Sunday, November 7, 2010

Suburbs: The Fix?

Suburbs: The Fix is in

Tonight the CBC broadcast a news documentary about the increasing political power of the suburbs.

In every planning or human geography grad program there is a course on urban studies. In that course there is usually a debate about the urban/suburban divide, a divide that runs deep in popular culture. It cuts deep into the environmental wastage from long suburban drives to work in rush hour. It surfaces in a dwindling downtown tax base from out-migration.

Best-selling author Richard Florida recently wrote "the challenge is to remake the suburbs, to turn them into more vibrant, livable, people-friendly communities and, in so doing, to make them engines of innovation and productivity."

For many years growing suburban populations and a dwindling urban tax base resulted in downtown deterioration and high crime rates.

The picture is no longer so clear.

Suburbs not only represent a place of increasing political power, they have also seen increasing crime rates. In places like New York downtown crime rates have declined while Memphis recorded a suburban crime blip after the demolition of a downtown public housing project.

There is now some light at the end of the tunnel.

Toronto's Jane/Finch suburb has long been a hotspot for crime. Last year I published an empirical study on one SafeGrowth project I helped launch there - the San Romanoway apartments.

It was one of the first times the crime trend was halted in a small suburban pocket. There is now a fabulous documentary film about San Romanoway's chief community organizer Stephnie Payne called "The Fix" explaining how it works.

Perhaps this is one future for our suburbs?

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