Friday, July 13, 2012

Yuri Artibise on Livable Cities and the Shifting of the “American Dream”

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week we chat up a Snipper with a particularly interesting collection and post the interview here.

This week, we talk to Yuri Artibise, the Director of Community Engagement for PlaceSpeak in Vancouver and author of the blog Yurbanism, an exploration of how to make our cities more liveable.

His collection, Urbanism, is a fascinating look at all the factors that go into creating sustainable urban communities. We caught up with Yuri to talk sprawl, smart maps and the shifting of the “American dream.”


What’s your definition of a “livable” city?

You need to have some sort of hub, or concentration of jobs and opportunities. There also needs to be an urban fabric — a network of streets that bring businesses in front of people instead of behind parking lots. 

What about transportation?

A solid transportation network is key, especially in sprawling cities. If you start building a city along transit lines, things happen. You have transit corridors with nodes of development, and it becomes easier to promote bike lanes and walking.

You snipped something interesting about the psychological appeal of trains over busses. What do you think that’s about?

I think it’s that busses are hot, crowded, noisy and unpredictable. Light rail systems tend to be bigger, newer systems that are cleaner and with more ventilation. They’re almost more flashy. What’s interesting is that at least in Phoenix, where I was living for five years, the lower-income population didn’t glob onto the light rail at all. They would continue to take the bus. That’s a social issue that I’d love to explore more — what are the reasons behind that?

Why do you think suburbs are starting to lose their appeal?

It used to be that the American dream was to own a house in the suburbs, and that the automobile equaled freedom. In the last decade, and especially since the economic downturn, people have started to recognize that home ownership is not necessarily the be all end all. There’s a mind shift happening, and cities are on the rise again.

Do you think that’s what’s also driving the culture of sharing?

I think amongst the younger generation that’s definitely part of it. Gen Y is starting to realize that they’re not going to be as wealthy as their parents, and that their resources are finite. It used to be that a car equaled your freedom when you turned 16, now it’s an iPhone. I can use a car share app on my phone to find a vehicle anytime within blocks of me. I don’t have to own, or worry about gas and insurance. We live in smaller homes that don’t necessarily have tool sheds, so we use sharing networks for that. We can get our food delivered and from coops, and participate in community gardens. And once you start sharing you want to share more because it’s a way to meet people. It used to be that your home was your castle and your entire life revolved around that. Now life revolves more around your community. 

Speaking of iPhones, do you think smart maps are a good thing for urbanism, or a deterrent from really getting to know your way around? 

I think they’re a positive thing overall. The great thing about maps technology in general is that it’s been democratized. Anyone can create a map. I can always use someone’s map to find out where the great local coffeeshops are, other than Starbucks. It helps you explore the city. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges to creating a “liveable” urban community?

I think we’re still in somewhat of a culture war. Cities are still viewed as liberal bastions. And while the dream of owning a home with cars is starting to shift a bit, it’s still the dominant mentality. I also think the NIMBYism aspect of cities is hurting things, and bringing negative attitudes towards change and growth. It’s about trying to open up people’s minds to different types of city living. Cities are also extremely expensive, which is a huge challenge as well.

What about setting cities up better for kids and families?

The cities are still behind the suburbs on this one. I have friends in Vancouver who commute to the suburbs so their kids can do things like join little league teams or take swimming lessons. Cities need to do a better job of integrating families, and providing adequate housing options for them. You don’t need a 4,000 foot home, but something above a 700 square-foot one bedroom would be nice.

You can subscribe to Yuri Artibise’s Urbanism collection here


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