The impact of high-rise revitalization on suburban public spaces in Canada and France

Researchers: Dr. Roza Tchoukaleyska (York University), Prof. Theresa Enright (University of Toronto), Prof. Ute Lehrer (York University)

In both Canada and France suburban high-rise social housing districts built in the post-war period now pose increasing physical, environmental and socio- economic challenges and have becomes the subject of municipally-led renovation programs. Such programs aim to alter not only the physical structure of high-rise buildings (by recladding the exteriors of high-rises and upgrading individual units) but also re-order the parks, transport hubs, and community spaces that make up high-rise neighbourhoods. Focusing on four case studies where both physical and social neighbourhood changes are stated aims of revitalization programs – Toronto and Hamilton, in Canada;; Paris and Montpellier, in France – this study examines the impact of such programs on the hundreds of high-rise towers, and thousands of residents, encompassed in revitalization plans and through this seeks to provide critical knowledge for improved public space access and enhanced social environments in suburban neighbourhoods.

This study focuses specifically on public space policies within high-rise revitalization programs, and does so based on two key assertions: (i) that the capacity to shape, define, and use public space is key to establishing a viable and visible presence in the city; and (ii) that revitalization programs, especially ones that aim for wholesale neighbourhood change, put to question the ability of residents to shape the material and cultural meaning of neighbourhood public spaces, and thus claim rights to the city.

Taking a comparative urban approach this study will examine how similar high-rise revitalization policies are applied, experienced, and enacted in different national contexts and in both large- and medium-sized cities. The study aims to: (i) consider how suburban public spaces in high-rise social housing developments are currently used, and which ‘publics’ benefits from their renovation;; (ii) examine the diverse social and cultural meanings attached to public spaces by residents, and how these meanings can be affected through large-scale redevelopment programs; (iii) critically reflect on the negotiations between municipal, commercial and neighbourhood actors in the decision making process; and (iv) put to question whether high-rise renovation programs lead to greater civic participation and a sense of ownership of public spaces in the neighbourhood.

This project has been made possible through a financial contribution from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.

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High Rise Development