A city without a city

One thing that really strikes me about reading Life and Death of Great American Cities is that most of what Jane Jacobs is talking about doesn’t apply to where I live. I live in a nice inner city neighbourhood made up of large single family homes with large yards. Some people walk and take the bus but most people drive. I don’t really know any of my neighbours.

Jacobs talks about the city as a living breathing place. The closest I’ve come to experiencing this was when I was in D.C. living in row houses. She would probably look at where I live and say, “This is the suburbs darling I wasn’t talking about this.” She was talking about something with enough density to support a grocery store or a coffee shop. Row houses barely pass for her definition of city living.

As she talks about Greenwich Village I notice that we have no sidewalk life and we definitely do not have chance encounters with one another. We do not have local merchants. There are only a handful of areas in Calgary that would qualify as actually being urban to Jacobs and they are mostly nestled in the river valley (sadly many of them are also on a flood plain). In my mind the Beltline, Mission, Bridgeland and Sunnyside are actually a city. They have life, people, shops and a vibrant sense of community. The rest is just sprawl for miles around.

My parents generation gets upset anytime a 10-storey high density project is proposed anywhere but I hope that we will start looking at density differently. If done smartly — if we build apartments and condos to live in instead of shoebox condos — we could start to see density as a solution rather than a problem. Duplexes used to be revolutionary in the inner-city. Maybe one day townhouses will become our future. Then apartments. Then maybe we will have real, proper urban living.