Why A Sense Of Community Is More Important Than Iconic Architecture

Mar 22 • MIX • 790 Views • 78 Comments on Why A Sense Of Community Is More Important Than Iconic Architecture

By Phil Roberts

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Without a sense of community, a city cannot be vibrant. Without diversity, it will just be bland.

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There’s no such thing as the perfect city whose architecture will transform and uplift the lives of people. Modern architects like Le Corbusier tried, such as with the speculative Ville Radieuse, but the idea was still copied and built by others. A vibrant, interesting city cannot be imposed top-down, but happens as a result of people from the bottom-up building their community.

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For example, in 2007, just 4 years into the construction of Toronto’s CityPlace, critics predicted that the 18-hectare downtown neighbourhood with 22 highrise condo towers, would become a slum in a decade or two. That criticism continued, even up until just a few years ago. Now, thanks to the presence of families, a library, and small businesses, CityPlace has become a thriving community. Soon there will be two new schools and a daycare.

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I don’t believe that the developer behind CityPlace, Concord Adex, intended to create a utopian city, but there are quite a lot of these mass developed highrise communities which have become lifestyle branded places to live. Think of Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver (the developer’s first major project) or Trump Place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Concord considers itself to be “Canada’s largest community builder.” Having visited both Pacific and CityPlace many times to visit friends or just to hang out, Concord’s master-planned cities seem to work really well as communities.

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What the success of projects like CityPlace prove is that you don’t have to have iconic nor great architecture to have a successful community. It just has to work and enable that community to grow, and to flourish. Too often we blame the architecture, when more salient factors, such as economics and politics, play larger roles in the success or failure of these master-planned communities.

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There are undeniable aspirational drivers behind master-planned communities, whether they are for young professionals or for middle-income residents. In the case of the Concord projects, they work. However, there are other examples where this has failed, been demolished, or worse, become a ghost town. The lessons are there for developers, architects and public officials to learn from, if they are paying attention.

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Read my full article about why utopian cities don’t work here.

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