Book Review: Citizen City

By Marya Cotten Gould, Gregory Henriquez and Robert Enright. Edited by Robert Enright. Blue Imprint, 2016.

Unlike a traditional call to action that urges leaders to do something positive for upcoming generations, a new book by Vancouver’s Henriquez Partners inspires young architects to shape the world of tomorrow themselves—starting today. In their book Citizen City, Marya Cotten Gould, Gregory Henriquez, FRAIC, and Robert Enright challenge budding city-makers to “learn your craft and dream new paradigms, but also to participate in the communities in which you live.” Using 10 of the firm’s Vancouver projects as case studies, the book illustrates “the latent potential within the architect’s role to not merely be a tool of others, but instead be seen as an activating force in the creation of our cities.”

The authors describe the “Citizen City” ideal as “a vibrant, culturally rich city where people from disparate backgrounds and economic levels are included in urban community.” In using Vancouver as a model, readers can easily see the different ways in which the vision can (and already has been) achieved. The authors highlight the triumphs of the city—including its vibrant multicultural makeup and forward-looking urban planning processes—while frankly acknowledging its shortfalls—including its struggles with housing affordability and homelessness. The book is convincing in its assertion that “the values are present that make it possible for Vancouver to achieve Citizen City status, but the challenges facing the city are profound, and will require the deployment of all sectors to make greater strides.”

Though the authors paint a picture of an ideal urban realm, they are careful to avoid romantic and utopian notions. Their narrative is visionary and inspiring, yet realistic and practical. They strive for “the good” but highlight the obstacles that stand in the way. They stress diversity, inclusivity and civic engagement as the pillars of a Citizen City, and attempt to clearly guide readers towards these goals.

While it may be directed towards students, the message of the book has the potential to extend beyond—to other architects, communities, professionals, and city-builders. The authors write, “Look around you and ask yourself what you would like to change for the better. Seek out mentors, friends and colleagues who share your passions.” It adds, “All revolutions start as grassroots movements.”

Shannon Moore is Assistant Editor for Canadian Architect, Canadian Interiors and Building magazine.