January 31, 2008

Does Gordon Campbell know about this?

Greg Hamilton sends along an article on the latest plan for St. Petersburg:

“The heart of the city quarter will be a new civic space under a unique glazed roof. ”

“This unique crystalline glass tensegrity structure will imbue the space with a delicate lightness and changing light, reflecting the weather, time of day and the passing seasons. This will be a major destination in the city where people can meet, shop, eat and be entertained whilst being protected from St Petersburg’s hostile winter climate.”

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As James Kunstler would observe (see below), you can tell a lot about a civilization by the quality of the “public realm” – the spaces jointly shared by every citizen.  As opposed to the privileges of “the consumer,” who has no repsonsibilities for the commonwealth except, of course, to consume it.
Here’s a particularly nice addition to the public realm at Yaletown Park:

These steps, gracefully proportioned and substantially built (with a glass balustrade!), do nothing more than connect the pedestrian right-of-way between the hard-edged Yaletown Park at Nelson Street  and an allee that runs through the complex of towers to the north and joins up with Smithe Street. 
In fact, these steps may not even be on public land.  Chances are, they’re owned and maintained by strata corporation, with a convenant allowing for continual public access. 
The point is: this is public, it is well done, and it says, as Kunstler would commend, that this is a place worth caring about.

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January 25, 2008

Kudos to Anthony Perl and my colleagues at SFU Urban Studies for bringing in James Kunstler (author of “The Long Emergency”) as their first Fellow. That meant he had a week to tour the region, speak to students, staff, politicians and the public in a variety of settings (from the Carnegie to the Vancouver Club in one day).
Those familiar with his writings and blog wouldn’t be surprised to find that what were once fringe opinions, bluntly expressed, are now almost mainstream. The world is moving his way. Some senior developers in this city, after the Vancouver Club presentation, said they found his analysis bleak but not out of line with their own observations.
If you missed Kunstler this week, despair not: you can hear him in full flight at the TED site (Technology, Entertainment, Design) here.

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Every urban-design and architecture critic I read has a highly cultivated cynicism. Christopher Hume, he of the Toronto Star, is always good for an articulate scathing of TO.
But his recent column on the competition results for a new park at the foot of Jarvis Street on the lakeshore is almost optimistic:

Ah, the waterfront, the waterfront. Does one dare believe in what it could be; or does one succumb to the cynicism of the day?
The latter may be tempting, but it’s too easy. Besides, there is reason for optimism, especially when one sees the final-round proposals for the Jarvis St. Slip. Chosen through an invitational design competition, the three schemes are so good, each one should be built. That’s unlikely, of course, but one can always hope.

This is interesting for two reasons: the results of the competition really are rather good. Check ’em out – and remember them for the SFU City Program discussion on the state of Vancouver’s architecture and urban design on February 1. Details here.
Secondly, there’s a video with the story on the Star’s website:

This is, of course, the best way to ‘read’ a visual story – and something newspapers are increasingly adopting for their online versions.
Two questions: why not more competitions in Vancouver for our urban design, and why not more videos in our newspapers?

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January 13, 2008

Interior designer Mitchell Freedland has an interesting observation in this Globe article when he was asked why Vancouver is at the forefront of condo design.

I think it’s the luck of economy and geography. In the fifties and sixties, our downtown was a dense cluster of high-rises and it was natural to go from the rental market to the condo market.
We started to develop the urban-condo concept a lot earlier than any other centre. Cities like Toronto, New York and Chicago have had great high-rise successes, but we were one of these little pioneers. It was a quiet city that kept growing vertically and suddenly everyone was paying attention.

In other words: we owe it all to the West End.
For another perspective on that eternal question – Does more space equal happiness? – check out Charles Montgomery’s take in this issue of Walrus.

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Occasionally someone, after coming across Price Tags, sends me an inquiry, like this one from Marc Aubin in Lowertown Ottawa, a member of a citizens’ group fighting a road-design issue in their neighbourhood. 
Take a read.  Perhaps you have some advice to pass on:

I’m part of a local community group called the King Edward Avenue Task Force…  I read some of your document entitled A Local Politician’s Guide to Urban Transportation with great interest. My understanding is still growing about the convergence of transportation and land-use planning….
My grandfather lived his entire 86-year life within a ten-block radius in downtown Ottawa (shopping, Church, school, home, work, service organizations, everything). I’ve often been very perplexed at why, even 30 years after Jane Jacobs wrote about it, that we still haven’t started going back to a more sane way of building our cities. Why can’t I live like my grandfather did?
I got a chance to see most of Canada’s cities in the past year, and the contrast was heart-wrenching. It really is a tale of two cities. At the heart of every major city lies an old and often decayed victorian paradise with elm trees, walkable neighbourhoods, and wonderful gothic architecture. Then, surrounding every city, like an overweight person’s belly, is the huge expanse of endless and ugly strip malls and suburban sprawl. It’s a shame.
The sections of your document that were of particular interest to me were 1) Congestion is our Friend and 2) Maximum Desirable Capacity. I in fact ran into this very issue in 2001 when I was fighting with consultants undertaking an environmental assessment. They were looking at “renewing” King Edward Avenue in downtown Ottawa after the city was ordered by the Ontario Municipal Board to prioritize the improvement project for the street.

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December 27, 2007

Roger Kemble ends the year with a sardonic missive from Nanaimo on the emerging Olympic Village:

Yup, Vancouver is still singing the same old, same old . . . world class, paradise, the mountains, views. Oh no!

From the sub-prime to the ridiculous. Well, at least we are not Dubai!

When will the hucksters grow up?

The Olympics are coming and for a few days in the winter of 2010 the town will have a ball. In the meantime the local socialites and crony capitalists are hard at work making money off the taxpayer.

Vancouver’s Olympic Village on the South East Shores of False Creek is about to emerge from the old industrial detritus of an illustrious past.

More here.

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