Cities, Culture and Granite
Tami Oliphant is a Ph.D. candidate in Library and Information Studies at the University of Western Ontario.
How can cities be livable and sustainable? Edmund Fowler explores that
question through this collection of essays. He argues that because
cities in Canada are under the jurisdiction of provincial governments,
local city councils have very little political power. As a result, city
councillors bounce from crisis to crisis, responding to insignificant or
inconsequential problems instead of envisioning future possibilities for
Canada’s cities. At the same time, Fowler suggests that cities are the
very places where citizens can be political, build strong communities,
create culture, and reconnect to the environment.
Fowler shows how cities, through decentralization and misguided
land-use policies, have significantly contributed to a host of problems,
including environmental degradation, nonexistent street life or public
life, alienation from the natural world, and the shift toward private
rather than public politics, which culminates in a declining quality of
life for all citizens. He suggests that cities can be made livable and
sustainable if they are worked on locally, and that better cities are
achieved through community garden projects, use of public parks,
small-scale development, and concentrated land use. Québec City, for
example, attracts tourists because of characteristics like
Some of Fowler’s central ideas represent nothing new. After all, most
people who live in cities are aware of the problems with them. While
each essay is carefully crafted and enjoyable to read, a number of
Fowler’s main ideas are unnecessarily repeated throughout the book.
Beyond these minor criticisms, the book has a number of positive
attributes, like useful bibliographies at the end of each chapter and
concrete, practical suggestions on how to make cities better. Fowler has
written an impassioned book, and his enthusiasm about the promise of
cities is contagious.