Suburb bashing ignores the facts
Calgarians prefer to live in them
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.
The suburbs are getting an unfair rap from politicians and urban planners these days.
Suburbanator film director Gary Burns of Calgary.