Category Archives: Urban Design

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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CONVENIENT OR QUICK FIX?

After hearing the news about a Costco approved to be located on the former GM site in Oshawa, Ontario, I was inspired to write something in order to look at it from a professional and factual point of view. I started off writing about my disagreement with this approval, and what could be done with the site instead. The more I wrote, the more I learned, and the more I added. And I continued writing until now – many months after full build-out. I followed the story closely and I found the whole process very interesting. Since I spent a lot of time researching big box stores to understand the positive impacts of this development to reduce my innate bias as an urban planner, I will begin by summarizing my findings regarding big box development, and then use Costco as my case-study.
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What is a big box store? In a nutshell, it is pretty self-explanatory – it’s big, and usually box-shaped. But what does that mean? Why does that matter? Why is that ‘bad’?

SmartCentres, Oshawa, Ontario

SmartCentres, Oshawa, Ontario

Big box development usually attracts and surrounds itself with other big box development. A great example of big box development is Canada’s largest developer and operator of unenclosed shopping centres – Smart Centres. Why ‘smart’? They are a full service developer and operator that focuses on bringing together big names such as Walmart and Home Depot to one location in order to provide convenience serviced by ample user (driver) friendly parking.

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There is no denying the convenience of this type of shopping. Everything you could possibly need, all in one spot. All you have to do is get in your car, find a parking spot as close to the door as possible, and hope you don’t get hit by another driver diving in for the next closest spot while you cross the clearly marked pedestrian crossing towards the entrance of the store. Ok, ok I admit – I am clearly hinting at something here. 3 words: Car oriented environment. As a well known fact, big box store development does not aim to foster a pedestrian oriented environment. This means big box stores target the driving demographic. If you are a pedestrian on your way to Best Buy good for you, but you are a minority. Even if they live on the other side of the street, most people feel uncomfortable walking to these places, and that is because they are not designed for walking,  biking, and usually transit. They provide large parking lots for drivers, and they provide everything you need because they know you can put it in your car to bring home.

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I know what you’re thinking – why does multimodal mobility matter? I’m not trying to advocate walking to Walmart. If I go to Walmart, I drive. Period. But what if Walmart was brought down to a pedestrian scale? Would you walk then? At least sometimes?

Do you dare to be this guy?

Do you dare to be this guy?

I realized that big box stores are constantly characterized by remote locations, impermeable exterior design, and vast parking lots. What would it take to bring them closer? A new design perhaps? Increased multimodal connectivity would reduce the need for 3/4 parking lot space, and stores could face the sidewalk. Same product, same convenience, but more human-friendly. Right?

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This is where Oshawa comes in. Oshawa was given a golden opportunity on a silver platter. The GM plant was demolished, and a very large brownfield opened up in the Downtown Shoulder Area (DSA). If anyone knows anything about Oshawa, they would know that it is often plagued with snarky nicknames like ‘the dirty shwa’ or ‘the shwa’, which is usually said with a demeaning or embarrassed tone. The thing is, not all of Oshawa is ‘the shwa’. ‘The shwa’ is really a name for parts of it, including downtown. Downtown Oshawa doesn’t have a great reputation – many would characterize it as dirty, sketchy, and uninviting, which is unfortunate because a lot of the City’s heritage originates from those very blocks (many murals, statues, plaques and public spaces are dedicated to commemorate its history) and because the City has been making efforts such as with the GM Centre and City Hall renovations, and integrating UOIT campus extensions into the downtown fabric.

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It seemed so much easier to grow out than adapt inward, and that is exactly what Oshawa did, making it the fastest growing City in Canada for a few years in the early 2000s. This type of sprawling growth neglected its downtown, and before we knew it people were dealing drugs on the corner of Coffee Time (people called it ‘crack time’ – probably why it eventually moved out), and there was not much left to do there to attract people from all age groups.

