The Urban Kaleidoscope: Canadian Perspectives


184 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-07-548561-3




Reviewed by Berkeley Fleming

Berkeley Fleming, Assistant Pfofessor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Mount Allison University, Sackville, N.B., was also Director of Canadian Parents for French, an advocacy group promoting French second-language learning opportunities.


Although a competent review of the standard theories of urban life, recent developments in Canadian cities, and the contribution of sociology to urban problem-solving, this book is somewhat disappointing for its style and organization.

After a brief introduction, Kennedy summarizes arguments on the origin and evolution of cities, introduces the significance of demographic changes for Canadian urban development, and discusses rural to urban and urban to suburban migration, as well as the recent “back to the country” and “white-painting” phenomena. These subjects are discussed intelligently and clearly. The rest of the book does not uniformly display these same virtues.

In a chapter on ecological models of urban development, Kennedy reviews the classic concentric-zone, sector, and multi-nuclei theories, summarizes some recent Canadian research on segregation within cities, and explains the efforts by contemporary “social area analysis” ecologists to relate urban development to industrialization. After a brief aside concerning ecological explanations of “urban pathology,” he concludes with a review of the major criticisms of the ecological approach. In the following chapter Kennedy focuses on three voluntaristic frameworks which attempt to answer questions having to do with social interaction, subcultures, networks, and the social choices that people make within cities, subjects not directly addressed within the more deterministic and structural ecological perspective. The writings of Gans, Fischer, and Michelson and his students at Toronto (including Kennedy himself) are reviewed. In a third theoretical chapter, Kennedy looks at how power and decision-making affect urban resource distribution, focusing on variations in the formal power structure and informal negotiation among interest groups, in the context of increasingly complex and expensive city government. The work of such recent theorists as Castells on the relationship between urban resource distribution and capitalist development is dismissed rather too quickly, leaving a serious gap in a book which purports to show how universal theories can (or cannot) be applied to the Canadian context. Still, there is some quite interesting material on urban renewal, on the difference between citizen participation and control of decision-making, on the question of a just and equitable distribution of services in urban areas, on the relative advantages and disadvantages of population homogeneity and heterogeneity as planning goals, and on reasons for the lack of an integrated housing policy in Canada.

Kennedy then turns to an explicit consideration of the role of sociology in urban planning. He clearly believes that social science can and should contribute to policy development. The strengths and weaknesses of each theoretical perspective were identified earlier in terms of how they contribute to what Kennedy sees as the research agenda for urban sociology, “urban problem-solving.” He ends the book by reviewing social documentation methods, the social indicators movement, and the social impact assessment approach in evaluation research, particularly as they are related to citizen involvement in decision-making.

In his introduction, the series editor points out that this book is not “intellectually tidy,” in the sense of providing predigested theories or pat answers to complex urban problems. What troubles me about the book is that it is “intellectually messy.” The theoretical chapters and the ones on planning are written in such a choppy and disconnected style that the argument is often disjointed, consisting of seemingly unrelated technical bits and pieces. The book does not “sing” sociologically because it does not “flow” stylistically. I wonder whether this was because Kennedy was trying to cover too much material in too little space? Some sections certainly give evidence of the heavy hand of the copy editor on what may once have been a more elegant, expansive, coherent, and convincing argument. The defects of this book may well then be a function primarily of the economics of book publishing in the 1980s.


Kennedy, Leslie W., “The Urban Kaleidoscope: Canadian Perspectives,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024,