Urbanism and the Canadian Promise
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Nov 1966, p. 80-86
Owen, David S., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some figures about the Canadian urban population now and in the future. Problems of urbanization. How to avoid historical pitfalls of great cities. Facing the task as a whole. Making corrections. Examples of cities with problems such as Los Angeles. Learning from the mistakes of other cities. Specific problems and suggested solutions: transportation, polluted air; uncontrolled growth. Taking pride in what was accomplished in Montreal and learning from example. Possibilities for Toronto.
Date of Original
17 Nov 1966
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
NOVEMBER 17,1966
Urbanism And The Canadian Promise
CHAIRMAN, The President, R. Bredin Stapells, Q.c.


Imagine that city of cities, Paris, overlaid with slums, a labyrinth of evil smelling mediaeval houses, no broad boulevards, no Etoile, no gardens of Tuilleries or Bois de Boulogne, no trees, bridges, no Opera, Louvre and countless other impressive buildings. If you can, you have imagined the Paris which was before Baron George Hausmann wrought these miracles.

Baron Hausmann was not an architect, not a city planner, not an artist. He was trained as a lawyer and was a co-ordinator of the people who reshaped Paris in the 19th century.

We have with us today, a young man, trained in the law, who rides herd on the people who design and make skyscrapers. In a word, Mr. Owen is one of that very small and unique group of men who make their living reshaping cities -modern day Hausmanns.

And like Hausmann, such men have this opportunity only when huge sums of money are available for the task. Such pools of capital have been dredged out by Zeckindorf, Mr. Owen's first employer, and provided by the Murchison brothers of Texas and now by the Eaton family of Toronto. When Toronto's first Mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, proclaimed this place a city in 1834, the inhabitants numbered some 10,000 souls. Today, we have an urban complex in which live nearly three million people. In the heart of this complex is the proposed new focal point of Toronto, the Eaton Centre.

After graduating from Columbia Law School, Mr. Owen commenced a legal career in his native city, Vancouver, with his distinguished father, Walter Owen, Q.c. But drawing wills could not equal the challenges Mr. Owen has met in the last ten years. As Vice-President of Webb & Knapp Canada, he was involved in that firm's projects such as Place Ville Marie and Yorkdale Shopping Centre. In 1962 he moved to the Dallas Texas Corporation as Executive Vice-President and there planned the giant ten acre building complex in downtown Dallas.

And now, as Toronto heads into its second century as a part of Canada, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the man who will bear much of the responsibility for reshaping twenty-three acres in this city's core, Mr. David S. Owen, Managing Director of Eaton Centre Ltd., who will address us on "Urbanism and the Canadian Promise".


None of us is given the clairvoyance to predict the total shape of Canadian life in the year 2000. However, we will enter the next century as a nation of city dwellers.

Today 60% of the Canadian population lives in urban concentrations. By the turn of the century, this figure will have risen to 85 %. It is within our competence to determine whether more than thirty-five million Canadians, thirty five years from now, are the victims or the victors of the city. This challenge to Canada mirrors a world-wide challenge. Today one third of the people of the world live in urban areas. By the year 2000 it will be nearly two thirds: or, a global urban population of over three and one half billion. Little wonder then, when the World Health Organization warns us that "metropolitan planning and building is the most serious single problem faced by man in the second half of the twentieth century after the question of keeping world peace".

Most of the problems of urbanization that we confront have been with us to a greater or lesser degree since Babylon. As the nation's population swells, more and more seek the future and the promise of the city. Thus, our cities are the vanguard of our national growth.

The prime problems we must face include the fiscal mis-match between city and senior governments, illogical administrative boundaries, the manner of use of precious land in the city and countryside, transportation and communication, housing, pollution, social welfare, recreation and culture. If urbanization is not to become a deadening fact in the Canadian experience, we must rethink those factors in our environment which can determine whether our national life is to be rich and rewarding. This is made immensely more complex by our relatively recent transformation from a simple agrarian and mercantile society to a complex of modern technology and industry. How do we shape our nation into a functional and aesthetically satisfying mosaic-the form and shape of urban Canada-so that we do not make a mockery of Aristotle when he said "People come to the city to work and they stay to lead the good life".

How is it to be done? Are we to ignore the historical parallels between the rise and fall of great cities and the ascent and decay of great civilizations? Are we to slip to the Rousseauean conclusion that, "Cities are the burial pit of the human species?" Of course not. We shall forge our cities into noble settings for the great achievements of the human spirit and build and rebuild them in a manner that will encourage a more gracious sense of the Canadian possibility.

If we do not view the task as a whole, if we attack it in a piecemeal manner isolating one problem from another, we are headed for an extension of the dreary urban failure which already plagues other great urban areas of this continent. We must correct what has become a major defect in the fiscal system of this country. With economic growth and rising income and wealth, the senior levels of government get the money. The cities are left with an unfair share of the problems. This imbalance becomes more pronounced with population growth and urbanization. More reason rather than rhetoric is needed from the senior levels of government. They responded to the farm crisis. Major subventions were available to agriculture. Why can they not be available to our cities, particularly our largest?

The crazy-quilt pattern of city authority, which Toronto through farsightedness has avoided, is still a curse on most urban areas with all the pursuit of divergent goals that such structure entails. The confusion and waste resulting from excessive local government units is obvious. It also encourages municipal leaders to concern themselves with the minutiae of municipal administration. Nothing else but the marshalling of the city's political and administrative resources on an unprecedented scale in a greatly more efficient manner will be enough.

