Architecture
April 12, 2018

The Tale of Starchitects and "Supertalls" in New York City


As Curbed.com describes it there is a push for “supertalls” in New York City, those buildings that exceed the 984 foot height limit. As they note “These soaring towers aren’t always popular—many have actively fought against the buildings sprouting along 57th Street and Central Park South, worried that they’ll cause shadowing over the storied park—but it’s hard to argue against their status as marvels of engineering.”

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It is very hard to believe that we still need to be reminded about the importance of food security and ensuring that our agricultural land, which in Metro Vancouver is the finest arable land in Canada, is protected for future generations.
Price Tags Vancouver has been tracking the unbelievable story of the City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowing mansions of over 10,783 square feet in size to be built on agricultural land that is over one half-acre in size. These “farms” are being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, then redeveloped with large mansions and then quickly turn into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyer’s tax (they are on agricultural land) with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar for offshore buyers. These lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers.

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Kirsten Dirksen is a television producer who has become an on-line video blogger.  Her company Faircompanies.com has a media site that looks at the aspect of less complicated, simpler living styles. As a vlogger she came to Vancouver to interview Adrian Crook who lives in the Yaletown area of downtown with five children in a two bedroom condo. Adrian likes living downtown for the health and psychological aspects of walking everywhere and notes that while “Vancouverism” includes a taller housing form in the downtown peninsula, that has not been embraced in the largely single family areas away from the downtown.
Price Tags Vancouver has chronicled  Adrian Crook’s quest to have his children using transit to school and Price Tags has also examined a program in Calgary with Bus Buddies where children are allowed to take transit to school. Adrian does have a blog about living in the downtown with his five children, and he is also running for City Council.
The  twenty minute video on YouTube features Adrian’s kids and shows the simple adaptations that have been made in the condo to maximize usable space. There’s a home office that turns into a murphy bed at night, a bunk bed that can morph into a table and desk, and a triple stacked bunk bed.  Parents everywhere will see in the video that  children’s socks still disappear -even in smaller footprint spaces.

 

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It’s no surprise to see that Elon Musk is getting a flat review for his concept of tunnelling across North America as this article from Fast Company discusses. There is a growing uneasiness of someone trying to solve a problem that never really exists. The aptly named Boring Company plans  a transcontinental tunnel to make personal cars go faster and quicker, so named by transportation writer  Jarrett Walker as “elite projection, the belief among relatively fortunate and influential people who what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole.”
When Culver City’s city council heard a 45 minute presentation on the first leg of the tunnel between Hawthorne California to West Los Angeles, it may have dawned on them that this new tunnel proposal replicates Musk’s own personal journey to work from Los Angeles to Hawthorne. “Conceived by Musk in 2016 in an effort to circumvent traffic, Boring Company’s putative purpose is to construct networks of subterranean tunnels in California, Chicago, and the East Coast, through which personal cars and multi-passenger “pods” would travel on electric skates at speeds hovering around 125 to 150 miles per hour, with no stops between origin and destination. Beneath the veneer of its otherworldly grandeur, however, the company has had little to show for itself, investing far more in publicity gambits—namely, its buzzing campaign to sell branded flamethrowers—than in its own blueprint.”
But what is the problem that Musk and his boring tunnel was trying to solve? And why does the Boring company not want any governmental subsidies or public investment? Is it to completely control the “boring ground” space?  “The evidence that the Boring Company will deliver on its central promise of mitigating traffic appears to be sparse. Theoretically, one or more additional layers of roads would reduce the number of cars on surface streets, thereby decongesting them. The company, however, has neglected to address the mechanics of the surface-level points of entry and exit above the tunnel—on-ramps, of sorts, that could far too easily cause jams.”
The way to reduce traffic is to reduce cars on the road, not to offer cars the chance to burrow below where they will still emerge into traffic once they pop up to the surface like prairie gophers. Relieving congestion means moving away from the use of the personal automobile, not  burrowing it. There are also suggestions that this private tunnel network will serve only the wealthy Los Angeles West Side, and include a tiered pricing model. Instead of connecting neighbourhoods that use transportation for shops and services, the Boring tunnel threatens to exclude  the poor neighbourhoods that will have no access to the tunnel. While the Boring Company continues to take up the time on the plan to privatize a car burrow below ground, municipal organizations should consider whether the private car is part of any answer to future smart movement and congestion.
 

