Building Better Cities Series – Part 1: The Micropolitan Community

Genuine WealthtroyMediaRobert McGarvey

EDMONTON, AB, Sept 8, 2014/ Troy Media/

Building Better Cities Series – Part 1: The Micropolitan Community

I had a conversation recently with a newcomer to Canada. This woman said something very interesting “You know, Berlin (Germany) is a big city, but living there, it feels small, smaller in some ways than Edmonton”. There is a lot of truth in what she said, and – more importantly – an insight that should inform our attitudes and planning around urban development in North America.

As a North American ‘baby boomer’ I was born into a world that had fallen hard for the automobile. The explosion of car ownership in the post war led North American’s (and the world) into a passionate love affaire with our new mobile demi-god and a passion for ‘freedom of the road’.

The post war generation built a brand new world around the car. Entire neighborhoods in established cities were demolished to build roads and freeways; suburbs were designed to be ‘bed-room’ communities where the car was not only the ultimate status symbol but also a vital necessity to life. Not only was transport our top planning priority for urban development but roads, parking lots and home garages rose to dominate our urban aesthetic.

But the world has changed. Young people today are different, much different. They’re discovering (re-discovering) the joys of urbane living, within walk-able communities on a human scale. And in the process they’re radically altering the urban landscape as they champion the rise of the micropoliltan community.

When you think of it, every great Metropolis is really a construct of smaller, village-like, communities. London, for instance, is a great city, but it’s really composed of dozens of micropolitan communities like Nottinghill Gate or Hampstead. These micropols are local communities with their own central core, unique history and character. It’s what makes living in London, or Berlin for that matter, so different from living in the typical North American city.

So what are the characteristics of the best micropolitan communities? Well the best of them seem to have several things in common: they rank high in terms of livability and have something unique about them that sets them apart from other communities, even adjacent communities in large cities.

Although there is no particular formula for livability, certain characteristics are consistent. For one, the best micropols operate on a human scale, they’re real communities that encourage interaction between residents.

Best places tend to have an identifiable ‘center’, a place where people can wander and interact. Many successful micropols have preserved their downtown districts, maintained their historic buildings and created a village-like walkability with independent shops, boutiques, restaurants and galleries

Access to recreational facilities (indoor and outdoor) is important to livability. This includes bicycle friendly transport, separate running and walking trails.

Many successful micropols have their own (regionally significant) festivals and events and cultivate a thriving indigenous arts community. Some have farmers markets where people can find fresh locally grown food. Many have initiated culinary movements drawn from local foods and agricultural traditions and have attracted talented chefs to develop unique local restaurants

Micropolitan communities have a true sense of identity and unique atmosphere. The best know their history and tell their story to the World. In the Edmonton Region, for example, St Albert, with its mission history, and the Edmonton community of Bonnie Doon have unique French Canadian identities. They’re starting to tell their stories, and are developing into micropolian communities that are among the best places to live in Alberta.

Our cities today are changing as we reevaluate the nature of urbanity and look for ways to make our cities more livable. Edmonton’s downtown, for example, is experiencing an historic makeover, and it will – no doubt –be more walk-able, more intimate and have much more in the way of local color and flavor.

If there are virtues around the automobile, they’re to be found in freedom of movement and urban efficiency. In order to create better cities in the future we’ll be combining and merging these often-competing values altering the urban landscape. Today urban planners are identifying a number of proto-micopols in large cities (Highlands in Edmonton, Kensington in Calgary). These communities are already telling their story, engaging their communities, creating walk-able cores on a human scale – creating a solid micropolitan community within the larger urban landscape.

More significantly, a new generation with different values is beginning to reformulate our planning and development strategies to not only remake our existing infrastructure but also to start to construct new communities as micropols, vibrant living communities with an identity of their own, not just identical boring suburbs.