Perspectives on a Canadian Urban Strategy: An Overview

By Skelton, Ian | Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Perspectives on a Canadian Urban Strategy: An Overview


Skelton, Ian, Canadian Journal of Urban Research


This inaugural issue of Canadian Planning and Policy represents a contribution to the urgent task of formulating a national urban strategy in Canada. It embraces a breadth of approaches to urban issues and illustrates the work of different communities of scholars in planning and urban affairs. The authors and peer reviewers contributing to the project are mainly academic members of the Canadian Institute of Planners, and hail from every region of the country.

The topics of interest and the methodologies upon which the contributions rest vary widely, yet the authors share an interest in contributing their perspectives to the urban crisis as it is manifest in Canada. They have moved well beyond the recognition that current practices in planning and policymaking have failed to come to terms with several key issues. The pages of the journal suggest planning and policy alternatives for adoption over different time horizons, and numerous new areas for investigation.

A particularly important thread unifying the different perspectives and foci in the collection is the connection between the physical form of urban areas and the governance structures that have administered the production of settlement space. It can be seen that contemporary governance arrangements are consistent with predominant physical patterns, and that alteration of urban form will, in many cases, require alteration of governance structures.

In the lead article Jeanne Wolfe, FCIP and Professor Emeritus at the School of Planning at McGill, sets a rich context for the papers by providing a critique of the Task Force on Urban Issues. Focussing on the historical record as well as recent events, Wolfe examines traditions of urban policy in Canada as a federal institution and relates the Task Force recommendations to these precedents. She pulls no punches in pointing to major gaps in the analysis and focus, and argues for a research funding mechanism in order to support the production of useful knowledge on urban issues.

Larry Bourne and Jim Simmons of the University of Toronto note the differentiation of the country into two types of regions: the few dozen large and growing urban areas; and the multitudinous small places, with low or negative rates of growth. They argue that the entire urban system should be the lens through which territorial development is considered, and highlight the urgent policy issue that governance practices in Canada do not relate to the urban system as a whole, severely undermining the collective capability to organize basic functions such as urban expansion.

Pierre Filion of the University of Waterloo examines smart growth as a set of principles militating against sprawl, first tracing the origin of the concept. He offers an insightful account of the factors underlying the persistence of contemporary patterns of urban expansion, in terms of three "systems of interrelated causation." Filion is critically supportive of smart growth and suggests that, despite restrictions imposed by the political environment, it can avoid confrontation with these three dynamics, and he provides two schematics to illustrate the claim. …

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