Archive for the ‘placemaking’ Category
Yesterday evening we attended this free City program lecture by Larry Beasley and Jonathan Barnett. The large room was full and in his introduction Gordon Price said that bookings had filled up over the weekend after it had been posted late one Friday afternoon, something that had never before happened.
The event was video recorded and will be posted on the SFU City Programme site in due course. (Though when I last checked, there had been no new videos added since February 24.) Here are two extracts from that notice
A couple of North America’s best urban designers have distilled two careers’ worth of knowledge into a new book:Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs. The SFU City Program is pleased to host both Larry Beasley and Jonathan Barnett for a lecture that will explore the important themes from their book and their experience.
Come learn how cities can reshape themselves to limit global warming, re-energize suburban commercial corridors with bus rapid transit, reclaim wasteful transportation infrastructure for public amenities, and make cities more attractive for family living.
Specifically, Larry and Jonathan’s talk will cover the following:
- Solutions for a city’s environmental compatibility
- Diversifying movement choices
- Urban consumers’ aspirations for quality livability
- The pros and cons of community amenity contributions
About the Speakers
Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus professor of practice in city and regional planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He has extensive experience as an urban design consultant as well as an educator, and he is the author of numerous books and articles on the theory and practice of city design. Along with his PennDesign colleagues Gary Hack and Stefan Al, he teaches an online course called Designing Cities, available on Coursera.
Larry Beasley is the “distinguished practice” professor of planning at the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning. Along with Ann McAfee, he was the long-serving co-director of planning in Vancouver during the transformative years for the core city. He now teaches and advises cities around the world through his consultant firm, Beasley and Associates. He has been recognized with an outstanding alumni award and an honorary doctorate degree from SFU. He is also a member of the Order of Canada.
The event was a book promotion but was sponsored by Concord Pacific. There were copies of the book for sale at the back of the room and most of the illustrations used in the presentation were taken from the book. I was somewhat surprised to hear that the two authors had not physically been together during the book’s writing. I was also expecting – given the title and indeed the predominance of the design community in the room – that the content would be mainly about design. The term “ecodesign” was apparently coined by Kim Yang an architect from Singapore applied to buildings. The authors stated that they were applying it to cities. There was almost no reference to design thereafter. Most of the talk from both presenters was about policy and implementation – and much of it concerned transportation. Very little of what I heard was either new or even very remarkable. Much of it would be very familiar to readers of this blog, and I feel that it would be pointless for me to type out the extensive handwritten notes I made during the presentation, which would be my normal mode of operation. As noted above for those who could not get in last night, they will be able to see a video in due course, which would be both more accurate and less coloured by my opinions.
I was also very surprised that both presenters read slabs of text from their book to top and tail their presentation, and while they did so the screen displayed what they were reading. Larry Beasley did not appear to have noticed too that there were slides to go with his opening introduction. Given that he is an educator, Jonathan Barrett’s presentation style was not exactly sparkling either.
In the section on mitigating the impact of climate change they concentrated on sea level rise – or rather the way that storm surges amplify that issue. They used New Orleans as one example. There is indeed a design issue here – as the US Army Corps of Engineers has now admitted. They also referred to the Thames Barrier in London, which was installed in the 1980s, long before sea level rise due to climate change was in the political cross hairs, but was said at the time to be a response to the south east of England slowly sinking. At least, as an employee of the Greater London Council at the time, that is what we in the Department of Planning and Transportation were told. It has apparently been raised far more often than was originally intended and will be inadequate by 2030.
I was also somewhat taken aback by a slide which showed a “regional solution” – which was not actually described in detail but shown on a map as red lines across the Juan de Fuca Strait and the outlet of the Salish Sea at Port Hardy. It was said that this would require international co-operation. Quite how the ports of Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma would continue to operate was not revealed.
Larry Beasley’s section on how to get buy in from the suburbs was all about “experiential planning and urban design” by showing examples of what has worked in other places. By that he meant that people “spontaneously and of their own accord buy in to sustainable and more interesting practices” (as though the High Line had not been skillfully promoted for years). The book starts with examples and then tries to extrapolate common themes rather than starting from a theoretical construct. All the examples were familiar and a lot of them I have my own pictures to illustrate. Not Cheonggyecheon or Boston’s Big Dig, I’m afraid.
Promenade Plantee in Paris
Highline New York
False Creek North (Yaletown)
The big challenge will be the suburbs, and change there will of necessity be incremental simply because the area they cover is so large. Cars will continue to predominate travel for a long time even though traffic congestion is a symptom of “suburban dysfunction”. Growth boundaries are essential and work but behind them is business as usual. Tysons Corner VA was cited as a good example where an extension of the Washington Metro will facilitate TOD, but for others places Bus Rapid Transit was actually referred to as a “silver bullet”. But not a B Line as we know it.
I must admit I was a bit taken aback at this assertion. The 98 B Line was actually quite close to BRT standards on part of No 3 Road and might have been convertible to LRT had the province listened to what Richmond actually wanted. Within Vancouver, of course, the City’s Transportation engineers insisted that no bus priority of any kind was acceptable. And Linda Meinhardt ensured that parking along the curb lanes and access for her deliveries would never be compromised.
