Remaking suburbia so people want to live there

When approaching the outskirts of Canada’s cities, particularly at intersections, one sees gas stations, car dealers with plastic fluttering flags, and parking lots.

Some far-sighted developers, however, are beginning to recognize the potentials for improvement. Instead of the dreary old industrial lands, low-rise malls and empty warehouses, the public wants more attractive replacements.

Developers have appeared at town councils to make a pitch for their projects.

These developers suggest that to make suburbia more livable, there should be shopping streets with sidewalks (and no automobiles). Apartment towers could be built nearby as is the case with many European cities.

Then office complexes nearby would lessen the need for commuting and vehicle traffic.

It is about time more attention is placed at exchanging down-in-the-heel malls and parking lots with residential structures, parks and street-level shops.

When possible, zoning should incorporate more playgrounds so youngsters would not have to play on streets.

Then lively mini-communities could spring up where people could socialize and not be slaves to their cars or public transit.

As a result, given the under-used lands, there are many places where those kinds of changes could take place.

As one concentrated on those types of development, there obviously would be less need for roads. That would bring vitality to suburbia and introduce the new concepts of “live, work, shop” development.

There is nothing that startling about these changes. Unfortunately, many local residents are wary of such reforms as they fear more intense development and possibly reduced property values.

On the contrary, real estate values would go up.

Mixed-use projects will improve the value of neighbourhood lands; people’s reluctance on this score can be shown to be incorrect.

Aside from creating a much improved quality of living and working, governments would gain too, as property taxes would rise dramatically. All that would follow the steps that already are taking place in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

Community groups fail to understand or appreciate what such redesign could mean. Many are scared of the unknown.

When developers were able to appear at council meetings, much of the general apathy and hesitation was dissipated. Furthermore, as immigrants come into our urban areas, they would be attracted to the amenities that a reinvented suburbia could bring.

As the cost of gasoline soars, it is ever more logical that we turn our suburbs into something with wider appeal.

Bruce Whitestone