Thursday, November 29, 2012

From The Atlantic Cities — 4 Reasons
Retailers Don't Need Free Parking to Thrive

A major rationale for the supply of parking spaces in city shopping centers is that customers won't come without them. The anecdotal argument makes sense — retailers believe that most consumers arrive by car and believe free or cheap parking plays a major role in choosing a destination — but the actual evidence is scant at best. A new review of commercial centers in Greater London, released late last month (via David King), concludes that retailers vastly overestimate the role free parking plays in their success.

Mike Klassen in the Courier
Give Neighbourhoods the Tools for Change

Community activism, creativity alive and 
well in Mountain View...

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Just a Small Sign. But...

It's just a sign. This is what it says:


This is where it is: the sparkling newly restored heritage train station in my downtown neighbourhood. 

Seems simple enough. Driveway is for the private use of who I'm not sure and the general public is to stay away from this area. But beneath the simplicity some large questions and concerns emerge.

Brief background: the E&N Train Station has sat derelict, damaged by fire, for years until a number of public initiatives combined to oversee its restoration. The station is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation.  The foundation is made up of municipalities and First Nations along the rail line between Victoria and the Comox Valley and across to Port Alberni. Their ambitious goal is to raise the $100+ million it will take to repair the rail bed and trestles and restore passenger rail service to the Island. The last "dayliner" cars were removed a year ago. 

To understand my concerns about one little sign, it's necessary to have a sense of this particular neighbourhood and its unique characteristics. Unlike other much less densely populated neighbourhoods in Nanaimo, it's not designed around the needs of our automobiles. It's a medium density inner city neighbourhood that is more diverse across demographic categories than its surrounding more suburban 'hoods. It is walkable and I like to point out that with the exception of a Keg restaurant its lively healthy shopping streets don't include a single franchise or a national chain. These are owner operated shops. Merchants and investors many of whom also live in the neighbourhood.

Here's my first inquiry to the owners of the train station, the Island Corridor Foundation:

Subject: Nanaimo station
Date: 1 November, 2012 3:25:02 PM PDT

I've followed with much interest your work on the rail corridor and in particular the resurrection of the Selby St station. (I live directly across the street and it's a terrific contribution to this neighbourhood and city. I was able involve my neighbourhood association in support of the project and worked with the Downtown BIA folks on their involvement as well.) 

This morning I was glad to see parking has been removed from the terrace that extends from Selby to the rear of the site. However a new sign that's been posted really took me back. It seems to send such an unfortunate and I'm sure unintentional message. It identifies the site as private property. While I understand it is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, I consider it an accomplishment of public entities working together. It is in every way but perhaps a narrow legal one public space. That the sign announces "No Public Access" mystifies me and I wonder if you could offer some explanation. I imagine there might be legal issues at the heart of this but there must be a solution superior to the one that tells people to stay away.

Thanks for giving this some attention when you have a minute.

Frank Murphy

…and the response I received:

Hi Frank,

There have been some concerns with the daycare next door so we are trying to make things safer. Once the trail is complete we will look at changing the language on the sign.


Jenn K. George
Office Administrator
Island Corridor Foundation
Office: 250-754-7254
Cell: 250-701-8381

...and a follow-up on Nov 6:

Subject: Re: Nanaimo station
Date: 6 November, 2012 4:28:44 PM PST
To: "Island Corridor Foundation"

Thanks for getting back to me Jenn. I guess to understand your answer I'd have to know the nature of the daycare's concerns and how the sign addresses them and also how the completion of the trail impacts the language on the sign. Anyway if you could supply some more background that would be great but in the meantime good for you for registering the concerns of the daycare. I hope you'll also register this concern from the neighbourhood that the language on the sign sends a negative and disappointing message.


The daycare mentioned is part of the new Immigrant Welcome Centre. Both the Centre and the Station restoration and the Irish Pub-style restaurant it includes, are very welcome and positive additions to my neighbourhood. In adjusting to their new neighbourhood apparently the Immigrant Welcoming Centre has expressed some worries that rise from people crossing this terrace. The use of this space for parking has become, not surprisingly problematic. The response has been this sign and I want to make the case that in sending a cold and off-putting message to the new neighbourhood that the Train Station is of course wanting to fit in to, it sends a very negative message and doesn't provide solutions to the perceived problems. 

I want to suggest a better solution:

The area in question is not for parking cars. I attended City of Nanaimo Design Advisory Panel meetings early in the process and questioned why there was need for access along here at all and learned it was considered essential for emergency and maintenance vehicles. I heard no reference to supplying parking stalls in this space. There's been such delightful attention to heritage detail in this project it seems all the more a shame to default any available square footage to parking cars. I was unable to attend later DAP meetings but I'd be very surprised to learn that the landscaping plan included a parking lot or a "driveway". It's understood that the area is not for public parking. Now consider that it of course is also not for private parking. Has the area been leased for private use? I and I think the City would be surprised and would object. 

