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A Suburb’s Reinvention

Shaken by statistics I’d read from the Brookings Institute about the increase in suburban poverty I wrote an article offering my take on addressing the issue and submitted it to the Congress for the New Urbanism which should be published soon as a guest blog post on their website.  Then a few days later in my local paper I read about a real life example of how one suburb is planning its reinvention.

There’s nothing like a real-life example to help the rest of us non-planner types really understand how the new urbanism movement is able to take our values and lifestyle priorities to create communities that work for us instead of the other way around. Envision the following:

Families stroll along the banks of canals and sip coffee at sidewalk cafes; young couples walk from nearby condominiums to take in plays and exhibitions in theatres and galleries on an island, others sunbathe on a long pier jutting into Lake Ontario.
(from the Globe and Mail)

While what you’ve read is just a vignette it was based on recently approved plans to address a blighted site in the suburb of Mississauga (Ontario).  The site currently houses a shuttered electric generating station and neglected creek.

What’s envisioned is a 247 acre master planned, mixed-use, development that will feature “transit oriented neighborhoods” and will also include:

  • mid-rise and high-rise apartment blocks
  • offices with street front retail on the ground floor
  • townhouses
  • a possible college or university campus

The question that comes to mind of course is funding and political will.  Without the leaders at the municipal level to keep viable eco-friendly plans like these alive, such projects are too easily shelved.

It’s no surprise then to learn that this project has a motivated political champion who uses the media exceptionally well to push for a project that will eventually be home to 25,000 residents in this suburb. He delivers great soundbites.

Mississauga is one of the few places in North America that’s reinventing itself from a suburban city to an urban one.

–Mississauga Councillor, Jim Covey (from the Globe and Mail).

Take note – prior to a recent election in this area Mr. Covey, a carpenter and heritage restoration specialist, was a member of the residents’ association that began the work of seeking proposals for redevelopment of the area several years ago. Politics may have been a means to an end for this gentleman which is alright with me when “the end” is all about the community and not just the individual.

What’s key in this situation (and many others) is that the idea for reinvention came from residents, like you and I. The will and desire of residents to reshape their communities is as critical a component as our government and private sector partners.  In fact we have to be the driving force behind making new urbanism principles the foundation for community development and redevelopment from coast to coast. Our economy and our environment depend on this movement.

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