Sub­urb bash­ing ig­nores the facts

Cal­gar­i­ans pre­fer to live in them

Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD WHITE

Gary Burns, who is Cal­gary’s best-known film di­rec­tor, pro­duced his first film, Subur­bana­tor, in 1995.

It painted a neg­a­tive picture of sub­ur­ban life in North Amer­ica as beige, bor­ing, bare and ba­nal, with Cal­gary’s sub­urbs be­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial ex­am­ple of a sub­urb-dom­i­nated city.

Sub­urb bash­ing has a long his­tory, but it seems to be ac­cel­er­at­ing.

HGTV watch­ers will know there is a TV show based on this premise — Ur­ban Sub­ur­ban — where a cou­ple is shown three sub­ur­ban and three ur­ban (or in­ner-city) places to live, and has to choose one.

Each seg­ment fo­cuses on one Cana­dian city. I hap­pened to catch a cou­ple that fea­tured Cal­gary. If my mem­ory serves me cor­rectly, the sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties were Went­worth, Aspen Woods and Sig­nal Hill, with the ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties be­ing In­gle­wood, Gar­ri­son Woods and Al­ta­dore.

To my sur­prise, I be­lieve that in two of the three cases, the cou­ple chose the ur­ban com­mu­nity.

Given that the choice of ur­ban homes in Cal­gary were all about 2,000-square-foot in­fill houses, I am not sure I would ex­actly call them “ur­ban.”

Sarah Richard­son, an­other HGTV show host, has joined in pok­ing fun at the sub­urbs as she adds colour and charm to what she calls the “beige ’burbs.”

And then there is a new sit­com call Subur­ga­tory, where a sin­gle dad up­roots his daugh­ter — af­ter find­ing con­doms in her be­d­room — from Man­hat­tan and moves her to Westch­ester County in New York State.

The think­ing is that the sub­urbs are a safer, more in­no­cent place to raise chil­dren.

The show can be de­scribed as a car­toon­ish, satir­i­cal look at sub­ur­ban life through the eyes of a teenager who would rather be in the hus­tle and bus­tle of an ur­ban cen­tre.

Be­ware of the mis­sion­ar­ies

It is hard to turn on the TV or read a Cal­gary news­pa­per or mag­a­zine to­day with­out be­ing con­fronted by an ur­ban ver­sus sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ment de­bate.

Cal­gary politi­cians, plan­ners and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are con­stantly preach­ing the need for more den­sity: Cal­gary must find ways to slow down its con­stantly ex­pand­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print … we need more in­fill de­vel­op­ments … no more land an­nex­a­tion.

The gospel is more tran­sit, cy­cling and walk­ing, and fewer cars, more ur­ban (multi-fam­ily hous­ing) de­vel­op­ment and less sub­ur­ban (sin­gle-fam­ily) de­vel­op­ment.

These mis­sion­ar­ies are try­ing to con­vert us from our he­do­nis­tic North Amer­i­can life­style to an en­light­ened Euro­pean one.

This means more in­fill com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ments, such as Cur­rie Bar­racks, East Vil­lage, Gar­ri­son Woods and Quarry Park, and more LRT sta­tion condo de­vel­op­ments — such as Univer­sity City at Brent­wood Sta­tion, Re­nais­sance at Lions Park, and London Town at Her­itage Sta­tion.

Even the health re­searchers are telling us that car-ori­ented sub­ur­ban liv­ing is one of the causes of North Amer­ica’s obe­sity prob­lem.

Even the word, “sub­ur­ban,” sug­gests sub­ur­ban life is some­how in­fe­rior to the ur­ban.

The “sub” pre­fix, by def­i­ni­tion, means be­low or un­der — as in sub­stan­dard or be­low the usual or ac­cepted stan­dards.

But from my per­spec­tive, cre­at­ing a great city is about cre­at­ing a di­ver­sity of dif­fer­ent life­styles — some ur­ban, some sub­ur­ban. Dif­fer­ent strokes for dif­fer­ent folks.

Cal­gar­i­ans love ‘sub­ur­ban city’

Go south of Glen­more Trail, west of Crowchild Trail, east of Deer­foot Trail and north of the Trans-canada High­way (16th Av­enue) and you en­ter the sub­ur­ban zone.

This is not the twi­light zone that some think it is. It is where more than 80 per cent of Cal­gar­i­ans live, work and play.

It might come as a sur­prise to some to learn that most Cal­gar­i­ans don’t work down­town and don’t feel the need to go to the in­ner city to play.

More and more, I am hear­ing from peo­ple who don’t work in the core that “I hardly ever go down­town — ev­ery­thing I need is in my quad­rant.”

The “sub­ur­ban city” of­fers them pretty much ev­ery­thing they need, in­clud­ing large parks (Fish Creek and Nose Hill), com­mu­nity play­grounds and play­ing fields.

Pho­tos, Cal­gary Her­ald Ar­chive

The sub­urbs are get­ting an un­fair rap from politi­cians and ur­ban plan­ners these days.

Subur­bana­tor film di­rec­tor Gary Burns of Cal­gary.

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