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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The urban age: how cities became our greatest design challenge yet

with 17 comments

The Guardian

There is a risk, in writing this piece, that I am going to restart the debate which raged in my absence in February.

Amid unprecedented levels of urbanisation, designers must be trusted to fashion cities that not only accommodate but also provide a pleasant environment

I am a bit less than thrilled that the criterion can be expressed in such language. The problem is dramatically illustrated in the original by a photo of a Lagos slum. This is more than an unpleasant environment. Though some see slums as comparable to a natural process of adaptation – and centers of entrepreneurial activity and social stability.

The big driver of urban reforms, historically, in places like London was concern for human health. People like Sir Christopher Wren wanted to rebuild London to look more impressive, but lost out to the much more powerful voice of the merchants and businesses that had to rebuild after the Great Fire, and do that quickly, to get a positive cash flow going again. About the only concession made to public safety was to allow a ban on thatched roofs. It was not until a ground breaking statistical study showed the link between cholera and water supply that the professions of urban planning – and public health – really got to be effective. And some of their ideas were a bit misdirected, or have become anachronistic, but we are still stuck with them. Like separation of land uses, or low density for residential areas. I have often thought that English “Town and Country Planners” were mostly frustrated architects – concerned more about issues such as “sensitive infill” and colour of paviours – than the social engineers they are accused of being. They mostly built places that were supposed to look good but didn’t work very well – like most of the post war New Towns. Most of which were pretty hideous too.

“Greater Vancouver can become the first urban region in the world to combine in one place the things to which humanity aspires on a global basis: a place where human activities enhance rather than degrade the natural environment, where the quality of the built environment approaches that of the natural setting, where the diversity of origins and religions is a source of social strength rather than strife, where people control the destiny of their community, and where the basics of food, clothing, shelter, security and useful activity are accessible to all.”

—Source: ”Creating Our Future“ (emphasis added)

It may be significant that I had to copy that out of the LRSP – the original seems not to be available on line. I think that most would concede that the objective I have highlighted has not been achieved. Nor is it likely to, as long as we pursue policies designed to maximize short term commercial profitability over nearly every other consideration. Much of what is built here is designed for a short life. Most industrial and commercial buildings are little more than huge sheds – often built of “tilt up” concrete panels.

new building tipped up 070707

Most houses are still stick built – and many get pulled down and replaced within 40 years of being constructed.

9320 framing going up 2008_0607

For me, one of the worst visual features is the wirescape: it seems nearly every view of our natural setting is through a tangle of hydro wires and tv cables.

cables

Because, of course, it is cheaper to string wire than bury it. And, someone once informed me, the Hydro crews get paid a lot of overtime to put the wires back up again after every storm – so organized labour is as keen on this method as their management.

Is this really the best we can do?

wall of glass

Well, it’s good for those that get this view but even then I doubt the aesthetic value of the human contribution to the natural landscape here

Coal Harbour

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Posted in architecture, Urban Planning

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17 Responses

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  1. My ability to 10-finger type is on hold for a couple of days while I nurse a small slice to one of my fingers. I have to say that I learned more from you-all during Stephen’s sojourn than I did during equivalent periods of time in many a school term. So, an observation to get us started from the Guardian article:

    “For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the countryside.”

    In North America, as in other parts of the designation “cities” includes “suburbs” and that is really stretching the definition.

    PS

    Stephen’s post on urbanism here is really Part II of his commentary. He’s done a lot of the heavy lifting already a couple of posts down discussing the ALR.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm

  2. “Ask any architect or well travelled person, and they will tell you that Vancouver may be in a beautiful place but its architecture is at the very low end of the scale. “

    source – a letter published in full on Frances Bula’s blog from Roy Arden, actually about the VAG relocation controversy, which the Sun declined to publish in full. I was tempted to copy the whole thing, and put it on here as a new post, but that seemed a bit cheeky. But his views coincide with my own.

