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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We’ve all seen them~those lovely rainbow crosswalks in cities that represent inclusivity and are often tied into  events celebrating gay, nonbinary and transgender people. Those crosswalks also just make people happy. In Peace River Alberta which has the most northern Pride Parade the city decided to paint a signalled pedestrian crosswalk in rainbow colours after examining the experience of rainbow crosswalks in Edmonton. In Edmonton’s pilot project summary  the city found that

the rainbow crosswalks did not decrease pedestrian safety. Stopping and encroaching behaviour differed at locations with and without the rainbow crosswalks. The observed motorist behaviour was consistent with the survey findings where people felt the rainbow crosswalks made intersections safer and were not a distraction.”

After over two months of observation and a survey of 3200 people, Edmonton found that motorists who drove through the rainbow crosswalks did not find them distracting. Based upon that information, Peace River painted up their own.  The city’s engineer found that the painting of crosswalks did conform to the Highway Marking Guide and to the Transportation Association of Canada standards.

But in the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department the town of  Ames Iowa (population of 65,000) received a letter from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) saying that  the rainbow crosswalk in that city was a “safety concern, and a liability for the city”.  In the United States the FHA regulates national roadway signs and traffic signals. The letter wanted the City of Ames to remove their rainbow sidewalks.

The Ames City Council ignored the letter (by unanimous consent) after hearing the city’s lawyer respond : “Honestly, I just do not think they  (the FHA) have any jurisdiction over the roads in the city that we’re paying for with our own tax money,”

There is absolutely no reason NOT to have colourful crosswalks in any design. New York City, Seattle and Portland Oregon all have colourful crosswalks and they have not caused driver distraction or resulted in an increase of vehicular crashes. As the New York Times reports the FHA told the City of Ames that painted crosswalks:

diminishes the contrast between the white lines and the pavement, potentially decreasing the effectiveness of the crosswalk markings and the safety of pedestrian traffic. The purpose of aesthetic treatments and crosswalk art is to ‘draw the eye’ of pedestrians and drivers in direct conflict with commanding the attention of drivers and motorists to minimize the risk of collision.”

There’s no data to this odd governmental critique of a city’s colourful crosswalks, and the way it is written talks more about a bureaucrat’s pet peeve, not any actual impediment to pedestrian or vehicular behaviour.

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Sun columnist Alan Fotheringham characterized Vancouver in the 1960s as a “Village on the Edge of the Rain Forest” – and apparently one of the house photographers was a character named Vlad.

Durning came across his Facebook page, where he’s been posting his work from, yup, a half century ago, when the main street of Vancouver looked like this:

I’ll leave it to John Atkin to nail the exact date, but you can see this was taken, about 1970, when Pacific Centre was under construction, Royal Centre hadn’t even started, and Georgia just west of Burrard still had one-storey storefronts.

So what’s going on?

SPEC, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, had been formed in 1969, and they’re having a protest march through downtown on the way to Stanley Park:

So much has changed.  Except the issue that SPEC was demonstrating about.

Lots more great captures from that time on Vlad’s site here – Seize the Time – where there’s not much about him, even his last time.  Just his photos.

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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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Shaping Vancouver 2019: What’s the Use of Heritage?

Conversation #2: What do we do about neighbourhoods?

Some argue that “neighbourhood character” must be maintained to preserve the diversity of the city. Others note however that “neighbourhood character” frequently serves as an instrument of exclusion, making people feel unwelcome and marginalizing them.

Neighbourhoods that do not evolve risk stagnation, while neighbourhoods that change too rapidly erase the attributes that make them unique.

Are there then qualities of neighbourhoods that should be cultivated or protected? As Vancouver faces a housing crisis, how do we go about discussing neighbourhood change?

Four panelists share their insights about their local places:

Richard Evans – Chair of RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association

Scot Hein – adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver

Jada-Gabrielle Pape – facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting

Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw – renter, pro-housing activist and director of Abundant Housing Vancouver

 

Wednesday, October 9

7-9 PM

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards) – 149 West Hastings Street

Free, donations appreciated.

Tickets here.

 

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This clip from a local news station in New York City is labelled as “the city before gentrification.”  What now provokes nostaligia wasn’t all that great if you actually had to live in a city of rapid decline – and this illustrates how sad it was.  And now funny.

Worth listening to just for the accents and attitudes of the New Yawkers.

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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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