City history and city planning : the local historical roots of the city planning function in three cities of the Canadian prairies

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Levin, Earl A.
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Counter to prevailing theories among urbanists which seek to explain urban phenomena on the basis of common characteristics of cities, this thesis argues that every city, because of its environment and its own peculiar history, differs from every other city in significant ways and that these differences are more revealing of the inner nature of cities than are their commonalities. To confirm this proposition requires a comparison of the similarities and differences among cities and the demonstration that there are, indeed, essential ditferences among them which account for telling differences in their governance, development and outlook. Comparisons of cities in the same socio-economic and cultural milieu, the same time-period and the same geographic location would be most persuasive: significant differences among such cities are not normally to be expected and, if found, would support the thesis. Accordingly, three cities in the prairie region of Canada which meet these stipulated criteria - Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary - were chosen as the subject cities of this study. The study examines the salient features of the physiography and history of the prairie region, the nature of the city planning function, the notion of a prairie regional personality, and the histories of the three subject cities. It finds that because of constitutional, statutory and historic factors, the common role of city government is administrative rather than policy-making; that the planning function is, in effect, an administrative instrument which simply expresses the city council's politico-economic orientation; and that the "master plan" is an ineffectual planning device. City government could become a true policy-making government if its statutory context were changed, but such a change is most unlikely. The planning function, however, could be made much more effective with some simple by-law changes. The study's principal finding is that although all three cities shared a common environment and had common characteristics at the outset, they diverged widely from each other during the course of their historical evolution until they became unlike each other, each with its own particular characteristics. These unique traits were embedded in the inner nature of each city and are expressed in its distinctive governance, communal ethos, planning function and development process. It surely follows, then, that the fullest understanding of any city, as well as solutions to its problems, must be sought in its own inner nature, not in synoptic urban theories or other cities' practices.