    Stephen Rees

    March 30, 2010 at 9:31 am

  3. Vancouver is not a world class city, although it may well get there in a few generations. It is a an incredible site for a city.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

  4. Vancouver is a young city. So it hasn’t had the years behind it to get those historic or architectural buildings built. Unlike the cities in Europe. Which have had not only decades of building but centuries and centuries.

    Also for most of its life Vancouver has really been the city that was never known. It wasn’t until Expo 86 and now the Olympics. That it is finally got on the map and more people know about it now.

    In regards the wirescape in your article. I was under the impression that the majority of the suburbs have buried their lines. I know in Vancouver where I live they are above ground though. Sadly it would be next to impossible to convert Vancouver. As that would mean digging up every single home owners property. Besides the fact that in a lot of cases the garage or fence or even now laneway house. Would be in the way.

    Paul

    March 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm

  5. The wires are prominent on nearly every arterial in Richmond. Within the subdivisions, developers have mainly been required to bury lines in recent years – but older areas still have lots of wires. Delta seems to be similar.

    Just because it is new doesn’t mean it has be characterless. Vancouver – except for its thin towers downtown – could be almost any medium sized city in North America from the built perspective. Lovely location – lousy “performance”

    Stephen Rees

    March 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  6. With respect to downtown Vancouver, there’s already talk that the Concord lands etc. are too sterile, uniform and not gritty like Gastown is.

    Ron C.

    March 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm

  7. I know you dislike questions, but what exactly do you dislike about vancouver’s built form and urban environement? Or if you wanted to change things what things would you change?

    IMO, i don’t like resting on laruels, but vancouver has crafted a unique urban form post WW2 and post-automobile. Point tower and podium has allowed for nice pedestiran level experience, ++ surface light and allowed higher densities. Do you have an example of post WW2 urban development from scratch that is a good example of urban form? ie, not using existing pre-automobile building stock like gastown or soho, but built new, like concord lands.

    http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/woodwards-2-vancouverism/

    http://regardingplace.com/?p=1895#more-1895

    And WRT to using wood for house construction, don’t forget it is a realitvely inexpensive building material that can be locally sourced and has natural earthquake resistance. it can be used for higher density townhouses as well. It has drawbacks, as with any material, but it has a firm niche here in BC.

    mezzanine

    March 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm

  8. Mezz, I could site you a whack of stuff that has been built since 1970 that is very good, but most of it is in Europe. The New Urbanism in the U.S. is trying really hard, but most of that is of near-suburban density (we kicked a few examples around from the San Diego Trolley TODs in February).

    The car just seems to usurp all the life out of the city, dominates the public realm, leaving very little that is workable in its wake. That’s why trams-for-cars seems like a good bargain to me.

    Then we have the nexus between the political parties in power and the very large development firms that Stephen correctly points to in the post about agricultural land reserves.

    As regards wood construction, provided we take care of fire spread by sprinklering residential units, and putting up solid, non-combustable, acoustically inert separations between suites, there is a lot to like about it. Its performance under earthquake, for example, is superior to steel. The light frame creates advantages for construction—however, not above 3 stories in height.

    The wood members shrink when they are not standing with the grain perpendicular to the ground. Every wood floor structure is made of wood members with fibres going the wrong way. If every floor of a building shrinks by, say, 1%, then by the time we multiply that by 5x we are facing severe structural movement. Add to that ground settling, and we are up against a serious problem.

    However, I think what Stephen is pointing to is something that I started calling “pioneerism”, the sort of “impermanence” that attaches to the buildings in our region. Just about everything, including the damn shopping centers, look like they could be wiped away tomorrow and leave nary a trace.

    It’s not so much the truth or falsity of this suggestion, but rather the impression of a mindset that seems to permeate our western culture that is somehow embodied by this “impermanent” architecture that is troubling.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 30, 2010 at 8:32 pm

  9. “Ask any architect or well travelled person, and they will tell you that Vancouver may be in a beautiful place but its architecture is at the very low end of the scale. “

    It looks like Roy Arden is trying to make the case for an iconic building designed by a Libeskind or Ghery of this world, for the VAG.

