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Enlightened Planning, 1964 version

June 5, 2008

This is a classic documentary by the National Film Board from 1964, done for CMHC (known then as Central Mortgage and Housing), to promote an ‘enlightened’ approach to urban renewal.  That is, identify blight and tear it down.  Good-bye Strathcona.

As fascinating for its views of the city as the mindset of the planners.

Part 1

Part 2


11 Comments leave one →
  1. Ron C. permalink
    June 5, 2008 12:18 pm

    The title font reminds me of the Brady Bunch.

  2. June 5, 2008 5:30 pm

    This old footage of Vancouver is so cool. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. June 6, 2008 5:38 pm

    I wrote an article for Victoria’s monthly “Focus Magazine,” published March 2008, about Centennial Square, which was part of our 60s urban renewal experiment. There, too, the argument was “it’s blight, so raze it, and build a clean public space.”

    Alas, Centennial Square has never been successful and is a dismal design failure, and today we’d probably like to have that old “blight” back so we could clean it up as “authentic heritage.” (I’m pretty sure that Centennial Square will never quite make the heritage cut, irrespective of the fact that some of our city councilors seem to think its designers should be well-thought of!)

    A direct, referenced impetus for Centennial Square and Victoria’s urban renewal was England’s “Norwich Plan,” hatched in the 30s (well before Hitler’s bombs). The Norwich Plan was typical of the thinking that equates urban density with slum, …from whence it’s but a short hop to blight, and then demolition. See also Gavin Stamp’s recent book, Britain’s Lost Cities.

    I think we still have trouble dealing with density, because there’s a lingering post-industrialization Anglo trauma that associates it with slum conditions (and disease). I think in our case it’s a deeply rooted English mind-set, inspired by persistent & depraved slum conditions in 19th century London in the wake of massive population influxes due to the Industrial Revolution.

    The Parisian case is different: Haussmann wasn’t razing medieval Paris to get rid of Industrial Revolution slums — his historical conditions (and political masters) were entirely different, with a political Revolution and subsequent restoration – revolution cycle at least in part fueling a desire to “rationalize” the city with wide boulevards and “better” classes of people who might not be so ready to uncobble the streets and use pavers as weapons. Haussmann built the Paris everyone loves, but he got at it by tearing the existing fabric to shreds.

    On another note: did you notice that the second clip explains the funding scheme as half coming from the Feds, with the Province and the City splitting the remainder? That means the city was paying for just 1/4 of the project. And if I understood correctly, the Skeena Terrace project was funded in full by the Feds.

    At least back then the “senior” levels of government helped with the creation of affordable rental housing, even if the city’s scheme involved razing entire blocks and building less-than-charming housing blocks. Today, the municipalities are practically expected to carry the burden alone, and no one is building any new rental housing at all (not counting condos that can be rented out by their individual owners).

    • vincentgornall permalink
      January 26, 2013 12:26 pm

      I agree with you that Centennial Square lacks good design, and created a gaping hole in Victoria’s downtown. Supposed “blight” was indeed used to describe the area before redevelopment. But the tone of the planners in Victoria at the time was different from that of the planners quoted in To Build a Better City, as I discovered recently when I watched a contemporaneous movie about Victoria, called A Townscape Rediscovered. I’ve become more sympathetic to what was going on during the 1960s in Victoria than I have been in the past, although I am just at the beginning of a research project, so I haven’t looked at all the primary sources yet. I have links to A Townscape Rediscovered up at my blog; here’s a link:

  4. June 8, 2008 11:48 am

    That some great footage, and I love the soundtrack.

    It’s easy to look back and judge the mindset of city planners, especially because there there were major negative consequences of these mega-slum clearance projects in terms of displacing people and depleting the city’s heritage stock. But damn, at least the government was doing something about housing.

    In learning this history, something else that has struck me is that even though inadequate housing has always been an issue in Vancouver, it’s only the past 20 years that homelessness has been a significant problem. Instead of allowing the poor to live in dilapidated hovels, squat, or live on rickety houseboats in False Creek, we force them to sleep outside and to be utterly houseless. In some ways, the thinking and practice of city planning today is more backwards and mean than it was in 1964.

  5. Mike permalink
    July 14, 2008 5:02 pm

    Loved the movie! Brought back memories. How I would love to have one of those “blighted” buildings to fix up now. Notice all that beautiful timber?

    Living in Hong Kong with three adults and a baby in 600 sq. ft., it was interesting to hear the only Chinese quoted in the film say that their house was “too small.”

    How times have changed.

  6. October 4, 2009 3:26 pm

    thank you for posting this documentary. what a great time warp and lots of great comments and insight too… funny how the city struggled with certain neighbourhoods even back in 1964 and today the work continues.

  7. Christopher permalink
    October 4, 2009 5:42 pm

    It’s funny how their plan centres around the demolition and development of MacLean Park and the areas around it. Not only is that park still undeveloped, but the surrounding blocks remain unchanged since the 40s.

  8. July 8, 2010 7:30 am

    Thanks for posting, so glad they stopped, I live in this area in a 1902 house that is a treasure, however I know know where the contractor I used got his education, new is better attitude as he ripped out 100 year old wood.

  9. David permalink
    May 8, 2012 11:35 pm

    The MacLean Park Christopher made reference to as still being undeveloped was actually created (by demolishing a block of houses) to replace the original park that was incorporated into theMaclean housing project. Looking back from 2012, would razing Strathcona to create a neighborhood of “projects” have had any effect on today’s housing issues? Or would it become our version of Chicago’s Robert Taylor projects?


  1. Urban Renewal at the Movies: Vancouver vs. Victoria | Vincent's Victoria

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