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Could this be the landscape that is shaping Canadian politics, a land of fear and isolation sprawling with ambition and self-determination?

Whether it's Aurora or Surrey, people want tradition, yet they also want a new society, which is what they are building. It's not that they don't care about others, or that they are greedy -- no more so than, say, a Saskatchewan wheat farmer or Newfoundland crab fisherman. It's just that in a sort of pioneering way, Canada's suburbanites care only about the next mile.

Perhaps where they stumble is not in their failure to see what lies ahead, but in an inability to see what lies behind.

At the eastern end of Surrey, in the former farm town of Cloverdale, the old main street still stands, with its broad sidewalks, accessible street parking and more parking behind the shops, restaurants, bars and cinema hall. It offers everything New Urbanism espouses, most noticeably the chance for people to mix and mingle while they shop, a kind of throwback to the mythical era that so many suburbanites claim to want.

And it's empty.

All along Cloverdale's main street, there are vacant shops and For Rent signs, and a run of down-at-heel stores -- Salvation Army, Bearly Used Thrift, Rodeo Pawn Brokers -- that seem more suited to a downtown skid row. (Heather Thomas, the slain 10-year-old, disappeared near here.)

The reason for this suburban stagnation amid plenty can be found across a small highway, in a new shopping plaza that is designed to give the impression of a small-town market while also affording shoppers the chance to zip in, park, buy and zip out.

The Clover Square Village is no more convenient than the real village, but it does have the sort of shops a suburbanite needs, a Rogers Video, KFC and supermarket. And it's new, with the clean, well-lit veneer of the new suburbs.

This is what so many in suburban Canada want: not tradition, but the feeling of tradition, the kind of feeling inspired by Surrey's roadside "Heritage Markers," which in the absence of anything significant point out the names of hills and streets.

Maybe the suburbs have to manufacture traditions, in little faux village shopping malls, in quaint turn-of-another-century neighbourhoods, in churches and schools that harp on the work ethic of a less productive era.

But they also continue to believe in the supremacy of self, the belief that none of this must exist in the context of a larger city, or larger world, or larger past.

Over the next month, politicians from all the major parties will play to the suburban crowd, speaking of their new faith in communities and traditions (once a rural message) while promoting change.

Oddly, the suburbs need both. Without the New Economy, they will remain beholden to long commutes and growing isolation. Without a stronger sense of community, of something more than a back yard, they become nothing more than sprawl, as people chase the lowest price point to the furthest extreme.

Fortunately, the suburbs are where much of the New Economy was born, by people who understand both the power of individualism and the confines of geography. But connecting that spirit to communities, and then connecting those communities, may require something more in the public realm.

For generations, governments have preferred to focus on city cores (to prevent urban flight) and rural communities (to prevent regional antagonism). Few have talked of a suburban agenda.

That may change, perhaps beginning with this election, but only when it does will Canada know a truly new urbanism.

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