Category Archives: Public Space

ON COMPLETE STREETS

The road is frequented by a variety of users – drivers, public transit vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, as each of these users, there are many obstacles, which typically involve the other users getting in the way. This is most common for drivers – since the typical North American road design is oriented towards easy mobility for cars, drivers have adjusted to a culture of innate entitlement for the road. This makes it more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to get around, less likely for people to use transit, and increases the likelihood for a collision.

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It is no longer uncommon to hear about cyclist deaths in the City – and it’s not always one person’s fault. It’s the way our streets are designed. There are definitely careless drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, that cause accidents. However, if the road was designed to cater for everyone equally, in a way that prevented anyone from feeling like they ‘own the road’, then everyone would naturally look out for each other.

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A ‘ghost bike’ commemorates the death of a fallen cyclist in a roadside accident.

There is a fairly modern transportation policy and design approach called ‘Complete Streets‘ that advocates the ‘share the road‘ mentality. The goal for the Complete Streets approach is to achieve and maintain safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. In many cases where the Complete Streets approach has already been implemented, the designs have proven to improve safety, health, economic and environmental outcomes.

measuring-the-street Since automobile dependence has been engrained into American city designs from the start, many regions are interested in adopting Complete Streets policies into their own Official Plans, in order to move forward in a more sustainable and safe manner through design. This is part of the reason why roundabout, public transit and bike lane funding have become such hot topics, for example.

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This rendering illustrates a person’s idea of what Yonge street could look like if it was redesigned under Complete Streets standards. Notice a few things – wider sidewalks, bike lanes, interlock pavement for drivers (the more detail in the paving, the more likely people are to slow down, reducing the likelihood of a collision), and seating.

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Complete Streets means everyone shares the road. Complete Streets means everyone gets equal respect. Complete Streets means everyone gets to where they are going safely.

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SOUL OF THE COMMUNITY: What Makes People Happy With Their Communities?

Why do we live where we live?

What factors make the place where you live the place where you want to live?

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You’re probably thinking because it’s pretty, with a great beach, a thriving art scene, or a great night life. Perhaps good schools for kids, or amazing job opportunities.

A recent study looked at significant drivers which make people love where they live. They are:

  • Basic Services
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Leadership
  • Openness
  • Civic Involvement
  • Social Offerings
  • Safety
  • Social Capital
  • Aesthetics

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Of all the drivers studied, the 3 most important stayed pretty much consistent across the US, with 43,000 people interviewed.

  • Openness: How open or welcoming a community is to different types of people
  • Aesthetics: How visually appealing it is (such as physical beauty and green spaces)
  • Social Offerings: What types of opportunities there are for people to interact with one another (such as entertainment venues and places to meet)

Drivers like these cause what’s called resident attachment, which is how emotionally connected someone is to where they live. Attached residents have a strong pride in their community, a positive outlook on its future, and the sense that it’s the perfect place for them. And the more attached a person is, the less likely they are to leave, and this makes for a more talented workforce, a growing population, and general satisfaction and pride in community. In addition, residents who like where they live are generally more successful, which leads to a growing local neighborhood.

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The researchers found the results of their study to be surprising because they expected that people would value things like basic services more than aesthetics. But as Richard Florida notes in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, “[The] findings actually make a great deal of intuitive sense…Because we expect basic services to be provided, we end up valuing aesthetics a little higher.” They also expected that people would be intolerant of living around people unlike themselves, however, as the level of tolerance rose towards groups such as families with children, racial/ethnic minorities, gays, immigrants, the poor and young singles, the overall happiness of the community increased. The one group that communities were the least open to was recent college graduates looking for work – isn’t that splendid! -.-

The following video outlines what the Knight Foundation hopes to achieve with their research –

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/44252805″>Soul of the Community – Overview</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/knightfdn”>Knight Foundation</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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DOUBLE TAKE

So you’re an urban designer of some kind, and you just won a job to redevelop a site within a stunning city. It’s stunning because it holds centuries of heritage and is already a great place with many things to do. What do you add? How do you design something in a space for a city that is already great? Wouldn’t something new be almost offensive?  What do you do?

