Thursday, February 28, 2013

From The Architect's Newspaper
Bing in the Burbs

Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson put the phrase “retrofitting suburbia” into the urbanist lexicon back in 2008, when they published a book about a movement to turn dying malls and car-choked strips into mixed-use, walkable places. Slowed by the recession, the movement roared back into view in Maryland this month. On February 13, the owners of a huge 1960s apartment and strip retail complex in Silver Spring unveiled a master plan by Bing Thom Architects and Sasaki Associates for an ambitious redevelopment of the 27-acre site. 

Under the new master plan, the complex, called The Blairs, would gain 10 new buildings of up to 200 feet in height. Its current stock of 1,400 apartments would double. Four-hundred-and-fifty-thousand square feet of new commercial space would be added. The large parking lot at its heart would be replaced by a series of parks weaving through the property; these would also negotiate a steep grade change that now effectively splits the eastern and western halves of the complex.Read more: Bing in the Burbs - The Architect's Newspaper

Visualizing a Walkable City

The city of Pontevedra in northwest Spain has become a leader in walker-friendly urban policy over the past 15 years. In light of its relative anonymity and population of 83,000, one might find it difficult to imagine the traffic congestion that prompted this transformation. However, as the capital of its province, county and municipality, Pontevedra attracted enough automobile commuters each day to overwhelm its antiquated streets.

Instead of razing old buildings and constructing bigger roads, the city council began taking proactive measures to reduce traffic. They widened sidewalks, established a free bike-lending service, installed speed bumps and set a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour throughout the city. They even banned motorized transport in sections of Pontevedra. Walking zones now extend from the historic center to streets and squares in newer neighborhoods. Although the driving ban initially faced resistance, it is now broadly supported and has become an essential part of the city's identity as an attractive place to live. Read more: polis: Visualizing a Walkable City

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Goofy in Motor Mania (1950)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Smart Growth Stories —
Mayor Marilyn Strickland on
Development in Tacoma, WA

“One of our biggest challenges is attracting private investment that doesn’t require a large government subsidy. And I think as we talk about what that means, we need to increase our density. We need to build walkable neighborhoods, we need a very very good, solid public transportation system. And we have to make sure that we’re able to attract employers and people don’t have to drive a long distance or ride a long distance to get to work.”

Read more: Smart Growth Stories: Mayor Marilyn Strickland on development in Tacoma, WA | Smart Growth America

Monday, February 25, 2013

From The Financialist
Five Innovations for Cities of the Future

What matters now in urban design are landmark spaces defined by culture, shopping and social experiences. Bonus points go to designs that seamlessly integrate public transportation, whisking passengers away to their next destination by bus, train or bike. Urban paradises of the future are also likely to make sustainability a priority by incorporating ways to recycle energy or natural resources.

Planners, architects and designers are trying to reflect an ascendant urban culture in which a transportation hub, for example, doubles as a work and social space – a place where laptops and smartphones are as common as a ticket stub. Read more: Five Innovations for Cities of the Future | The Financialist

From Price Tags — The (2nd) Biggest
Public-sector Mistake in B.C. Urbanism

Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo
When asked for an opinion, in The Province article below, as to what Kelowna should do, Gordon Price suggested “focus on increasing transit and public infrastructure investment downtown.”

And from his post on

In fact, there is no shortage of municipal institutional development in downtown Kelowna: art gallery, civic theatre, library, stadium, law courts, City Hall. But one big thing is missing: a university. In fact, next to overbuilding motordom, that’s the single biggest error this Province has made in urban planning. Ever since SFU, we’ve insisted on putting our new universities on tops of mountains:

Read more: The biggest public-sector mistake in B.C. urbanism | Price Tags

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Doug Saunders — The World Wants Vancouverism. Shouldn’t Canada?

I recently flipped through aerial photos of Canadian cities in the 1970s. One thing stood out: the parking lots. They were everywhere. Downtown Vancouver was a checkerboard of them. Post-Olympic Montreal was streaked with them. Toronto, especially south of King Street, seemed to be nothing but one giant, contiguous grey parking lot yawning across the lakefront.

In September, I returned to Canada after living abroad for almost a decade, and was struck by the disappearance of those acres of cement emptiness. Toronto’s waterfront had become a wall of elegant glass housing towers, their tens of thousands of residents turning this former lonely wasteland into a thriving human community. Montreal is seeing its first new high-rise housing boom in more than 20 years, as the postindustrial southwestern corner of the island is populated.