    Vancouver could look like more as those “wanna be world class city” of this world aligning incoherent track reproduction of starchitect’s bestselling piece, …and so what?

    To second Mezz question: “what exactly do you dislike about vancouver’s built form and urban environement? ”

    PS: Christopher Hume of the Toronto star point frequently vancouver as an example to follow for Toronto.

    voony

    March 31, 2010 at 12:18 am

  10. One thing I’m actually hoping for. Considering that there are height limitations in Downtown Vancouver due to the view cones.

    Would be for Surrey to actually have the mega tall towers. I realize right now it would look kind of weird have a 1,000 foot tower in Surrey. But it has the greater potential of it happening.

    Otherwise most other cities have a monument of some sort that when people see it they automatically think of that city. We just haven’t found that monument yet.

    Paul

    March 31, 2010 at 2:55 am

  11. The urban age: a new paradigm for urban planning . . .

    http://members.shaw.ca/urbanismo/DTES/DTES.charrette.html

    Urbanismo

    March 31, 2010 at 6:58 am

  12. @ Lewis, “The New Urbanism in the U.S. is trying really hard, but most of that is of near-suburban density (we kicked a few examples around from the San Diego Trolley TODs in February).”

    Yes, New Urbanism seems to be losing its luster: DPZ didn’t fare too well on Surrey’s Spetifore property last year and the PoW’s Poundbury seems to have become just another very expensive anachronism: I have never been a fan of Quinlan Terry.

    Is Saint Quentin-en-Ivelynes New Urbanism / Post Modern? Access from Gare d’Austerlitz on the RER (Stephen likes) is excellent: Metro isn’t ready for that yet!

    Bofill’s PM architecture is way past its buy-date and now looks quite ridiculous . . . so much for NU/PM as the once vaunted urban savior!

    http://theyorkshirelad.ca/New.Nanaimo.Center/pudpn/Of%20the%20Stones.pdf

    “As regards wood construction, provided we take care of fire spread by sprinklering residential units, and putting up solid, non-combustible, acoustically inert separations between suites, there is a lot to like about it.”

    Yes Lewis . . .

    Wood construction = wattle-and-daub, heavy timber, mill construction, balloon frame, western-frame, stick-building is probably the most effectively durable means of construction known to man. Gastown is Heavy timber/mill construction replete!

    Urbanismo

    March 31, 2010 at 8:15 am

  13. An explanation is proffered by the former architecture critic for the New York Times, Paul Goldberger, for the quality of New York urban space. Amuck in the wash of the Post Modernism, he was writing an urbanist guide to New York City. Yes, he would describe the buildings, but his real purpose was to focus on the spaces instead—it would take me about 20 years to get this point. At a loss to explain the values of what was scattered about, he reached for a cat’s claw in the form of a quotation he attributed to Galbraith.

    For the Americans at least, the resulting quality of urban space is really about “private luxury and public squalor”.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 31, 2010 at 9:16 am

  14. Problem posting, hang on…

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 31, 2010 at 9:27 am

  15. First, let’s put some meat on the outline of urbanism in England provided by Stephen.

    1. Home and Garden

    This is the english dichotomy, in my way of thinking. The most remarkable aspect of English urbanism (before we had Great Britain in 1717 or so) is that the towns were mostly privately owned. As was much of the land. This had consequences for the summer of the Great Stink, 1858, when the flushing toilet and the lack of coordinated planning finally got the better of the River Tames. The Albert Embankment, the southern side of the new sewer system would not be ready in time for Prince Albert to open it. He died of typhoid fever in 1861. The disease is connected to poor sanitation and was killing royalty and city dweller alike.

