Jane Jacobs said this in her 2004 book, “Dark Age Ahead.” She criticized urban renewal planning trends and warned of the folly of stapling so much credit and borrowing onto real estate, she warned of the crash that came in 2009. She warned us to be careful , that money doesn’t grow on houses. Neither does community. North America hasn’t yet escaped from it’s unhealthy love affair with the idea of the suburbs. Hand-in-hand with the development of a suburban neighbourhood comes the flattening of trees, loss of habitat for indigenous species, big box stores, chain restaurants.
If I rewind my own mental pictures of suburbs back to the 1970’s in small town Ontario, I see all of those things and more. I was 7 years old and with my family had moved into a new neighbourhood outside Trenton, Ontario. The first year we lived there on White’s Road it seemed we lived on the outer edge of the frontier. There was an expansive forest across the street in front of our house that bordered onto a cornfield while behind the house was an open field with a large pond teeming with life. This world was my playground and I loved it. The pond was my special place. I reveled in watching the creatures grow and transform in the water. One Saturday, I arrived at the shore of the pond with my friends to see that it had been destroyed, filled in, covered over. All life buried and suffocated. Under our feet were crumpled frogs, upside down turtles and squished crickets. Two tractors dozed nearby – ready to mow down a small thicket of trees first thing Monday morning to make way for the expansion of the suburb I lived in.
Jane Jacobs often asked this question in her work…”Are we building cities for people or for cars?” If I think back to the type of planning that was going into the neighbourhood I lived in then, I’d say the answer was emphatically in favour of cars. Forty years later, if I step outside my Vancouver eastside community I see the same car-centered values carving housing subdivisions up the slopes of the coastal mountains. Everybody wants to believe that their house will grow money for them.