Nature & Public Spaces
May 29, 2007

Atlanta in Vancouver

A few weeks ago, a delegation from Atlanta came to visit. Atlanta LINK – 117 leaders in business and government – had a chance to listen to the usual suspects and, more importantly, just walk around.
Here’s what the reporter accompanying them saw:

In Vancouver, civic leaders see a livable city
By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/28/07
Vancouver, British Columbia — To metro Atlantans, congestion is a dirty word.
But when a delegation of 117 regional leaders recently visited this Canadian city, they were introduced to a whole new concept.
Congestion is our friend,” said Larry Beasley, former city planning director for Vancouver, who has been recognized worldwide as helping create a new urban model. “Density is good.”
Metro leaders were exposed to a vastly different approach to growth and development during the 11th annual LINK trip, organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, short for “Leadership, Innovation, Networking, Knowledge.”
Vancouver’s strategy of density and transit is a stark contrast to the Atlanta region’s road-oriented sprawl.

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This is so Vancouver: it took an outsider from Boston to tell a Vancouver audience that the City of Vancouver itself has won an award named after one of the world’s great urbanists, Kevin Lynch.
Alan Berger, the speaker at the VIA Architecture on Urban Design last night, mentioned in passing that the City had received the award at MIT last week. (Actually, it was Ray Spaxman, Ann McAfee and Larry Beasley who were there to take the honours. You can see the ceremony and remarks here.) That was news to the assembled crowd, consisting of many of the city’s architects and planners.
No coverage in the local media, of course – at least that I saw.
While this is a big deal, Berger, a Harvard Design School associate professor and author of Drosscape, warned us that the Vancouver Style – unique to this place, its circumstances and its times – should “remain a secret.” The worst thing that could happen, in his opinion, is for the point-and-podium style to be picked up or exported to places where it was not appropriate or would be badly done. Which is likely what is actually happening.

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Canadian architectural critic Witold Rybczynski explores the architecture of Seattle in this Slate visual essay

Seattle is an unusual sort of urban place, where sitting on a log to drink your grande latte seems normal (well, almost normal). Such an environment requires a different architectural response than, say, New York or Chicago. Both recent high-profile projects, the library and the sculpture park, succeed where earlier designs failed. They do so by paying attention to their surroundings and by recognizing the local sense of style, rather than importing their own. Both Koolhaas and Weiss/Manfredi, in different ways, riff on the city’s unusual combination of high-tech smarts, iconoclastic roughness, and a closeness to nature: urbanism and industrial panache and driftwood.

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Here’s a provocative comment from a PT reader whom I’ll keep anonymous – not because he wouldn’t mind his name being printed but because he probably wouldn’t write as colourfully if I did. 

Say, have you been enjoying Michael Geller’s dispatches from abroad?
I particularly liked his latest, from Hanoi, whereby he spoke about taxation being based on property frontage rather than on assessed value.  This would have a tremendously beneficial effect on EcoDensity if adopted here, as it would reward high-density development rather than sprawling single-family homeowners.
Is it not ludicrous that someone on a 66′ lot with a 4500 sq.ft. house [including perhaps as econdary suite- all right] worth $1M is treated the same by the taxman the same as an owner of an 1100 sq.ft. condo unit, among 200 other units, in a 35 storey tower also worth $1M? Look at the disparity in terms of land and energy consumption, municipal services [e.g. personal service pruning the tree out front on the boulevard, or in back as another tree starts to conflict with hydro wires], runoff, water use, yard maintenance impacts, etc. etc. etc. It really is criminally inequitable, with the bad guys [ecologically speaking] ripping off the good guys.
We in the tower have a baby’s first bootie in contrast to the clown-shoe footprint of the single-family homeowner in the city [an oxymoron in 25 years?].
What do you think……is there a self-righteous cause here worth taking up?

Well, is it?

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As a Price Tags reader, you might want your view of the urban world changed this week.

Come hear Alan Berger, author of Drosscape, this Wednesday, May 23 (7 pm at SFU Harbour Centre) at the VIA Architecture Lecture on Urban Design.

Planetizen chose Drosscape as one of the Top Ten Planning Books of 2007: 

Drosscape is a fascinating visual examination of the modern built environment. Chock-full of photographs, maps and charts, the book exposes readers to the ‘wastelands’ of ten different American cities -– from older industrial areas in the urban core to modern complexes on the metropolitan fringe. While the book takes a mostly negative view of sprawl, it serves not as a condemnation per se, but as fertilizer for the germination of ideas regarding the productive reuse of these underutilized and spoiled landscapes.

Berger, an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, scans the globe with camera and insights into contemporary development—your guide to a vast, largely ignored field of waste landscapes and to the new chaotic urban landscapes in the emerging world. Expect a radical reconceptualization of your thinking.
Reservations: Email or call 604.291.5100 

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Vancouver is known for its proliferation of point towers: the highrises with podiums that characterize most of the growth on the downtown peninsula and, increasingly, in suburban town centres.
Too many?  Too boring?  Another name for vertical sprawl?
Potogroup is the name of those launching an architectural competition to come up with alternatives.

The winner gets $2,500, recognition and the imprimatur of an impressive jury:

James Cheng MAIBC

Patricia Patkau MAIBC

Brent Toderian Director of Planning, City of Vancouver

Dr. Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe Head of Art History, University of British Columbia

George Yu AIA

Here’s the idea:

Potogroup presents an open architectural ideas competition: poto:type. This competition will question the emerging typology originating in Vancouver’s downtown area: podium/tower typology.

The podium/tower typology evolved as a response to the cities’ desire to intensify its downtown area by increasing the number of residential units while maintaining pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. Proliferation of this architectural mono-type could potentially create social and economic disparateness while weakening neighborhood identities.

Potogroup makes an invitation to the participants to explore, rethink, question and experiment with new ideas that will challenge the concept of the podium/tower. This investigation should encompass formal, programmatic, social and cultural aspects of this specific type. The projects should challenge the logic of the present, formulate new questions, and facilitate variations that will allow new potentials for living and existing in the city.

Poto:type should investigate both macro and micro scale as well as examine the notion of ‘vertical sprawl’.

Get the details on how to enter here.  (Actually, they might start with a better design for their web site.  Pdf files do not a web site make.)


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May 16, 2007

Cycling Friendly Cities

Funded by the Dutch, script by ex-Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa. You know it’s going to make you feel good about cycling – and the possibility of transforming our cities.

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I’ve often wondered what sort of worldview comes from being raised on Vancouver Island. Thomas Homer-Dixon is its most thoughtful native at the moment, and he has an important piece in today’s Globe and Mail.
Here if you subscribe.

Prepare today for tomorrow’s breakdown

What causes societies to collapse, and are our modern societies at risk of collapse themselves? Many of us, today, have the intuition that things are out of control and that our societies could crash. We see headlines about extreme weather, impending oil shortages, avian flu and horrible terrorism in distant places. Some people, especially those of a religious disposition, even think we’re entering end times. Parallels with ancient Rome are common; images of doom abound in preaching and fiction.

Not cheery reading on a day like today.  But worth it.

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