The appalling example of Los Angeles which has spread itself endlessly across the landscape, a great amorphous mass of buildings and roads should be warning enough. Penalized is the efficiency of commercial life, stultified is the creativity of community life and condemned are its citizens to the dreariness of a formless city.

If Los Angeles, epitomizing the misshapen sprawl of a single city, presents one frightening aspect of the contemporary North American scene, the megalopolis phenomenon presents another just as alarming. Cities of the eastern seaboard from Boston through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington have meandered formlessly, merging with one another, indiscriminately devouring a five hun, dred mile swath of landscape in their inexorable advance.

Are we in Canada going to repeat the urban failures over which our sister cities to the south wring their hands helplessly? In our own midst the symptoms of the megalopolis disease are seen in the Oshawa, Toronto, Hamilton crescent.

Will Canada choose to lead or follow in this most critical of modern man's challenges? Will we be content with our accustomed and rather comfortable practice of "wait and see", of adapting the experience, including the mistakes, of others, to our own situation, or will we be prepared to act with courage, intelligence and originality; to set an example for once of bold innovation rather than of mediocre competence?

The individual technical problems are all soluble, given the resources and the determination. Isolated attempts can and are being made to resolve such problems as transporta tion, traffic congestion, water pollution, air pollution and inadequate housing. If we seem unaware of the inter-relation of these different problems, at least we are showing signs of being able to look at each one with a broader view.

In transportation, for example, recognition is dawning that only a rationalization of rail and highway services can best serve the needs of a metropolitan area. Governments are starting to appreciate that some subsidization of fast, efficient rail commuter service, using many of the existing facilities, may serve the needs of a people much more effectively and economically than pouring the millions of yards of concrete necessary to provide for their transportation by private automobile. An excellent example is the leadership shown by the Ontario Government in the new service soon to be operated by the CNR along the Lakeshore Corridor.

The city dweller may think of the throughway as the pure blessing putting other cities within easy reach. But what are the side effects from which he suffers directly? The throughway, a miracle of highway engineering, produces indiscriminate, even destructive, use of land around the city. It encourages irresponsible speculation and dreary rows of building, unrelieved by the parklands or green belts which co-ordinated planning could have created.

The already polluted air which the citizens of the central city breathes is made even more foul as the throughway spills the mounting flood of automobiles to their downtown destination. Vehicular traffic in downtown areas approaches saturation.

So, if we are to prevent the amorphous spread of the megalopolis and stop the decay at the core of our cities, we have to diagnose all the ills in relation one to the other and prescribe for the general health, not for individual ailments. And the prescription must be the co-operative and coordinated efforts of all levels of government, each having the means of providing its share of the cure.

Understanding of this perilous process of uncontrolled growth is already well-known to our political scientists, geographers. demographers, ecologists, economists, sociolo gists and planners. Books on the problem proliferate daily, expounding the crisis and proposing solutions. But among the professionals who make plans and advise political leaders at every policy-making level, there is a school of thought that confuses the issue and persistently pursues 19th century paths of hostility to the city. Ebenezer Howard's Garden City, with its romantic anti-urbanism supported by Geddes, Mumford, Frank Lloyd Wright and other notables, would lead us up a blind alley. Wright's caustic comment on the city as being only useful for transactions of "prostitution and banking" bluntly reflects the negative attitude of too many of our planners. Cities are with us, they are going to stayand grow bigger.

Where our cities seek to expand at the centre, let us seek to encourage new office towers and stores and theatres and restaurants and weave them into the fabric of the existing core. Downtown must become a place of fun, not only to work and shop in, but one in which to remain after 5 o'clock. The suburbs must be individual, not anonymous. and repetitive.

Because of the lag in our growth, we are in a position, enjoyed by no other country, to form and shape our urbanization. This may seem paradoxical, but the fact is that our cities instead of being excessively burdened with the haphazard accumulation of past errors, are free to move in new directions. In other words, Canada, unencumbered and knowledgeable, is about to enter its era of great cities. Our only enemies are complacency and an oppressive tendency to copy.

We have already in our midst the example of Montreal. Today, businessmen, architects and planners the world over turn their eyes to Montreal, where in ten short years the dream of Leonardo da Vinci is coming to fruition. That dream, a key to an organized core, was to separate, on different levels, wagons and walkers, each with their own safe and lively environment. Only in a city not irrevocably committed by the past, where land areas are available at the heart can one launch the multi-level land use. We are entitled to take pride that it was accomplished in Montreal and is being extended by the imagination, and initiative of private enterprise, working harmoniously with the public authorities.

The story of the centre city in Montreal is only a beginning. Toronto has plans which when realized over the next decade can outdo Montreal. Halifax, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are becoming aware of their possibilities. If we channel our suburban growth as effectively as we have begun in our city cores, when this century is out, Canada will have become the one nation in the world that has successfully surmounted the challenge of urban growth. We will be able in the best of western tradition, to echo the ancient oath of the young Athenian when he entered into citizenship:

". . . to strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of duty ... and to hand on this city, not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was given to us."

Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. Arthur J. Langley.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Urbanism and the Canadian Promise

Some figures about the Canadian urban population now and in the future. Problems of urbanization. How to avoid historical pitfalls of great cities. Facing the task as a whole. Making corrections. Examples of cities with problems such as Los Angeles. Learning from the mistakes of other cities. Specific problems and suggested solutions: transportation, polluted air; uncontrolled growth. Taking pride in what was accomplished in Montreal and learning from example. Possibilities for Toronto.