Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Spacing’s Shawn Micallef talks suburbs, cupcake urbanism and divided people at TEDxToronto


Read more articles by

The TEDxToronto affiliate in Toronto has grown to be one of the bigger events associated with the TED conference in California. Spacing’s senior editor Shawn Micallef gave a seven minute talk on how we think about our cities at the Sony Centre this past month. Take a look.



  1. Jane Jacobs did not advocate for strip malls behind parking lots. This is not the same as downtown main streets. You lost me right there.

  2. You miss the point then – the aesthetic isn’t perfect or even desireable – it’s how people are using it, what they’re doing there. Small economies like this is what she was all about. It’s a mistake, and our peril, if we ignore stuff because it isn’t as pretty as we’d like it to be. And how they work: it’s exactly how we want main streets to work.

  3. About suburban strip malls, Shawn Micallef wrote: “And how they work: it’s exactly how we want main streets to work.”

    Except that main streets have more than just commerce and parking, and don’t require 2 liters of gasoline per shopper.

  4. qatzelok> Stripmalls are about more than that, just like main streets. People live above the shops. There are libraries, services and community centres in them.

    Many have similar ownership schemes as main streets, where individual owners own each unit and many, like the ones I used in the talk, are walked to by many nearby residents in apartment towers (New Canadians, people who can’t afford cars, etc). Beloved “traditional” main streets, lots of people drive there too.

    So, any other reasons you don’t like them?

  5. Shawn, you haven’t really answered to my complaints about ugly suburban strip malls. Yes, a few of them are located by highrise towers and attract a few local shoppers. And? The vast majority of them are behind parking lots and are hermetically enclosed consumption centers with no useful public spaces for anything else.

  6. qatzelok> I did! You keep repeating “behind parking spots” — yes, behind parking spots! Get over it, and see how people use the stripmalls, and the kind of economics that goes on in them. They’re incredibly useful for the many people who live around them – they ARE the main street. Much less “hermetically enclosed” (whatever that means) than many traditional downtown strips. I didn’t say they they weren’t ugly. Get over that too. Here’s more, if you want it:–downtown-vs-the-suburbs-why-toronto-needs-to-call-a-truce

  7. Micallef makes a good point about how these strip malls have become like the old urban main streets in terms of the independent businesses and the diversity of people–especially in Scarborough. To ignore that is to take the same attitude that many people had in the 1950s when they turned their backs on the great things cities had to offer in favour of these suburbs. (It would definitely be ironic, but that wouldn’t justify it.)

    That was an era of urban decline after World War II with the rise of suburban living and ignorance of what makes traditional urban neighbourhoods great. Will we let these suburban parts of our cities now decline? It would be destructive.

    They need investment to try and develop the new grassroots economic activity taking place and let them mature into real urban neighbourhoods that can be attractive. If that means slowly replacing the strip malls with more attractive, traditional main street-style buildings, then so be it. But it can’t be change in one stroke because as Jane Jacobs pointed out, all the old businesses would be displaced, unable to afford the higher rents of new buildings.

  8. “Will we let these suburban parts of our cities now decline? It would be destructive. ”
    Not at all. The suburban fringes are gas-guzzling dummy farms. The social damage caused by car-based social isolation is as bad as the environmental destruction of all that useless travel, and no cleverly constructed narrative can change that.

  9. I think you’re missing the point, Qatzelok. This discussion isn’t about redeeming these aging suburban areas with a “cleverly constructed narrative”, but rather observing that they’re actually changing into more urban places before our eyes, at least in Toronto. The businesses are diversified, and more people are walking and taking transit. With new infill, they may be slowly on their way to becoming like the more sustainable traditional neighbourhoods of the city.

    It’s important to recognize that potential. To let everything decay and fall apart would be to ruin potentially valuable parts of the city in the future. It’s better to give them the investment to encourage the transformation to denser, walkable communities than to simply let them stagnate or decay because they don’t fit into our contemporary view of an ideal urban community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *