Building a Suburb in the Sky: Why Not?


I read a wonderful column the other day about how a group of planners have decided to develop ideas for a city in the sky. They weren’t brainstorming ideas for a science fiction film; they were trying to think big about what could be rather than getting bogged down by all of the impossible obstacles inherent in design and planning:

The Upper Toronto is a science fiction design proposal to build a new city in the sky. The CN restaurant might be ground level, or imagine a city sitting on top of the Bay Street towers. When Upper Toronto is finished, all residents will be relocated upwards and Lower Toronto will transformed into some combination of intentional ruin, national park, and farmland. This is, of course, a terrible idea. But it is a terrible idea that lets us imagine and perform about the kind of city we’d want if we could start fresh.

I love this, and as someone who’s sat through countless design charrettes with city planners and officials, wish it would be practiced more widely. Why? Because what you hear most often in these contexts is a continual refrain of, “Well, that will never happen.” Rarely do you hear new and brilliant, or even new and mediocre ideas, because people come into the process anticipating defeat. Because budgets are tight, processes are bureaucratic, zoning is restrictive, and semi-democratic processes like design review result most often in design by committee, it’s understandable that stakeholders enter into the conversation with little in the way of hope or optimism.

That’s a path we’ve got to get ourselves off of. What is inspiring about the Upper Toronto proposal is its embrace of the absurd. What if each community committed to a meeting that would allow for this sort of pie-in-the-sky discussion and idea generation?

As writer Tim Maly explains when introducing Toronto’s fantastic (and fantastical) concept for planning the City in the Sky, “Upper Toronto will be full of ideas that will never be implemented. If we do it right, it will prompt a lot of people to ask, “But why not?””

And why not a Suburb in the Sky? The challenges facing suburban regions are incredibly complex and require creative solutions—the kinds of solutions that can only come from thinking big.