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Urban Design students field course to Québec

Students in the course take a little rest while visiting Québec City.

June 30, 2011

In June Fritz Wagner, Landscape Architecture, took 10 U.W. students to Québec as part of the field course, URBDP 498 Summer Course to French Canada. This comparative Urban Design and Planning course was co-led by Dr. Régent Cabana. It examined the similarities and differences between US and Canadian cities with a focus on the current urban issues confronting communities in the Canadian province of Québec. Students studied the physical layout of cities, urban design, urban growth, problems related to the environment and governmental institutions as well as historical, social and cultural factors specific to Québec cities. Students traveled to Québec, visiting Montreal, Québec City and Ottawa and attended tours and lectures given by area professors and other experts. At the end of the course, students wrote a paper on a topic related to urban issues encountered in Canada. Following are notes from the students regarding their experiences in Québec.

“As an engineering student interested in Transportation, the visit to the three Canadian cities (Montreal, Québec and Ottawa) showed just how far behind US cities are in terms of public transportation. The “bixie” bike system that is currently in Montreal, Ottawa and Québec is not free, but cheap enough that its a very useful way to travel. Not only are bikes readily available, but the roads and trails are designed to handle large amounts of bikers. Seattle is not a good city for biking like Canada because the roads are not kept up well enough for bikes and the topography of Seattle is difficult to bike. Incorporating bikes into a main transportation type is good for environmental issues, congestion, and it promotes a healthy lifestyle. The US in general is designed for ease and seems to incorporate less value to environmental impacts and even less value to health. We have metro’s and busses running through many US cities that aid in public transport, but they seem to be less advanced and useful that those in Montreal. To work on Seattle transportation systems, adding bike lanes on the sides of roads, especially downtown, and creating new bike paths like the trails around Montreal would promote less vehicles in the area and a safe travel method. Along with this plan, more bike racks need to be added to many locations throughout the city. Americans can look at the successful system in Canada to improve the transportation system as well as reduce environmental impacts and promote a healthy lifestyle.” -Renee Koester, Engineering

“The most interesting aspect of the trip, brief as it was, was the unique struggle that older cities face, maintaining their historical and architectural integrity while supporting innovation and expansion. I come from Portland and Seattle, and the sheer “newness” of those cities is striking when compared with Quebec and Montreal. I regret not being able to spend more time in Canada because I would be interested in delving deeper into the administrative compromises and zoning regulations that help dictate how each city has developed. The sole parallel that I can find in Seattle is the tight restriction placed on new development in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, a source of frequent frustration and consternation among some club and bar owners.

Marie-Odile Trépanier’s lecture on some of the unique issues that have cropped up in Montreal’s history provided an illuminating perspective as to some of the differences between Canadian (particularly Quebecois) governments and American governments. But it is hard to say how valuable the classes would have been had they not been taught in the city, so that we, the students, could combine the academic presentations with experiential learning from the city beyond. Learning about Quebecois history while being there seems much more vital than learning about it abstractly, from a classroom in Seattle.

Finally, the difference in roles that the private sector plays in the US and Canada was particularly interesting. If I were to pursue an Urban Planning or Real Estate development graduate degree, I would be interested in investigating some of the causes and effects of the disparate power that each respective government enjoys.” – Robert Franco-Tayar, Community, Environment, and Planning

“As a student of public policy, I joined the class to see first-hand how Canada, a country that is shares many similarities with the US, approaches and attempts to solve its own urban issues. What I ended up seeing, though, is just how different Canada really is. The province of Quebec, especially, is a region that I had to visit before I could understand and appreciate it. Practicing my French was an added bonus, though I could have gotten along in English without any trouble. The speaking list was full of professionals and professors that were both knowledgeable and personable. If I had any complaint, it would be that our time in Canada was too short. I feel that this trip has exposed me to a different way of doing things. This breadth of approaches is sure to be an asset in public policy or in any other field.” -Kyle Frankiewich, Public Affairs

“I believe this trip to Canada will expand my perspective as a future city planner. I am studying to get my Master’s in City and Regional Planning, and currently my academic coursework has been focused in the US. This trip will allow me to understand other cities, and other systems of planning. Québec is a unique place, and this exposure should make me consider planning in a wider context. I think in the future this will be valuable to my profession. Further, I think the trip will help me understand more about Canada in general. Currently, my understanding of Canada is only through visiting British Columbia. This trip will reveal the diversity and complexity of the country.” -Jenna Rose Higgins, City and Regional Planning

“The experience of traveling to Québec and Montreal has reinforced my understanding of the importance of urban planning for the future of our cities and countries. As two of the largest cities in the Province of Québec, Québec City and Montreal are great examples of how urban planning can effectively be used to solve major urban issues. Although both cities are very different they both provide a strong understanding of the french-Canadian culture and Canada as a whole. Québec city is very unique as it balances being a predominantly tourist city, while also being home to a large population of french-canadians. One of the major issues we focused on was how Old city provides a healthy environment for residents living there among the strong tourist culture. Because of the history of Québec, the Old city is a major tourist draw and the commercial businesses within the walls of the old city cater to tourists, which leaves out many of the necessary amenities for residents. Montreal on the other hand is much different than Québec. Montreal is a much more diverse city with cultural enclaves all over the city. From the Village, to Chinatown, to the Latin Quarter, all within walking distance, the city of Montreal is hard to define. After traveling to both cities, I found that an important distinction between the two cities is the idea of identity. Whereas Québec is mostly defined by their history and their Old City, Montreal’s identity is much harder to define. The individual neighborhoods have very strong identities, but there are so many different areas of Montreal that it is almost impossible to find one definition. Another lesson I found from traveling to the two cities was that cities all over the world deal with many of the same issues regardless of the culture, time, environment, and country. Urban issues such as gentrification, homelessness, traffic, stormwater management, cultural divides, and transportation issues exist in all major cities. The same issues we have discussed in the city of Seattle, are the same issues Montreal and Québec are dealing with, it is how they deal with these issues that remains very different. These two Canadian cities have also exemplified the Canadian commitment to social services. One example is the city-wide bike share program in Montreal called bixi, which was originally free for residents for the first 30 minutes, which shows the city’s commitment to providing affordable sustainable transportation.

After my experience on this trip I have become much more interested in pursuing a degree in Urban Planning, with an emphasis on creating city-wide programs for stormwater management. I have found that a huge part of planning is the ability to think critically about our environment and the relationships between our social structures and our built environment. I am particularly interested in planning because it is about problem solving and improving upon what has already been created versus just winning a game or making profit.” -Katherine Stultz, Community, Environment, and Planning

“Having traveled only to BC before within Canada, my trip to Québec greatly contributed to my understanding of the country. I gained a lot learning about the governmental structure within the country, and how provincial government differs from the role of states within the US. I learned about significant cultural differences between Québec and my home that contribute to different approaches to urban planning. I hope to use this new knowledge in my future career as a planner.” -Amy Taylor, Community, Environment, and Planning

“The French Canadian experience has been an eye opening experience. Most of my travel has been to the western side of the country, and being able to experience Québec and Montreal has been fantastic. I feel I have a better understanding the dynamics that Canada experiences between the french speaking and english speaking communities. I know feel I have a much greater understanding of the struggles surrounding the preservation of culture with French language. This trip will greatly influence my future research and projects by helping me understand the importance of language and regional planning.” -Mori Wallner, Public Affairs

This program was supported, in part, by funding from a Canadian Studies Center Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Government of Canada.