Solution to the parking related issues: recognize that this space was never intended to park cars. The sign is not needed at all. What is needed is simply adjustable bollards across the Selby Street entrance. Full access for emergency and maintenance vehicles and ease of access for wheelchairs and bikes. Badly needed open public space is added to the Station's new neighbourhood that sends the message: we're happy to be here.

The other issue concerns the daycare part of the Immigrant Welcome Centre. I would be very concerned and would want to do anything I could to help if I thought that they are in the slightest uncomfortable in my neighbourhood. One of the very best characteristics of a diverse, dynamic inner city neighourhood is our comfortable sidewalk level interaction with each other. We don't as Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat tells her daughter when they talk about walking to school " a family we won't enter the world based on fear." Let's confront the concerns of the IWC and bring any and all resources to bear aleviate any concerns they may have and make sure they know they're very welcome in this Old City neighbourhood.

From the Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines:

Define train station with adjacent buildings to minimum front setback. Install distinctive paving on
Selby Street and provide new landscaping and trees around existing station.

From RDG Planning & Design
High Trestle Trail Bridge Artistic Elements

The High Trestle Bridge, located along the High Trestle Trail between Woodward and Madrid, Iowa... spans the Des Moines River Valley and serves as a link in the 25 miles of paved High Trestle Trail. Read more: From Here to There: High Trestle Trail Bridge Artistic Elements :: RDG Planning & Design

Thursday, November 22, 2012

From Price Tags
A Multimodal Marvel in Portland

If you want to get a sense of how extraordinary the City of Portland has become … well, you can go to Pioneer Courthouse Square, one of the great urban spaces in North America. At certain times, there will be a light-rail train on three sides, and on the fourth, a few blocks away, the Portland Streetcar. But if you want to see what Portland is becoming – and to watch the interactions where five modes of transport come together – Read more at PriceTags: A Multimodal Marvel in Portland « Price Tags

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Brent Toderian in Planetizen
The Law of Traffic Congestion,
According to "The Flash!"

Across the world, city-builders who understand the complex relationship between land-use, car infrastructure and road congestion, struggle to communicate it in a simple way that resonates with the public. It's now well-demonstrated in transportation demand management (TDM) research and practice that you can't build your way out of traffic congestion by building roads, and in fact the opposite is true - the more free-ways and car lanes you build, the more people drive and the more congestion and other negative results there are. This because of "induced traffic", or the Law of Congestion. As the saying goes, building more lanes to address congestion is like loosening your belt to address obesity. 

Read more: The Law of Traffic Congestion, according to "The Flash!" | Planetizen

Friday, November 16, 2012

From Project for Public Spaces
“We Are the Majority! The Cars Don’t Vote!”

Thanks to Clarence at Streetfilms for the heads up on this: the impassioned presentation by transportation reform leader Mark Gorton during this fall’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference in Long Beach is now available in full online.

More at Project for Public Spaces“We Are the Majority! The Cars Don’t Vote!” | Project for Public Spaces

Thursday, November 15, 2012

From WhatWasThere — 1917 Car Wreck

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Traffic Signals Removed,
All Traffic Shares the Intersection

 Shared space traffic intersection in Drachten, The Netherlands. Traffic signals removed in 2002. The junction handles around 17,000 vehicles per day. One of many projects led by the late Hans Monderman.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

From Project for Public Spaces
What Makes a Great Public Destination?
Is it Possible to Build One Where You Live?

In a recent blog post, entrepreneur-turned-VC Mark Suster wrote about the necessary ingredients for a city trying to develop a successful start-up community. His advice seemed applicable to any community that’s trying to create a strong local sense of place, so we’ve retrofitted his recommendations to speak broadly to people who are working to transform their public spaces into magnetic destinations that are reflective of the diverse communities that surround them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

From the NFB — Radiant City

In this feature length film Gary Burns, Canada's king of surreal comedy, joins journalist Jim Brown on an outing to the suburbs. Venturing into territory both familiar and foreign, they turn the documentary genre inside out, crafting a vivid account of life in The Late Suburban Age.

Radiant City by Jim Brown & by Gary Burns, National Film Board of Canada

Kitsilano Retail Clusters
Hold Competitive Advantage Over Malls

Concentration of companies boosts performance
More than two decades ago, Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter pioneered the concept of clusters, which are geographic concentrations of companies and their suppliers and service providers in certain industries. A classic example was the proliferation of advertising agencies along Madison Avenue in New York.
According to Harvard’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, clusters enhance productivity, better enabling companies to compete.“For example, clusters may not simply reduce the cost of production but the cost of exchange, by enhancing trading relationships and the transparency of local input and output markets,” Porter, along with Temple University’s Mercedes Delgado and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scott Stern, wrote in March 2011 paper. “The impact of local knowledge spillovers likely does not simply accrue to a single firm in an isolated way; rather, related local discoveries may simultaneously enhance the knowledge base of multiple local firms.”
Lease rates cheaper than malls
"... running a business on a busy street is usually more cost-efficient than leasing space in a shopping centre, where retail tenants are responsible for covering cost of space shared by everyone."
Sometimes, it can be 30 percent of the rent, whereas on the street, the common-area maintenance is very low,” [Retail consultant Richard] Wozny says. “You’re not looking after a big parking lot and internal mall corridors.” 
More in the Straight: Kitsilano rises as Vancouver retail hot spot | Vancouver, Canada |

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

From The Pop-Up City
Top 5 Of The Greatest Urban Rooftop Farms

Urban farming has become one of the major international urban trends — a good reason for us to make a Top 5 of the greatest rooftop farms we’ve come across over the last years. Read more: Attribution Non-CommercialTop 5 Of The Greatest Urban Rooftop Farms — The Pop-Up City

Monday, November 5, 2012

Finally Thinkin’ Small, But Can We
Build on What We’ve Learned?

