Tuesday, April 19, 2011

City Love: Diversity

So I wrote a whole post tonight with all this anti-suburbia stuff.  You know, all the arguments you've heard before...the suburbs are ugly...you have to drive your car everywhere...they're anti-social...they will slowly destroy your soul....and blah blah blah.

Then I figured, there's enough negativity out there and people have probably heard this stuff before.  So instead I decided to keep it positive and post something I love about Citified life:  Diversity!

Within a two block (300 m) radius of our house, there are:
  • some more middle class homes like ours
  • a few high-rise buildings with inexpensive rentals
  • a luxury condo building
  • a low-rise co-op building
  • a facility where teenage moms can live, learn, and raise there children
  • some of the most beautiful Victorian mansions you've ever seen
  • 2 corner stores (perfect for when you run out of milk or cream and you have company over)
  • a boarding house for men with mental health issues
  • lots of houses that have been converted into multiple rental units
  • a park with a great playground
  • and probably even more, but that's all I can think of
This incredible mixture of building types and building uses means that our neighbourhood is very diverse!  There are couples like us, young families, university students, retired people, single people, people who like dogs, people who like cats, people with lots of money, people with very little money, people who need some help, and people who love to help.  It truly is a beautiful thing!

Why is diversity good though?  It's one of those terms people throw around as something that is good, but why?  Richard Sennett talks a lot about it in his book The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life.  In it, Sennett talks about how within a diverse city, people are not forced into a community-wide mold, instead they are free to be themselves.  He argues that it is only in the diversity of a city that people can truly pass through adolescence and become complete adults.

Hmmm....that's pretty deep.  Am I more of an 'adult' since moving to the city?  Perhaps.  I can definitely agree that the city embraces individuality rather than sameness.  There's something beautiful about people from so many different backgrounds living harmoniously together in a close area and each of them being comfortable in who they are.

One thing's for sure, the diverse city is stimulating and inspiring.  In fact, shortly after famed modernist painter Piet Mondrian moved to New Your City in 1943, he painted this:

It's called Broadway Boogie-Woogie.  Many consider it to be his masterpiece - a culmination of his life's work.  And guess what?  It was inspired by the life, the diversity, and the vibrancy of city life.



bs said...

Two block radius at your house ~= 0.6 km.

Within a 0.6 km radius of our suburban house we have
-town houses and detached houses
-a long-term care residence
-an assisted living residence
-three schools with large fields
-a plaza with a general store, barber, and small food store

Going out to 1.4 km there is a large plaza with
-a grocery store
-a hardware store
-restaurants and specialty foods
-dr., pharmacy, optometrist, dentist, massage, financial services, etc.

There are also twice hourly buses going to the city core and to the malls. I think 3-4 times hourly is necessary for bus service to be useful, but it may increase over time (missing a bus and waiting 15-20 min is a lot easier than waiting a half hour).

The large plaza is owned by someone who specifically set out to not have big box stores. With the exception of one grocery store, only small stores around a main street are allowed, and it's designed to be pedestrian focused. It is often closed for festivals.

I'll be that the majority in your area still drive cars to work. So really the difference comes down to the character of the houses.

I'm not trying to say that suburban areas are a good idea in terms of land use or transportation layout. But at the same time it doesn't have to be _that_ bad. If each suburban center is designed as a self-contained village, and as the price of gas drives more people to shop more there and not at the big box stores, the difference really only comes down to poor modern architecture (because of date of construction), and distance to work. Distance to work is huge, but I wonder if the majority of people in the city live that much closer to work anyways, since we've become a car culture regardless.

Citify said...

Hey BS, thanks for offering a suburban perspective. It's true, it's not such a black and white issue and some newer suburbs are getting better at being less of a mono-culture.

I should have been more precise in the scale of diversity - the area described in the post is only a 0.3 km radius around our house. Looking at a 0.6 km radius would have made this a very different post.

At the end of the day I love where I live and I hope everyone else finds somewhere they love as well - because where you live has such a huge impact on every aspect of a person's life.


white collar | green soul said...

Our walkability is not as great as yours because we have the harbour on two sides... having said that, we still have two corner stores, a bar, a restaurant, gino the barber, a school and a community centre all within two blocks. so that's pretty good! no food though... and going to the corner store for last minute stuff sucks when you realize how much more you just paid! it is handy, though, and I have used it on a few occasions.

But, I find that even though the downtown is only a ten to fifteen minute walk, i'm rarely organized enough to allow for a 20-30min commute to run a simple errand. i need to get my sh*t together.