April 28, 2016

Ersatz Urbanism and the Future of Cities

From The Economist:



On the edge of Sunrise, next to the Florida Everglades, eight modernist blocks of flats (the first of them 28 stories high) are to rise, along with offices, car parks and a shopping street including restaurants and a cinema. Erick Collazo of Metropica Holdings, the developer, says the idea is to build a downtown in suburbia. Metropica, as the 26-hectare complex is called, will not really be a downtown. Because of what it suggests about the future of cities and suburbs, it will be more interesting than that. …

As it has done before, Florida is pioneering a new kind of city. Robert Bruegmann, an authority on urban sprawl at the University of Illinois, reckons that American city centres and suburbs are coming to resemble one another. Suburbs are growing denser and more diverse; urban cores are greener, cleaner and often less densely populated than they were (even go-go Manhattan has two-thirds as many people as it did a century ago). Ersatz city centres, which can be built in low-rise suburbs like Sunrise or in built-up areas, bulldoze the distinction further. South Florida is becoming a landscape of scattered centres—sprawl with bumps.

But creating the appearance of urbanity is not the same as making a city. Cities are supposed to be cosmopolitan and surprising; they ought to change in unpredictable ways. Mixed-use developments, by contrast, are fully-formed when they are built—and are too costly for the poor. They are not supposed to be diverse. John Hitchcox of Yoo, a design firm that has worked on Metropica and many other projects, says that mixed-use developments aim to create communities of like-minded people. Though they look like cities, they are supposed to feel like villages.

In fact, the low-rise 1960s suburb where Metropica is being built is already full of cosmopolitan surprise. Behind those monotonous lawns lives a diverse population: one-third of the 88,000 people who live in Sunrise are black and one-quarter are Hispanic. The strip malls are filled with esoteric businesses—a South Indian vegetarian restaurant run by Palestinians, a Vietnamese café, a Dominican hairdresser, even a British shop selling Boddingtons beer and scones. Walkable they are not. But by providing places for immigrants to get ahead, the cheap, ugly, car-oriented strip malls of suburban Florida are already doing what cities are supposed to do.

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  1. Well, perhaps the suburban megamall at Tsawwassen could have benefited from this level of ersatz urbanism and density.

  2. Sounds like Marine Gatewayto me. Unless of course you count the stench from the landfill as the delightful surprise.

    For that matter the description applies equally to Metrotown, Edmonds, Brentwood etc.

  3. Looks like River District in SE Vancouver, close to Boundary Rd, between SE Marine Drive and the Fraser River.

    No subway or SkyTrain insight. Wobbly buses to the rescue. And of course: cars !


    1000s of new homes.

    Car is king. There is some bike infrastructure along the river, but not yet connected to New West nor CanadaLine as it is a LONG LONG way to Marine Gateway or New West !

    Who approves this ? Where is the transit vision here ?

    There is another new development in Queenborough, at the very east end of Richmond, across New West’s Quay. At least this brand new medium density development is building a bike/ped path to 22nd street SkyTrain, from eastern-most point of Richmond Island (which is actually New West) to nearby SkyTrain across the Fraser in New West ! This is the so called Q2Q bridge, between this new development at the eastern tip of Richmond Island and New Westminster. http://www.newwestcity.ca/business/planning_development/community_plans/waterfront-vision/articles/3943.php

    1. Thomas: “There is some bike infrastructure along the river, but not yet connected to New West nor CanadaLine as it is a LONG LONG way to Marine Gateway or New West”

      There is the Kent Ave Bikeway, 5 km to Elliot and 6 km to Kerr, from the Marine Gateway Canada Line station. This route is completely flat. Improvements are required to a portion of this route (see below).

  4. The River District is an amazingly well-planned and designed development. There is no resemblance to this forest of identical slab buildings.

    1. Yes, well laid out, not too tall, ped path along river, but in the middle of nowhere, utterly car-dependent. Like the Florida development. At least the Queensborough development will have the Q2Q bridge soon and a short walk or bike ride to Skytrain (22nd Station).

      What does the 2040 transportation plan say about these non-connected developments, like River District ? Is the 2040 plan actually still relevant here ? related debate here: https://pricetags.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/2040-transportation-plan-update-required/

    2. Thomas, Transportation 2040 listed as a priority action the creation of a cycling route along Kent Ave, effectively connecting the River District with the Canada Line station on Marine Drive. That route was listed again in the Transportation 2040 Plan in the 5 year update from December.

      The route is flat, and easy to cycle, and with the increased number of residents coming to the River District it makes sense to move ahead with this initiative.

      There is protected infrastructure already there for a portion of this stretch, and a route on quieter streets for other parts. What is missing is the critical section along Kent Ave North from Ontario to Cambie; given the traffic volume and speed of motor vehicles on this stretch, physical separation is required.

      1. That’s great, but it is an isolated pocket of development. More and better bike lanes are one thing, but it isn’t connected on transit and is basically cut off from the rest of the City by a highway-lite.

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