Feeling particularly grateful that winter in Winnipeg is finally over, I’m thinking about some of my happy places. What’s more romantic than Paris in the spring? It’s a question that’ll get you 26 million hits on Google, so I won’t dive in. Romantic cities will get you 53 million hits, with Paris, Boston, Venice, and Québec City high on the list. Clearly finding our happy place is something that we’re willing to travel great lengths to experience, and increasingly willing to change the status quo in order to build little love at home.
My husband and I took a trip to Québec City in April, and I am still delighting in the beautifully intact urbanism of the old city. The most satisfying sense of enclosure I’ve found on the continent can be had here. The local culinary scene is intense, as is the quality of art galleries and museums. The streets of Old Québec have more than their fair share of tourists, attesting to the fact that it’s well worth the visit.
Every street could offer up a course on urbanism and livability. Old Québec City is definitely a happy place for urbanists. The cover of their tourism site gets it:
“Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, is walkable and safe. Stroll the only walled city North of Mexico and its cobblestone streets.”
Every great city sparks great stories, so I have to tell you one. On our first night in Québec City, my husband gave me a special pendant which he had redesigned out of an old piece I rarely wore. It was beautiful. The next morning was blustery, and we started off on our tour of museums, churches, and galleries bundled up in sweaters, scarves and raincoats. An hour into our walk, I paused to unwrap and found the pendant was gone.
Retracing our steps to look for it over the next hour taught me quite a bit about great urbanism, in an forceful way. Being in a city where every step is memorable helps you retrace those steps. Having that satisfying sense of enclosure actually makes it possible to visibly scan the right of way. If we had been in and out of cars for that hour, it’d've been much harder to retrace all the steps. Because the architecture and urbanism were so satisfying, people were looking up at the city instead of down at their feet.
Which all meant that an hour later, we found the pendant on the sidewalk, safe and sound. And somehow, in a simple way, it reinforced Québec City’s reputation for me, as la ville de l’amour dans la belle province. The city of love in the beautiful province.
But what about the neighbourhoods on the way to the airport?
In order to share the love with the non-historic part of town, most cities are looking to remove some of the barriers to building walkable urban forms in the images below in the newer neighbourhoods. While no amount of zoning reform will supply the sort of soul built over generations in Old Québec City, it will give new neighbourhoods and infill a chance at walkability with a higher quality of life. Even Québec City quickly falls away to auto-centric forms that are indistinguishable from any other city in North America. A form-based development bylaw could help suburban neighbourhoods re-inject local character.
From Old Québec City, with love
When time allows, another fun contemplation would be to illustrate the definitions of the soon-to-be-released SmartCode v10 with these and other similar images. Until then, here’s a simple share of some of my favourite Québec City streets. Click each image for larger views.
Where’s your happy place?
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