Reflections on Urban Planning

This course has been really eye-opening in terms of aspects of history I’ve never thought of before. While the events that correlate to a lot of these changes in urban planning are talked about frequently (the London Fire of 1066, the French Empire, the Soviet Union, the GDR, etc.), the study of urban history offers a unique perspective that manages to mash together the public, the government, and the corporate sectors in order to show the experiences of a city from the perspective of everyone.

If this course has taught nothing else, it is that humanity will always strive to better itself by bettering its surroundings. We seem to have an innate need to reflect our changing ideas through our physical presence on the earth, even if the next generation promptly removes all traces of it. I’m sure the people who debate human nature would have a lot to say about rebellion and memorialisation as human characteristics, but it doesn’t change the fact that people strive to do greater in everything they do, and that includes architecture.

I, for one, am grateful for this. The need to do something better than everyone else has introduced great technological marvels: housed thousands of people; changed how we think about motion; facilitated the introduction of the car as the transportation of choice; and created communities in neighbourhoods that would otherwise be condemned. There was a lot of good that came out of striving for the sociologically perfect city. We are quick to condemn the failed planning ventures, probably because hindsight is 20/20 and anything that appeals to the goodness in humanity is seen as naïve in today’s society. But it didn’t stop a lot of people from trying, and it doesn’t stop people from trying today. “The temptation to quit is greatest just before you succeed”, and I think we’re at a point in society where it is tempting to quit. But I think we’re also at a point that, with a little more effort, real change could happen in city planning.

Thanks to Brigitte for doing a wonderful job of teaching this class!

incorporating cars into the cities

The reading “Mediator of Modernity” by Per Lundin had me pondering wether the ideas of the American way of life gained hegemony in Europe after the War or were kept at arms length by the Europeans countries not eager to appropriate those notions.
Certain elements of the American culture were picked by the Europeans and assimilated to the re-building of the post-war societies. Ultimately, post-was Europe is best described as a process of selective appropriation (pick and choose) rather than the wholesale acceptance or rejection of American ideals and models.

The post-War Europe was eager for modernity in its post-war reconstruction efforts. The period also fostered an economical growth and a mass motoring in Europe. Unlike most American cities, which had grown with the automobile (and still facing challenges), the Europeans cities are not designed to accommodate this change.

The planners were thus force to innovate in order to address the new challenges imposed on the cities by the automobiles. The automobile as forced to re-think and re-shape the urban image unlike anything else before or after. It also became a pressing problems on European cities that have grown for century without it and very suddenly need to make space for the increasing number.

Should motor trafic be restricted or embrace?

Time as shown us that the European cities were able to adapt to the automobile by creating their own model. They emphasis on alternate ways of transportation and the design of their city is more convenient for the pedestrians and short commute. The relative proximity from everything make owning a car futile for many city resident.
Us Canadian, faced with different spacial challenges, would have a lot to learn from the planning and incorporation of the automobile in European cities. I feel like most European cities are planned for people and adapted for cars were as here we assit to the opposite tendency.

Monument City: revisiting three important monuments of the Canadian Capital

Monument City: Memory, National belonging and the social lives of monuments
A reflection on the lecture of the guest speaker Dr. Tonya Davidson, of Briarson University
November 6th 2015.

Dr. Davidson delivered an interesting lecture on the social lives of statues and demonstrated how monuments have the power to both confirm and disrupt dominant narratives of nationhood and belonging. She took for example three important monuments located in the national capital city of Canada namely the National War Memorial, the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights and the Enclave the Women Movement. Dr. Davidson then reflected on how monuments contribute to the production of urban space by the biases of nostalgia, rationalism and protest.

The National War Museum
Dr. Davidson argues that the components of the monuments should change over time since war memories are evolving. The monuments is a representation of what War memories should be for us Canadians. Although, that monument is offering a limited way to remember the war loses. The main focus of the monument is on the Battle of Vimy Ridge and leaves very little space to celebrate the Canadian war effort that is ongoing.Dr.Davidson deplores that the monument focus too much on one element instead of celebrating Canadian war effort as a whole. She also deplores that this monument is unable to evolve with time. The monument is arguably a re-position of the Canadian war memories under the British imperialism and forget the more contemporary Heroes.

Canadian Tribute to Human Right
The monument is a Polish-Canadian initiative and a celebration of all Human rights. When visiting the monument we are invited to walk through it and admire the “House of Canada” on the inside. The walls are ornamented with writings in the First Nation languages of the Ottawa region. The outside is walls have writing in French, English and the first line of the declaration of Human Rights is visible at the top of the monument. The monument is one of the first one in Ottawa to include the First Nation heritage. The monument is a popular “platform” for many groups of protesters. This last point nuance the use of the monument, renders it ambivalent.

