Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Is the “big plan” of “Vancouverism” a model for urban land use law?

    Sometimes, “big plans” work.  Trimuphs include the legal regime that preserved the French Quarter of New Orleans and the design that created the radial avenues of Washington, D.C.  At a World Urban Forum this summer, people talked of the big plans of “Vancouverism,” and whether it serves as a model for North America. 

   Vancouver is new urbanism to the nth degree, as discussed in this video segment from the CBC (click on "Vancouver Model").  The city and province rejected freeways in the 1960s in favor of encouraging downtown residences and public transportation.  Today, the fact that jumps out when one visits is residential density –- the city’s downtown is filled with condos and apartments that are intermingled with offices and shopping.  Vancouver resembles European cities or New York more than it does even, say, Portland, Ore. 

    But the model faces obstacles in the United States.  Would metropolitan Americans give up the dream of detached-single-family-homeownership for a condo in the city, as many affluent Vancouverites do?  The city says that families are attracted to living downtown because it is “clean, green, and safe.”  Are many American cities capable of such an achievement, considering our distinct social problems (including poor city schools, into which few middle-class American families are willing to be pioneers) and our almost genetic inability to give public spaces the care that we give our private ones?   


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