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Blast from the Past: The Post-Industrial Era and Vancouver


Dr. Walter Hardwick, was one of North America's leading urban geographersThe mission and vision of PlaceSpeak has been strongly influenced by the life and work of Walter Hardwick, the father of our CEO and founder, Colleen. During his long and varied career, he significantly shaped the City and metropolitan region of Vancouver. While Walter passed away in 2005, his legacy lives on.

The following is an essay Dr. Hardwick wrote in 1970 and presented to the Vancouver Institute. It explores the development of Vancouver since World War II and his predictions for the future. Although the paper was written nearly 41 years ago, it remains extremely relevant today.  Many of his observations  continue to haunt the city, and many of his predictions have come to pass.

This is an essential read for anybody interested in the history or future of Vancouver’s urban structure.

The Post-Industrial Era and Vancouver

An Address to the Vancouver Institute – October 17, 1970 – Dr. Walter G. Hardwick.

Our metropolitan region may have two million inhabitants by the year 2000. We have a million today. Two thousand is not very far in the future either. It is as far in the future as the beginning of the second world war was in the past. For many here, that is not a long time. This challenge of growing numbers has to be considered seriously if we are to maintain and expand the quality of environment and develop a responsive and humane urban society. The challenge is compounded by the fact that we have no certainty that the institutions and structures of the past will serve well in the future.

The present urban structure of Vancouver developed within a public policy framework established forty years ago. During the past five years this policy has been under attack by the changing day to day decisions on a myriad of individual, families and entrepreneurs. The basic policy guidelines are based upon classical models of the city developed by the 1920’s and reflect conditions of the economy and society of the first quarter of the century. These are out of phase in the 1970s. City officials as well as academics are just beginning to appreciate that they have been operating under a series of assumptions about the urban economy and society, and about the juxtaposition of places of work, residence, shopping and recreation that are no longer appropriate.

The images that people have for their city eventually become manifest in public policy and in turn the character of the landscape. This has been true in the past and has been documented by several students at U.B.C.  In my judgment it will happen in the future, and because of the pace of growth forecast for the ensuing years, it will be mandatory for the leaders of this city to understand where and how the processes work.

Tonight I would like to explore with you some of the processes of the past which gave form to our contemporary landscape and then turn to some of the new forces which are evident in our society and encourage you to reflect with me on the impact of these changes on cities in general and Vancouver in particular.

One of the most important ideas concerning the city to be advanced in the past five years has been the concept of the post-industrial city. In its simplest terms outlined by Daniel Bell in 1967, it asserts that the majority of people within many great cities are no longer engaged in the production and distribution of material processed goods, the predominant occupation of the industrial city. It means that the majority of people are not engaged in agricultural production, either commercial or subsistence.  Now most people are engaged in the provision of services or they are under and unemployed. The shift in the way in which most people make their living has not been uniform between cities nor over time.

Some cities still are dominated by the manufacturing plants and warehouses that we associated with the industrial city. However, as demonstrated by the census in the United States, these cities are not growing. For example, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania experienced absolute decline in the 1965-1970 census period. However, for many other cities, and Vancouver is one of them, new employment is being created in the service sectors.

Shifts from agrarian, to industrial, to post-industrial societies have major impact on the function forma nd structure of the city. Our forefathers saw Vancouver as an industrial and commercial city.  Manufacturing and distributing the natural resources of the province for shipment to the markets of the world.  The city they created was to service those ambitions.  We were the “Gateway to the Orient and the Pacific”, the “Terminal City by the sunset sea”.  The city was a place to get rich, and the docks, warehouses, sawmills, and other industries were one of the physical manifestations of wealth. In consequence waterfront for sawmills, docks and manufacturing plants were priorities for land uses. The natural setting of Vancouver, its amenities were of secondary importance.

Immigrants into Vancouver from the east and from Europe already had had urban experience and many of their notions of what cities should be were based upon these experiences. Vancouver to them was to be no small town that might grow to be a city. It was founded to be a big city… a radially-organized commercial and industrial city modeled after the cities in the east – Montreal, Boston, or Europe.

To the most recent generation of immigrants, the motivation has been different… not that the claims for “the good life” have gone unnoticed.  Vancouver was seen as a place where the physical and cultural amenities were the best in the nation and where the opportunities for personal fulfillment could be enhanced. To these people, many of them professional, business and technical persons, who sell talent, services and ideas, the remaining artifacts of the industrial era were inappropriate to their image of the city. These people are the labour force for the post-industrial economy – these people are strong advocates of environmental and civic improvement.

Several well known authors on the city have dealt with the shift of the big city orientation from industry and commerce to different activities.

