Policy & Planning
September 14, 2006

Revelation: Seoul's Cheonggyecheon

I had read about this before, but didn’t really appreciate it until I saw this picture:

According to Toronto’s Spacing Wire:

In Seoul, South Korea, they managed to both dismantle an elevated expressway that cut through the city, and unearth the Cheonggyecheon, a river buried beneath it.

Just last year, Seoul’s municipal government spent $360 million to have the stream uncovered. Walking along the river now is like being in a real life version of one of those urban planning student’s thesis projects …

The Cheonggyecheon is now lined with walkways, art, historical plaques, and tall grasses. It’s sits below street level in a concrete ravine, with busy roadways on either side. It’s 5.8 kilometers long and at night it’s packed with people. Kids actually swim in it (apparently it’s kept that clean), and adults wade or sit along its edge with their feet in the water.

Wow.

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The GVRD has politely asked the Province whether it would like to talk about our future. It wants to know whether the Province is truly committed to sustainability (one of the Premier’s Five Great Goals) in its rush to widen Highway 1 and twin the Port Mann Bridge.
On September 12th, the Land Use and Transportation Committee accepted the recommendations of a staff report that clearly identified the problem with the Gateway Project: there are no strategies to deal with its impacts. There’s no regional goods movement strategy, no transportation demand management, no mitigation for the land-use impacts, and no cost-sharing for alternatives.
For me, the best part of the report was the exposure of how the Gateway Program disingenuously used the GVRD’s own model to justify its project. The provincial staff and consultants used a modified version of the GVRD’s own Growth Management Scenario to forecast traffic to 2031. And while they acknowledged the connection beween road improvements and development patterns, they concluded the land-use impacts could not be estimated. It’s all up to the municipalities, you see. And so they based their forecasts on the assumption that the bridge and highway widenings would have no real effect.
Let me explain what’s really going on here. The Province knows that when the bridge and highway are widened, it will unleash forces that will sprawl across the green fields of the Fraser Valley with auto-dominated development. That’s what has happened with every other bridge we’ve ever built in the Lower Mainland. Only the Province doesn’t want to have to admit that such development will fill up all the new road space with more congestion – as it has every other time – thus defeating the whole purpose of Gateway. And it will never, ever acknowledge this inevitability in a report.
So it’s positioning the municipalities to take the hit. Even though the regional plan is opposed to more general-purpose highway capacity into the valley – for the very reason that it will undermine the plan – the Province is going to go ahead and build it, and then blame the municipalities for the consequences which it refuses to predict.
The GVRD is asking for “a provincial commitment to provide adequate mitigation and compensation for the impacts of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 projects on agricultural lands, regional parks and ecologically sensitive areas.” It wants to develop “an appropriate regional growth strategy which ensures the Gateway Program has minimal negative impacts on the desired pattern of land use in Greater Vancouver.”
That’s the nice, polite way of putting it.
We’re talking about the destruction of a half century of wise planning, of the legacy of our regional plans, including “Creating Our Future” which Gordon Campbell pioneered. We’re talking about one of the last chances to avoid screwing up the Lower Mainland. Ironically, we’re talking about whether, after several billion dollars, the Gateway Project itself will deliver what it promises.
That is – if the Province is willing to talk.

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Mary Jo Porter from Seattle knew I’d love this piece from Monday’s Seattle Times: a ladybug painted on an intersection in Wallingford by the residents.

Thinking of it as a traffic-calming device, more than a dozen residents joined Sunday to create the ladybug artwork, surrounded by flower petals in vivid yellow, black and red paint.
With a radius of 26 feet, it stretches across the intersection, with some painted leaves spreading onto the adjacent pavement.
“Our goal is to cut down traffic and bring the community together and create a sense of neighborhood,” said Eric Higbee, who lives on the corner and helped lead the project.
The intersection artwork, a pilot project for the city, has been in the works for about five months, he said, adding that the neighborhood received a $1,400 city grant to pay for the paint and perm

It’s an idea that comes, of course, from Portland – the City Repair Project.  Hopefully it will spread across the border.

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There’s a provcative critique of Vancouver’s downtown architecture by Robert A.M. Stern in the Sun today. (Here for subscribers.)

“I think there are too many glass towers in Vancouver,” says Stern.
“That’s one reason they all look alike, there’s nothing to write on, so to speak. So you get funny little hats on these buildings, and sometimes you get strange balconies. There are more triangular balconies in Vancouver than anyplace else I’ve ever been. I wonder if they’re storing arrowheads on these balconies.”

I have to agree with him on this. Every generation produces its version of the Vancouver Special (highrise edition), and this one has built a lot of ’em. (115 on the downtown peninsula since 1986, excluding the West End).

“They try to look different, but somehow they all look exactly alike. So I think there’s a kind of boring uniformity. None of them are really bad, they’re not ugly, but [there are] too many identical things.”

We achieve, as I’ve said before, a very high level of mediocrity. Our urban planning is, fortunately, superior to our architecture. In that respect, I don’t agree with Stern:

… [Georgia] is so pedestrian unfriendly and uninviting,” he says.
“It could have been done, should have been done in a very different way. Could have had the high buildings, but should have had more street texture below.
“And no retail. Those people don’t eat,” he chuckles, “they make reservations.”

This suggests Stern has been doing too much drive-by analysis, without understanding the specific reasons why, in this case, we kept the view corridors open at the ground plane on the north side of Georgia (to see the park and mountains), and created ‘green courts’ on the south side. Georgia has its own guidelines, so that unlike most other downtown streets (which have that mix of low- and highrise forms) it retains its special character as a ceremonial boulevard.
Stern is certainly not the only one to feel that Vancouver, while admirable in many respects, lacks signature buildings, or that our planning processes constrain if not prevent great architecture outside the mold the planners have prescribed.
PT reader Timothy Thomas asks:

With all our progressive public policy, why don’t we have more progressive public architecture? … it does seem that we should have more imaginative buildings than we do. Are we underachievers in building fascinating new architecture? Do we discourage aesthetic innovation, preferring architectural comfort food?

Do we?

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September 7, 2006

Okay, TransLink, get on the phone immediately to Google – (650) 253-0000 – and ask to be the next partner for Google Transit.
What’s that? Go here.
TriMet, the Portland Oregon transit agency, has become the first (and so far only) agency to integrate Google Maps with their schedules. So you can now get instructions on how to get from A to B, map included, anywhere they go. So cool.

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Alan Ehrenhalt, the Executive Editor of Governing Magazine made a special visit to Vancouver this spring to witness the city’s condo boom firsthand.  This widely-respected monthly targets state and local government officials in the U.S., and has a readership of 275,000. 
You can read the cover story here.  And if nothing else, check out the photo essay: A Downtown Dilemma.
 

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