Doug Saunders: The world wants Vancouverism. Shouldn’t Canada? - The Globe and Mail

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Centre for Social Innovation
And its Jane Jacobs DNA

From The Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world. We believe that society is facing unprecedented economic, environmental, social and cultural challenges. We also believe that new innovations are the key to turning these challenges into opportunities to improve our communities and our planet.

CSI is a coworking space, community centre and incubator for people who are changing the world. We provide our members with the spaces, relationships and knowledge they need to turn their ideas into impact.

An exciting concept, "building a culture of collaboration". I wasn't aware of CSI until Nanaimo City Councillor Bill McKay this week suggested it to a representative from the performing arts community who was addressing Council in regards to a City-owned performance hall which has received a bleak report on the state of its health. But my interest in the work of Jane Jacobs had led me to a couple of the principals, Margie Ziedler and Mary Rowe.

When the Jacobs' first moved from New York to Toronto Jane's husband Robert worked for Maggie Ziedler's father's architectural firm and the families were very close through the Toronto years and Maggie's neighbourhood based enterprises (restoring small heritage hotel properties) are strongly influenced by Jane Jacobs. 

Mary Rowe is an urban scholar and Jacobs expert listed on the CSI website as being associated with Ideas that Matter a "Canadian organization… particularly interested in issues related to cities, urban economies and the values of diversity, community and the public good. Founded in 1997, the work of Ideas that Matter is inspired by the wide-ranging ideas and principles of Jane Jacobs".

Which brings me to Alan Broadbent. He's the founder of Ideas that Matter. I heard him at a Sam Sullivan sponsored forum in Vancouver and Sam introduced him as "making money in the morning and spending it in the afternoon on his causes," and said that after each time he'd had a discussion with Broadbent, his life was changed in one way or another.  His main focus presently seems to be his Maytree Foundation and Cities of Migration which works to help immigrants integrate into Canadian society. He's also written a book on municipal governance reform Urban Nation.

Home | Centre for Social Innovation

Friday, February 22, 2013

From The Atlantic Cities — Cars and Robust Cities Are Fundamentally Incompatible

Parking disrupts the urban fabric in places like Hartford
where it occupies more than 20 percent of downtown land.
Big roads and parking garages are so common in American cities that it's easy to forget these places once functioned exceptionally well without them. However, in their persistent battle to satisfy the demands of motorists, many urban areas are losing out.

In the early 1960s – when highway construction was at its peak and cars were just beginning to leave their mark – a handful of critics predicted there would be irreconcilable tensions between vibrant cities and their motorized inhabitants. Nearly 50 years later, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published research validating this idea.

Read more: Cars and Robust Cities Are Fundamentally Incompatible - Commute - The Atlantic Cities

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From Kaid Benfield's Switchboard
EPA Smart Growth Award Winner El Paso Commits to a Smarter, Greener Future

Read the full post at: It's unanimous: El Paso commits to a smarter, greener future | Kaid Benfield's Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

From — By-Passing Tomorrow for Easy Implementation Today

Howard Blackson, San Diego
Chuck Marohn, and his Strong Towns message, is revolutionary in that he is a credible transportation professional who is single-handedly taking on the transportation profession. And winning.

Last year, Walt Chambers of Great Streets San Diego, and I brought Chuck to San Diego for one of his now ubiquitous Curbside Chats. In short, the Strong Town message is to be cognizant of the long-term ramifications of short-term infrastructure investments, especially ones that simply support auto-oriented lifestyles.

Our expectation to pay only a portion of the full costs of growth has led to a scarcity of resources.” — Chuck Marohn 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Brent Toderian's Address to Seattle's
State-of-Downtown Economic Forum

Former City of Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian, discusses the concept of “density done well” at Downtown Seattle Association’s 2013 State of Downtown Economic Forum. 
"If you [try to] "balance"
transportation modes, the car wins."

Friday, February 15, 2013

From This Big City — Why Walkability
Isn’t Just About Proximity to Shops

For many people, the concept of ‘Walkability’ simply means how many shops, cafes, schools and other services are within walking distance of a particular location. While this is a really important part of a walkable neighbourhood (people won’t walk if there is nothing to walk to) there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that several other factors improve or reduce the walkability of a street or neighbourhood.

Now a new book by urban designer Julie Campoli adds to this discussion by exploring several key factors that combine to create truly walkable streets and communities. In her new book from the Lincoln Institute: Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form, Campoli argues that simply having shops, services and venues within walking distance is not enough. Read more: Why Walkability isn’t Just About Proximity to Shops | This Big City

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NYC DOT Commisioner Janette Sadik-Khan: "Good streets are good business."

