Monthly Archives: May 2012

STREETSVILLE – FIRST IMPRESSIONS

 

Originating in the 1800’s, the Village of Streetsville in Mississauga is advertised as the historic downtown of the area. The idea of a ‘historic downtown’ is popular in many cities throughout the GTA and North America because it acts as a tourist attraction or a view into the past that exists in the present. It is original, interesting and different because it contrasts with modern day North American city development which is highly influenced by auto mobility.

A historic downtown differs from a regular downtown in the sense that it is intended to include and emote the elements of history and preservation, whether they may be through architectural styles, materials, building footprints, streetscape style, or connectivity.

Many downtowns are situated where they always have been simply because development would have always grown out and spread out from there. But when it comes to rapid-growth cities like Mississauga that are custom-made for automobiles and purposely designed with inward-facing bubble spaces, historic downtowns don’t get the appropriate preservation and respect they need to survive over time.

Today, Streetsville seems caught in the middle of an auto web, and it is clear that most of the remaining historic downtown can only be found  in its name. Building facades are altered using cheap or unfamiliar materials, infill development has no overall design mindfulness for surroundings, and spaces are not well maintained. The effort to preserve the historical buildings is not evident enough to help them stand out in most cases. From a first impression, Streetsville does not appear to be interesting and different – rather, it just looks kind of… boring.

Even though Streetsville appears to have had a poor preservation treatment it still has its inner city gems, one of which is the Starbucks. It is located on the corner of Queen and Thomas in an older building. It clearly has an adaptive-reuse look, which is in line with general historic downtown principles. The front facade is no wider than 5m long (typical of a true downtown storefront width) and is glazed with a large window and divided into squares with wooden beams. The interior of the cafe reflects its past state – narrow and long, and it leads to a small and enclosed outdoor patio with umbrellas that interacts nicely with the sidewalk. As much as accepting a Starbucks into a historic downtown is not a good idea because local businesses should be promoted over international chains, this particular Starbucks fits in better with the intended historic image than most of the other family run businesses in the area.

Click here to view more heritage buildings in the area.

Streetsville could be saved if more consideration is put into its character before it is completely lost. As it is now, a faint wisp of a time when things were different can be sensed. It is only a matter of time before Streetsville gets swallowed up by its successor along with all of its roads and cars.

On account of the Business Improvement Association (BIA) of Streetsville there is some hope for a better and improved Streetsville. A strategy session was held by their council in 2007 which concluded in a 5 year vision with goals to work towards. The goals include: a vibrant gathering space, a show of civic pride, a green Streetsville, a commitment to Streetsville’s heritage, a way to celebrate the river, redeveloping the centre plaza, creating an improved destination location image, and improving access and movement in Streetsville. The vision states:

A five year vision of Streetsville promotes the Village as a desirable location for discerning patrons. Driven by a strong and dynamic BIA, the vision includes a greener Village focused on preserving it’s heritage and celebrating it’s origins in the Credit River Valley. Properties and gathering places will be developed to reflect Streetsville’s historic past, created a ‘Village in the City’ of Mississauga that will make all members proud!

This this vision sounds like the key to Streetsville’s future success, however, exactly 5 years later there are no clear signs of moving forward. Pat Donaldson, the General Manager of the Streetsville BIA says that it is a matter of money. The 5 year improvement plan could have been realized if adequate funding was available, however there are not enough funds to realize their goals. The process is therefore slowed down.

Streetsville acts as a meeting point for many celebrations involving the community such as Canada Day, the historically significant Bread & Honey Festival, and the Santa Claus Parade. There are also many community events that are held throughout the year. Because of these special occasions many residents in the Mississauga area know about Streetsville and have some amount of place attachement towards it. This means that the location has a base and a reputation to work and build on. Streetsville needs to give visitors more reasons to visit, shop and relax regularly – not just a few times a year when the entire community gets together to celebrate special events.

A good work-in-progress case study to consider is Uptown Waterloo, Ontario. Although this area is not labelled as a historic downtown, it does have many heritage designated buildings and a character that is maintained and followed through with the newer or renovated buildings. For a long time the City of Waterloo had a hard time figuring out how to get people to visit Uptown for more than large community gatherings. These are the main reasons why Uptown Waterloo is more successful now:

1. Business
Many people come in to Uptown to go to work. This gives the area more exposure and gives other types of businesses the chance to open up shop to cater for the workers. The force of agglomeration has caused the spot to flourish.

2. Shopping
This category is arguable, because it is still lacking. However, there is a good handful and a variety of great shops to visit such as Death Valley’s Little Brother, The Princess Cafe, The Princess Cinema, Barley Works, MyThai, Starlight, Skirt, Shoppers Drug Mart, Value-Mart, Starbucks, Eating Well, American Apparel, the LCBO, Thrive Juice Bar, and Vincenzo’s. Some of these are substantial or international chains, however they draw a variety of demographics to the area and give other shops the chance to be exposed. A german bakery opened up shop across from the Starbucks a few months ago and it is already a popular destination for office workers to buy breakfast and lunch even though world-renowned Subway is directly abutting.

3. Public Realm and Public Space
It is very important to create an outdoor space that fosters an environment for pedestrians and cyclists in order for the shops to be successful. There is a very small chance that a person in a car is going to stop in the middle of a busy place because  they saw a dress in a window that they liked. The only way businesses can be successful is if the pedestrians feel comfortable enough to be pedestrians in the first place – this means creating a sense of enclosure, safer street crossing, a lot of seating and overhead shelter, and an interesting streetscape, which is achieved by breaking up facades and making sure that they are not too long and by creating some form of repetition with planters or attractive light posts. It is also important to break up these progressive spaces with passive spaces such as squares. The Waterloo Town Square is a very inviting node and it is used by all demographics for a variety of reasons and activities all year round.

4. Multimodal Connectivity
Uptown Waterloo is connected with the rest of the city on a multitude of levels and is working towards advocating the theory of complete streets. In Streetsville, it is unclear as to how to find the park, river or arena, and it seems to be more convenient to drive from the heart towards that space. In Uptown Waterloo they have created a multimodal system called the Uptown Loop which advertises little informative signs throughout Uptown that helps new and returning visitors get around by foot with confidence, and also helps them become aware of what they can do and where they can go. The nodal Waterloo Town Square is also home of several bus stops including the iXpress which connects riders to the north or to Downtown Kitchener in about 10 minutes.

5. Sense of place
Again, Uptown Waterloo is not there yet, but regardless it does have a strong sense of place and a distinct character. A sense of place plays a critical role in creating a space that people will want to use night and day, summer or winter. A place needs to have a very recognizable and memorable feeling, look, and use. A clear sense of place is vital for the success of a place.

As a first step, the BIA council has done a great job at coming up with some very strong goals that are sure to improve Streetsville. However if their methodology is influenced by what the planners have done in Uptown Waterloo and by other successful historical downtowns in North America (such as the Distillery District in Toronto, the Historic Downtown Bowmanville in Bowmanville, and Pioneer Square in Seattle), then maybe they can achieve their goals successfully.

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MCDONALD’S REBRANDED

Does anyone remember when McDonald’s used to look like this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or better yet, this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDonald’s is currently undergoing another brand transformation which is costing them $1 billion, and it looks like this:

Sleek, shiny, linear, simple, and modern. As you can see, the symbolic red mansard roof has been flipped over and stuck to the side of the building as a simple red block. It draws a lot of attention and semiotically helps people recognize the establishment.

Although this transformation is new and hip (especially the interiors, which help to completely forget that someone is eating high calorie and tricks them into thinking that they are eating high end), the cladding on the facade looks a little cheap in real life. Also, previous designs of  McDonald’s developments have included numerous efforts to alter the base design into a design that fits its surroundings. How will this new transformation fit in with its surroundings now? The materials and shapes are foreign to most places and spaces, and will probably end up standing out because of its cartoon-like look.

In conclusion, this transformation will bring the company better business, especially since it comes along with interior workspace improvements to refine speed and quality of service. It will also semiotically alter the the appearance of the restaurant in many ways that represent speed, quality and hospitality. It is a very beautiful restaurant for what it is serving, however it may be pushing the boundaries of modern architecture down a lonely path.

CAFE PLENTY

“Cafe Plenty – Feeding the appetite and satisfying the soul”.

http://cafeplenty.com/

I came across this cafe when I was commuting by Greyhound between cities with a stop-over in Toronto. I had a few hours to spend, and so I took a look around for a spot to drink some coffee and read. I knew this cafe was new because I know Dundas street between Dundas square and Kensington Market like the palm of my hand. I figured I had to check it out! And to my surprise, it was absolutely beautiful. When I walked in I was instantly greeted, which I really appreciate because I know a lot about good customer service. Then I instantly noticed the strong sense of place. You know the interior designer did a good job when you feel like you are walking in to a whole new atmosphere (and it’s hard to shake off the grimey atmosphere of the area). The cafes palette consists of a lot of white wood and tile with wooden (beige/light brown) and metal (silver) details. The interior design style has a strong upscale/classy aura with a raw/industrial twist, which reminds me of a lot of the bars and cafes in Vancouver such as Stackhouse BurgerBar. The frontage is very narrow and is over 90% glazed, which, as I have previously described with the Princess Cafe, is very inviting and provides a strong connection between the outdoor public realm and the indoor space.

During the 2 hours that I sat in this cafe, I noticed many people stopping to take a look, most of which decided to come inside. The cafe opened in December, so it is relatively new and a lot of people are still passing by and noticing it for the first time. I thought it was nice to see a lot of passers-by immediately convinced to come in after noticing it.

The cafe offers a variety of beautifully crafted lunch-style food. Everything looked delicious!

The cafe is located within a 2 minute walking distance from the St. Patrick subway station, and on the way to OCAD, Chinatown, the AGO, and Kensington Market, which puts it in a prime location that is easy to access and stumble upon, and that is frequented by a high volume of traffic. There are no cafes to compare this one to in the area, therefore I am certain that it will maintain a successful business. It is a diamond in the rough, and it is truly something to talk about.