The original Katrina Cottage: Hurricane Katrina’s scrappy li’l legacy.
As soon as the destructive path of Hurricane Sandy became evident, I got emails and calls from colleagues who, like me, worked in disaster recovery situations on the Gulf Coast. 

When the clean-up gets underway, could this be an opportunity for the Eastern Seaboard states to apply some of the rebuilding lessons of the Gulf after Katrina? Is there a role for Katrina Cottages?

Read more: Finally Thinkin’ Small: But can we build on what we’ve learned? | PlaceMakers

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nanaimo Transportation Master Plan

The City of Nanaimo recently began working on its first long-term Transportation Master Plan, the first plan of its kind for BC's third oldest city. Transportation touches every part of our daily lives, affecting how we move, how food, goods and services reach us, how we access employment, our household budgets, what housing choices we make, how our City looks and feels and how we interact with our fellow citizens... More at Nanaimo Transportation Master Plan | City of Nanaimo

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hazel Borys of PlaceMakers
Confessions of a Former Sprawl Addict

From WhatWasThere
Corner of Hastings and Cambie 1900

Thanks to

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thanks to Illustrated Vancouver, Drawings of an imagined Block51, unattributed, but... In this documentary short, Vancouver architect Stanley King demonstrates his method for involving the public in urban design. Called the "draw-in/design-in”, the method is applied to a downtown Vancouver area slated for redevelopment. How can it be made to best serve the needs of the people who will use it? Here, sketches prepared by students and refined by adults are used to guide city planners.

From The Calgary Herald — Mayor Nenshi
To Developers: "Don't Bring Us Crap"

If developers want the city to cut red tape, they should cut the “crap” from their projects, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday.
In his annual Chamber of Commerce speech, the mayor lauded the city planning department’s efforts to ease some of the bureaucratic hurdles that home builders and commercial developers routinely complain about — but the city shouldn’t settle for low-quality developments.
“You cannot come as the industry to say to us, ‘It takes too long for me to get my approvals’ if you’re bringing us crap,” Nenshi told the luncheon crowd.
Read more: ‘Crap’ shouldn’t be easier to build, mayor tells chamber

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Repair the Square!

Every town has its ceremonial central public square. Nanaimo's is Dallas Square, one block from the waterfront promenade. It's home to the Cenotaph and shares the site with St. Paul's Anglican Church, built in 1931. The original Anglican Church on the site was built in the 1860s.

It has been neglected and harm was done to it some years ago with the creation of a single lane traffic ramp to align with Church Street. At the cost of effectively the loss of nearly half of the potential area of the public square, turning right from Front St. onto Church St. was made slightly more convenient for motorists.

Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines recognizes Dallas Square's importance in "the development of an open space and pathway network throughout the downtown. Existing city owned lands and rights-of-way, combined with private property redevelopment, provide the opportunity for a coordinated park, pathway and open space plan..."

A modest improvement would be the immediate removal of the ramp and a design competition to generate ideas to renovate the square and better connect it to the walkway that leads to the waterfront promenade and parks. The Design Guidelines offered this starting point for fresh design ideas for the square.

More ambitiously, consideration should be given to the acquisition from the Anglican Church of its adjacent property, currently a parking lot. Church parking lots offer a win-win opportunity for steadily densifying downtowns: badly needed revenue for the churches and the creation of badly needed pedestrian scale public squares for the City.

St. Paul's would anchor a brilliant new central public square, modeled on the public squares of European cities.

The renovation of Dallas Square could also signal a badly needed tipping point for Nanaimo: a return to designing human scale public space.

From the Design Guidelines document:


This downtown plan anticipates further research and design work towards the development of an open space and pathway network throughout the downtown. Existing city owned lands and rights-of-way, combined with private property redevelopment, provide the opportunity for a coordinated park, pathway and open space plan to be incrementally established over time.

With the redevelopment of numerous sites at or adjacent to the downtown waterfront, a number of park sites along the waters' edge walkway and adjacent to Front Street will require redesign. The increased number of residents, as well as a greater number of people attracted to the area in the future, will cause more intensive use and greater demand on walkways and other park amenities. This means that paving, lighting, seating and other features will have to be developed in concert with the building redevelopments neighbouring these parks, paths and public open spaces.

Georgia Park

Redesign and redevelopment should be considered for Georgia Park and Dallas Square. Georgia Park requires attention to good public visibility and safe access across Front Street.

More at: