Roger Keil quoted in Grid article about changing ideas in the Greater Toronto Area suburbs

In “How the 905 stole our urbanist mojo”, Edward Keenan contrasts Toronto’s turn away from the ideals of progressive urbanism under Mayor Rob Ford, with the newfound embrace of traditionally “suburban” communities in the Greater Toronto Area like Markham for landscapes that are focused on “places for people, not for cars.” CITY Institute director and “Global Suburbanisms” principal investigator Roger Keil comments on these changes, arguing that given that the majority of population growth in the GTA and around the world will take place in suburbs, we need to begin to plan for such changes.

“Thinkers like Keil, along with many politicians, are moving quickly to figure out how car-centric suburbs can become dense, livable cities. “Right now, the story is that Markham has figured a lot of these things out,” he says. “They have a love affair with the new urbanism.” Ironically, this comes at a time when leaders in Canada’s largest city have been trying to figure out how to become more like the stereotypical suburb our grandparents built.”

However, as Keil goes on to note, the new “urbanist” agenda of the GTA’s outer suburbs does not necessarily come with a commitment to social justice.

“Associating Jane Jacobs–style urbanism with left-wing politics is a quirk of Toronto’s own culture, Keil says. “It emerged from the particular political landscape in Toronto in the 1970s and has been milked to the nth degree by the major spokespeople for that kind of urbanism in Toronto. But it is not a necessary tie. In Los Angeles, where I used to live, that link between urbanism and leftist politics doesn’t exist at all. In Frankfurt, where I was born, that link doesn’t exist at all.””

Instead, Keenan writes, the physical and social infrastructures of the suburbs are seen as services for affluent residents, while Toronto has come to treat these as necessities only for the poor; moreover, according to Keil, much of the support for Rob Ford comes from the inner suburbs, neighbourhoods that are poorly served by Toronto’s existing public services and where even new development carries the threat of gentrification. The implications of this trend lead Keenan to question which area will become the leader in sustainable urban policies and which will be “scrambling to catch up".


Update, January 8 2011: This interview was also featured in today’s “York in the Media” section of Yfile: “York prof says world’s population growth will be in the ‘burbs”.