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Social Sustainability of Cities: Diversity and the Management of Change

Aaron Gillett

if the earth was a watch face, the second hand overcasting the cities of the world, diminishing momentarily the port cranes of Rotterdam, Baltimore's slums, and the duplexes of Montreal, the instant of darkness would reveal those cities dissolving, or busily integrating their groups of citizens against the claws that cut down social sustainability.

Social Sustainability of Cities book cover Have you ever looked out your car window and wondered why mobs of poor people live in the same place? Wonder why transit systems take the routes they do? Aimed at anyone who has thought about urban environments, The Social Sustainability of Cities answers every question. Richard Stren (Professor of Political Science, and a city planner) and Mario Polèse (Research Professor and teacher of urban planning and management) have assembled ten essays from around the world. Each essay looks at one city's rating for social sustainability: a) the policies and institutions that have the overall effect of integrating diverse groups and cultural practices in a just and equitable fashion; and b) development and/or growth that is compatible with the harmonious evolution of civil society, fostering and environment conducive to the compatible cohabitation of culturally and socially diverse groups while at the same time encouraging social integration, with improvements in the equality of life for all segments of the population (Stren and Polèse).

Stren and Polèse write a clear introductory essay to get the cat swinging and set out all of the terms; everyone else continues the fun. Among the cities chosen and not mentioned above are: Toronto, Sao Paulo, Miami, Geneva, San Salvador, Nairobi, and Cape Town. For those wondering, Toronto is giving itself heart worms and Montreal is leading the pack. Stren and Polèse lay out six policy areas that affect the sustainability of cities including: how cities provide for individuals to meet as equals without regard for race or class; land tenure and zoning, and housing markets; transportation; and employment. After this thorough introduction, the reader is sniffing out on the hunt with a clear scent of a kill in the downtown core.

Social Sustainability is not a cowboy novel; you need to think and remember a few things. Some parts are not so exciting; Toronto's history of committees and regulatory bodies is confusing, and strings of acronyms traffic jamming in other essays wears down your concentration. The historical, and often colonial, evolution of cities is engaging, as are the continuation of colonial-style rule by the native top dogs of Africa and South America. These essays are a charm to read; they are like walking a familiar, favourite beach. Other cities like Geneva are so strange with cross-border commuting and strict land zoning that they do not fit the North American perspective. Those cities are refreshing.

This book gives as complete a picture of the issue as possible. Contributors could be Professors of Geography and Law, or environmental planners, founders and directors of networks and research institutes, or NGO employees. The Chamber of Commerce and Ford are not contributors.

What were the intentions? To make people more aware of how cities work for people. Was this book successful? All the way, a clear drive down the freeway, wheels grinding the throat of the issues.

published by university of toronto press
ISBN 0-802083-20-X


Aaron Gillett is a Victoria based writer.

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