“I’ve been told that the tallest building in hell has an awesome view of the emerald city”

Heard those lyrics over the car radio last week. I did not know that the Emerald City was close enough to hell that you could actually see it from there, but that whole geography sounds a lot like Vancouver.

As everybody knows, the Emerald City is the fictional capital city in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But many forget the details: the city’s outer walls are green, but the the city itself, with its tall glass towers, is not; it only appears so because all who enter the Emerald City are required to wear green-tinted eyeglasses. Supposedly this is to protect their eyes from the “brightness and glory” of the city, but in effect it only makes everything appear green when the city is, in fact, “no more green than any other city. Sound familiar, Vancouver?

Baum’s Oz series, beginning with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was written in the U.S. during the financial crisis of the 1890s. Everyone knows the story of Oz, but not everyone knows that it is in part a political economic allegory based on early features of the takeover of the economy and politics by lending institutions, a phenomenon with which we’re now all too familiar. The yellow brick road represented the gold currency standard; Dorothy’s shoes were silver and represented the quantitative easing that Baum and a majority of the struggling population, especially the agricultural south, were clamouring for. But I digress.

I consider myself an environmentalist and am deeply in favour of green urban planning—when it’s real. I was initially in favour of Vision Vancouver’s “Greenest City Initiative,” but that support has evaporated. Read it for yourself; it’s smoke and mirrors and contains nothing substantive. Tall, speculation-driven glass condo towers are almost certainly not green (see link above). They cause numerous problems, are the opposite of energy efficient, have no longevity, and don’t bring adequate density to offset the resources they use and the extreme property value distortions they create. The Greenest City Initiative, resting as it does far too heavily on highrises built by megadevelopers , is the green sunglasses of Oz. I wonder what property values are like in the Emerald City? And what’s the point of a policy that contributes to a commuter city no workers can afford to live in? By the way, the ever-present highrise policy is noticeably de-emphasized on the GCI website.

Let’s remember that the Emerald City’s magical wizard turned turned out to be a secretive, inaccessible, fraudulent little guy behind a curtain, creating grand illusions with smoke and projections.

I know I’m probably getting repetitive on this topic, and it’s only going to get worse. History itself is getting painfully repetitive.

Vancouver hosted the first ever global conference on green cities: UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements, 1976. How far we have fallen.

UPDATE: Read The Limits of Density:
“Density does not always demand high-rises,” notes McMahon. “Skyscrapers are a dime a dozen in today’s world. Once a low rise city or town succumbs to high-rise mania, many more towers will follow, until the city becomes a carbon-copy of every other city in a ‘geography of nowhere.'”

PPS. from Wikipedia:

In Gregory Maguire‘s revisionist Oz novels… the Emerald City is an even darker place than in Baum’s novels. It does have splendid palaces and gardens, but also sections beset by crime and poverty… The green glasses that are worn by the citizens are often used as a way to stop them seeing what is going on around them. Video Game Emerald City Confidential portrays the Emerald City as a film noir place with private detectives, widespread corruption, mob bosses, smugglers, and crooked lawyers. Set 40 years after the events of The Wizard of Oz, it’s described as “Oz, seen through the eyes of Raymond Chandler“.[16]

PPPS. Light at the end of the tunnel? “Hey Toronto condo owner: Why so glum?

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