Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Urban Regeneration Rationalties and Quality of Life: Comparative Notes from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Urban Regeneration Rationalties and Quality of Life: Comparative Notes from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

Article excerpt

NOTIONS OF QUALITY OF LIFE AND LIVEABILITY have for several decades pervaded representations of the Canadian urban experience offered by metropolitan authorities across the country. In a state that has targeted both inward investment and immigration as pivotal sources of economic growth, this might be seen as no more than boosterist rhetoric, and successful at that: in Toronto and Montreal over 40 per cent of the population is now foreign-born, 25 per cent in Montreal - a demographic influx generating economic opportunities and enriching urban cultures. Yet Canadian municipal authorities have more recently portrayed a quality of life in jeopardy, as voiced on their behalf, above all, by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). According to this national body, poverty is becoming concentrated in large urban communities, exacerbated by lower levels of government assistance to low-income families than other parts of the country. Added to income inequalities, metropolitan authorities also face higher than average crime rates, homelessness and drug abuse, giving rise to fears that Canada may face the type of urban decay commonly associated with her southern neighbour (FCM 2001).

It is not difficult to attribute instrumental political motives to this crisis rhetoric. Since the election of the Liberal government at the federal level in 1993, metropolitan authorities have suffered substantial cuts in national (and also provincial) transfer payments; yet also faced growing capital investment needs to meet expanded responsibilities for environmental management, public transportation and social housing. At the same time, their capacities to generate revenue remain tightly circumscribed by provincial legislation and regulations. In 1996 FCM launched a Quality of Life Reporting System (QOLRS) with the explicit intention of graphically demonstrating the social and economic conditions within Canadian cities; FCM employed the findings in its first report to lobby the federal government for an annual budget commitment of $3 billion for ten years towards an intergovernmental Quality of Life Infrastructure Programme (FCM 1999a; 1999b). QOLRS provided an unprecedented collection of local data from sixteen municipal and regional governments (growing to eighteen for its second report in 2001) across eight themes - population resources, community affordability, quality of employment, quality of housing, and community - stress, health, safety and participation (FCM 2001: 12); this information has afforded FCM the opportunity to quantify and standardise the traditionally nebulous concept of quality of life, reinforcing the claim of municipal governments as politically legitimate champions of well-being for their communities.

Acknowledging the national backdrop of municipal government concern over a growing investment deficit in urban governance, this article addresses the articulation of quality of life objectives within the current urban regeneration rationalities of three Canadian municipal (city) authorities - Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. All three cities have pursued strategies to assist disadvantaged areas, selecting regulatory practices informed by quality of life norms and measures. Identifying in these regeneration discourses an ideological subscription to 'advanced liberalism' - the formulation and implementation of political-policy objectives according to norms of competition, active responsibility and performance accountability (Rose 1996), this article teases out the particular role afforded to quality of life and liveability in the reasoning of city planning officials as elicited in interviews in Toronto (September 2001), Montreal (September 2001) and Vancouver (June-July 2002). This brief (necessarily selective) survey, which relays some initial findings from a wider research project on social and economic regeneration in Canadian and uk cities (Evans at al. 2002), highlights three thematic areas in which quality of life informs official urban revitalisation discourses: i) the spatial allocation of livelihood (economic) and life quality (socio-environmental) benefits; ii) the construction of neighbourhood communities as actively responsible for regeneration practices; and iii) the emerging use of quality of life indicators as measures of policy success. …

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