One important statement has come from the British social psychologist, Eric Trist, who has written “An irreversible change process is proceeding in the world, at an accelerating rate, but with extreme unevenness, both within countries and between countries. The process is the drift toward post-industrialism.” “The advantage of this metaphor”, he continues, “is that we shall not assume that the present social order will continue in the future; rather we prepare ourselves to assist the emergence of a society radically different from the industrial societies have evolved in the past hundred years.”  Referring to the work of Syracuse scholar B.M. Gross, he proposes a means of selecting aspects of society which have undergone ‘phase change’ from an industrial to post-industrial stage from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. The result is a set of contrasting characteristics which exhibit the scope and nature of fundamental and irreversible changes which have led to the structural (but not cultural) presence of the post-industrial society. He produced a series of tables entitled “comparative saliences: 1935-1065”. I cannot go into these in detail, however some examples illustrate what he is getting at.

Trist uses the title: “Patterns of Comparative Saliences, 1935-1965”. He juxtaposes words which reflect what he believes to be the important characteristics of the two generations.  Looking at the Labour Force, he notes in 1935 a predominance of blue collar workers. Thirty years later it is white collar. In the 1920’s most had not completed high school; in the 30’s most were trained for a single lifelong job, while in the 1960’s serial jobs were more common.

In another line of thought he notes shifts in power from financiers and industrialists to scientists and professions as the basis of technology shift from energy to information. Further, he sees shifts in values over 30 years from achievement to self-actualization, from self-control to self-expression, from independence to interdependence, from endurance of distress to capacity for joy.  How do you relate to those? Were you or your parents achievement-oriented in the 1930’s? Did you hold virtues of self-control and independence, and that old praiseworthy trait of endurance of distress?   Have you developed a capacity for joy in the 1960s? That may be a bit of an exaggeration; however the changes in emphasis expressed by these words are important in looking at the emerging post-industrialism.

In the government sector the shift from single cities to clusters of cities, from isolated rural areas to urban-linked rural areas, from competitive relations to collaborative relations. The emerging trends he sees may only be slowing coming to Vancouver, however some of the operative words responsive to crisis as compared to anticipative of crises, requiring public consent to generalized central control are things we see emerging.

This is summed by the statement: “our present state is the last stage in a free fall – the fall from the agricultural into the industrial epoch and beyond; from natural into a man made world; into an increasing political world.

Impact on institutions: Edward Higbee has contributed independently to this theme. Higbee had singled out the notion of the city as a “synthetic environment” and has described its characteristics, particularly as to how “intelligence” has replaced energy and raw materials as the dominant propellant of cities. He shows in a recent book how “a question of priorities” that tragically our political institutions are lagging behind our social organizations. Our governments are of the agrarian age when we are sailing into the post-industrial era. This reminds one of the tragedy of the doctrine of self-determination of Woodrow Wilson which offered independence just at the time that agrarian economies gave way to the industrial ones. One cannot help but wonder if this is the state today.

Impact on place: the planner Melvin Webber has dealt with another dimension… that is the impact of post industrialism on the location of the economic and social activities within the nation. His paper “Cities without space: community without propinquity” argues that the shift in employment from the factory to the office is one visible step, but the next step, already taken by thousands of business and professional people, is to a space-less city based upon the new communications. Webber states that now some have face-to-face contact with individuals across the nation more frequently than they see friends in the same town.  The relative decline in the cost/time of communication has contributed to this. As communications improve, the degree to which people are tied to a place of work, or to the journey to work will change drastically.  Work will cease to dictate in part location of residence. Our concepts of neighbourhood, and city, will be challenged. New factors influence the growth of cities.

Richard Meier, expanding this communication theme as well, argues that trend setters of our society may be good models for the future.  He writes, “Breadwinners engage for brief periods of time in intensive interaction where high levels of performance are demanded of them, thereafter, they withdraw to an environment where the pace of events is under their control.”  Pilots, writers, ‘jetset’. Does this parallel the tendency of the industrial elites of the turn of the century adoption models drawn from the agrarian elites of the nineteenth century?

Jean Gottman, a distinguished geographer and author of the book Megalopolis, the urbanized east coast of the U.S. has offered to us the concept of the quaternary economic activities as the growth sector. Gottman reminds us of the traditional classifications of primary industry resource exploitation, secondary industry in cities, and tertiary activities, the distribution phase of the material production economy.  “The quaternary activities are those that occupy the skyscraper”, he writes and include the services to business and individuals. Catalytic activities plus those activities that make man more productive; education, medical and similar services, fit in this category. To me the preoccupation of many with experiences rather than artifacts in their own lives may be examples of this shift. The new emphasis on travel for all, the arts entertainment.

A study group from General Electric has introduced into the discussion some ideas from the late American psychologist Abraham Maslow.  Maslow proposed a model of individual development moving from the needs of food and shelter, through stages of ego satisfaction, socialization, to a state of self-actualization, the latter being a complex notion of the individual who knows himself and maximizes his person.  G.E. suggested this model could be used as an analogy for society.  Some groups at the stage of providing necessities, others are at the law and order stage while others are on an ego trip.  The possibility of large numbers reaching a stage of self-actualization has not arrived but may.

And I could go on.  The economists Kenneth Boulding , J.K. Galbraith and Gunnar Myrdal all offer insights into the changing socio-economy and economic organization.

How do we apply these varied ideas to Vancouver?