STATION AREA PLAN FOR DOWNTOWN KITCHENER – NEW EBY DISTRICT

This school project entailed working with a group of 6 students in order to redesign a given area in downtown Kitchener, Ontario. The recent approval of the LRT has given students the opportunity to come up with their own ideas for how to revitalize the surroundings of the Ottawa-Borden station area. There is also talk about a new OHL arena, which students have incorporated into their designs in order to act as a stimulating focal point.

This area currently exists as a neglected, run-down, and gritty industrial area, however the New Eby District (NED) team has worked as a team by dividing the site into 2 focus areas in order to find ways to incorporate adaptive reuse and infill where the character can be cherished and maintained. Some very neglected, yet prime development areas provide a perfect opportunity for brand new development, especially near the arterial King and Ottawa streets, where the NED team has proposed higher densities. The Schneider’s and Maple Leaf buildings has given the NED team the opportunity to create a mini commercial-office adaptive reuse block for the surrounding established neighbourhoods. The NED team has also worked hard to increase multimodal connectivity between the 2 focus areas on and also throughout the surrounding areas and the rest of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Here are the panels that were presented at Kitchener City Hall in April, 2012:

This viewing was a public open house, where the NED team and other teams had the chance to meet and discuss with many planners and developers, including those working for the City and those working on or owning property on the Station Area site itself. It was a very enlightening and informative session for the students because they had the opportunity to discuss the project on a very realistic level.

The highlight of FocusArea1 is the arena, which is proposed to be named The Rangers Metrodome. Here are renderings which include views of the metrodome:

The highlight of FocusArea2 is the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the Schneider’s and Maple Leaf buildings. The proposed development for this area is proposed to be named The Courtland Block. You can download or view the PDF the mock promotional booklet for it by clicking here:
COURTLAND BLOCK

Preview (page 1,2) :

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed [progressive+passive] educational ‘Nature Walk’ between the buildings.

RIVERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT IN DOWNTOWN BORDEAUX

This text is a paper that I wrote for PLAN408 in my fourth year of undergrad for Professor Luna Khirfan. It is the result of 4 months of research and critical analysis of a site of my choice that focuses on the public realm – the revitalization of the left bank of the Garonne river in downtown Bordeaux. Click the link below to view the PDF.

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 FROM PORT SPACE TO PUBLIC SPACE: THE REDEVELOPMENT OF THE PUBLIC SPACES ON THE LEFT BANK OF THE GARONNE RIVER

By Sarah Al-Hage, 2011

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ABSTRACT

The city of Bordeaux, France, a historical port city that is protected by UNESCO World Heritage, has given birth to a revitalizing project on its riverfront. This project acts as a backbone in a network that links the downtown core together on many different levels, the most prominent ones being pedestrian and cyclist mobility. The ports on the left bank of the Garonne River have been redeveloped in order to give meaning to its space once again, and to attract residents towards the water. This paper explores the evolution of the ports in Bordeaux, and how it has become what it is today – a public space. Also, this paper explores how the space has impacted the residents of Bordeaux, and the city itself.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PDF:
From Port Space To Public Space

These are the panels that were made to got hand-in-hand and illustrate the text.

BURLINGTON ORCHIDS

I am not from Burlington, but I heard about this project through a friend of a friend of the artist – Alex Pentek (information about Alex: http://nationalsculpturefactory.com/?page_id=1416). This article summarizes the project quite nicely and has some pictures.

Looking at the artists’ body of work, you can see that he works with similar projects internationally. One of my favorites is the Dandelion sculpture. As someone who was torn between fine arts and urban planning going into university, I find this project really interesting because I can see here where the two worlds meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like the part in the article where it says that the artist was seriously challenged with his commision due to lack of inspiration. He says, “the infrastructure was fully functional, but something had to go in here to lift it up.” Looks like he was trying to work with the physical and functional aspects of the site in order to create room for emotional attachement and meaning.

You can collect from the article that his colorful and horticultural approach was not random – rather, he drew from the existing history of the city.

 

If you continue reading other articles about this project however, you will find that the concensus of the residents of the city is that they don’t like the project! Their main complaint is that they are not impressed with bringing in an international artist, and also that they think the orchids are completely random – even weird-looking! I’m wondering if the existing meaning that was incorporated into this project would have been less ‘random-seeming’ if the artist was local, since they might have known better? And in that case, I’m wondering where that inspiration would have been drawn from. How truly evident is the horticultural history of Burlington?

Knowing nothing about Burlington, but being from a comparable city (Oshawa), I appreciate the look of the orchids because they add contrast to what is already there, they soften the harsh greys of the highway, and they add a point of interest to the bland and mundane highway sense-of-place. But maybe this is too unexpected for people – maybe it’s because we have an idea of what a highway should be like in our heads, and adding any public art or design to it would be ‘weird’…

 

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