 

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Join UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning students for a full day of discussion on planning issues related to this year’s theme, Encompass. Encompass is about embracing unexpected connections and taking planning in new directions. At the 10th annual UBC SCARP Symposium we gather inspiration from diverse sources, finding fresh ideas by looking within – and beyond – the traditional boundaries of planning. Come prepared to challenge assumptions, connect innovative ideas, and broaden your scope of planning.   When: Friday, March 16, 2018  from 8:00am – 7:00pm Where: The Great Hall, AMS Nest, 6133 University Boulevard, UBC Cost: General $105 | Students $45 Registration: www.symposium.scarp.ubc.ca Contact: info.scarpsymposium@gmail.com
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From Park People.ca and Ken Greenberg  comes the video by Garrick Mason  “Something New from Something Old”  describing some unique and some familiar concepts in making great public spaces. Using conversations with urbanists in New York City and in Toronto, the film explores how low density streets can give up much space for the car, but space for humans walking and biking is still a street fight. Opportunities for more green space has come with the “glacial recedence of industrial uses that have revealed new opportunities. Eric Landau with the Brooklyn Trust describes how the area under DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has been transformed from industrial to park space. With ten per cent of the area being developed to cover the operational and maintenance costs of the new Brooklyn Park, former five acre industrial docking piers have been transformed into park experiences, each with their own unique purpose and use.
Opening up with music that was first performed by singers on New York City’s Highline, the film discusses the importance of public/private financing, noting that redeveloping green space as amenities creates real estate value for surrounding properties.
As the film maker observes: ” I decided to ask experts, designers, and planners involved in some of the highest profile conversion projects in Toronto and New York City about the rationale behind these conversions, the challenges involved in designing under such novel constraints, and the difficult issues — like funding, accessibility, benefit sharing — that come with them. Their answers were both fascinating and encouraging, pointing to a world in which the development of cities will have more to do with gracefully evolving in place than with spreading outwards to infinity. ”
You can watch the video on Vimeo by clicking on the  blue tab on the “Sorry” link below.
 

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What do you do when you are the active transportation manager for one of the largest industrial parks in Great Britain? Milton Park  houses 7,500 workers and 250 businesses on a 250 acre site. It is located near Milton Oxfordshire and is known for leading work on science and technology. If you are Veronica Reynolds the “Behavioural Change Advisor” at Vectos, you build connected bikeways and walkways, and secure funding for  autonomous vehicle shuttles to move people around the industrial park.

The United Kingdom’s first trial of autonomous vehicles on public roads will be implemented here to reduce car usage in this industrial park by fifty per cent.Funded by Innovate UK, 2.5 million pounds has been awarded to trial self driving vehicles between the private roads within the industrial park and the public roads linking the site to the nearby bus and train network. Even though the industrial park is close to a transit station most travel to and from Milton Park is by private car. The new cycling paths and walkways  augment the autonomous vehicle buses, which will also network in with the expansion of the site planned in the coming years. Commuters will book and pay for their autonomous vehicle shuttle to the industrial park from the transportation hub in one easy process.

“Veronica Reynolds said: “A key aim of the Milton Park Travel Forum is to work closely with the Park’s business leaders to future-proof the park’s transport offer. This innovative new project builds on the work of that Forum and its vision to provide more and greener travel options. We would like to thank everyone at Milton Park for the support we have received to date which has undoubtedly contributed to the success in securing this project funding.”

And that is how one active transportation manager had an industrial park in Britain become one of the first offering  workers the opportunity of using an autonomous vehicle shuttle on their daily commute.

 

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There is a lot of history in Vancouver Fire Halls and retired fireman Alex Matches has documented and written about much of it. There are political stories, where firemen in the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s were not allowed to “cross the line” into neighbouring Point Grey to put out a house fire. And there were still a few amazing early stations to go through even twenty years ago.  One located on east of Main Street is now demolished~but it had a circular wooden ramp inside for the fire horses to walk up as they were  bedded down on the second floor in standing stalls. The standing stalls areas were still there, along with the cribbing marks made by bored horses teething on the wood. In its construction and its use, it was a thing of beauty, something we would have marvelled at today. It was demolished for a more late twentieth century version.
As reported in the Vancouver Courier there are “modernist” fire halls built between 1950 and 1970 that are now facing demolition in Vancouver that have   “unique features include huge, open bays and massive hose-drying towers.” As Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn observes “The architects from the ’50s on, they looked at this use and, instead of hiding it, they really celebrated it and that’s where you come up with the amazing, strong, visual forms.”
No. 5 fire hall at 3090 East 54th Ave. — one of the earliest of the modernist fire halls — was demolished in 2016. Dating back to 1952, it was designed by Townley and Matheson, the architects of city hall. It’s being replaced with a new building topped with affordable housing. The expected completion date is the end of 2018.
Gunn said while the building needed upgrading there were ways to achieve that without demolishing it. “It’s a community loss. It’s a visual point in the community similar to schools. So you eradicate that and then you have something new built, which is functional and safe, but Vancouver has lost another piece of its architectural legacy, which plaques and photos can’t replicate.”
Fire hall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street is now going to be demolished with an energy-efficient building replacing it. Even though the modernist fire halls are on the annual endangered sites watch list as “an important part of the movement towards modernist civic architecture in Vancouver during the post-war period” they are not being conserved.
The following other fire halls are described by Heritage Vancouver as potentially endangered:
No. 2 at 199 Main St. at Powell, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1974.
No. 7 at 1090 Haro at Thurlow, which was built in 1974.
No. 8 at 895 Hamiliton St. at Smithe, which is the reverse design of fire hall No. 7. The concrete building was built in 1973.
No. 9 at 1805 Victoria at East Second Ave., which was built in 1959 with a concrete and masonry façade.
No. 20 at 5402 Victoria Dr. at East 38th Avenue, which was built in 1962. Heritage Vancouver describes it as an “interesting single-storey structure with a window curtain.”
Fire halls that fall under the “brutalist” subset of modernist buildings include fire halls No. 7 and No. 8. “brutalist” architecture as using a lot of raw concrete and being even more massive than mid-century ones.”
Fire department historian Alex Matches book on Vancouver’s  Fire Department history and heroes is available here.
From Vancouver Archives taken in Victoria BC

