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Political Science City Planning & Urban Development

The Shape of the City

Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning

by (author) John Sewell

introduction by Jane Jacobs

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1993
City Planning & Urban Development
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    Dec 1993
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    Sep 1993
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Critics have long voiced concerns about the wisdom of living in cities and the effects of city life on physical and mental health. For a century, planners have tried to meet these issues. John Sewell traces changes in urban planning, from the pre-Depression garden cities to postwar modernism and a revival of interest in the streetscape grid.

In this far-ranging review, Sewell recounts the arrival of modern city planning with its emphasis on lower densities, limited access streets, segregated uses, and considerable green space. He makes Toronto a case history, with its pioneering suburban development in Don Mills and its other planned communities, including Regent Park, St Jamestown, Thorncrest Village, and Bramalea.

The heyday of the modern planning movement was in the 1940s to the 1960s, and the Don Mills concept was repeated in spirit and in style across Canada. Eventually, strong public reaction brought modern planning almost to a halt within the city of Toronto. The battles centred on saving the Old City Hall and stopping the Spadina Expressway. Sewell concludes that although the modernist approach remains ascendant in the suburbs, the City of Toronto has begun to replace it with alternatives that work.

This is a reflective but vigorous statement by a committed urban reformer. Few Canadians are better suited to point the way towards city planning for the future.

About the authors

JOHN SEWELL served as an alderman on Toronto City Council during the 1970s and was mayor of Toronto from 1978 to 1980. He chaired the Metro Toronto Housing Authority from 1986 to 1988 and the Commission on Planning and Development Reform in Ontario from 1991 to 1993. Sewell wrote an urban affairs column for The Globe and Mail from 1984 to 1986, currently writes for Now, a Toronto weekly, and is the author of Up Against City Hall, Police: Urban Policing in Canada, and the recently published The Shape of the City: Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning.

John Sewell's profile page

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urban activist and writer. In 1962, she chaired the Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway, helping prevent the expressway from being built. She helped block the Lower Manhattan Expressway again in 1968, and was arrested during a demonstration. In part due to her anti-Vietnam stance, that same year Jacobs moved to Toronto, where she would remain. There she helped stop the Spadina Expressway, and influenced the successful regeneration of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. Her books include The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Systems of Survival, The Nature of Economics, and Dark Age Ahead. A Canadian citizen from 1974, she was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1996.

Jane Jacobs' profile page

Other titles by John Sewell

Other titles by Jane Jacobs