Enclave the Women’s Movement
The monument was erected shortly after the “École Polytechnique massacre”. To recall the details of that tragic day, a man open fired on a group of female trade students and killed 14 of them. The tragedy happened in Montreal on December 6, 1989 and was motivated by sexism and a personal fight against feminism. The monument acts as a commemoration of the events but also as a general stand against violence directed at women. The monument is a response to a lack of women and feminism language amongst the other monuments. The monuments also display the name of all the women that were murdered in Ottawa between 1992 and 2000 when the movement had to come to an end due to a lack of space. The spacial limitation cast a shadow on what the monument tried to achieve. At the same time the lack of space is a quiet but powerful reflection on violence against women and the important space it (unfortunately) occupies in our society. The monument is at the heart of many debates and reinforces the idea that systematic violence is hard to assimilate to the culture. It is a powerful symbol for the sex equality debates.

Humanism, not Utopianism

I found this week’s readings to be the best ones we’ve done yet. Jane Jacobs gives voice to the criticisms that have meandered their way through the class discussion, and she does so clearly and distinctly. We’ve talked about how designers can’t predict how humanity will act, and they can’t predict everything a person will need; especially during periods like the early twentieth century when technology was advancing at a massive rate. In a nutshell, utopian cities don’t work because humans aren’t utopian themselves.

While environment definitely has an impact on humanity and how we live our lives, this course has been an excellent education in how environment doesn’t forcibly shape the people that live within them. Despite best attempts at making humans fit into rational, logical boxes that outline how they spend their days, urban designers end up puzzling over why humanity refuses to do anything that they’re told to. I thought the contrary nature of humanity we talked about seemed accurate. It seems that when you try and tell people that this is the best way to live their lives, they end up doing everything possible to prove you wrong.

This isn’t true just for people trying to create perfect cities for perfect humans. It also applies to areas that urban planners and technocrats have written off. Jacobs cites the example of the North End in Boston, which rehabilitated itself through internal funding and trading of goods and services. She explains that they had to do it themselves: even the bankers saw no good in investing in an area that had essentially been written off. Despite operating against the will of the city, the people of the North End turned their neighbourhood into a place you’d want to live in today. This need to correct their own living space flew in the face of everything that the “experts” had thought about the people of the North End; interestingly, it still didn’t change their opinions of it. I think this is due to the boxes that we place humanity in. Once you’ve been pigeonholed, you can’t escape that until someone without the previous biases comes in.

I think what I got out of this reading was that humanity cannot be placed into neat boxes and told what’s good for them. The only way to create happy, healthy neighbourhoods is by including the people who will live there in the creation process. While the deferral of building processes and materials to technocrats makes perfect sense, calculations can’t predict how humans will act or determine the best way for them to live. If Jane Jacobs did nothing else, she impressed upon the minds of future architects that they are beholden to the people. Hopefully, this ensures that the style of architecture that continues to develop will place the people in front, flaws and all.

A Case for Preserving Class Hierarchies

During this past week in class we viewed Fritz Lang’s science fiction film, Metropolis. In the film, the female protagonist, Maria, predicted that a mediator would bring the ruling and working classes together into one united community. The question that arises then, is what if these two classes did come together? Could an equal system truly be achieved and would the city function better for it?

Personally, I do not think equality can be achieved among these classes because someone, or a group of people, will always feel as though their ideals, problems, and needs are greater than those of others. Even countries that claim to be democratic are never truly representative, there are always more important issues that benefit certain groups of people over the rest. Personal issues set aside, public space problems are never equally favourable for everyone. Whether it be the number of playgrounds or the construction of new highways, people will never truly be happy with the results. If the two sides did come together, would the perpetually oppressed working class revolt and flip the order to become the new ruling class instead? Maybe equality between classes isn’t actually achievable. Perhaps society needs some form of order to be able to function properly and the city runs efficiently within this order. Of course, I’m not saying that there are people who should be considered better than others or that there should be a class system at all, just that it’s possible that humans need to know where they stand in the social hierarchy to function. Knowing their role in society and what they are expected to contribute can serve as a form of guidance to people and may help them live their lives as best as they can.

Striving for Modernity

In class on October 8 we created mind maps of words that came up during our examinations of the various architectural ideas. I found it interesting that modernity was a theme that seemed to pop up in every example we’ve looked at. As the 19th century rolled over to the 20th, it seemed like everyone was racing to come up with a city that encompassed this new era and solved all the urban design issues of the time. And yet, no one has truly succeeded yet; each attempt succeeding and failing in aspects unique to that city.

The Ringstrasse saw modernity as being open for transportation, accounting for the influx of people in the 1860s. Modernity meant establishing the bourgeoisie as the ruling class through opulent architecture that harkened back to ancient, greater eras. But it ended up as a city that was a miasma of architecture with one foot in the present and one in the past. The quick moving flow of the city trapped people, and stopped them from building a sense of community. The efforts of the architects to create images of the past ended up creating empty disconnected spaces. Too modern, and not modern enough.

Haussmann wanted modernity to mean continuity; huge ongoing roads, repeating facades, a cleaner, more efficient city. Unlike the Ringstrasse, Haussmann had to actually work with the city to achieve his goals. Instead, Haussmann seemed to interpret modernity as something that occurred in spite of, not with, the poor people of Paris. It’s difficult to exemplify Paris as the style of the future when it came at the expense of so many people’s homes and by extension lives. There is a Social Darwinism to Haussmann’s ideas that mark it as very much a product of an empire and not the Republic France had strove to become.

The Garden City failed not in idea but in execution, a giant leap for modernity throttled by the small steps of capitalism. It’s hard to convince people to think only of the greater good when they are confronted with the timeless (fair) problem of their bottom line. It’s a shame that the idea of the Garden City layout would struggle with the lack of open land now; can you imagine it on Kickstarter? I think the real issue with Howard’s idea was that it was genuinely too modern for the time it was created in. The combination of socialism and capitalism is what a lot of developed countries are striving for now.

In just these few examples, it’s easy to see how modernity inspired them, and why it would. Art is constantly striving forward, trying to create the best and biggest thing before someone else does. You can’t go back in art; the Ringstrasse proves that. I think the lack of guiding style for contemporary architecture as well as the environmental push will create what can only be termed modern architecture over the next few years. It’s unfortunate the trend seems to be aesthetics optional.


European Infrastructure: Beauty vs. Efficiency

In the class discussion on September 24th, 2015, we examined and compared the attitude and emotions that arose with the emergence of high modernism; among these were the ideals of social and economic efficiency for modern cities and communities in the twenty-first century. At the same time we discussed the differences between the newly emerging utopian city designs during the mid/late 1800’s. I could not help but notice how this reminded me of the buildings and streets I’d seen and marveled during my trip this summer to Europe. What really set the city’s in Europe apart from each other was that a number of the these were designed to represent the national culture and style of the nation and its past monarchies; this was evident in the structure of Charles Castle and Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) in the heart of Prague. While the beauty and emotional mood of the city was breath taking, it was evident that the medieval designs did not take into account the long term efficiency for expanding markets or trade with the international community – save for tourism and historical research. In addition, a number of smaller villages and communities throughout central Europe, such as the small a town of Spreewald (between Dresden and Berlin) still rely  on small motor boats and light barges for transportation and resupply throughout the vast system of canals and island homes/businesses. However, upon further recollection of my travels through central Europe, the cities and businesses that emerged during the Reformation period were based on the concept of combining modernist design and efficiency with national artistic style and form. From the large cobble stone streets to the large open city central courts and parks, these cities were clearly designed to provide easy access to local/traveling market merchants and business dealers. I myself found these roadways and courts to be quite open and efficient for tourists and local shops in spite of the medieval designs and styles of the buildings and bridges/roadways.

The Haussmann renovation of Paris

La Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen of 1789 is a demine text that emerged from the French Revolution. It details an ensemble of the fundamental rights of citizens and the conditions of how these rights ae applied. Ironically, article 17 of the declaration legitimized the movement of expropriation of the inner city by the Haussmann renovation of Paris.
« La propriété est un droit inviolable et sacré. Nul ne peut en être privé sans une juste et préalable indemnité .» Article 17 [1]


For many at the time it may appear logical to argue that removal of population was a normal casualty of modernization and that modernization is a natural process of society. Prior to the Haussmann renovations, many recognize that Paris needed major changes. The citizens of Paris lived in crowded and unhealthy medieval Faubourgs. The roads were narrow and filthy. There was a lack of sewage infrastructures, garbage elimination and potable water proved to be the perfect breeding grounds to epidemics. Haussmann’s plan was to address all these issue as well as to give the city of Paris a modern and esthetic re-vamp.

Many viewed the Hausmmann renovation style contributes to the beauty of the Capital. The architecture of the buildings, their uniformity and the straight line, grid like aspect of the city woulds charm Parisians and visitors and make a modern and attractive city.