I’ve seen this happen a lot in Europe. But out of the successful ones, one element stands out the most – reflection.

Landscape Architect Michel Corajoud who designed the riverfront along the Garonne river in Bordeaux, France, said:

“We already have a beautiful place here. The best thing we can do is to simply double it.”

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And that is exactly what he did with the Miroir D’eau – the focal point of the entire riverfront site. His 2009 design became extremely successful and managed to draw many people back to the riverfront from which their City originated. At the Miroir D’eau you will find a long elevated base plane with a thin layer of water. Sometimes, small fountains embedded inside the pavement shoot water out of holes accross the platform, but when they don’t, people often walk accross it and play in it. Not only is this place a beautiful, unique, interesting and interactive nodal & destination point, but it also clearly reflects the historic buildings behind it (Place de la Bourse) into the water, doubling its beauty.

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2013 has brought a new site to the map – take a look at the Vieux Port Pavilion in Marseille, France. Architects Foster & Partners designed this reflective stainless steel canopy to reflect the city’s UNESCO World Heritage port. The overhead plane creates a public room, a defined space, and a sense of enclosure – all elements that entice pedestrians to divert their path in order to experience walking under it. If all else fails, the reflection, which creates an illusion of people walking upside-down on a nearly-invisible cieling, is sure to peak their curiosity.

“It’s quite literally a reflection of its surroundings – its lightweight steel structure is a minimal intervention and appears as a simple silver line on the horizon” – Spencer de Grey, head designer.

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We have also seen examples of reflection in North America. Anish Kapoor designed the Cloud Gate sculpture, better known as the ‘bean’ in Chicago. This stunning piece is now a widely recognized landmark in the City, and visitors flock to visit it as a destination point. People take interest in its odd shape. The reflective stainless steel surface reflects and distorts the Chicago skyline and visitors experience a fun-house mirror effect when walking around and through it, observing their reflection. Chicago reflected, yet projected through a new lens.

“There is something about opening one’s heart to the possibilities that one doesn’t even truly or readily know are there.” – Anish Kapoor

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Charles Wright Architects won the 2012 far north Queensland Awards Auilding of the Year with their mirror-clad Cairns Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre design. The building was designed to be invisible amongst the surrounding trees of the gardens in order to blend somewhat seamlessly with the beauty of the site’s natural state.

“We proposed a design which literally reflects the gardens as camouflage for the building.” – Charles Wright Architects

Reflection in urban design around the world has become a modern trend. Its impact is both aesthetically pleasing and respectful to existing settings.

THE THING ABOUT THE EMERALD CITY


Short visits to foreign places can often leave a percieved impression on travellers that may stray to a certain degree from what those places are really like. However, these short visits can sometimes be insightful to permanent residents who naturally disregard certain details of where they are from, simply because those things seem normal to them. What may be special to you may go unoticed to someone else: like the bicycle culture in Copenhagen to someone from Orlando, or the grand new-age architecture and car-oriented built-form in Dubai to someone from Bordeaux.

The following text outlines the city elements that embody the character of downtown Seattle (WA) to a short-term traveller:

 

Attention to detail

What stands out the most in Seattle are the little things. Seattle is a great city for its investment in all sorts of urban pockets – interesting car parks, miniature squares, miniature parks, resting spaces -, in public art, in informative signage, in facade and street materials, in facade details, in crosswalk and bike path clarity, in restaurant/cafe/bar density (even hidden and facing the back alleys like Bathtub Gin & Co), in street decor, and what it’s most famous for – trees and other greenery.








Independent Retail Competition

There may be a Starbucks on every corner (and if not, on every block), but that doesn’t seem to change the fact that independent restaurants, cafes and bars have the upper hand in downtown Seattle. There is a culture of visiting cool and unique places, and they make for a cool and unique sense of place. Having so many different and unique shops makes a street so much more unpredictable, vibrant, interesting, and desirable. It’s always about – let’s go to THE Unicorn. Let’s go to THE Poquitos. Let’s go to THE only place that can make you and your belly feel that way. Seattle most certainly does not allow people to feel like they have to settle for a Starbucks to ensure a decent cup of coffee, a Molly Blooms for a decent beer, or a Jack Astor’s for a decent dinner.




