Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Producing Diversity in a New Urbanism Community: Policy and Practice

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Producing Diversity in a New Urbanism Community: Policy and Practice

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1990s, Markham in Ontario has embedded new urbanism and smart growth principles in its plans. The policies presume that policies for place diversity - requiring a mix of housing types, uses and densities - will produce social diversity. This article examines planning policies and reviews interview data to understand the challenges in interpreting and implementing a diversity agenda in practice. Although respondents describe Markham as ethnically diverse, census data reveal new kinds of social homogeneity. Planning policies and regulations that call for diversity in housing types, land uses and densities may contribute to place vitality and economic health, but the Markham case suggests that they may not produce social equity. Planners' faith in place diversity as a means to social diversity faces significant challenges in practice.

In the last two decades, diversity has become an important theoretical construct and practical objective. As Fainstein (2005) notes, diversity can have many meanings and may be used differently by urban designers, planners and sociologists. Designers and planners typically define diversity in terms of mixed building and housing types, mixed uses and mixed densities (Day, 2003; Talen, 2005; 2008). Talen (2006, 236) describes such place diversity as 'a normative goal in city planning', often promoted as a strategy to achieve social diversity. For planners, social diversity means a desirable mix of people with differing demographic, economic and ethnic characteristics that together create a balanced or complete community (Cole and Goodchild, 2000; Eberle et al., 2007).

Equity and social justice advocates push the concept of diversity further, arguing for a pluralism that respects and actively engages difference (Fainstein, 2005; Young, 1990; Sandercock, 2003a; 2003b). To address some of the challenges created in trying to accommodate difference, many governments have adopted policy to better involve those traditionally excluded. Booth (2006, 47) notes that in England, the planning system seeks to 'mainstream equality and manage diversity'; planners are trying to integrate pluralism into the policy process and organisational structure at all stages. Such approaches to diversity accept that planning is not neutral in its distributive effects; they enjoin planners to challenge discriminatory attitudes and practices. In Canada, the city of Vancouver has probably made the greatest progress in trying to engage disparate communities in planning as a strategy for accommodating diversity (McAfee, 2008) and in adopting planning policies to facilitate affordable and integrated housing (Beasley, 2004).

While planners are interested in diversity of many kinds - including ecological - our focus here is on place diversity and its relationship to social diversity. To what extent does planning policy imply that built form and policies related to it can encourage social diversity? How do the participants in local planning practices understand the connection between physical mix (of uses, housing types and densities) and social diversity (of class, ethnicity, and other individual and household characteristics)? After a decade of new urbanism development in some Canadian communities, do we find evidence that policies that promote place diversity are affecting the physical or social character of our cities?

In this article, we examine efforts to promote diversity through the explicit adoption of new urbanism and smart growth principles in the town of Markham in Ontario. Our case study explores the diversity objectives in Markham's policies and the challenges that practitioners report with trying to implement them. Markham lies on the northern fringe of Toronto, Canada's largest and most socially diverse metropolitan region (Statistics Canada, 2008c). The town has applied new urbanism and sustainable development principles since the early 1990s.Over the same period, smart growth theory became important at the provincial level in Ontario, ultimately resulting in the 'Places to Grow' plan (Ontario, 2006). …

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