about bike safety it’s sharrows or door lanes etc. In the suburbs, we just want to be able to bike safely on pavement without being hit into a ditch.

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