    2. The House

    The second most remarkable product of English urbanism was the row house. Also a private concern, typically not bought and sold, but leased for 99 years after which time land and buildings would return to the ownership of the Lord’s estate. The whole of the West End, the area between Westminster and The City (i.e. London proper, the site of St. Paul’s and the London Bridge, as well as the location of the original Roman castrum of Londonium), built out as a patchwork of estates from the 1640′s onward. It appears form the literature that coordinated planning among the estates was not on. Thus, the maze of streets that resulted, all very picturesque for being set in a modern metropolis and not rising above 3.5 stories or so, have precipitated “The Knowledge”—a two year exam that qualifies London cabbies for the job. It takes that long just to figure out how to get around this brand of British urbanism. 

    However, the success of the house is also a tale of transportation. The maze of streets and the favourable sub-surface conditions made it so that when Haussmann was re-designing Paris on the surface, London was boring the Underground subway. Superior transportation systems, including horse drawn buses, made the house affordable at different price points at different distances from the centre.

    A pied-à-terre in the West End would command a Lord’s ransom, but you could still live in a modest house on the edges of the metropolis and commute without much trouble (Engels description of Liverpool mid 1800′s can correct the over-rosy analysis being providing). Seen with contemporary eyes, the house in say, Islington, and the house in Belgravia are more or less that same product. There are exceptions of course, but as a rule one building type spans the entire social strata. That’s a lesson for us here today, especially since the London house achieves higher gross densities that the North Shore False Creek condo tower that Stephen shows us (100 vs. 65-ish units per acre in NSFC). 

    Land value and transportation choices are linked. We have already seen how the Woodwards caused a small storm of speculation at City Hall that prompted the Historic Area Height Review… a piece of less than inspired planning, standing for good urbanism.

    The basic London house unit is 800 s.f. and just 1/4 chain or 16.5 ft (5m) wide. A four storey unit—3.5 storeys exposed to the street—can be built as “stacked townhouses”. The top unit with a generous roof terrace (deck); the lower unit with a rear garden about 600 s.f. In Vancouver lots, this type of housing yields 65-plus units/acre, or the equivalent density to North Shore False Creek. In London, without the garage, and without the rear lane, the gross density jumps to 100 units.

    Yet, in the house row both units have doors on the street, and the quality of the resulting urban space could not be more different than the condo neighbourhoods. Units are dual aspect (face in two directions, optimizing ventilation and solar exposure—i.e. solar cooling and heating); the streets have human scale, front door yards are lovingly kept and used; even the scale of the urban block is held in check, since according to Peter Smithson, beyond 7 chains the feel of the house row becomes oppressive. Vancouver is platted in 5, 6 and 7 chain blocks. The block end-grain on the north-south arterials with block ends that shape blocks just 4 chain long.

    Is a neighbourhood of property owners stronger than a neighbourhood of strata owners? We don’t know. We feel that the “eyes and doors on the street” make for safer neighbourhoods, and that building “walkable” (i.e. human scale) streets also helps with the overall sense of security.

    Furthermore, the building type does not have to be built in rows. The conversion of Vancouver lots into a pair of free-hold buildings that share the same characteristics as the English terraced house is possible on a lot-by-lot basis. There is no land assembly required. And, we have calculated—more or less on the back of an envelope—that if we converted every house currently fronting a Vancouver arterials to this density and form, we would generate enough residential space to accommodate a doublling of the 2010 population. 

    Not bad for a building that is not strata-title, and that retains both human scale, and the competitive advantage of not requiring land assembly. What works in Vancouver translates to the remainder of the region. Picture Surrey adopting this building type for its next phase of intensification… say on LRT stations at 1.5 km spacings all the way down the Interurban (SRY) line. This type yields 65 u/ac x 120 ac/per quartier or pedestrian shed = 7800 units, or 15,000 residents. We really only need 10,000 people per quartier. 

    How many kilometers of Interurban do we have between Surrey and Langley? I measure 9 km just between Scott Road and 152nd street. That would be 70,000 in 7 quartiers or TODs.

    3. The French King

    I would argue that English urbanism got its start in the Renaissance century in Paris, in the country that almost a century earlier had welcomed the ageing Leonardo da Vinci, travelling with his beloved “Mona Lisa”.