This opinion was not necessarily shared by Haussmann contemporaries who, denunciated the monotony of the architecture. The corruption in the financing of the work also cast a shadow on the Haussmann plans. The Second Empire and Haussmann critique, Jules Ferry, produce a series of successful pamphlets accusing the prefet Haussmann to have overspent the budget for the renovations and left the city of Paris indebted. The author cleverly named his pamphlet “ Les comptes fantastique D’Haussmann” a twisted salute to Offenbach’s opera “Contes Fantastiques d’Hoffmann” the story of a man with a fundamental love for Art who gives appearance of reality to mythical creatures.



Les fabuleux contes d’Haussmann opera fantastic of Jacques Offenbach that inspired Les comptes fantastiques d’Haussmann a satire by Jules Ferry (1868).

Furthermore, the renovation of Paris skyrocketing prices of the housing in the downtown area, which prior to Hausmann was home to the working class. Those people, unable to pay their rent were forced to exile on the periphery of the city untouched by the renovation. The removals therefore created a social segregation of the classes.


Haussmann is also accused of hiding under social and hygienic preoccupations a repression project more reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.
The Hausmann renovation has had a lasting impact on the Parisian society. It divided public opinion and the consequences and motivations can still be discussed as having a profound influence on contemporary contexts.



European cities vs Canadian cities

On the first day of our Urban History class the students were asked a simple question about some differences between European cities and the city of Kelowna. Even though we’ve had several newer class discussions since this topic was brought up I could not help but feel as though there was still more to say on this subject.

 Many good points were mentioned during this discussion such as different means of inter-city transportation,


(Venice, Italy 2012)



(Villach, Austria 2012)



(Rome, Italy 2012)

Food… (especially the manner of preparing said food),


(Paros, Greece 2012)

and of course the general ambiance.


(Paris, France 2012)

Probably one of the most prominent differences I noticed when visiting European cities was that even though like all towns and cities they too can get congested by road traffic, there is still almost always a large portion of the city specifically for pedestrians. Even though most of these cities are generally much more heavily populated than your average Canadian city, anytime I was in an area that was reserved solely for people and not vehicles the vibe of the whole city felt more relaxed. In contrast to the normal hustle bustle feel you get when visiting a large city. Of course this still cannot be attributed to all cities in Europe but many of the ones I have been through during my travels have not disappointed in this respect.   

 A more specific example of pedestrian streets was in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The streets they set aside for pedestrian use were massive and could undoubtedly be enough space to allow people as well as road traffic and yet they were not used in that way.


(Ljubljana, Slovenia 2012)

Even though the streets do not appear busy and overcrowded they certainly could if the pedestrians were pushed to sidewalks. Then all the middle space could be used for vehicles like in so many Canadian cities. However by doing that you are discouraging exercise as well as taking away from the whole ambience of the city.

There were many things about European cities I fell in love with during my travels but still to this day the thing that stands out the most is the fact that you can be in a large overpopulated city such as London, Paris or Ljubljana and without even having to leave you can also get a relaxed small town vibe simply by heading away from the motor ways. I feel like all cities should incorporate this feature.  


Charity Doesn’t Equal the Right to be Ignorant

In the “The Attitude of the Bourgeoisie towards the Proletariat” chapter of Friedrich Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England, there is a letter from a “Lady” in which she goes on a tirade about being forced to see the poverty stricken of England and how she is repulsed by it. The Lady goes on to mention that she, and the bourgeoisie, donates to the charities devoted to poverty causes; therefore she, and others of her rank, should not be forced to view evidence of its existence.

The letter seemed archaic in thought when I first read it, but the truth is that these kinds of opinions still run rampant through our society today. Those of us living in the West have become experts at funneling money into causes while turning a blind eye to the actual problem at the same time. The righteous feeling that comes with donating money to a good cause, such as poverty, should be packaged with the ability to neglect the actual issue. Excuses are often made in order to put the blame on the people in need and relieve ourselves of any sort of responsibility. Any resonating pressure can be absolved by simply throwing money at the issue. Of course, I am not saying that there should not be funds given to institutions and charities, I am simply stating that the ignorance that so many take refuge in needs to be lifted. By disregarding their problems, we are further deepening the segregation between the middle class and lower classes. Acting as though the poor of our cities are in our way or need to be avoided is a gross miscalculation of our own self-worth and a symptom of the overwhelming sense of entitlement that permeates Western society. The middle and upper classes are doing a disservice to those in need by looking the other way, not the other way around.