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Old 04-26-2012, 08:05 AM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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What are some general characteristics of each/differences between the three you've noticed?

Firstly, some similarities: all three are fairly spread out by world standards, with a distinct downtown where most of the commercial activity takes place and often where political, civic, cultural and entertainment uses are based, industrial areas usually on the outskirts of the city, most of the land area dedicated to residential/dormitory uses, most have a freeway system, and most have dedicated at least 5% of the urban land area to green space and public open space. Most have arbitrary public transit systems at the very least, with some cities much better in this area than others.

Density: Australian and American cities are no par. I don't have time to pull out all the stats, but I've heard both Brisbane, Perth and Houston cited as among the least dense cities on earth. Housing is predominantly detached, and suburbs spread out for miles. Other uses tend to be clustered in nodes or along major roads. A large portion of land is used for roads, road reserves or car parking space. Canadian cities tend to be somewhat denser, with more condominiums/apartments, especially in Toronto and Vancouver, even well away from the CBD (Central Business District).

Radiality/Centralization: While low density, most Australian cities are strongly radial. The Downtown or CBD is still the main focus of employment (at least for professional and office jobs), is close to the main entertainment and cultural attractions, is the hub of the transport network, and includes many of the city's most prominent buildings and skyscrapers.

What I found in the US is less centralization, with a few exceptions like NY, Chicago, Philly. Cities like Phoenix or Houston have somewhat multi-nodal urban structures, with many people commuting cross-town instead of to downtown for work. Many of the cultural precincts also lie well away from the CBD. The ultimate example of this, extreme even for the US, is Los Angeles where Downtown is still a far cry from the other main entertainment precincts.

Canadian cities, I assume, are more like Australia in this regard.

Public Transit: Overall, it seems to be Canada has done the best job of providing public transport. The Sky Train in Vancouver and the subway in Toronto are considered exemplary examples of user-friendly public transport. Of the three Canada is the one I've not been to yet so I can't talk about it in depth, or about cities like Calgary, Winnipeg or Halifax.

Australia's public transport is definitely improving. Sydney and Melbourne are well covered: most of the vast metropolitan areas are serviced by train, bus and in the case of Melbourne, trams (streetcars). Usage rates range from 4-12%, low by world standards but higher than American cities.

With a few exceptions, notably the Northeastern cities, San Francisco and Chicago, the US has the poorest rate of public transport use of any developed nation. Rates range from a low of about 2% for cities like Phoenix or Indianapolis, to 15% or so for New York, which is still about the same as Toronto. Many major cities lack rail, while buses are often infrequent and bus-riders socially stigmatized.

Vibrancy: Haven't been to Canada but I hear that Canadian cities are fairly lively. Australian cities have improved in this area: thanks in large part to the movement back to the cities and yes, some gentrification, Australian cities tend to be fairly vibrant at night in the entertainment areas, especially on weekends. The financial areas are usually slightly separated from the main recreational districts, so are obviously a little dead.

US cities, in contrast, often felt plain dead all round and abandoned. Memphis is an example of this. Most American cities do not have the downtown vibrancy of Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco or Chicago.

Pedestrian/cyclist friendly: I think Canada does well in this area, particularly Toronto. Australia could be rated as 'average' in terms of pedestrian friendliness. There are sidewalks on most streets, and a pretty good cycle network throughout the city, but a system accommodating the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safely is somewhat lacking.

The US is the worst again, with a lack of foot paths in many suburban and city areas. It can be pretty scary to walk around many American cities.

This is just my general assessment...let me know your own observations/opinions/comparisons.
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Old 04-26-2012, 08:52 AM
 
Location: Gatineau, Québec
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trimac20 View Post
Public Transit: Overall, it seems to be Canada has done the best job of providing public transport. The Sky Train in Vancouver and the subway in Toronto are considered exemplary examples of user-friendly public transport. Of the three Canada is the one I've not been to yet so I can't talk about it in depth, or about cities like Calgary, Winnipeg or Halifax.

Australia's public transport is definitely improving. Sydney and Melbourne are well covered: most of the vast metropolitan areas are serviced by train, bus and in the case of Melbourne, trams (streetcars). Usage rates range from 4-12%, low by world standards but higher than American cities.
I found the public transit systems in Sydney and Melbourne to be more extensive than those in Toronto and Montreal.
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Old 04-26-2012, 08:56 AM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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Originally Posted by Acajack View Post
I found the public transit systems in Sydney and Melbourne to be more extensive than those in Toronto and Montreal.
Interesting...yeah I hear people whinge about them all the time, but the trains are pretty good in Sydney and Melbourne. I think it's because they're a bit old, and the people on the trains sometimes, that keep some folk away.

Most love the trams though - Melbourne can proudly boast the most extensive tram system in the world. It really is part of the city.
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Old 04-26-2012, 10:50 AM
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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Part of this topic was covered in a previous thread:

Is there another country somewhere in the world that's equally or even more auto-centric/suburban than the US in style?

Might be worth a look. I think there was another thread as well, but I can't find it.
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Old 04-26-2012, 11:35 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trimac20 View Post
Vibrancy: Haven't been to Canada but I hear that Canadian cities are fairly lively. Australian cities have improved in this area: thanks in large part to the movement back to the cities and yes, some gentrification, Australian cities tend to be fairly vibrant at night in the entertainment areas, especially on weekends. The financial areas are usually slightly separated from the main recreational districts, so are obviously a little dead.

