A model of Canadian and American central city vitality
Triggs, Seth Curtis
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Canada and the United States are neighbors with many similarities: certain aspects of demographics, and even social customs. However, laypeople frequently offer anecdotal comparisons of the cities in the two countries. Often, cities in Canada are claimed to be "cleaner," "nicer," "safer," even "friendlier" (in both urban character and planning form). These ideas could potentially point to more positive planning outcomes for central cities than in American metro areas. Such anecdotal comparisons often lack concrete data to support them. This dissertation will establish that Canadian and American cities can be distinguished on the basis of statistical analysis of their attributes, using principal components and discriminant analysis. An examination of the loadings on two key components reveals variables that differentiate American from Canadian cities. Two such analyses were performed. An initial analysis (Analysis 1) was made using 30 cities and twenty variables. Most of the cities were from the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. The result produced a separation that correctly classified all thirty cities via discriminant analysis. The result could be refined by adding more cities to the west for a grand total of forty. The study was then enlarged by adding 10 western cities, 5 for each country. The discriminant analysis correctly predicted the nationality of 39 of the 40 cities. Three key components were identified: Transit Orientation, Diversity and Prosperity, and Expressway Orientation. Of these, the last two key components made the successful classifications possible. Canadian cites were distinguished from American cities by having a greater score on the Index of Diversity/Prosperity; namely they had a lower percentage of expressway miles, fewer parking ramps, thus leading to a higher percent of parking lots to ramps, more high quality transit and a greater percent of commuters using transit than in American cities. There were more foreign born residents, higher mean household incomes, and less old housing than in American cities. For any given score of Diversity and Prosperity, American cities had higher scores on the Index of Expressway Orientation. A high score on this index implies a higher percent of expressway mileage, more malls, higher commercial vacancy rates, higher residential vacancy rates, and a lower proportion of rental housing. Nevertheless, American cities have a lower unemployment rate than in Canadian cities. The population of American cities is younger and has more non-Caucasian residents. From these results one can infer a Canadian reinforcement of community fabric through the absence of large-scale public works such as expressways, and negative planning policies such as disinvestment. There was no significant difference between the scores of Canadian and American cities on the Index of Transit Orientation. Higher scores on this index were correlated with the size of the city. Higher scores implied more malls, commuter rail, more high quality transit and more use of public transit, presence of universities, percent of rental housing, greater age of the city, and the existence of a port. Ground-truthing excursions to six cities revealed that in the Canadian cities surveyed, close attention to public space appeared to be paid by planners, especially where public transit was concerned. There was ample seating provided and public transit was well accessible, even in the smallest ground-truthed city (Sudbury). American cities, on the other hand, tended to lack significant transit usage and generally eschewed the notion of individuals remaining in public space for long periods of time. Frequently, American cities would remove benches from such spaces. It was recommended that in order for distressed American cities to regain central-city vitality, they must bolster public space by making it inviting for people to remain. They must forgo socioeconomically negative public planning items such as districts of poverty and disinvestment, eschew the construction of expressways in the central city, and most importantly, must enhance (via more frequent service) and expand public transit networks. In addition, immigration should be encouraged in order to fill the niches vacated by suburbanization. As will be discussed, the percentage of foreign-born population is very highly correlated with higher incomes.