    It was Henri IV who converted to Catholicism, ended the Catholic-Protestant wars in France, and wed one of his daughters to Charles I of England, that is properly the father-in-law of British urbanism. Henri made an industry out of building in Paris, and the works are still there to be seen. Pont Neuf and Place Dauphin at the western tip of Ile de la Cite; Place des Vosges in the Marais (the swamp); and even a hospital nearby in the same architectural style. 

    Alas he was killed jousting in a tournament. After his death wife Marie, a Medici, built the Palais Louxembourg (1620′s) just one kilometre from Pont Neuf. Cardinal Richelieu kept the momentum going with Palais Royal (1635), across the Louvre the better to keep an eye on Henri’s successor. At least according to Voltaire, the rest is history.

    Henri’s son-in-law fared less well. The etching of his execution on a stage put up in front of The Banqueting Hall (by Inigo Jones) is high political propaganda. There is the head of the king decapitated, held aloft, in front of the windows of the Banqueting Hall: classical, French, and most certainly Catholic. The message was crystal clear. Unfortunately, politics got in the way of good urbanism in the land of the English.

    http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=ap&npgno=D1306

    That was 1649. It is hard not to see the events 17 years later, fully six years into the reinstatement of the monarchy under James I, as comeuppance. The great fire of 1666 razed to the ground the City, the great challenger of Westminster. 

    London’s has always been a tale of two cities: Westminster up stream, and The City at the head of London Bridge. The crown and its cronies were the landed gentry; the City was the seat of the merchant class. One owned the land on which the sheep grazed, and the towns prospered, the other depended on the supply of raw materials for textiles and manufacturing. 

    Is it a coincidence that the American slaves were picking cotton? 

    At about the same time as the British Empire was formed, the Treaty of Utrech was cemented, and the U.K. took over trade in African slaves from the French and the other European crowns. Within four decades we can trace the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution on British soil. Could it that the surplus capital of the plantations, generated by indentured service and slavery, found its way into the risky ventures of early capitalist industrialization?

    In Canada, the niece of Cardinal Richelieu was connected with the construction of Qubec in the 1600′s, and Montreal not Toronto, was the leading metropolis of the 19th century. Something that is still in evidence today. Thus, I believe it will be to our advantage to pick and chose among our colonial founders as to what we value most in our urbanist traditions.

    4. The Urban Code

    Whatever its true dimensions (history has been written by the victors), the  rivalry that is best understood in terms of the execution of 1649 (in Westminster), and the fire of 1666 (in The City) provides another explanation as to why the City was not reconstructed to an abstract—and far superior—plan. Wren was the king’s architect, and in my view, the Wren plan never stood a chance for obvious political reasons.

    However, there was another result: an urban code was passed in Parliament that classified construction according to the width of the street fronting. Fire protection in the beginning, and a tax on the surface area of glass fronting the street soon after, I am told by friends, had a great shaping influence on London’s urbanism, and then on the rest of the British Empire.

    Alas, the street code never included for tree planting which in London is most often restricted to the residential squares, a flaw that Haussman would correct in his boulevard plans (1855-71).

    I think it is possible to say that for being english, we are children of a lesser urbanism. The French were closer to the eye of the storm, Rome, and for this they fared somewhat better. Next, to get the humanism right, we will have to follow the Roman legions on Roman roads all the way back to the eternal city.

    However, before we leave the tale of English urbanism, lets stop in America.

    An explanation is proffered by the former architecture critic for the New York Times, Paul Goldberger, for the quality of New York urban space. Amuck in the wash of the Post Modernism, he was writing an urbanist guide to New York City. Yes, he would describe the buildings, but his real purpose was to focus on the spaces instead—it would take me about 20 years to get this point. At a loss to explain the values of what was scattered about, he reached for a cat’s claw in the form of a quotation he attributed to Galbraith.