So the solution to our problems is – they said – adopting more generally the regulatory and management techniques pioneered by Ray Spaxman, the collaboration and public engagement as practised by Anne McAfee and regulatory reform which would expect rather less from Community Amenity Contributions than the current practice here.
I did not stay for the Questions and Answers. Sorry.
I am going to be travelling and will not be able to blog the following
The Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University is pleased to announce a pair of lectures from leading experts in urban transportation, who will be joining us this Fall. On September 22, Professor Jeffrey Kenworthy will reveal the challenges and opportunities of “Planning for Peak Car” and on October 28, Professor Robert Cervero will explain why “Mass Transit Needs Mass”.
These lectures are free of charge and open to the public, but they require advance reservation, and will fill up quickly.
Reservations can be made online at: www.sfu.ca/reserve.
I retweeted this video this morning and as I sat watching it, I kept thinking about that question. Or perhaps we just need to rephrase: when Vancouver grows up, it will be like Zurich.
The bit of history that I think is important that is not mentioned in this video is about the trams. It is part of a European awakening. Cities like Amsterdam seriously considered replacing their trams (streetcars) with a subways. Others used a technique they called “pre-metro” to put the trams underground in city centres. And of course what happened in every case was the traffic expanded to fill the space available. So they stopped doing that. Places like Strasbourg designed the trams to be a desirable part of the city, not just a regrettable necessity. There is a lot about public transport in North America that reminds me of other public conveniences.
The same thing also happened in Toronto. When the Yonge Street subway opened, traffic in the City Centre increased because there were no longer streetcars on Yonge getting in the way of the cars. It might be significant that Toronto still has streetcars. It is also very significant that while the planners (transportation, urban and regional) all now think in terms of surface LRT, Rob Ford wanted a subway.
Some people have even referred to the referendum as Vancouver’s Rob Ford moment. And even Daryl dela Cruz is convinced that the choice of LRT for Surrey is increasing the No vote there.
In Zurich they did plan on a subway system. But the costs were astronomical. And they already had a tram network as well as really good railways, which provided both suburban and intercity services. The Swiss are very well off, of course, and Zurich is the centre of financial services. But they are also very keen on democracy and civic minded. An American in that video almost cannot believe that government can be genuinely concerned about people.
I have often thought that the reason we like SkyTrain so much here is that it keeps the transit out of the way of the cars. An elevated structure does provide a more attractive ride than a tunnel – and is considerably cheaper. But it also has an impact on area through which it runs. Not as horrible as the old elevated railways – which may have been taken down in Manhattan but are still the dominant mode of the New York subway in the other borros.
I wonder if in some future Vancouver, having finally got up the courage to rip down the viaducts we will start planning to get rid of the SkyTrain structures. Or perhaps turning them into High Line style parks. SkyTrain of course has to grade separated because of the LIM rail.
The British method of light rail is to use old railway lines wherever possible, but on street running in town centres. In Paris even though there is a disused Petite Ceinture railway line parallel to its route – grade separated at street crossings – the new T3 runs in the centre of the boulevard. The “art of insertion” is actually just removing space that is now taken by cars (moving and parked) and replacing it with people. Lots of people.
Here we seem to be much less concerned about people. The Cambie Street line had to be underground because the City had designated much of the route as The Heritage Boulevard. A broad strip of grass with some large trees. Not actually usable. No one plays on it, or sits watching the cars speed by. There are no couples strolling hand in hand on those lawns. Cutting down trees for a transit line – or widening the Stanley Park causeway – is a red flag. Oddly, not for wider sidewalks and bike lanes apparently.
The other thing I noticed about Zurich’s city centre was the absence of towers. This is also common in much of Europe. In cities like Rome or Florence the centro storico is four to six stories maximum. Unless it’s a cathedral or something. Paris does have towers – but only one at Montparnasse which is widely derided or clustered in La Defense (which is the location for shooting dystopian SF films).
You will also note that the film concentrates on the decisions to limit parking and the volume of traffic allowed into the centre.
One other thing that needs to be said too is that the Swiss are very particular about who they let in to live there. I haven’t looked but it seems to me highly unlikely that the Zurich region is planning on absorbing another million people in the next thirty to forty years.
Haven’t I written all this before?
I need something hopeful. The debate over the “transit tax” is debilitating. So this big chunk of last night’s CBC tv news cheered me up this morning. I know that here I am preaching to the converted, and I must admit I do not watch tv news late in the evening. Good thing about this being on YouTube is you can watch it anytime and pass along the link.
I would like an escalator to Kerrisdale please, but leave me Ravine Park for the stroll back. Or add a slide. A few bike escalators would get me riding again I think. So far there is only one in Trompe, Norway. Gondolas for SFU – but why not New West or North Van too? Escalators should go in there too, of course. And can you imagine the row if someone dared suggest improving access to/from Wreck Beach? But we seem to tolerate the continued existence of a wide divided highway around Pacific Spirit Park. (From the video above “If you build a wide road people will drive faster…”)
We have been waiting for the sad old Arbutus shopping centre to be transformed into a mixed use hub for many years. The locals just grumble about what it would do to the drainage. The existing “recreation centre” in the basement of the mall looks like it may close as all the strata councils are considering dropping support due to lack of use. That shows me that we really have not yet figured out how to build public facilities yet. I think that also underlies the intolerance of the Poodle on the Pole on Main St. Why cannot people laugh at it? We seem to understand the laughing guys of Denman and Davie. But if you want to offend people, put a misaligned head of Lenin into Richmond. Actually, go look at the Oval and the area around it to see what not to do in our suburbs.
