ERA Architects

Big Cities in a ‘small’ Context

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How do cities grow? Do we limit growth or encourage it? Direct it or simply discover its natural rhythms? While municipal planning, land use policies and settlement patterns have shaped the physical aspect of North American cities, often social, cultural and environmental forces leave a firmer mark on our communities.

ERA’s Philip Evans and Heather Campbell were recently invited by Princeton University’s Frank and Deborah Popper to discuss with their land-use planning students how Canadian cities address population growth. This conversation prioritizes the sustainability of communities by rooting development in the broader cultural heritage context: recognizing the diversity of people, places and lifestyles which have both shaped and responded to the growth of buildings, streetscapes and communities. The role of reuse – from buildings and skills, to gathering spaces and local economies – within the evolution of our communities is essential to sustainable growth and a sense and quality of place in both countries.

ERA’s small program shifted the focus to shrinking areas, mainly rural, and the challenges of industry closure, population loss and infrastructure decline. With the Buffalo Commons project, the Popper’s study of American frontier communities addresses questions about longevity and sustainability on environmental, social and economic fronts. Similarly, small’s focus on livable communities within Canada’s unique rural context aims to develop support for small-scale cultural economic drivers, to address the shift and redesign in the rural landscape, from natural resource dependency to a new cultural economy.

These continuing cross-border conversations help us develop a deeper understanding of our possible reciprocal contributions to both sustainable city-building and the sustainability of smaller places, those often overlooked by broader policy supports. It is the conversations of the next generation of leaders, their priorities and principles which need to be reflected in the development of our communities today.