Published in the Stratford Gazette, 3 November 2011.
The plans for the renewal of the Market Square give us a wonderful opportunity to think and talk about the future of Stratford as a whole. Yes, there’s a municipal plan in place, but there are processes happening which may eventually make it necessary to revise that plan. We could learn from what has been written about the ecocity, and what has actually been achieved in many cities around the world.
Different writers and planners have different visions of what the ecocity might look like (see link below for pictures) and how it would work. Rather than creating a blurred image – “some writers say this, and others say that” – I’ll focus on one specific and very detailed model, the one presented by Richard Register in his book Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature. Register’s ecocities are walkable places, multi-use and dense and small (he discusses what a walkable radius could be), connected with each other by bicycle paths and efficient, economical public transit. What’s between these cities is not urban sprawl but green space, including the farms needed to feed the cities when there’s no longer enough (or any) petroleum to bring our food from far away. The density in the city will be created by taller buildings, but instead of glass towers these will be pueblo-like structures with open space, stores, and “social” space at various levels, and walkways connecting them, so that you – as the resident of one of these buildings – will be able to shop one or two floors from where you’re living and then perhaps walk across to the neighbouring building to work, or to have coffee at an outdoor restaurant in a green space flourishing several floors above the street. Housing, work, school, shopping, and recreation – and the countryside – will be close together.
Register’s book grew out of decades of thinking about and working in the area of urban planning. One of its most important features is an outline – even a rough timeline – of the process whereby urban sprawl can be gradually converted into ecocities of the sort which he has in mind: how we get from here to there.
One of the big issues is the fact that, sooner rather than later, everyone in the industrialized world will have to learn to depend less – much less – on the automobile. Fossil fuels are running out, and ethanol is no solution because we’ll need farm land to feed people rather than cars. So any forward-looking city planners – and the public which hopes to influence them – will have to think about how to keep people moving around with fewer or no automobiles. As regards Stratford, taking cars out of the Market Square is one step, but the ultimate goal is not to find somewhere else to put them but rather to transform this city into the sort of place where people will be able to do without them. It is of course not a matter of just this urban area but involves close connections with the whole region and beyond – in other words, with the whole planet.
There are cities where significant progress has been made towards more sustainable urban design. Copenhagen has a very large pedestrian precinct; Curitiba in Brazil has achieved population density and efficient public transit, as well as improved recycling to reduce landfill; Portland, Oregon, is very active in increasing streetcar and bicycle use and has replaced one of its expressways with a waterfront park; San Francisco is removing expressways.
Stratford is starting with several advantages, one being that we already have a walkable city centre. I hear visitors saying that they like to stay in places that are close to downtown and the theatres, so that they can leave their cars at the B&B and walk everywhere. Centrally-located B&Bs encourage this by writing – in their blurb in the Visitors’ Guide – that they are within walking distance of the theatres and shops.
Richard Register and others provide images and ideas which we can use as we envision – as we constantly have to do – what our town will look like in the future. Of this vision, the Market Square is the natural focus.
Richard Register’s book – which is in the Stratford Library – is published by New Society Publishers, located on Gabriola Island, BC. They publish books on many topics relating to the kind of world that, day by day, we are moving closer towards, and the picture is not all grim. Have a look at what they do: http://www.newsociety.com/About-Us
Information about Richard Register and Ecocities: http://www.ecocitybuilders.org/richard-register/blog/
Dozens of images of ecocities, practical and fanciful, can be found at
Brandis has lived in Stratford since 1996 and is a full-time writer. She is the author of a number of books – visit Marianne's website