Traffic Flow and Patience

Seattle is nestled between mountain ranges and is overall extremely hilly and full of sharply sloped streets. So sloped in fact that if a car’s brakes stop functioning or if a child accidentally runs into the middle of the street, a collision of some sort is bound to occur. Due to the geography of the land that the tightly knit street network grid is placed upon, there is very little reaction time to avoid collisions.

This is why, even after a long red light and no cars, people do not jay-walk in Seattle and most drivers do not speed. This city must have some of the most patient, respectful and educated travellers anyone has ever witnessed. No one seems to be in a rush. It is no wonder their dangerous-seeming intersections still exist – it is because people know how to use them (not that I am crazy about roundabouts or anything, but take that roundabout complainers!!).



Urban Pockets

Space is very well used within the downtown urban core. No nooks or spaces go wasted, and are always used up by something to make a space or a journey more enjoyable or interesting. One of the most impressive aspects of Seattle’s public realm is how many urban pockets there are, and how many of them are used to illuminate the streetscape with a node, a feature, or an activity. These pockets bring the streetscape to a pedestrian level, add character, and make it easier to get around by using cognitive mapping – “meet me by the popsicle sculpture…”.











Punks and Street Kids

Yes, punks. They stand out. And not just any punks – Seattle punks. They have this thing about them that makes them distinctive. A distinctive grunge/streetkid culture. Sometimes it’s as if they are always the same group of them because they all kind of look the same and act the same and do the same things (all-black clothing, usually involving chains, tattoos, funky hair cuts and hair colors, smokey makeup, and random piercings, usually hanging out with 2 or more people and one or more dog, usually smoking, and can usually be seen like this hanging out in parks and public squares). But then again, this is just a generalization and an outsider impression from someone who was slightly intimidated! It had to be mentioned because it really does add to the character of the city.

So the thing about the Emerald City is – the little things. The little things, like public art details, resting spaces and overhead canopies, manicured and interactive little spaces and nooks, and interesting facades. The little things are what give short-term first-time travellers a good impression of this City.

PS: To any Grey’s Anatomy fans, no, Seattle isn’t what they make it look like on the show.

SEATTLE SUPERHEROES

“The average person doesn’t have to walk around, see bad things, and do nothing.”
– Phoenix Jones (Benjamin John Francis Fodor, leader of crime-prevention patrol group in Seattle).

In 1961, writer and activist Jane Jacobs coined the term “eyes on the street” in her most powerful book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which is now officially known as “natural surveillance”; a term used in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). This theory asserts that urban design has a huge influence on the happening of crime-related events. Natural surveillance occurs by designing the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility and foster positive social interaction. This type of design includes many entrances and windows that look out on to the streets and parking areas, pedestrian friendly spaces, porches, and effective lighting.

Source: Livable Streets in Calgary

Natural surveillance is what urban planners and security authorities expect. But unfortunately, a lot of areas in North America are not planned to foster eyes-on-the-street environments. So what happens in that moment when it’s midnight and you’re walking to your car in the middle of a dark, empty parking lot, and someone is hiding, waiting to knock you out and steal your belongings?

Well, if you live in the Emerald City you’re in luck. Apparently, Seattle is home to the Rain City Superhero Crime Fighting Movement, a crime prevention brigade that dresses up in original superhero outfits and searches for trouble in the city to shut down. As we all know crime is supposed to be handled by professionals, which makes the teams’ intentions seem questionable at first. But as it turns out, the brigade have proven themselves to be trustworthy and non-violent, and are far from frowned upon by city residents. Also, their code of ethics includes never breaking the law, calling the police for every incident that they are involved in and sharing any evidence that they have obtained. They even collect historical data that proves where the crime is happening in order to target those areas, they raise awareness and money for crime prevention causes such as domestic violence, and they feed the homeless on the streets.

For more, watch the videos below:

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.

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.

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