Foran, Max. Expansive Discourses: Urban Sprawl in Calgary 1945-1978.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Sandalack, Beverly A.
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: Expansive Discourses: Urban Sprawl in Calgary 1945-1978 (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Foran, Max
Accession Number: 243797929
Full Text: Foran, Max.

Expansive Discourses: Urban Sprawl in Calgary 1945--1978.

Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2009.

276 pp.

ISBN: 9781897425138.

Within the Canadian context, Calgary is a city that perhaps best exemplifies sprawl. Since the end of World War II it has spread outward in the form of suburbs composed primarily of single-family houses, all at a relatively low density. While not nearly as shocking as the sprawl found in many places in the United States, Calgary's has attracted criticism from a number of quarters for is excessive land consumption, destruction of farmland, increase in auto-dependency, lack of options in housing type, and overall sameness. How this has occurred is an important question, as it reveals much about the planning paradigms that have influenced city growth, and even more about ourselves and our culture that paved the way for these ideas and forms.

Max Foran, an historian and long-time educator, currently teaching at the University of Calgary, has painstakingly reconstructed the who, what, when, where and why of Calgary's suburban development during the period of 1945 --1978. Author of many books and countless articles, Foran is at his best when recounting the deals that created the city. His research is impeccable, his love of the drama obvious, and be brings alive the sequence of events and processes that eventually became the pattern of development now taken for granted.

Although many readily point fingers at the development industry, Foran identities that there were "five influencing factors in the suburbanization process," including the City of Calgary and the land development companies, bur also the policies pursued by the provincial government and the Central (later Canada) Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and, importantly, the home buyer.

Essentially, the decision by the City in 1953 to allow the private sector to finance and construct the emerging suburbs signified the beginning of what was to become a long-running era of design-by-default on the part of developers. Several development companies were poised to take advantage of this situation and were well equipped to plan and construct the neighbourhoods that were required by the booming and newly affluent population.

Foran organizes the book chronologically, with Part One covering the period between 1945-1963, documenting the origins of the patterns that would be established, and Part Two dealing with 1963-1978, describing the continued expansion of Calgary's suburbs through the processes of annexation. The relationships between the City and the development industry are also explored.

Calgary has always been friendly to the interests of developers, and is also a city with a history of rejecting progressive plans, from the Mawson Plan of 1914, to the Urban Design Plan of 1978, to this year's Plan-It Calgary, which was eventually adopted in a watered-down version. Much of the opposition to the goals of the plan, which would have gone a long way towards combating patterns of sprawl, came from the development industry, which is now highly organized and institutionalized. It is unfortunate that the issues have become so polarized, and politicized, as it will likely take a major crisis to turn the situation around.

Although Foran has provided, as usual, a highly detailed accounting of the historical events leading to what we see today, the book may have benefitted by a few additions. First, it is frustrating that Foran stops at 1978. The greatest value of this book is likely in the lessons learned, and when it ends with events thirty years ago, it is too easy to avoid looking at today. The evidence is there, and just waiting to be elucidated, and hopefully Foran is busy on a second volume. Second, for a book that deals with physical urban form, there are far too few photographs and maps. It is so important to be able to see what the processes, decisions and policies produced in visual form. There are also several errors in the photo captions (for example, photos on pages 48 and 66 misidentify the directions), many of the photos are too general (for example, those of Fish Creek), and some do not have identifiers (for example, the cover photo is never located as Royal Oak in northwest Calgary). To be more useful, these details should be included.

Expansive Discourses is an important book. The audiences most likely to benefit include City officials and the development industry. Students and professionals in the environmental design disciplines would probably benefit from consideration of this book--alongside one that includes more graphics that illustrate the city's evolution, so that they could more completely understand the physical results of these many years of deals and decisions.

Beverly A. Sandalack

Professor, Urban Design Program and

Director, Urban Lab, Faculty of Environmental Design,

University of Calgary.
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