    For the Americans at least, the resulting quality of urban space is really about “private luxury and public squalor”.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 31, 2010 at 9:32 am

  16. The great myth of English urbanism is the Idyl of the Countryside. That our cities achieve their optimum when the:

    “quality of the built environment approaches that of the natural setting”

    Arthur Connan Doyle, a frustrated geographer, had Sherlock Holmes instruct his companion Watson that the idyl of the English countryside hid far more heinous crimes than were possible in the city. The problem was the sparse population. There were not enough people around to keep an eye out, and keep criminals in check.

    Urbanism is “la chose humane par excellence” according to Claude Levi Strauss, and what is of human hand cannot aspire to be natural. Good urbanism must be measured by other means than the undisturbed nature, lest we be forced to let wild beast roam free in our quartiers. However, I do not see why we cannot aspire to a zero-footprint city, where the inputs balance the outputs. More on that later. 

    First, let’s put some meat on the outline of urbanism in England provided by Stephen.

    Home and Garden

    This is the english dichotomy, in my way of thinking. The most remarkable aspect of English urbanism (before we had Great Britain in 1717 or so) is that the towns were mostly privately owned. As was much of the land. This had consequences for the summer of the Great Stink, 1858, when the flushing toilet and the lack of coordinated planning finally got the better of the River Tames. The Albert Embankment, the southern side of the new sewer system would not be ready in time for Prince Albert to open it. He died of typhoid fever in 1861. The disease is connected to poor sanitation and was killing royalty and city dweller alike.

    The House

    The second most remarkable product of English urbanism was the row house. Also a private concern, typically not bought and sold, but leased for 99 years after which time land and buildings would return to the ownership of the Lord’s estate. The whole of the West End, the area between Westminster and The City (i.e. London proper, the site of St. Paul’s and the London Bridge, as well as the location of the original Roman castrum of Londonium), built out as a patchwork of estates from the 1640′s onward. It appears form the literature that coordinated planning among the estates was not on. Thus, the maze of streets that resulted, all very picturesque for being set in a modern metropolis and not rising above 3.5 stories or so, have precipitated “The Knowledge”—a two year exam that qualifies London cabbies for the job. It takes that long just to figure out how to get around this brand of British urbanism. 

    However, the success of the house is also a tale of transportation. The maze of streets and the favourable sub-surface conditions made it so that when Haussmann was re-designing Paris on the surface, London was boring the Underground subway. Superior transportation systems, including horse drawn buses, made the house affordable at different price points at different distances from the centre.

    A pied-à-terre in the West End would command a Lord’s ransom, but you could still live in a modest house on the edges of the metropolis and commute without much trouble (Engels description of Liverpool mid 1800′s can correct the over-rosy analysis being providing). Seen with contemporary eyes, the house in say, Islington, and the house in Belgravia are more or less that same product. There are exceptions of course, but as a rule one building type spans the entire social strata. That’s a lesson for us here today, especially since the London house achieves higher gross densities that the North Shore False Creek condo tower that Stephen shows us (100 vs. 65-ish units per acre in NSFC). 

    Land value and transportation choices are linked. We have already seen how the Woodwards caused a small storm of speculation at City Hall that prompted the Historic Area Height Review… a piece of less than inspired planning, standing for good urbanism.

    The basic London house unit is 800 s.f. and just 1/4 chain or 16.5 ft (5m) wide. A four storey unit—3.5 storeys exposed to the street—can be built as “stacked townhouses”. The top unit with a generous roof terrace (deck); the lower unit with a rear garden about 600 s.f. In Vancouver lots, this type of housing yields 65-plus units/acre, or the equivalent density to North Shore False Creek. In London, without the garage, and without the rear lane, the gross density jumps to 100 units.

