Broadbent, Alan. Urban Nation: Why We Need to Give Power Back to the Cities to Make Canada Strong.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Meligrana, John
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Urban Nation: Why We Need to Give Power Back to the Cities to Make Canada Strong (Nonfiction work); The Limits of Boundaries: Why City-Regions Cannot be Self-Governing (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Broadbent, Alan; Sancton, Andrew
Accession Number: 243797927
Full Text: Broadbent, Alan.

Urban Nation: Why We Need to Give Power Back to the Cities to Make Canada


Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2008.

245 pp.

ISBN: 9780002008839.

Sancton, Andrew.

The Limits of Boundaries: Why City-Regions Cannot be Self-Governing.

Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008.

173 pp.

ISBN 978-0-7735-3464-3.

It is now relatively easy to find the data to support the idea that Canada has become an urban nation. The share of population living in cities, the destination of recent immigrants, the location of economic output and a number of other variables all clearly point to Canada as an urban nation, no longer the rural-resource based country of yesteryear. Yet this fact of our new national urban circumstance raises a series of complicated and thorny questions about how to best govern an urban nation. Fortunately, two recent books will help to stimulate a healthy and comprehensive debate. One is Alan Broadbent's Urban Nation: Why We Need to Give Power Back to the Cities to Make Canada Strong and the other is Andrew Sancton's Limits of Boundaries: Why City-Regions Cannot be Self-Governing. Just a casual look at each book's subtitle suggests the differing perspectives and ideas regarding the future governing of our urban nation.

Urban Nation's most provocative thesis is the creation of city-provinces out of Canada's three largest urban regions: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. To support this bold rewriting of Canada's political map, Urban Nation begins by examining Canada's settlement history. Chapter one focuses on the two waves of urbanization, the first occurring during the Industrial Revolution when Canada's cities and towns were populated by rural to urban migration trends. The second wave of urbanization occurred between 1950 and 1985, which resulted in a consolidation of urban growth within the three cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Chapter two examines the role immigration has had on the growth and development of Canada's system of cities. It discusses some of the challenges and benefits of increased immigration on the policies and programs of local, provincial and national governments. Chapter three pulls together the themes of urbanization and immigration discussed in the previous two chapters to examine a new deal for cities, one that would address the fiscal, political and governmental issues to enable cities to control their own destinies. The next four chapters explore in greater detail the issues of governance (Chapter 4), powers (Chapter 5), finance (Chapter 6) and leadership (Chapter 7) that would need to be addressed in the formulation of any new deal for Canadian cities. These chapters raise important questions regarding the best type of governance structures, financing of city programs and infrastructure needs, and the brand of leadership that is needed as Canadian cities enter the new millennium.

The next three chapters offer some solutions with each providing more progressively bolder ideas than the next. Chapter 8 takes aim at the federal government's neglect of Canadian cities. It offers ways in which the federal government could help in areas of mass urban transit, low-income housing, immigration and education. The next chapter, however, begins by stating that the ideas and approaches outlined in previous chapters are mere "baby steps" which offer only incremental measures for cities that are now acting as mature governmental bodies trying to survive, and better yet prosper, in an increasingly linked global economy and environment. Bold steps are needed; and in Chapter 9, Broadbent outlines an ambitions plan whereby the provinces would transfer powers of provinces to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Chapter 10 takes this bold step by redrawing the Canada's political map to create 1) the new city-provinces of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, 2) combine Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba into one province, 3) combine the Maritime Provinces into one province, 4) and create federal electoral districts that truly reflect the realities of our Urban Nation. Broadbent bases this new map on a variety of principles including subsidiarity, representation by population, wealth sharing etc. Of course, Broadbent realizes that the process of creating this new map will be politically difficult, but he asks, "what is the alternative?" Do we continue with small incremental changes--a new city charter here, a local government boundary adjustment over there, a new upper tier government somewhere else? These incremental measures will not give our country's best assets--its city-regions--with the necessary governance tools and structures.

Urban Nation's bold proposal for the rewriting of Canada's political map is curiously devoid of any specific discussion of boundaries. Not much is said about differing notions of what constitutes the limits of city-regions. In fact, Urban Nation's solitary map illustrates Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver as only large black dots. It is these unanswered questions of boundaries and governance that is the focus of Sancton's The Limits of Boundaries.

The central thesis of Limits of Boundaries is that cities cannot be self-governing because of the fluid nature of their boundaries, thereby differentiating them from the more stable boundaries of sovereign states. Advocating greater autonomy for cities means attempting to fix boundaries that essentially cannot be fixed in space. Urban, economic and political spaces are constantly contested ones, which raises problems and issues when trying to transfer more powers to municipal governments. Over what territory will these new powers be applied?

Sancton begins with a review of well-known authors and their ideas of city-regions and metropolitan governance. In Chapter two, he observes that the boundaries of central governments, i.e., sovereign states, have been remarkably stable over time with boundary changes usually coming in times of war rather than through political negotiation. In the next chapter we learn that the demarcation of municipal boundaries has traditionally followed the urban built-up area, bur urban growth beyond municipal boundaries poses problems. Questions of boundary change (annexations, amalgamations, etc) and the creation of metropolitan levels of government are discussed and ultimately dismissed as viable solutions for the better governance of city-regions.

Sancton argues that, because a city-region's urban-economic growth will render municipal boundaries arbitrary and changing them is wrought with definitional problems of where to draw the political line, it is basically futile to change municipal boundaries to best match the fluid urban-economic sphere of the city-region. Chapter four explores the current theories and ideas regarding city-regions with a particular look at European examples.

Overall, municipal governments must deal with boundaries that do not match the real metropolitan area. This mismatch ultimately requires a complex mixture of intergovernmental relationships and institutions. Chapter five examines the relationship between central and regional municipal governments. Here the reader is challenged to consider whether municipal governments are the only form of government appropriate to governing the city-region. Sancton posits the idea that other institutions, in particular central governments or special-purpose bodies can, and often do, have important roles to play in the planning and development of city-regions. In particular, central governments are advocated as the best authority over long range major infrastructure projects and plans.

In Chapter 6, Toronto is presented as a case study by examining the changing boundaries of the Toronto city-region from the 1990s discussion of the Greater Toronto Area as presented in the Golden Report, to the Central Ontario Zone defined in the Ontario Smart Growth Panel, to the more recent establishment of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Recent provincial leadership in creating the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan and the Green Belt plan for the Toronto city-region is presented as an argument against more self-governing powers to Toronto and perhaps a lesson in the role provincial governments can play in the proper governing of city-regions.

Defining the boundaries around city-regions is quite difficult. Urban Nation challenges us to think in bold terms to redraw city boundaries to better match our nation's changing economy and economic links with the rest of the world. The Limits of Boundaries forces the reader to think seriously about these boundaries, but argues that stable multipurpose boundaries are almost impossible to draw, making it difficult to design the institutions necessary for self governance.

Both books share a common concern about Canadian city-regions--however defined--and examine solutions that are needed to best govern and plan for their development. Such an examination, both authors would agree, must go beyond the boundaries of the central urban municipality.

John Meligrana

School of Urban and Regional Planning

Queen's University.
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