Category Archives: Connectivity

THE UNDERPASS DILEMMA

“It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished” – William H. Whyte.

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It is not difficult to design a space that people will love, but it is difficult when the odds are against the designer. I’m talking about pedestrian underpasses – the most ironic design principle dead end.

The intended purpose of a pedestrian underpass aims at introducing a chance for pedestrians to continue their journey and create opportunity for mobility through environments containing blocked areas (highways, buildings, etc), but unfortunately these areas are often left neglected or are poorly designed, plaguing them with negative associations… unsafe, dark, dirty, uncertain, avoid – all percieved descriptors that most people would associate with pedestrian underpasses.

Underpasses strive to connect pedestrians from one side of a pedestrian obstacle to the other, however there are numerous factors that prevent these types of essential connections to fulfill their total potential, such as:

Rundown appearance
Lacking adequate lighting and surveillance
Lacking in pedestrian wayfinding
Decreased on-street vibrancy
Usefulness is not defined

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Most underpasses have potential and can be redeveloped into successful pedestrian underpasses by achieving the following:

 

PUTTING IT ON THE MAP

“You can’t rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.” – Jane Jacobs

121294-manhattan-mapIdentity/Landmark: Make the underpass a landmark to help users understand a recognizable point of reference in a larger space to aid with orientation. A character and sense of place will be created. To emphazise the location and its usefulness, the underpass should be highlighted in some way on a network map.

 

3245080767_e4717e2d4a_zNavigation: The underpass should clearly navigate users through it as opposed to around it etc. as it is a thoroughfare, not a long-term destination.

 

 

capital_cast_iron_bollard_with_cycle_plinthSigns: By incorporating a sign of the overall pedestrian system near the underpass, the navigator will be able to place the entire space within his or her view and consequently be able to deduce where they are, what is in their immediate vicinity, what destinations are available, how to get there, and how long it will take them (ped shed). The underpass as a decision point will help foster it as a landmark and as a safe and reliable passageway.

 

Full_02-anacostia-underpassSightlines: A first time user may have uncertain expectations as to the underpasses extent and purpose – to avoid this uncertainty, the sightline through the underpass should be clear in order to give the user enough information about what is ahead and to encourage them to move or continue further.

 

full_melbourne-pedestrian-underpass[1]Connectivity: An underpass will only be used if it is connected to a network, therefore it should be connected to some sort of pedestrian system. It is also important for users to be aware of that through marketing, signage, and clarity on-site.

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MAKING IT SAFE

“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” – William H. Whyte

CPTEDCrime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED): CPTED is a great framework for making an underpass approachable and safe, especially because CPTED believes that crime and loss are by-products of human functions that are not working properly. The three overlapping CPTED design strategies are:

file_7312Natural Surveillance: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to facilitate observation by increasing visual permeability and sightlines in order to see what is ahead and around the site. Visual permeability will increase the potential for ‘eyes on the street’. Since sightlines cannot be achieved from all perspectives through an underpass, wayfinding techniques can be used to reassure the user. Encouraging visitors to progressively and passively use the site is also an effective form of natural surveillance.

moodwall2Natural Access Control: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to direct normal access to observable areas and prevent access to unobservable areas. The path should have a clear sense of direction, and wayfinding techniques can create a sense of anticipation for what is coming next to keep movement flowing.

 

untitledTerritorial Reinforcement: an underpass should be designed in such a way as to enhance the feeling of legitimate ownership by implementing symbolic or psychological barriers such as bollards and signs, and to minimize the creation of ambiguous spaces, such as gaps and corners.

Mechanical Forms of Surveillance & Access Control: Such as uniform white lighting should also be applied.

GIVING IT AN IDENTITY

“We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.” – JFK

4-52846-450015_30cardiniaweb1Image: An underpass should be designed in such a way as to enhance and maintain its physical appearance to encourage users of the area to respect their surroundings. The more dilapidated an area, the more vulnerable it is to further abuse.

 

shared_tunnelApproach: The entrance and exit of the space should be clearly defined and anticipated using branded signs that tie in with the rest of the trail or the City’s branding, to make it official and trustworthy.


Maintenance
: The underpass should be maintained in the following ways – infrastructure maintenance, standard cleaning, and responsive cleaning (graffiti).

Addressing Graffiti: Graffiti can be prevented through design in two ways:

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Dimensions & Distractions: for underpasses, a line of street furniture or greenery is not recommended. Instead, 2D or 3D (relief or installation) designs on any of the four facades (walls, ground and cieling) are recommended.

 

 

Lighting: often times underpasses are short with an opening in the middle, which is great for lighting. However, with no additional luminaire fixtures the longer underpasses and the night scene for any sized underpass can become quite dreary. Additionally, weak or unpleasant colored lighting (yellow) can be unattractive as well. A well-lit (white) and brightly-colored (white) underpass can put it in a perceived ‘spotlight’ and discourage tagging and even crime due to a fear of being seen and caught. This technique obviously plays a huge role with personal safety as well.