"One of our greatest innovations is our ability to move quickly. The normal capital construction program takes about five years. But we’ve been able to transform city streets virtually overnight. You can literally paint the city you want to see. You can do it with two traffic cones, a can of paint, and stone planters. And we’re able to show the results." Read more: Janette Sadik-Khan: The Benefits of a Well-Designed City - Businessweek

From — Jane Jacobs Revisited: City Building in the 21st Century

The participants of Jane Jacobs Revisited included Edward Glaeser (Harvard University), Bing Thom (Bing Thom Architects), Nabeel Hamdi (Oxford Brookes), Helle Søholt (Gehl Architects), Jonathan Rose, Nicky Gavron (former London Deputy Mayor), Vishaan Chakrabarti (Columbia University GSAPP and SHoP Architects), John van Nostrand (PlanningAlliance), Eric Klinenberg(NYU), Clare Weisz (WXY Architecture), Andrew Altman (London Legacy Development Corporation), Alicia Glen (Goldman Sachs), Carrie Lam (Hong Kong Government), Padraic Kelly (Happold Consulting), Barbra Hoidn (UT Austin) and Jyoti Hosragrahar (Columbia University).

More at: Jane Jacobs Revisited: City Building in the 21st Century | URBALIZE

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

PlaceMakers Tuesday Guest Shaker —
"Planners Used to be Fun"

At the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City, Missouri a panel presented the top 20 municipal placemaking mistakes. A lot of the usual suspects emerged — giving away connectivity, failure to provide resources for implementation, lack of a meaningful vision, ill-suited codes, and a host of others — all pointing to ill-advised actions or techniques. But what the discussion danced around was the software of the process: the personal leadership role of staff, advocates and elected officials. In short, all the placemaking techniques in the world will fail if you embrace the tools but discount the skills of the person wielding them. Read more: It’s not me, it’s you (and you, and you) | PlaceMakers

It’s not me, it’s you (and you, and you) | PlaceMakers

Monday, February 11, 2013

North Vancouver's New City Hall, Nanaimo's New City Hall Annex — Let's Compare

The new North Vancouver City Hall proclaims itself to be "A Community Space". The architect talks of its innovation, "celebrating the importance of wood", the Manager of City Facilities talks of a "wow factor",  the consulting engineer explains the structural innovation, a resident talks of the building being "welcoming" and the beginning of "a whole new phase for the city".

Nanaimo has just completed construction of a City Hall Annex building. The project stemmed from an engineering report cautioning that the previous building fell well short of earthquake readiness. Previous to this report the need for a new facility had not been identified as a priority. Nevertheless, the construction of any large capital project gives rise to the opportunity to leverage progress towards urban renewal and economic development goals. The site chosen was a City owned parking lot directly across from the 1951 City Hall in what is known as the Quennell Square precinct. The project happened quickly and without consultation with stakeholders and without a long called for and badly needed master plan for this remarkable inner city site. The project could have been a catalyst for the renewal of other precincts including the Terminal Avenue ravine and the Wellcox waterfront railyards.

If the architects are proud of their work here, they've left no indication on their website: Only this rendering which barely resembles the completed building. There are also no boasts that I've been able to find coming from the local construction contractor, the consulting engineer, local newspapers, senior City Management, City Councillors or citizens.

In terms of scale and integration with its neighbours the building is, uhh... insensitive. Look at it from Franklyn St (above and below) and see how harshly it relates to its heritage craftsman and Victorian neighbours. And how the pretty little 1950s City Hall now looks kind of silly sitting in its shadow.

A building got built. That's about all. No contribution to urban renewal, to the building of community, to enhancing the neighbourhood and I really am at a loss to explain it. The inescapable conclusion seems to be that this is the result of a bankruptcy of vision and ambition. Not surprisingly no one here is speaking of celebrating this lifeless building as "A Community Space", with an innovative "wow factor",  "welcoming" and the beginning of  "a whole new phase for the city".

Post script: The original building which was essentially condemed by an engineering report and vacated by the City has been purchased for $1 by a local engineering/contracting firm. As part of the sale, the City, in addition has agreed to pay the purchasing firm $40,000, the equivalent to two years worth of property tax and the purchaser must complete upgrades to render the building 60 per cent compliant with the seismic requirements or demolish the building within the first two years of taking ownership.

