Architecture
October 17, 2019

The Grand Bargain, Illustrated

 

You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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From Daily Scot:

Walking through Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood located just east of downtown, you witness first hand the city’s density boom as construction cranes and development-proposal boards proliferate. I noticed an intense cluster of projects around the Cook and Johnson Street corridors.

A new Bosa development on Pandora has condos built above an urban Save-On-Foods location, a new precedent for mix use in Victoria:

There is also preservation of heritage for two developments (Wellburns Market and The Wade)  which incorporate existing landmark structures with new apartment living.

 

Keep your eye on this area as Victoria pushes for more options to address the housing crisis.

 

 

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October 15, 2019

When experiencing the glory of a double row of street trees in fall, it’s a good time to give thanks to those who had the vision to realize the city we have today.

Give thanks to the landscape designers of the 1970s, beginning with Cornelia Oberlander and her allee of trees along Hornby next to Robson Square.  Or, as above, the double rows along Georgia Street from the park to Cardero – a consequence of the Greening Downtown study of 1982 (by the Toronto firm of Baird/Simpson in collaboration with Hotson/Bakker).

Approved by council in the 1980s; planted, development by development, in the 1990s; only maturing now, with the final blocks still to come.

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Dean A sent in this article from The Guardian, with readers’ photos of the best and worst of the world’s bike lanes.  Here are the worst, because they’re much more appalling than the good ones are great.  (Click title for all the photos.)

To begin with a classic from Bucharest:

 

“This photo was taken in Bhubaneswar in eastern India where part of a street was recently painted for cycling but garbage has been dumped on it.”

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Dean A recommended this piece in the New York Times:

Among the safety measures proposed by car companies are encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use R.F.I.D. tags, which emit signals that cars can detect. This means it’s becoming the pedestrian’s responsibility to avoid getting hit. But if keeping people safe means putting the responsibility on them (or worse, criminalizing walking and biking), we need to think twice about the technology we’re developing. …

 

Peter Ladner was motivated to write this response with respect to our bike routes:

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The latest from Michael Anderson at the Sightline Institute:

For three years, Portland’s proposal to re-legalize fourplexes citywide has been overshadowing another, related reform. …  This proposed mid-density reform, dubbed “Better Housing by Design,” includes various good ideas  … like regulating buildings by size rather than unit count; and giving nonprofit developers of below-market housing a leg up with size bonuses.

But one detail in this proposal is almost shocking in its clarity. It turns out that there is one simple factor that determines whether these lots are likely to eventually redevelop as:

  1. high-cost townhomes, or as
  2. mixed-income condo buildings for the middle and working class.

The difference between these options is whether they need to provide storage for cars—i.e. parking.

According to calculations from the city’s own contracted analysts, if off-street parking spaces are required in the city’s new “RM2” zone, then the most profitable thing for a landowner to build on one of these properties in inner Portland is 10 townhomes, each valued at $733,000, with an on-site garage.

But if off-street parking isn’t required, then the most profitable thing to build is a 32-unit mixed-income building, including 28 market-rate condos selling for an average of $280,000 and four below-market condos—potentially created in partnership with a community land trust like Portland’s Proud Ground—sold to households making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

This is worth repeating: As long as parking isn’t necessary, the most profitable homes a developer can build on a lot like this in inner Portland would already be within the reach of most Portland households on day one.

But if we require parking on these lots, we block this scenario. If every unit has to come with an on-site garage, the most profitable thing to build becomes, instead, a much more expensive townhome.

When people say cities can choose either housing people or housing cars, this is what they’re talking about. 

I’ve never seen a more clear-cut example.

Lots more detail here.

 

 

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Maybe, actually, the development absurdity of the year.

An application has come in to build a five-storey commercial building on the northeast corner of West Broadway and Granville Street – identified as the location for the South Granville station on the proposed Broadway line.

To repeat: a five-storey building on top of a subway line.

But that’s not the absurdity. This is: “Also included in the project are six levels of underground parking.”

To repeat again: a five-storey building with six levels of parking. On top of what will be one of the busiest metro stops in the region.

 

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While enjoying a few days in our provincial capital, I was pleasantly surprised to discover more separated bicycle lanes in the downtown core with the recent completion of the Humboldt and Wharf Street routes. (Click on title for pics.)

 

There are some great road diet and public realm measures taken here in addition to providing cycling infrastructure.

 

A street closure where Humboldt met Douglas giving way to an urban plaza complete with seating, bike racks and a ping-pong table.

Before:

After:

 

Further down the route, a rework and calming of the vehicular travel lanes where Humboldt, Government and Wharf meet connects to the Wharf street separated bike lanes.

 

There’s even a bike traffic counter in this new plaza which no doubt will keep ticking over as ridership grows.

 

And of course, the usual controversy and commentary: ‘I’m not against bike lanes, it’s just that everything you did or would have done is really stupid.’

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