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At the end of the day, underpasses may be an awkward problem to solve, but what’s life without a challenge, right? An enjoyable, useful and safe pedestrian underpass is possible.

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FINDING A PLACE FOR ECHO BOOMERS

Up until graduating from post secondary education, finding a place to live has always been the same – a good spot that’s on the bus route, preferably close to amenities such as grocery and nightlife, and a short walking/bus trip from campus. But now that school is over and you are looking for work, has your preferred location of residence changed?

Everybody values different factors differently when they decide where to live, and it depends on who you are. By who you are I mean your demographics – your age, your relationship status, your income, where you work, how often you work, and what you like to do when you’re not working.

To quote a recent post by The Atlantic Cities:

“Do neighborhoods work like habitat for different kinds of households? City populations have rebounded in the past two decades as people who like city habitats have grown in numbers and in their share of population.

Mostly these are Millenials – adults roughly 20 to 34-years-old, also known as Generation Y or the Echo Boom – who have delayed childbearing, marriage, and even household formation because of a combination of changing culture and economic necessity. Urban living makes sense for these young people: compared with suburbs, cities often provide young adults more opportunities to switch jobs, meet friends and potential spouses, enjoy entertainment outside their homes, live without a car, and travel to other parts of the country and world.”

Being part of this generation, I can completely agree. I recently graduated from University and was lucky enough to find a job right out of school. When deciding where to live, I realized my values and needs shifted to include a variety of new prerequisites for where I want to live. The main shift I felt was temporary versus long-term locations – I wanted to feel more stable and at home, and less… “well, I’m only going to live here for a year anyway.” Here is how I figured it out.

Step 1: Identify location of work

Step 2: Identify needs and values (in order of importance)

Step 3: Identify ideal zones to optimize needs and values

Step 4: Select a unit within one of these zones, compromising needs and values with the lowest importance if necessary

This amazing restaurant is at the foot of my building, and has a great view of the lake.

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As you can see, if you value any of these needs differently then your choice may have been very different than mine. A 28 year old friend of mine once told me “you have a car, why do you care about how far away you are from this and that?” – some people depend on their cars and are okay with that. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that most of the 20-somethings people who work in my office live somewhere between Parklawn and Yonge, whereas 30-somethings live a little further out, and 40- to 50-somethings live as far as Georgetown.

At the end of the day, I made a small compromise with the 10 minute walking distance to amenities need, but all the other factors outweigh it, and the fact that many amenities are within a 10 minute streetcar or bus ride makes up for it. By living near Lakeshore Boulevard West and Parklawn, I have the best of 3 worlds: easy access to work, play, and rest.

HUNTSVILLE

From an aerial point of view the town is located in what seems to be the middle of nowhere Ontario, the urban boundary is small and the built up area is even smaller.

Huntsville Urban Centre (Watson & Associates Economists Ltd., 2006)

From a pedestrian point of view, density is relatively sparse for the most part and very low-rise.

But something more is happening in Huntsville other than lacking the basics for a typical interesting destination city (like rows of skyscrapers and intricate subway systems). Huntsville is a place to get inspired because it has an incredibly distinct, strong and consistent small-town sense of place. This persona can be sensed immediately from the groups of teenagers walking around and hanging out together, to the representative outdoor Group of Seven paintings and murals plastered in every dull corner or wall in order to bring it to life.

It can also be noticed by taking even a quick glance at the main downtown commercial strip – every shop is a family-run or small business giving the whole space a down-to-earth feel, and most of the shops have heritage facades with detail and effort put into the looks of every sign, entrance and awning – a breeding ground for strolls and window shopping.

The best part about Huntsville is the layering of multimodal connectivity, and the efficient use of unused space within the built-up boundary (even though there is a lot of room available in the outskirts). Facing the river at the swing bridge at almost any given instant, one can observe the following movements all at once:

  • Cars [inconveniently trying to get through]
  • Buses
  • Active and passive Pedestrians almost everywhere including the sidewalks, the public space in front of the river, and on patios
  • Cyclists commuting or cycling for pleasure
  • People passing by on boats
  • Etc

This kind of movement makes people from all levels feel like they are part of something – a community. And where the layers cross, life is bursting!

Neighbourhing the downtown core are several cottage-style resorts such as Hidden Valley Resort (for a more simplistic, natural and low-key, yet still beautiful and relaxing getaway) and Deerhurst Resort (for a more upscale experience). There are cottages and resorts for everyone’s taste, and they are a great place to stay overnight in order to access Huntsville by day or by night. These touristic accomodations are popular summer long-weekend destinations.

This place is like a little world on its own – truly a place to be inspired from and to grow fond of.

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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