17 August 2011

The Broader Merit of Urbanity

In the flurry of responses to Philip Preville’s article in Toronto Life, the urban vs. suburban argument has been, as in the article itself, continually posed primarily as a matter of which is preferable for the individual/family whose placement is in question. I think that it’s more a question of what we should do, considering the greater social implications, rather than what’s easiest or most fun. That is, I don’t think it’s merely an arbitrary matter of opinion or taste to say that urban living is better.

I have yet to read a response that questions whether, for instance, people’s houses should be as big as they are in the suburbs, or if we should all be trying to take up as little space as possible. A seldom-acknowledged benefit of high prices for living space in big cities is that they encourage denser communities and smaller housing footprints, in which regard the city is objectively better. The greater car-dependency, too, in my opinion, single-handedly makes suburban (or small town) living something one should avoid if possible (of course, for some people living in a big city is unaffordable or otherwise inaccessible, but I am, like Preville, only talking about what should be opted for by those who can afford either way of life).

Further, I wish people would stop attributing the preference of urban living to “snobbery,” which dismisses deeply considered opinions of the merits of denser living as superciliousness. It’s not about whether urban people are better than suburban people; it’s about whether urban living is more efficient, sustainable, etc. Of course, it’s easy to see how people are offended by criticism of places because they identify with their surroundings, but I’m nearly certain that when most people who are passionate about cities are critical of suburbs, they are not, in fact, criticizing their residents, but the effects of that style of urban planning. It’s like saying that criticizing a certain kind of slipshod or perfunctory architecture is insulting to the people living within, when in reality it concerns the environment’s design, rather than its denizens. Such criticism, then, is not merely an arbitrary eruption of mere taste, but (more often, I think) an earnest assessment of what is helpful for people and what isn’t. Assessing the merit of different approaches to urban planning is not like announcing one’s favourite colour; there are greater implications and fairly objective measures one can consider to determine which has more benefits on a broader scale than the other.

1 comment:

  1. You seem to imply that there is a group of people who can't afford to live in big cities who live in suburbs. I'm sure you didn't mean this.

    Land is relatively cheaper in the suburbs, and people tend to buy more of it there. A lot of people who live in suburbs are indeed doing it for reasons of thrift, yet this thrift allows them to use what is probably our least renewable and most valuable resource in the most luxurious and unthrifty way.

    I don't see why being criticized for having a certain taste (or worse, disregard) for the conditions you live in can't lead to being insulted. I would take any criticisms about what I do with my life and how I live to be criticisms toward me.