Who would have thought there might be a “Congress for New Urbanism”? But there is – and it’s not even new. They just held their 20th annual meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida. “CN20” included a panel on the economic benefits of “good urbanism” of all things. The very idea that there exists a concept of “good urbanism” excites me.
I was reading about this, and doing my usual related googling, when I came across a theory of “the third place”. As I explored this idea, it quickly became obvious that my favourite café qualifies for this category, big time.
Wikipedia says, “The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.”
It struck me that traditional suburbs are missing this ‘third place’, whereas urban neighbourhoods like Roncesvalles Village, contain many such spaces, which all residents can easily access on foot.
The people I see in my café – where I have been a ‘regular’ for 17 years – often talk about urban issues like homelessness, accessibility, community services, poverty and so on, because these things are in our lives, in our awareness. Many actually do work connected to such issues. Many have “inside stories” to share. And we know that government services, and housing for the ‘under-housed’, cost money. Our tax dollars, to be specific. And because we see the need, we are perhaps less concerned with ‘waste’ or so-called ‘gravy trains’.
The conversations are on-going, our awareness evolves, and how it evolves influences who we vote for municipally, provincially and federally. In this place, it’s easy to sustain a caring attitude.
For many suburbanites, on the other hand, it is easier to forget about such issues. Time that might have been spent in community talk, in a ‘third place’, is more likely to be spent driving. Because the human needs that we urbanites see are not “in their face”, but invisible, many suburbanites are less compassionate in their voting. Yet thanks to amalgamation, our suburban friends outnumber us on voting day.
The net result is that we urbanites have to live with what the suburbanites decide. Before amalgamation, we had a much greater influence on urban-core policies. No longer. Our power has been hi-jacked by those who don’t live our lives. Do you suppose conservative Premier Harris realized that when he amalgamated us?
Maybe in the end it will be ‘for our own good’: we’ll have to become much better at articulating persuasively the issues and solutions of the day.
(To read up on the new urbanism and sustainability a good start might be http://sustainablecitiescollective.com)