    Yet, in the house row both units have doors on the street, and the quality of the resulting urban space could not be more different than the condo neighbourhoods. Units are dual aspect (face in two directions, optimizing ventilation and solar exposure—i.e. solar cooling and heating); the streets have human scale, front door yards are lovingly kept and used; even the scale of the urban block is held in check, since according to Peter Smithson, beyond 7 chains the feel of the house row becomes oppressive. Vancouver is platted in 5, 6 and 7 chain blocks. The block end-grain on the north-south arterials with block ends that shape blocks just 4 chain long.

    Is a neighbourhood of property owners stronger than a neighbourhood of strata owners? We don’t know. We feel that the “eyes and doors on the street” make for safer neighbourhoods, and that building “walkable” (i.e. human scale) streets also helps with the overall sense of security.

    Furthermore, the building type does not have to be built in rows. The conversion of Vancouver lots into a pair of free-hold buildings that share the same characteristics as the English terraced house is possible on a lot-by-lot basis. There is no land assembly required. And, we have calculated—more or less on the back of an envelope—that if we converted every house currently fronting a Vancouver arterials to this density and form, we would generate enough residential space to accommodate a doublling of the 2010 population. 

    Not bad for a building that is not strata-title, and that retains both human scale, and the competitive advantage of not requiring land assembly. What works in Vancouver translates to the remainder of the region. Picture Surrey adopting this building type for its next phase of intensification… say on LRT stations at 1.5 km spacings all the way down the Interurban (SRY) line. This type yields 65 u/ac x 120 ac/per quartier or pedestrian shed = 7800 units, or 15,000 residents. We really only need 10,000 people per quartier. 

    How many kilometers of Interurban do we have between Surrey and Langley? I measure 9 km just between Scott Road and 152nd street. That would be 70,000 in 7 quartiers or TODs.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    March 31, 2010 at 12:57 pm

  17. Wood is only earthquake proof if the posts, beams and studs are braced by diagonals, as I saw it done in some modern wood buildings in Japan. And the braces were notched in the other wood pieces, not “stapled”.

    There are lots of post and beam temples, castles and pagodas in Japan that have withstood earthquakes for centuries. By the same token lots of modern wood frame buildings collapsed in LA 1994 big earthquake.

    There is also lot of ignorance and misconceptions about earthquakes from builders, scientists and us lay people. I visited a town in Japan a few days before it was hit by a strong quake. For about a month after the quake I watched daily news from Japan about it on a US channel and watched hours of rented videos from Japan (I know people in that town).

    I went back about 1 year later and was able to easily identify a lot of buildings, elevated roads and railway tracks that had escaped the quake.

    Some modern earthquake proof concrete buildings fell to the ground while old houses and nondescript buildings, some in wood, some in bricks only, weren’t damaged. On some streets houses on one side were untouched while on the other side the same type of houses crashed down in thousands pieces.

    Destruction was often due more to the location (to type of soil) than to the method of construction of the building.

    Fire was a big problem. Many buildings that survived the quake started burning down a while later when gas from broken household pipes was ignited by pilot lights from water heaters and furnaces (many new houses now have their instant water heater outside the house and have an earthquake proof valve to shut off the gas automatically).

    Old wood buildings in Europe that were build in half timbered and post and beams styles, all using thick solid wood pieces, last for a long long time. Even those that were neglected for 50, 75 years and more can be easily repaired.

    In most cases the wood members in these old wood buildings are held together by tenons and mortises or dowels, that let the wood pieces shrink and expand without damage to the integrity of the building (except for minor cracks in plaster walls..), unlike staples in studs and plywood/ OSB sheets that can pop out.

    I am not confident at all that all these modern wood houses and low apartment buildings in Metro Vancouver, built with thin studs and sheets of OSB, all stapled together, will last for 2-3 generations or will be earthquake proof. Not to mention the water damage in so many of those built in the 80s and 90s.

    I have noticed incidentally that in most new wood buildings in Europe and Japan the doors and windows are still installed from the inside of the building (as they have been for centuries) instead of being nailed on the outside as they are here (one of the reasons why a Vancouver low rise wood building I lived in started to rot and leak after a few years).

    Red frog

    April 20, 2010 at 10:24 pm


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