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Living small the new reality

A friend of mine, who lives in Vancouver, made a quip to me recently saying that I live in suburbia, "being a North Shore resident and all.

A friend of mine, who lives in Vancouver, made a quip to me recently saying that I live in suburbia, "being a North Shore resident and all."

The comment surprised me - I even got my back up a bit - but after a little thought, I had no choice but to agree with him. Our urban planning model here on the North Shore may not be as obvious as in other municipalities but it's a suburban model nonetheless.

The very word suburbia is a confusing one, clearly not rural, as the name defines, but not urban either. It has drawn its origins from the desire of urbanites to escape the industrial city for a cleaner life in the country but unfortunately defines a world that is anything but.

In its early years the suburban dream was seen as the best of two worlds, allowing one to hold down a well-paying job in the city by day while still enjoying the pleasures of country life by night.

A suburban life was easy enough to get to, it was affordable and it held promise.

The dream quickly became entrenched and development began to push further and further outwards until a vast semi-urban realm overwhelmed the countryside surrounding a city.

What developed was not a landscape of clean, country living but rather a civic environment defined by the very means of getting to and from it rather than by geographical and cultural forces that would better shape it.

And there lies the conundrum, suburbia's very existence dependant on an ability to move cheaply to and from it in a new era where cheap oil no longer exists.

There is change in the wind.

Cities will densify. More people will live on less land. We'll live smaller and we'll live more efficiently. We will live closer to work and we will live closer to one another. It's not a bad scenario, it's simply the real one.

Our new reality will see a greater density of living and with it will come opportunity. Our community planners will need to put less design emphasis on the automobile and more on the human beings that inhabit it. It's a rethinking of our current urban planning model but it's certainly not a new one. Successful cities have been around far longer than motorized transport.

It's not a question of learning something new but rather relearning something we forgot.

The single-family suburban model of development that has shaped our urban landscape for almost half a century is on its way out. We're on the cusp of a new reality where new models for living will be shaping our future.

Kevin Vallely is a residential designer in North Vancouver. His website is