While the following article represents some of the least investigative of all investigative journalism that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent months, it does raise a question – how much risk is Canada’s real estate market really at in this global crisis?

globeandmail.com: Canada’s dirty subprime secret

Since the subprime mortgage meltdown in the United States, Canadian leaders have assured the public that a similar tidal wave of foreclosures can’t hit here. They have cited the prudence and market dominance of Canada’s five most prominent banks, the conservatism of Canadian consumers and the tiny, 7-per-cent market share of subprime lenders, which is much lower than their 22-per-cent market share in the United States. Just four days ago in a speech, Prime Minister Harper said: “We have avoided the extreme of the unregulated, or barely regulated, financial and mortgage industries that has caused such grief around the world.”

If you’ve been reading UrbanWorkbench for a while, we believe that the combined effects of peak oil, climate change and the economy are coming together in an almost perfect storm, where every effort we make to fix one problem with our typical technological solutions will cause another problem, or be hampered by one of the other two issues. In other words – the sub-prime situation is really the least of our worries.

Owning a house was the dream put forth by the government, the Real Estate Industry, our parents, and just about every manufacturer of goods that we fill our homes with. The great suburban dream is crumbling, as is every industry that has relied on it. The sub-prime situation may not be so glum in Canada, but having lived in Calgary for two years, and recently viewed the movie Radiant City, which is about the sprawling suburbs in the south of Calgary, the scale of these suburban slums and their reliance on the automobile is staggering. These suburbs are disassociated with the realities of urban life, each house is like a castle standing defiant against the elements and the supposed threats from its neighbours. With small, fenced patches of lawn out the back, and the front of the house dominated by the two car garage, it is questionable as to whehter this evironment could stimulate any child to become a leader, or whether the children of these generations will be even more isolated from society than their parents.

The realities of life and the decisions that have been made over the past 50 years are coming home to roost. Do I expect our Prime Minister to be able to stop the tide of change that will impact the suburban way of life? Will he, like many American Presidents state that “we (Canadians) will not appologise for our way of life”, even if it means harming the environment and destroying other countries?

We’re stuck with the past, hanging onto it is unlikely to be useful. There are many innovative models out there for community revival, Transition Towns, Permaculture, Plan C to name a few, but all of these require a critical look at the use of energy and infrastructure as well as patterns of living. None of them rely on techno-miracles for sucess – that alone should teach us all something.

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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