cities | March 17, 2013

Canadian Cities Do Urban Living Right: Shawn Micallef [VIDEO]

"No one's ever talked about Canadians being an urban people," cities speaker Shawn Micallef (one of Lavin's newest speakers) says. That's somewhat surprising, given that he says approximately 80 per cent of the nation's population lives in cities or suburbs. It is becoming increasingly less common for Canadians to live in rural areas. Rather, he says "most of us have suburban lives, urban lives. We go to Costco, or we go to a coffee shop; we use subways, we get stuck in traffic jams." This is why he's set out to write a book that details how Canadians live now by analyzing the biggest cities in the country.

His theory, which he laid out in an exclusive interview at Lavin's Toronto office, is that Canada's cities have much more similarities than differences. Using the common thread of urbanism, he thinks that maybe we can "stitch the country back together" and start to chip away at the old notions of East vs. West and rural vs. urban that have long divided the nation. While most Canadians can look our their front door and see a city of some sort, traditional notions of rural living are hard to shake. Despite what many people may think, however, Micallef says "we're living in a Costco nation." Despite having a diverse population and dealing with adverse economic conditions, many downtown cores are still vibrant. And, he says that there is a lot to learn from the way the country has developed its unique brand of urbanism.

Perhaps one of the reasons these cities have remained so desirable and innovative is the nation's relatively young age—and the fact that its history is not told en masse. Unlike cities in Europe like Paris and Edinburgh, citizens in Canada are given a chance to start with a blank slate and write their own histories, he says. These Canadian cities are not confined to deep rooted traditions, and have the opportunity to be more contemporary and do new things. An urban columnist at The Toronto Star and the Co-Owner of Spacing Magazine, Micallef specializes in what makes cities tick. He especially focuses on the idea of Canadian Urbanism—explaining why the country's cities have thrived and how other cities around the world can learn from these examples. Having spoken at both The Walrus Talks and at TEDx, he is a natural on stage and delivers a unique and insightful take on our modern urban society.

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education | March 14, 2013