Our in-house SRES Legacy Scholarships will be offered again in 2019, and I have pitched in a project called, Last one in, shut the door: Understanding local experiences of urban densification. It is one of up to 8 projects available to high-performing Canadian students who are thinking early for our next MES intake. A short description of my pitch follows; get in touch if you think you’re a good fit:
Most of us now live in cities. Experts advocate for more compact urban forms, rather than sprawl, to improve carbon footprints, as well as cultural vitality, economic activity and public health in cities. Compact cities are more walkable and have more effective public transit, and the numbers of people working and sleeping there are boons for businesses and cultural institutions alike. For most cities to become compact requires the densification of existing neighbourhoods. Like renewable energy, densification goals are often supported in general, but support weakens upon application. Locals often fight to maintain the status quo in the face of densification developments. The success of those residents depends in part on their social position. This research will explore the local experiences of urban densification planning, using case studies yet to be determined and the emerging concept of ‘climax thinking’, to identify social leverage points for urban transformation towards sustainability.
Typical St. John’s streetscape with its cheering paintpot effect.
Thanks to the organizers of Coastal Zone Canada 2018 last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where our NRCan project Making Room for Movement was launched. We ran a back-to-back special sessions to introduce the project and explore its conceptual and practical foundations, with presentations from SMU PI Danika van Proosdij, MPlan student Matt Conlin, Dal Planning prof Patricia Manuel and I. Postdoc Tuihedur Rahman and I put together a presentation on social aspects of nature-based coastal adaptation, as well as some of the conceptual foundations of this concept, proposing climax thinking as our experimental frame for the work to come. Despite an incredibly hot room, thanks to unseasonably warm conditions for Newfoundland, attendance was strong, in the presentations (below) as well as the subsequent workshop session. It was wonderful to be among practitioners, consultants and public servants as well as academics for a few days to explore the challenges along coasts.
Hot ticket: question period at the Making Room for Movement special session.
It was also special to have the opportunity to explore The Rooms at the Tuesday dinner event, including the wonderful Newfoundland Gallery and Museum. I rounded a corner in the gallery and was faced with a great portrait of my grandmother’s uncle, Captain Bob Bartlett by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, and was also moved by the map of the taking of Demasduit, drawn by the last Beothuk, Shanawdithit (her niece), images of resettled island outports (right) and struggling livyers, and the brave young members of the Newfoundland Regiment in WWI.
Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.
Halifax is a mess. I’m not kidding. For those of us who have cars and kids in summer camps all over the place, instead of its usual peaceful summer self, Halifax is detour central. Downtown is under construction, with towers pushing out of heritage skins, and two of the five roads leading into the dreaded Armdale Rotary are closed for various reasons. This is relatively new. For years, nothing could be built downtown, it seemed, because of the need to protect views to the 18th century defensive citadel at the heart of the city. While the volume of work simultaneously underway is inconvenient, it is like a wildfire spreading after decades or centuries of fire suppression. This is Yellowstone, circa 1988. Liebskind is right (see photo). The citadel is not what Halifax is about anymore. It doesn’t meet new needs for urban densification, for instance. (It also bears mentioning, it never did meet needs; the Citadel was never attacked.)
But why stop at cities? Why is it that busses line up on cruise ship days to take thousands of visitors to Peggy’s Cove? Peggy’s Cove is a simulacra of an 18th century coastal Nova Scotia fishing village, with its Peggy’s Point Lighthouse sitting atop massive granite outcrops arguably the most photographed place in the region. Rather than relying on fishing, this place and others like it now rely on tourism that commemorates a Golden Age idea of ‘Maritimicity’ (coined by eminent Canadian historian Ian McKay in 1988). We might need rural places for new things, like renewable energy, but if we’re not careful, the ‘tourism state’ will deny such alternate visions.