In fairness, it's not true that the project makes no contribution to inner city public space. At the rear of the building (with a view of a parking lot) there's this:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

We Used to Know How to do This —
What the Hell Happened?
Hi-res B&W from

Circa 1905. "Mulberry Bend, New York City." The name was changed to Columbus Park in 1911. Mulberry Bend: 1905 | Shorpy Historical Photo Archive

Thursday, February 7, 2013

From Project for Public Spaces — Opportunity is Local (Or: You Can’t Buy
A New Economy)

Brendan Crain argues we've got it ass-backwards. I think he's right:

When cities jump into the talent attraction death match arena, they often wind up losing to win: they spend millions of dollars on insane tax incentives to woo corporate headquarters and factories; they drop millions more on fancy amenities that haven’t really been asked for, in the hopes that (since it worked elsewhere) each bauble will magically cause a crowd of American Apparel-wearing, Mac-toting graphic designers to materialize out of thin air; they sell their souls in order to “create” jobs that are, in fact, merely shifted over from somewhere else.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Super Bowl Commercial for Transit:
... And God Created Transit

More at: VIDEO: God Created Transit – Next City

From Project for Public Spaces
How “Small Change” Leads to Big Change: Social Capital and Healthy Places

Farmers market in downtown Milwaukee / Photo: Ethan Kent
If we want to see people challenging the way that their places are made on a larger scale, we need to focus first on developing the loose social networks that are so vital to urban resilience. This is the stuff Jane Jacobs was talking about when she wrote, in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, that “lowly, unpurposeful, and random as they appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life must grow.” When people are connected enough to feel comfortable talking about what they want for their neighborhood with their neighbors, it’s much easier to muster political will to stop, say, a highway from cutting through Greenwich Village–or, in contemporary terms, to tear down a highway that was actually built. Read more:Project for Public Spaces | How “Small Change” Leads to Big Change: Social Capital and Healthy Places

Monday, February 4, 2013

City Councillor George Anderson Asked for Thoughts re Nanaimo's Participation in the Construction of a 5m Seat Multiplex Arena:

San Francisco Giants AT&T Stadium
George, 3 thoughts on the building of a multiplex arena in Nanaimo.
1. It would be broadly popular I imagine but I think you've shown on other issues that popularity on its own doesn't necessarily translate into good public policy. Any decision should be based on substantial supportive data. A multiplex may in fact have a positive economic impact on Nanaimo but a truly independent objective appraisal should be sought. At this point neither commercial proponents nor financiers have indicated that on its own there's a strong business case for a multiplex. That doesn't mean there isn't a valid role for the City to play. I assume —and hope —that a multiplex 100% constructed and run by the City is a non-starter politically and economically. Which leaves partnering with for-profit business interests and brings me to -
2. The business end of pro sports. These folks can be expected to be tough negotiators, to see the business world as a kind of poker game. They're not averse to playing one city off against another to their own best advantage. I'd want to be confident that where I and my fellow tax payers go up against them at the negotiating table, my representatives are every bit as tough and savvy, prepared to call a bluff and if need be walk away. I wish I saw more evidence of that when shopping mall and residential developers apply for zoning variance and building permits here in Nanaimo. In my view, the City's role should be limited to leasing a property to the operator with full security held as any bank would. A percentage of the revenues generated should be held in reserve to cover considerable costs incurred at the end of the building's life span when ownership would revert to the City.
And 3. This one I consider the most important of all and worry that it won't get the high priority attention it deserves. When a new building is built or an area renewed there's the opportunity — responsibility in fact — to make a contribution to building community, to enhancing our neighbourhoods. Arenas and stadia surrounded by hundreds of surface parking stalls are notoriously destructive to a sense of community, of "place".  Here's a rare example of a major league baseball stadium that contributed to the enhancement and development of its immediate neighbourhood (the San Francisco waterfront after an earthquake collapsed the elevated expressway) including greatly increased property values. The Embarcadero went from an area of derelict warehouses to a prosperous desirable neighbourhood. Hint: don't come by car. Transit options are plentiful and high quality and there's much else to see and do in the area, best experienced on foot. I'd suggest that an ambitious upgrade to our transit system (Bus Rapid Transit dedicated bus lines north and south on Nichol/Terminal and along Bowen/Comox supported by smaller buses feeding into neighbourhoods and key spots like the BC Ferry Terminal at Departure Bay) should be a deal breaker. 

From — Hi-res B&W
Springfield, Massachusetts Circa 1908

Worthington and Main: 1908 | Shorpy Historical Photo Archive