To Change Politics for the Better we Need to Change Suburbia

the suburbs

The Canadian province of Ontario just elected a new government that’s focussed on making Ontario worse. In a few short months they’ve done a lot of damage including messing with municipal elections (making them harder to participate in), removing a carbon plan at a cost of $3 billion, and defunded governmental roles that monitor effectiveness. In short, they are behaving like anarchists. Clearly, none of these things are good.

This led to University of Waterloo urban planner Pierre Filion wondering what happened. His conclusion is that the suburbs did it. The actual physical environment of the suburbs is a source of support for this destructive party to gain power. So if we want to build a better world step one might be to dismantle the current infrastructure supporting suburban lifestyles.

“When the planning solutions are put forward, they need to be put foward in a way that is adapted to the suburban lifestyle, to the people who are living in suburbs, and that really takes into consideration what is going to help them,” said Filion.

“I don’t mean to say that suburbs are totally negative to work with — this is certainly not the case — but it needs to be shown that what is going to be put in place is going to help them,” he said.

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Preparing Suburbia for Disasters

The suburbs are not resilient places when it comes to disasters or having to quickly change to accommodate new realities. At Nautilus they have dedicated their recent issue to the concept of “home” and they looked at the monotony of the suburbs. The article explores how the suburbs serve to be a place for dwelling but lack the diversity of dwelling that nature once had. Nautilus asks the question: why don’t suburbs reflect the nature they are built in?

Nearly all of the houses in the Challenge feature solar panel roofs. But a dwelling from frosty Canada takes maximum advantage of Alberta’s sunny skies by also harnessing sunshine with a board comprised of forty glass tubes beside the house. Within each glass tube is a copper pipe filled with liquid heated from the sun. Water stored in a tank within the house circulates though the glass tubes, picking up heat from the pipes and returning to the tank where people can use it to shower—no furnace required.


Houses built in the Southeastern United States might be made of concrete with steel framing, says Rashkin. But rather than making them twister-proof, the steel would thwart wood-eating termites that lead typical homeowners to spend hundreds of dollars on toxic treatments every year. Shelters in humid locales would be made of materials that resist flood and moisture damage. Those near cities might include indoor “living walls” lined with plants that naturally filter the air inside.

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Why We (Still) Need To Change The Suburbs

The suburbs are massive urban design problem because they have a large footprint. The footprint is evident in the energy inefficiencies present in suburban design from sprawl to increased costs. To reduce the footprint and build more environmentally friendly neighbourhoods will cost a lot and some people are debating whether or not we should just give up on the suburbs.

The anti-retrofit movement is missing the bigger picture, in order to lessen the damage of sprawl on the planet we need to modify these sprawling neighbourhoods.

New Urbanism was launched a quarter century ago by a committed group of multidisciplinary professionals seeking to reverse the worst social, economic, and environmental impacts of sprawl. New urbanists, as a group, will never “let sprawl be sprawl.”

“Drivable suburban,” areas, otherwise known as sprawl, make up about 95 percent of the land in US metro areas (built, amazingly, in less than a century), according to research by Christopher Leinberger. The rest, about five percent, is “walkable urban” — historic neighborhoods and street grids.

Improving walkable urban areas and revitalizing run-down neighborhoods are critical projects for new urbanists, but we can’t leave the other 95 percent alone. It has too much impact on people’s health, social lives, and the economies of communities. The Charter of the New Urbanism speaks to the entire built environment—not just historic street grids.

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Changing Car-Based Infrastructure for Walkable Communities

The suburbs are designed for cars as opposed to people and this is a problem that has surprising side effects from personal health issues to an increase in violent deaths. So how do we modify the suburbs to stop these side effects? In this TED talk, Jeff Speck explores what can be done.

How do we solve the problem of the suburbs? Urbanist Jeff Speck shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car — which he calls “a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device” — by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people.

Suburban Community Considers Higher Taxes for Paved Properties

Toronto and area received massive rain fall last week and one suburban community has decided that the need to encourage better water management through taxes. Basically, if you pave over green space you’ll literally pay for it. THe idea is to preserve as much green space as possible to act as a natural sponge during large rainfalls.

As a bonus, the preserved green space will also act as a natural coolant for the local environment.

Powell says a user-fee levy is expected to get final council approval by the end of the year.
Dan McDermott, the Ontario chapter director for the Sierra Club, says the proposal makes perfect sense.
“It’s a very clear disincentive to paving over or covering over your whole property. If you’re going to put up a parking lot, you need to leave enough ground space to let the water naturally drain.”

McDermott says governments need to incorporate that kind of thinking when they plan or approve new structures.
Mississauga faces special challenges because of its short history, Powell said.
“All of this infrastructure built by development charges, by developers, all of a sudden has to be rehabbed by tax dollars. That’s where the pressure comes; that’s what Mississauga is facing over the next 10 years.”

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