urbanism

Mansplaining the City: An all male panel again and how housing markets hurt all of us

I came across an article this morning called "Mansplaining the City" on Twitter. I find it frustrating being a part of a field where dudes make a whole lot of the choices. I've been to events where every last person including the emcee was a dude. When this happens I always want to ask whether they've could've gone and found one female city hall employee or stakeholder to just read the names and bios of the dudes. That way at least one woman would be there.

When a friend of mine who works for a feminist organization asked me who I'd recommend for a female built environment panel I told her that I couldn't think of anyone in the city. I could probably come up with a better answer now but that moment was a bit sad.

The article blends these traditional concerns about how male dominated the built environment field is with questions about gentrification. I appreciate the comments on the need for some dudettes in the industry. I feel less comfortable with some of the comments about gentrification. The author has her own perspective but she is also dismissive of groups I think are doing good work and the role for middle class individuals caught in a crazy housing market. Walker calls out lots of people and waxes nostalgic for the neighbourhoods of yore. Some of these concerns are valid but I also think they lack nuance.

Gentrification is complicated. It is also not inherently a good or a bad process. It is a process characterized by changes in class. That can be from super duper poor to less poor. It can also be a process that makes even the worst neighbourhoods unaffordable for people with lots of money. A lot of it depends on other factors and how this process unfolds. As Walker notes it originally described an influx of intellectuals, students and artists. This group, which I am a part of, are often initial gentrifiers. They are drawn to places with cheap rents. As the neighbourhood improves the initial wave of gentrifiers are pushed out, too poor to enjoy the changes they have brought about and seeking the next spot where they can afford to pay rent.

While on the one hand I am a gentrifier I also live in poverty. I will likely spend my entire twenties either in poverty or as a student. I am white, my family is upper middle class and I am well-educated — probably over educated. I have more choices than many but I struggle to figure out how to pay rent. I struggle to see where I can go in my city. I have a friend who charges more for a one bedroom condo in a nice inner city neighbourhood that I love and want to be a part of than I earn in a month. There were moments when I lived in Vancouver when I'd buy groceries on my credit card unsure whether or not I'd have enough money to pay for them.

We are all a part of cities that are increasingly unaffordable. We live in a world where even tech workers struggle to afford housing. This is a sign that something is very wrong. Housing in any major Canadian city is a nightmare no matter what class you belong to. The issues of gentrification are tied up in market forces and development processes that treat housing like a bank and an investment rather than a basic necessity. New attitudes towards housing and different ways of building cities are as important as preserving character.

Managing change is one of the most important parts of planning and urban design. You want to keep what is good while still allowing communities to change. You need to find a way to ensure that nice communities are varied and accessible to all, not just people who earn enough to rent my friend's condo. You also want to find ways to have run down neighbourhoods become better. The biggest problem I see in places like Vancouver and Calgary is the market forces that have overrun our cities turning them into places we can no longer afford to live combined with zoning bylaws that prevent the construction of a diverse range of housing.

We are all coming up with our own responses to cities and how they should change. Groups like the YIMBY movement in San Francisco want wealthy homeowners to allow the construction of more housing. They may come from some privilege but I look around me and I see the same problem. We build mostly one thing, it's low density, unsustainable and really unaffordable. Maybe if we built something else we'd have more affordable housing? Maybe if we relied less on the market to provide housing and more on our government like they do in large parts of Europe then gentrification wouldn't be putting such a squeeze on people and housing wouldn't be so unaffordable? 

The best sentences I read this week: Vol. 14

“To me, a well-designed and successful transit system equals freedom and flexibility. The car used to be associated with freedom, but not anymore. High gas prices that will just keep going up, traffic congestion, struggles to find parking–increasingly, the car just means a hassle.”

I LOVE TRANSIT: AN INTERVIEW WITH BRENT TODERIAN

“Hiding the cost of parking in the cost of housing makes owning a vehicle seem less expensive than it actually is. It also means that the city forces people who can’t afford cars, or who just don’t drive, to pay for parking they neither want nor need. Those who own vehicles carry some of the costs, in their rent, for those who do.”

Want cheaper housing? Stop requiring parking

“No matter where the green light goes, it is always there, and something sad and gleaming shines through.”

THE GREAT FRATSBY

” ‘We’re a sleep deprived society,’ Feinsilver said.”

How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body

“Cultures must evolve. And if a city and its community do not evolve, they decay. Complete Streets is an affordable evolution for our cities and our region. It is a considered, humanistic approach to urban living. ”

‘Complete Streets’ is an affordable evolution

“It’s not the likelihood of the risk that matters but the ease of imagining it.”

THE PROBLEM WITH KNOWING HOW MUCH YOUR HEALTH CARE COSTS

“Eleanor Catton’s favourite novels are the ones she can never return to. ‘I like novels that, after I finish reading them, I feel a kind of a sense of longing, like I want to go back there but then I also know that if I did, it would play out in the same way,’ she says. ‘It’s kind of like remembering an earlier part of your life that you loved…but also knowing, obviously, that you can never go back there.’ She describes the feeling as sad, but not tragic. ‘It’s kind of meditative, sort of melancholy and even joyful.'”

An Interview with Eleanor Catton

The best sentences I read this week: Vol. 10

“The important thing is that you can’t let that stop you from trying. Be brave, little toaster.”

Rejection 101: A Lesbian’s Guide To Getting Turned Down, Keeping Your Head Upby Intern Grace

“Modern urban planning was a mass exercise in ‘organising universal isolation’ that shackled and oppressed the human spirit. The primary solution to combat this attack was to walk.”

Why is the act of urban walking so revolutionary? by JOHN ROGERS

“They eschewed dreams – journalism, art, entertainment – for safer bets, only to discover that the safest bet is that your job will be contingent and disposable.”

Surviving the post-employment economy by Sarah Kendzior

“A total hoser, Ford talks hoser and acts the hoser lifestyle.”

Rob Ford and the triumph of the new hosers by John Doyle

“Design is an intensely political act. Through the stroke of a pen, or these days a mouse, one can delineate exactly what people will see, hear and feel, how and where they will move. Within the context of the inefficiency and inequity of today’s Joburg, it is incumbent upon all of us who are engaged in shaping our built environment, including policy makers, planners, engineers, and designers, to challenge existing paradigms. We cannot think merely in terms of the way things have always been done and what has gone before, because these ways of thinking are behind much of what is wrong today.”

Urban Inequality: Joburg United

“In March Johnson and his cycling adviser, the former journalist Andrew Gilligan, announced a hugely ambitious plan to increase cycling in London, promising to spend around £1bn on schemes such as a completely segregated east-west bike route which would, in one section, take a lane from the Westway elevated urban motorway, as well as bike-friendly “mini-Hollands” in some outer suburbs.”

London expands protected cycle lane scheme by Peter Walker