I saw this on PriceTags and was instantly enthralled. I haven’t tried to embed a facebook video on here before – and over there it did look a bit different. But the reason for posting this is as an antidote to the sort of scoffing we hear far too often here about initiatives like allowing city residents to keep chickens in their back yards.
This blog tends to get embroiled in transit and transportation but that is actually only one small part of what makes Vancouver such a great place to live in.
I took these pictures yesterday at Kits Beach which have nothing to do with food, but everything to do with Vancouverism
This was actually my first visit to the SFU Woodwards campus: tribute was paid to Warren Gill – this was the third lecture in his honour – and he was credited with the initiative to establish SFU in downtown and in Surrey.
Attendees were encouraged to tweet using the #sfucity hashtag. I have produced a storify from them. Credit should also go to SFU for providing free wifi access. Thank you.
Chief Planner and Executive Director
City of Toronto
At SFU Woodwards
Cities are our greatest hope and our greatest risk. Vancouver and Toronto (where the mode share for transit is 23.3% for the journey to work is comparable to ours when using the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) rather than the city.
She has identified critical success factors that are going to be necessary for securing a different future to business as usual.
Canadian cities are suburban, auto oriented. We are not as rich we thought we were. WE have a number of perverse subsidies that have led to suburban sprawl. We need to increase density to increase the utilisation of existing infrastructure. Areas that don’t change will be left behind. The legacy we are leaving our children can be seen in the weather. Echo boomers want something different whether the city changes or not.
Illustration of city suburbs “expensive mistakes”. [For an instructive comparison see also the recent SFU lecture by Charles Marohn on “Strong Towns” which is one I missed but the video has now been posted on the Stroad to Boulevard tumblr.]
In the city of the future everything will be within short distance, which means less commuting and more time for everything else. Is this vision what our suburbs might become? We continue to build suburbs. Consensus on how to change eludes us.
Three Critical Success Factors
1 the need to believe in a better future
She used the frequently cited prescience of the builders of the Bloor viaduct, which had the ability to accommodate the subway under the roadway 48 years before the subway opened. [As a transportation economist I have a somewhat different view of overbuilt infrastructure]
“I don’t get the baby platforms of the Canada Line” [I agree with her there]
Leaders don’t use polling to determine direction
2 the need to cultivate deep understanding about drivers for change
Clear coherent vision for the future essential for consensus. Walkable neighbourhood is better term than ecodensity
Learning and respect – fundamental to democracy
3 the need to engage to build broad and deep constituencies for city building
Chief planner round table
Our urban fabric
Next generation suburbs
Partnered with LEGO
One imaginative giveaway was used for on platform TTC surveys and other locations giving respondents free pack of tissues with the feeling congested? web site address on them.
80% of those polled after this exercise now agree with new funding sources for transit
[Saw this today in the National Post “I don’t much care where the money comes from, just tax me however you see fit and build, for God’s sake.”]
Belief understanding and engagement
Individual action ..every time you make a choice
Collective action .. Finding ways to shape political decision making
q Do City staff follow the advice of living where they work?
a City of TO is actually very weak at walking the talk for staff. Divisions working together on Complete Streets initiative building internal consensus. Water
q What Provincial and Federal policies are needed?
a Social housing … Regent park … Impossible for muni tax base to support affordable housing. Transit funding reward for density.
a Compare the NY subway to TTC and Canada line. Capacity!!
q Affordable housing
a Mid rise stick construction lower price point
q How to frame conversation with professionals
a Not everything worked … you have to take risks
Look at what worked best practices as reference
Right now took it in house with councillors to ward level workshops
TO has not been as ambitious as other cities to get great buildings ( “Despite the talk, it’s now clear Keesmaat has succumbed to the same timidity that has kept Toronto from achieving the greatness it so badly wants.” Christopher Hume Toronto Star)
Canadian cities do pretty well
Building is not the lynch pin
Great urbanism is about the neighbourhood not the building. [She said that we visit New York to see Greenwich Village or Soho not just the iconic buildings. Don’t say that to the people who run the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Centre, or the Lincoln Centre. Or am I alone in being an architectural tourist?]
Profound mistakes with heritage
“I’m very concerned with the implication that sexy buildings define a city. I don’t have stars in my eyes about starchitects.”
Gehry thinks that only two buildings in Toronto are worth preserving
q Cities to watch?
a Washington DC currently mid rise but now looking at variances for high rises
Portland OR they did it in the seventies. They stuck w the plan
New York resilience legacy of Blomberg
Removing cycling lanes “Other people do dumb things too!”
Vancouver West End plan
Old Montreal “architects with a gentle touch”