Planning Canadian Regions

Article excerpt

2001, xiv, pp. 473. Gerald Hodge and Ira Robinson. Vancouver: UBC Press, ISBN 0-7748-0850-0

This volume represents an immense undertaking, a labour of commitment, and a reflection of an entire lifetime of research and professional practice by two of Canada's most prominent planners. The authors trace the origins and history of regional planning from its roots in the utopian and regionalism movements of over a century ago to its current state as a pragmatic form of territorial housekeeping. I would have added another chapter on the recent decline of regional planning on the mantle of economic efficiency, local self-interest and political expediency.

The main body of this thick text is divided in eleven chapters grouped in four parts. The first part is focused on the intellectual and practical foundations of regional planning; part two is concerned with planning in rural and non-metropolitan regions; part three with planning (and governance) in urban-based regions; followed by a concluding section on the need for and future shape of regional planning. The content is detailed, the approach methodical but readable, and the coverage is extremely broad. Regional planning is defined here to encompass not only the urban and rural dimensions but resource and conservation planning and regional economic development. Examples are carefully drawn from across these domains and from different regions of the country.

By far the longest and most impressive chapters are those on planning in metropolitan areas (Chapter 8) and city-regions (Chapter 9); the shortest and certainly the weakest chapter is that on regional economic development (Chapter 5). This apparent imbalance is not unexpected given the traditional (i.e. British) view of regional planning and the background experience of the authors. But it also raises the question of whether top-down regional economic development initiatives for lagging regions, driven as they are by macro-economic conditions and concerns over depopulation and regional income inequalities, should count as regional planning. Or are such programs better viewed as regional policy, as components of equalization agreements, or more accurately perhaps as regional politics.

There have been few similar overviews of regional planning in Canada precisely because the concept of regional planning is so elastic and the definition of the region so fuzzy, and because of the scale and complexity of the task. …