Keesmaat will win

Heard on 21 April 2016 at the University of Amsterdam:

Burton Hamfelt, Canadian architect, gave a great guest lecture on Toronto in the Cities in Transition Programme at the University of Amsterdam. It was a tale of two Toronto’s: one suburban (the Ford Nation), one urban, one poor, one rich, one neglected, one mediatised. Over the last ten years Toronto has changed in a tremendous way, so did the way people talk about the city. In the sixties and seventies, Toronto was viewed as a boring, social city, nowadays it is a keen investment in real estate, an expensive city ranked high in many global city bench marks. Sure, Toronto is immigrant friendly and booming, every years it grows with another forty thousand inhabitants, the metropolitan region counts 6 million people, the city itself 2,8 million. There are no refugee camps like in the Netherland. Refugees are staying with Toronto families. Downtown is densifying in an unknown pace, high rise is the new normal, housing is getting unaffordable, it seems everybody wants to live on those few square meters, which is strange, because Canada is such a big country. Downtown is a walkable space, which has been turned into a festival playground. Polynuclearity seems to be totally absent. The only thing that counts is the land value in the inner section. Will it continue to rise? Can it hold on?

Hamfelt showed films of Jane Jacobs walking on the sidewalks of Toronto in the sixties, Glenn Gould driving through Toronto suburbs, chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat talking to Richard Florida on sound infrastructure planning. Why is Toronto becoming a cosmopolitan global city, while other Canadian cities like Calgary are becoming provincial and even shrinking? And why are the suburbs neglected? It seems everybody wants to live in the city centre nowadays. Hamfelt tried to explain: it’s either you want a car or not. A car is expensive. If you don’t want one, you prefer to live in the city centre, if you do, your future is in the suburbs. Out of this  alchemy came mayor Rob Ford, who died last year at the age of forty-six. Hamfelt showed maps of Toronto, illustrating the political landscape after the last elections: it’s the landscape of obesity, is the landscape of the suburbs, is the political landscape of Ford and his populist party. Nicholas Köhler in The New Yorker of 24 March 2016: “Ford was articulating the grievances of a forgotten, largely suburban constituency, but his strategy also resonated with others, and on election day voters in some of the city’s most progressive neighborhoods cast ballots for him.” Hamfelt opposed the thick, vulgar Ford against the slim, intellectual Keesmaat. He thinks Keesmaat will win.





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