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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards a model of the urban development process Gutstein, Donald Irwin


In recent years, dissatisfaction with the quality of the urban environment has become widespread, and opposition to many development proposals has been mounted by citizens groups across Canada. Yet all attempts to improve the environment so far have proved relatively ineffectual. The thesis argues that the environment will continue to deteriorate unless massive changes are made in the structure of decision making which surrounds the urban development process; the major change required being meaningful participation by citizens in making the decisions that affect their lives. A first step towards this goal is the attainment of a clear and comprehensive understanding of how urban development occurs at present. Citizens must be informed before they can be involved. The thesis presents an initial description of the urban development process and outlines the conceptual basis for the construction of a simulation model of the process. It is argued that because of the complexities of urban development, a simulation technique seems appropriate. Given an operating model, it would be possible to test proposals for change on the model before implementing them in reality. Using Metropolitan Vancouver - a typical Canadian urban region - as a data base, the thesis examines the types of public dissatisfactions with the urban environment. These are then translated into the more general categories of urban problems, such as soaring housing costs, transportation congestion, urban sprawl, poverty, pollution and so on. Through a literature survey a number of processes suspected as being related to these urban problems were identified. Two kinds of processes emerged: those which lead to population and economic growth (the ones usually considered in urban models), but also those processes which constrain policy formulation and implementation, such as fragmented authority, inadequate research and development, uncoordinated planning, the pressure of developers. Both types need inclusion in the model. These processes were investigated through a number of case studies of the system in action: downtown redevelopment schemes, Vancouver transportation proposals, a public urban renewal project, a shopping centre proposal, etc. Basic chronologies of events were prepared for each case; the events were then abstracted into a set of actions with the (organizational and individual) actors who engaged in them and the criteria (goals or constraints) upon which the actions were based. These actions were then grouped into related processes. A preliminary conceptual mock-up of the model was made, and a program of research outlined which involves the analysis of factors affecting major processes and the development of values suitable for computer manipulation. At this stage of the work it appears that the building of the model is indeed feasible and that such a simulation will prove most useful in understanding the urban development process.

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