A point of departure for many geographers is a concern for the landscape and the processes which create them. My research focus is the urban landscape and in particular one laboratory, Vancouver.  Social and economic change impinges on our landscape. At one scale we can look at our competitive position in the national city system.

Our ability to employ our young people and provide a better quality city will depend upon an ability to attract and keep persons capable of instigating action.  A number of prerequisites are now well known, “Appealing institutions, urban, climatic and cultural environments”. Management and professionals, the catalysts of a quaternary economy, are becoming choosy.  In a recent survey education quality through good schools and universities, better than average solutions to traffic, cleanliness and safety were most frequently mentioned.  These factors are not things that normally come to mind of the policy maker who is dedicated to growth in raw material producing industries.  These factors are not high on the priority of our civic bureaucrats who see our growth in secondary industry.

Post-industrialism has impact on the structure of the city. The urban core is a case in point. If the city is based on “intelligence” as Trist and Higbee suggest, then the office building and the university replace the factory and the steam plant as propellants of economy.  Our civic exports become plans, ideas, experiences, as well as the materials goods. This does not preclude the expansion of primary industry in the hinterland. We are talking only of the core city.

The priorities of land use shift from the warehouse and the factory to the ancillary services of downtown – the computer, the park, the specialty shop, the café and the inner city residence.  This shift is manifested markedly in the decision to recast the form of False Creek from an industrial slum to an integral part of our residential and commercial fabric.

This has consequences to housing.  A few, very few, studies have been made of housing desired in a period when people are increasingly free to choose. In one graduate school survey “a strong majority rejected both the suburbs and central cities and opted for an acres of space and the kind of convenience provided by having a vehicle for everyone over ten… and prospective incomes were more than sufficient to meet the extra expense”.  In another, freshmen had already developed similar values. A minority strive for the cultural richness of the central city, those who are career and culturally oriented.  Models and fashions already imbedded in the minds of many will have their physical manifestation in the future landscape irrespective of the pious hopes of the rational planners.

In another study, our own, we have been able to demonstrate the propensity of upper income people to abandon the single family home for apartments to secure less maintenance and freedom for winter travel to Hawaii and summer at Savary, Bowen or Crescent.

Others, who knows how many, have rejected the materialism of the post war generation and are creating sub-cultures that are basically anti-urban.  They will have their impact as well.

Martin Meyerson suggests that new coalitions are developing to manage our cities that find support in the intellectual, student, poor, black and a large block of conservatives. They are all suspicious of big government, big unions, big corporations. They all see moral deficit and hypocrisy in the regulations, red tape, and ineptitude and lack of responsibility which they believe occupy large scale bureaucracy of any kind. They all object to the “administered life”.

Others see the great drift toward alienation and depersonalization where the affluent are more or less disgusted with and alienated; others are numbered, indifferent, coasting, and those that want what the others have got.

City is the place where its successor is being nurtured. Community only exists where communication… and to some the city has been where that has broken down.

With this background of change with this frightening lack of information we will have to make some decisions in this area of major importance.  (1) One of these centers upon transportation. Land use and transportation can be used as a tool on urban development, to create density, corridors, dispersion or concentration. Before us in Great Vancouver are roads, transit, crossing and freeway proposals.  Each of these has consequences.  (2) Make decisions on downtown. How much density should be permit? Can we afford the services needed to double downtown labour force? (3) Make decisions on housing. Where, when and how much do we need? (4) Make decisions on environmental control. How much land can go into housing? Parks? Trees on boulevards, resources, water treatments and air care?

Raises questions of priorities in fields of education, health care and other personal services.

This has prompted us to a research program to more fully understand the decision-making process as carried out by government officials, heads of households, entrepreneurs in particular with respect to the paces he chooses to live, work, and the frequency of the type of trips he makes. We hope that these will add to the empirical documentation on the emerging post industrialism and permit the development of new models of urban structure and good decisions.

I have recently advanced a core-ring model of the city, a model that testifies to the semi-independence of many areas of the region.  This might grow into a “dispersed city” model where most travel and functions are within community.  The cores of course would be linked for the more infrequent trips to the centers who specialize.  This model offers greatest chance for individual differentialization.  In history the sites called crossroads where pluralism is common have been the most creative centers.  There may be structures that intensify the activities of the post industrial city… and these we should cultivate.

As we look to the year 2000 we cannot assume that the city of the past will continue.  Many of you have a model in mind of the city; a city of the 1920’s which was perpetuated into the 30’s by depression and 40’s by wartime and scarcity. This is fast disappearing, but for the inner-city dwellers traveling over old radial bus lines a permanence that is illusionary has persisted.  For me a new model is emerging – a vision of the post industrial city.  This raises the basic conflict between those whose resource producers as main stay of civic development and the managerial and professional post industrial inhabitants.  These will have to be accommodated. Let us apply our knowledge and good will to create institutions which will provide for a future of Vancouver as a great post-industrial city.


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  1. Colleen Hardwick September 9, 2011

    Noticed that WGH is wearing his Order of British Columbia Medallion. How timely!


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