The political economy of densification, looking for signs of the postmodern city; a case study of urban transformation in Greater Vancouver

Thumbnail Image
Reid, Barton
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
We are living in a transition period with regard to the way that urban space is being organized. Old patterns are beginning to be replaced by new ones ecause in Canada these changes are being experienced most intensely is Vancouver, this city was chosen as the most appropriate place to conduct a case study into the transformation which is affecting the institutional and cultural logic for the organization and production of urban space. While the generation of new spatial norms within the local state became the empirical focus for this investigation, several conceptual challenges were also posed because of the reductionist and deterministic nature of the intellectual frameworks that are being used to comprehend change. Particularly in the planning field, a framework was required which avoided these problems. That is why political economy--and within political economy, one approach to the study of change known as regulation theory--was chosen to guide this inquiry. From regulation theory three organizing constructs--a regime of accumulation, mode of regulation and mode of urban development--were used to construct a periodization scheme in order to track the evolution of urban development in Vancouver during the late-twentieth century. Two patterns were identified. The first one was characterized by low-density suburban development where a regime of land-extensive accumulation prevailed, and the existence a mode of regulation which was governed by modern norms for the organization of space. In Vancouver, this mode of urban development became the dominant institutional logic for the production of urban space between 1945 and 1973. After 1973, this logic was replaced by another one. In contrast to the first mode of urban development, this second pattern was characterized by a regime of land-intensive accumulation, where densification became more prominent. Moreover, there was a change in the mode of regulation, as modern norms for the organization of space were replaced by postmodern ones. In Vancouver, the intermingling of these two patterning forces has established a hybrid form of urban development which has resulted in the creation of the first medium-density urban region in North America.