Politics and Sidewalks in Canada

Photo by Loozrboy

During the election Nate Silver tweeted

“Heuristic: if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

The presence of sidewalks is also a pretty good indicator of how someone will vote in Canada. The trend can be seen clearly in the graph below with the PC/Reform/C.A. getting more of the  suburban (i.e. no sidewalk) vote and the NDP more of the urban  (i.e. sidewalk) vote. This trend has clearly been growing since the 1970s.

Source: Walks, Alan (2007) “The boundaries of suburban discontent? Urban definitions and neighbourhood political effects” The Canadian Geographer, vol 51. No. 2

The divide was also pretty stark in the last Toronto municipal election between the older and newer neighbourhoods:

Map by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.

Why the divergence? Bill Lindeke at Streets.MN provides two explanations about why sidewalks make a good political litmus test. First, that individuals tend to sort themselves so they live closer to like minded people; with people on the political left moving into older neighbourhoods and those on the political right moving into newer neighbourhoods.

The second, and more controversial explanation is that sidewalks and denser urban environments actually change the way people think. As Lindeke muses,

Might sidewalks foster tolerance? Do they actually have an effect on people, changing how they think about their neighbors?…Does walking around one’s neighborhod increase tolerance? Does walking your dog make you more likely to talk to, and try to empathize with, your neighbors? Does having a corner coffee shop foster social capital?

Personally, I  feel it has more to do with life cycles, demographics, and housing type than sidewalks. Household tenuredwelling type, and commuting behaviour are very different in older and newer parts of the city, and families and income rise as you move away from the city centre. These factors surely explain a significant amount of the divergence.

Clearly there is some link between built form and political values. How much do you think your politics are a product of the neighbourhood you live in?


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