Urban Issues

The Progressive Movement arose in the late 1800s in the US. It was a reaction against the corruption and incompetence that came out of earlier democratic reforms. Science, technology and professionals were revolutionizing life; people were hopeful about applying these to civic government.

History of British Columbia Cities: Second Wave Urban Reform

Harland Bartholomew

Vancouver Urban History 1928 to 1958 For 40 years, Vancouver developed without government planning. The Canadian Pacific Railway laid out Vancouver’s streets before the city government existed. The London-based BC Electric Company chose the arterial streets to maximize riders on its streetcars. London was the model, where order came from human interaction not human design. Robert Horne-Payne, founder of BC Electric Company sold it in 1928 then died shortly after. That same year, Harland Bartholomew presented his radical Plan for Vancouver, claiming cities are better designed and organized by planners than by natural processes. He had been the first full-time planner in the US, advising on freeways and slums. Mayor LD Taylor, originally of Chicago, endorsed him though many had wanted someone from the Commonwealth who understood British cities and institutions. The British Discretionary System is principle based; it starts with what cannot be built, everything else is possible. The United States Regulatory System is rule based; it starts with what can be built, everything else is not possible. The US system was top down originating in Bismarck’s Germany. The British system was bottom up, incremental, organic. British philosophers like Alan Turing, an inventor of the computer, were Emergentists. He described how complex structures assemble themselves without a designer. Jane Jacobs was influenced by the British Emergentists and wrote “no logic can be superimposed on cities. People make it”. Ants, termites and computer algorithms all produce unexpected emergent order in large numbers. When tiny polyps achieve critical mass they create coral reefs. When humans achieve critical mass they adopt a distinctive density gradient, to benefit the greatest number of people. Designed cities do not have this gradient, for example a Soviet city like Moscow or the completely planned Brasilia. Bartholomew installed planning regimes in hundreds… Read More »Harland Bartholomew

Harland Bartholomew

Good urban planning and densification is often stymied by political processes that allow small groups with vested interests to veto good proposals. Fixing this design flaw will improve municipal governance and allow better urban planning.

How to Fix Cities and Make Them More Affordable

In the 1970s, British Columbia cities adopted policies and processes to resist densification. As Mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan started the EcoDensity Initiative to counter these.

Urban Density in BC