US cities, in contrast, often felt plain dead all round and abandoned. Memphis is an example of this. Most American cities do not have the downtown vibrancy of Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco or Chicago.
Your assessment seems to start at "vibrancy" and end at "downtown vibrancy", and IMO it's a common mistake that Canadians make when talking about US cities (I guess Australians too!) . It's true that in many US cities, downtown looks dead on evenings and weekends, but the action is elsewhere, in neighborhoods that are often out of the way but still in the city, and definitely vibrant.
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Old 04-28-2012, 11:52 AM
 
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
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In those cities with dead downtowns, what are the vibrant parts like? Shopping malls? Lifestyle Centres? Streetcar suburbs? Small towns turned suburb?

I think the difference between Canadian and American cities in that sense has a lot to do with less white flight/abandonnement. Canadian cities still had American style parking bombs and housing projects (at least Toronto), but the rest remained in good shape and the city schools never got too bad. I don't know what the situation is with city schools in Australia, but their downtown/inner cities seem relatively intact and the areas that were destroyed look like they were often infilled/rejuvinated.
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Old 04-28-2012, 01:18 PM
 
Location: Toronto
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Originally Posted by memph View Post
but the rest remained in good shape and the city schools never got too bad.
Isn't that a function of how the schools are funded in Canada?

I don't know too much about the topic in particular, but the public schools in Canada are funded at a provincial level with curricula standardized within a province, while the US schools tend to be funded more so at a local level I think. Thus, for the US cities, a school's quality is determined more by district/city, in rich or poor neighbourhoods, in a way Canadian cities aren't (so as a general rule fewer parents move their kids to a new area specifically for the sake of going to a better school, relative to in US cities).
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Old 04-28-2012, 01:56 PM
 
Location: Thunder Bay, ON
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Originally Posted by Stumbler. View Post
Isn't that a function of how the schools are funded in Canada?

I don't know too much about the topic in particular, but the public schools in Canada are funded at a provincial level with curricula standardized within a province, while the US schools tend to be funded more so at a local level I think. Thus, for the US cities, a school's quality is determined more by district/city, in rich or poor neighbourhoods, in a way Canadian cities aren't (so as a general rule fewer parents move their kids to a new area specifically for the sake of going to a better school, relative to in US cities).
I would say it's mostly to do with the way schools are run and funded in Canada, but if you're in a neighbourhood where your childs peers don't take school seriously and give the teachers a hard time, make poor study partners and are generally a poor influence instead of fostering a competitive atmosphere, that can be a problem. A lot of the poor in Canada are immigrants who came to Canada so that their children can have a better future, so they will encourage their children to do well. In cases where there are many families that have been poor for multiple generations and no-one in the family got a post-secondary education (maybe not even secondary), I think that's when there might be problems.
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Old 04-28-2012, 06:30 PM
 
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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Originally Posted by barneyg View Post
Your assessment seems to start at "vibrancy" and end at "downtown vibrancy", and IMO it's a common mistake that Canadians make when talking about US cities (I guess Australians too!) . It's true that in many US cities, downtown looks dead on evenings and weekends, but the action is elsewhere, in neighborhoods that are often out of the way but still in the city, and definitely vibrant.
Point taken. Not ALL the action is in downtown in Australian cities, either, but the majority is.
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Old 04-28-2012, 10:41 PM
 
Location: Duluth, Minnesota, USA
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American metropolitan areas vary from those of Canada in that those in the latter tend to have far fewer municipal governments.

For example, what foreigners think of as a typical large American "city" will actually consist of dozens or hundreds of cities and other municipal units of governance (townships, etc.). There will be the actual "city", which includes the CBD and inner urban neighborhoods, but this is dwarfed by the other suburbs in the immediate area, which often flow seamlessly into one another. For example, the Twin Cities metro area - the one I am most familiar with - has less than 670,000 people in the "twins" of Minneapolis and St. Paul - which are truly "urban" only in areas - but over 3,300,000 in the metropolitan area. Even though it includes areas outside the continuously urbanized zone, most people live within the conurbation, in dozens upon dozens of suburbs (list here: Minneapolis ). They vary greatly in size, population, and character. For example, the City of Hilltop consists of a population of 744 living in four mobile home parks stretched across a tenth of a square mile (0.3 km^2). On the other hand, there are suburbs like Bloomington, which have a population of over 80,000 living on 35.5 square miles of land. These are separately incorporated municipalities which are completely independent of Minneapolis or St. Paul.

A trend towards decentralization is also seen, which is quite advanced. I would reckon that the majority of the people in the suburbs (which account for the majority of almost every large American metropolitan area) enter the limits of the city only occasionally. They work in the suburbs, they shop in the suburbs (since most malls and chain stores prefer suburban locations with cheap land and parking), they even go out and play in the suburbs. They are no longer the "bedroom communities" of the 1950's. It's true that some suburbs may be primarily residential, but that does not mean that their inhabitants work in the core city. Instead they may commute to a nearby suburb which has a lot of commercial and/or industrial activity.

American suburbs - which are usually incorporated in the form of "cities" - have an incentive to attract business and residents. A business may choose to locate in a far-flung suburb because they offer the best tax breaks. A family may choose the same because they have the best school district, or they have low property taxes.

Basically, "decentralization" is the key to understanding American metropolitan areas, both in their governments and in the lives of their residents.

Canadian cities, on the other hand, do not seem to have nearly as many municipal governments, which allows for centralized planning and permitting processes. Even the Greater Toronto Area - which has a population of 8.2 million (which would place it in the Top 4 most populous American metropolitan areas) - has only 25 municipalities. The 4th largest American metro area, the Dallas - Fort Worth - Arlington, TX MSA, has over 200 municipalities.
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