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Urbanist, designer and artist Frank Ducote took these photos of the Vancouver pedestrian pathways along the sea wall during the weekend. These pathways are the responsibility of the City of Vancouver to be accessible and safe.  While the bikeways were cleared and lauded on social media, the walkways for pedestrians? Not so much. And surprisingly when Frank Ducote posted this photo on his facebook page, seven former City of Vancouver staffers responded about the lack of cleared, safe walkable sidewalks. Walkers are the most vulnerable users and they include the elderly, disabled and children. On a brilliant snowy Vancouver weekend, they want to get out and use the city too.
One former City staff walked along Seaforth Park and onto Burrard Bridge, noting that the “sidewalk was slippery with lots of pedestrians, cleared bike paths but with no cyclists. Crazy”. Well, perhaps not crazy to support both walking and cycling as active transportation modes. But if walking is the first mode that all users do on a day-to-day basis, why can’t the City do a better job at making these sidewalks safe, comfortable and secure? It is the City’s responsibility. If  the City can clear bikeways, can the same attention be given to sidewalks in the public realm? While the city is looking for volunteer Snow Angels in residential areas to help folks that cannot clean their own sidewalk, can the City maintain the public pathways in their jurisdiction? Is it time to have a clear pedestrian plan and direct focused  advocacy for universal  walkability issues at the municipal level?
Asking for a friend.

 

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Patrick Johnstone is a city councillor for the City of New Westminster as well as a cyclist, writer, and engaged citizen. He’s going to be posting items on New Westminster’s Innovation Week, and has invited everyone to attend the events for the City’s eight day events for Innovation Week. You can also go to Patrick’s website here at https://patrickjohnstone.ca . Here’s Patrick’s first post:
Starting on February 23, New Westminster is running its second annual Innovation Week, an 8-day-long series of events celebrating how innovation in technology and organization can transform a City.
New Westminster is investing in becoming a smarter city through what it calls an Intelligent City Initiative. Innovation Week is a showcase for this model, and an opportunity to bring people from around the region together to dream about the cities of a rapidly-arriving internet-empowered information-dependent future.
The opening on Friday evening demonstrates how varied the topic of “innovation” can be. A free public reception in City Hall (511 Royal Ave) will include a digital media show by local students and artists where data from the City’s award-winning Open Data Portal is translated to digital signals that are in turn worked into video and musical performances. If that’s not enough, a local craft brewery will be there to release a Limited Edition brew formulated with the help of the Mayor of New Westminster – Jonathan Cote.
There are many events over the week that should be of interest to people across the region. The theme for 2018 is Transportation, so there will be forums and dialogues on topics like regional transportation and mobility pricing. But there are also discussions about digital inclusion, a livable Cities symposium, Public Art tours and a PechaKucha evening featuring regional transportation and planning thought leaders.
The interactive events of the week include classes for youth on coding and a Hack-a-Thon where teams of programmers will compete to use the City’s Open Data Portal to create apps to solve local government problems or gamify everyday municipal operations. A Business Expo will concentrate on the Tech economy, and a pitch event and forums will bring together Angel Investors and government funding agencies interested in helping new start-ups or established businesses. Through the week, you will be given reasons to dream, and information and resources to make that dream work.
A list of the several events is available on the Innovation Week website:
https://www.newwestcity.ca/innovation-week
Innovation Week
February 23 – March 3, 2018
Various Locations in New Westminster
Open to the public, most events free (but please register first to help organizers out!)

 

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