Seattleite Dan Bertolet has just started up a new site – Citytank: Why Cities Matter.  Lots of Emerald City issues, obviously, but like Price Tags, as illustrations of larger urban questions.

To launch the site, Dan asked a host of contributors to submit (really) short essays that address his subtitle – why cities matter.  So here are 69 responses from an eclectic group of observers.  Including mine:

When does a suburb become a city? Because that’s what the next half century is all about.

We spent the last half of the 20th-century creating suburbs – the  stuff we city types dismiss as sprawl. But, sorry, it’s not  dismissable. People love it. Always have, and still do.

Whenever a society gets rich enough, people buy space. Hence the  suburban instinct that flowered for the middle classes in the age of the  streetcar – the technology that expanded cities exponentially in the  1890s.

Vancouver,  founded in 1886, one of the first places to adopt electric-streetcar  technology, and so shaped itself around the villages that formed  wherever the streetcar lines went. And though we may look so  mid-20th-century modern with all our concrete high-rises, we are  still function more like a late-19th century city. And also because we  didn’t build freeways into our core.

Unfortunately our surburbs did build freeways, wide roads and parking lots  – lots of ‘em and not a lot of transit – making themselves almost  totally dependent on the auto and truck for almost everything. Today,  those suburbs are vulnerable. Having driven out all other  transportation choices except driving, they are now hostage to the price  and availability of oil.

So what to do? What distinguishes the central area of Vancouver,  given the imits of water and mountains, was to build on the streetcar  fabric and make high-density development sufficiently attractive that  all classes of people could imagine living in it. Vancouver provided  enough practical transportation choices – walking, cycling, transit,  taxis – sufficient to accommodate more people without accommodating more  cars.

The rest of the region has decided that it too would like a bit of what Vancouver has. In the regional town centres from North Vancouver  to Langley City, they’re embracing density, transit and the public  realm. High-rises sprout all along the rapid-transit lines.  In our  largest municipality, Surrey, they prohibit the use of the word  ‘suburban.’ They’re using public investment – a new library, a new city hall, walkable public spaces, more transit – to stimulate private-sector development, to concentrate into true ‘downtowns.’

The suburban ideal may remain dominant in the older subdvisions, but  they too like the idea of choice – in accommodation, workplaces and  transportation. And they’ll need to, if the suburb is to have a  future.

But then they’ll call it a city.