|Typical suburban commercial strips|
|Main street of Saint-Jovite, an old Québec town|
The "golden cage"A golden cage, for me, is a neighborhood which feels very pleasant to live in, that offers a lot of comfort to residents. It's calm and peaceful, generally with a lot of greenery and trees, and maybe even bike paths and other infrastructure for outdoors activities. That is the "golden" part... the "cage" part is that the neighborhood is also isolated and cut off from most major economic activity centers. There are few jobs in the area, few stores, except for a few small ones, and poor transit mobility.
As a result, very few people can live and work in the same neighborhood, and people have to leave the area frequently to accomplish most tasks of modern life like shopping, working and social activities. As a result of that and the lack of transit connection to the rest of the metropolitan area it is a part of, more trips require cars, which kill the life on the street and community areas, as most of the population is either in their private home or out of the neighborhood at all times.
Examples of golden cagesThe most common example of the golden cage is the typical North American suburb, at least, well-designed ones. They often have parks and plenty of trees, sometimes offer bike paths and pleasant areas to walk through...
|Seaside in Florida is an example of New Urbanist small town, designed from scratch... 92% drive or are driven to work, 5% work at home... 0,4% walk|
|Seaside town center|
|Seaside residential area|
What doesn't help is that in most cases, transit is often seen as a municipal service, not a regional one. So transit companies tend to only cover cities and offer only limited interconnections with various urban areas or towns in the same metro area. The absence of regional intercity transit in North America is one of the biggest problems we face in my opinion.
PrescriptionWhat I'm getting at is that an urban area's vitality depends on access, both the residents' access of other areas and other areas' access to it. An area cannot thrive only on good design. Take for example the 1980s' trend of pedestrian malls. Many cities in North America decided to create pedestrian-only outdoor malls from commercial arterials and invested a lot of money in good design to draw people in. These worked only for a while, but when the novelty effect ran out, they were largely abandoned... except the ones who were conveniently located and easily accessible by transit.
|Rue Prince-Arthur Est in Montréal, a pedestrian mall that is facing high vacancy rates, the problem is that the subway is a bit off, and on the way there, people walk alongside...|
|...Saint-Denis street, which is a vibrant commercial area with much better transit access and that gives access to a big urban college campus (UQÀM), even if the design is worse, the much better location makes it a winner|
Also, the issue of offering better car-less access across metropolitan areas and between regions is crucial and is one much too often ignored. All in all, we need to recreate the links between urban areas or to create new ones to increase transit accessibility, to open up the golden cages. And until then, we should avoid building new ones.