Category Archives: Democracy

Is Trump like Mussolini? No, but…

A friend and former student sent me a message objecting to my January 3rd Passing Scene post. (Readers using a computer only have to glance to the right to see what I’m talking about. If you’re using a mobile phone, you have to scroll down to get to the Passing Scene column.)

My friend has a point. Comparing Trump to Mussolini is inflammatory rather than persuasive. By the same token, the comparison is more than just idle talk. Continue reading

The fortress theory of urban design: How have the neighbourhoods we live in changed?

I’m registered as a follower of Policing, Politics and Public Policy, a blog by Menno Zacharias, a former Winnipeg police official. Over the years, I’ve read quite a few of his posts and found his commentary to be intelligent, sensible and progressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his former police colleagues consider him a dangerous radical. His views about policing make a lot of sense to me, but when he recently turned his attention to urban design , my former fellow traveller in blogging morphed into an advocate of the worst in city planning.

He advocates an approach to the achievement of safe neighbourhoods that he calls Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Over the decades, this monicker has acquired so many conflicting meanings that it really means nothing unless the meaning is spelled out. I call Menno’s version the fortress theory of urban design, but don’t ask me, because he explains his theory very clearly. He says we can make urban neighbourhoods safe by:

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Jane Jacobs: How not to wreck cities

My favourite writer about cities, and a favourite of generations of my students, is Jane Jacobs, a sharp-tongued critic whose polemics were grounded in a strongly positive view of cities. She wrote her best-known book, The death and life of great American cities, when she was a New Yorker, but within a few years she had moved to Toronto, where she spent the rest of her life.

She loved cities and thought that the preservation of their livability and attractiveness was a key to the well-being of society as a whole. It’s central to Jacobs’s concept of cities that they are natural, that they grow organically out of the ways people choose to interact with each other.

As a result, in Death and life, she was scornful of the visions of planners and architects who wanted to create buildings, neighbourhoods, and parks in response to their ideas of what would look good — a philosophy we now know as modernism. (I’m not being entirely fair to modernism, but today’s topic is Jane Jacobs.) Continue reading

Discussion: Are car-free cities possible?

On April 20th, 2014, in the Passing Scene column to your right (or below if you’re reading this on your device), I raised the above question. Peter Woolstencroft was good enough to comment in Facebook, and gave me permission to post his comment below, together with my response. There’s also an exchange with my friend and former student, Dave Danyluk. Here’s the picture I refer to in my response to Peter:

Leipzig6A delivery vehicle in downtown Leipzig, manoeuvring carefully to avoid pedestrians.

Peter Woolstencroft: A car free city is a nice idea, but what happens to the costs of road building, maintenance, and repairs? Who is paying for these expenses? I like the firetrucks and ambulances that go past my house on a paved and well-maintained road. Much appreciated are the trucks that bring goods and services to people in their houses and apartments. In other words, what proportion of road building costs and maintenance are accounted for by gasoline taxes, licenses, vehicle permits, and whatever else motorists generate by way of their economic activity (such as taxes on insurance)?

My response:

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Taxes and fees aren’t the only ways to tackle Winnipeg’s revenue problem: A taxpayers’ bill of rights

Last week Winnipeg City Council endorsed a proposal to ask the provincial government to allow the imposition of new fees on residential and commercial development. It was the latest turn in a decades-long struggle by the city to overcome an infrastructure deficit of at least $7 billion. The proposal, followed by a quick refusal from Broadway, unleashed a flurry of news and commentary, accompanied by more than 200 letters from readers. (See links at the end of this post.)

From the start, the fees were referred to as “taxes”, and for the most part, comments, by both writers and readers, focussed on taxation. Absent from the discussion was a recognition of the fact that the infrastructure crisis wasn’t caused by insufficient revenues, and will not be resolved by the imposition of additional fees or taxes. A major, but completely overlooked, cause of the crisis is the city’s failure to draw up a coherent growth plan and stick to it. Continue reading

My African life III: Putting old people in homes

I began to love Kenya when I moved to Nyandarua District, a largely rural area, in 1971, but my first few months in the country, when I had temporary quarters in Nairobi, the capital city, were disheartening. Everywhere I went, I encountered racial self-segregation so strict one might almost think the era of British colonial rule was not yet over. Continue reading