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The GM centre was and is a big success, but that place attracts people for small periods at a time (events). Durham College and UOIT are trying to integrate their campus into the downtown, but it is very hidden and has not made a large impact. The point is, when people want to go out and do something in Oshawa, they are more than likely not going downtown. So the gigantic space that the former GM plant opened up for the City right on the DSA really gave Oshawa an amazing opportunity to create a place that would act as a catalyst for image improvement, appearance improvement, business improvement, activity improvement, and to give people a reason to come back to the core, the true heart of the City.

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This opportunity was quickly scooped up by a membership warehouse club that provides everything you could possibly need for the cheapest price and at the best value – Costco. David Tuley, Oshawa’s Downtown Development Officer explained to me that – from his perspective, the Costco site is on the fringe of downtown and will therefore have no negative impact on existing retail, and will also act as an ‘attraction’ by bringing more people into the core as opposed to pushing them out further. “In my personal opinion, box stores are a plague upon the earth, but until we have a new retail paradigm, this is our reality,” he wrote.

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I agree with Tuley for the most part, but what I disagree with is that a new retail paradigm is already underway. Many communities around the world have adopted a higher level of architectural treatment and regulations to ensure that the big box stores relate better to their surroundings. Many regulate signage, landscaping, permeability, and facade measurements/materials. Here are just a few examples of where big box developments have been implemented in more pedestrian- cyclist- and transit-oriented ways, while also adapting designs for a new environment:

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PROS & CONS LIST FOR IMPLEMENTING COSTCO ON FORMER NORTH GM SITE IN OSHAWA:

PROS:

  • WORK: Creates jobs.
  • ENVIRONMENT: Saves periphery lands from sprawling further (it’s a great thing to develop within the urban boundary instead of using up more untouched land in the suburbs).
  • Nearby communities will travel shorter distances to access the store, reducing their carbon footprint (statistics show that enough Costco, Ajax shoppers are coming from the Oshawa area).
  • BROWNFIELD REMEDIATION: This business can afford remediating the previously industrial land.
  • DOWNTOWN EXPOSURE RIPPLE: Increased customer traffic in the Downtown Shoulder Area (DSA) might bring surrounding businesses increased revenue (many people travelling to the subject site might be influenced to spend more time in the DSA or Core Area [DCA] if they are exposed to discover places they fancy).
  • CONVENIENCE: Product is all about quality AND quantity for attractive prices.
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CONS:

  • INVASIVE: The nature of this development does not suit the character of the DSA or DCA in any way, shape or form (following in the courthouse’s steps), forcing the Downtown Area (DA) to stoop further away from any chance of regaining a sense of place.
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  • UNFRIENDLY: The nature of this development will strip the DSA of its identity, forcing it to adapt into a car-oriented environment.
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  • EYE-SORE: Two-thirds of the site will comprise of parking, and one-third will comprise of the store itself, which is going to be +/- 146, 560 SF (almost the size of 3 football fields) of two-storey high light-beige stucco and cladding shaped into a big box with 1 huge entrance (to swallow and spit out the entire population of Durham and their fridge-sized carts).
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  • DETERS MULTIMODAL CONNECTIVITY: Not only is the general appeal of the building offensive to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, but its design is too – its entrance faces away from the street and directly into the chaos of the heart of the parking lot. Its backside ironically faces the DCA.
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  • UNFAIR: Just like Wal-Mart tends to ruin businesses and communities, Costco has a pretty good chance of doing the exact same thing, and may even do a better job at it – the store offers unbeatable prices, selection and quality.
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  • PLAYS BY ITS OWN RULES: This development completely and utterly contradicts the City’s Downtown Action Plan, and the City is therefore taking many Costco-sized steps away from potentially achieving any of it. As everyone knows, Costcos generally all look the same, and it’s because familiarity helps from a business perspective, at the expense of adapting to their surroundings.
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  • EXCLUDER: Costco only sells to members who pay a yearly fee to shop there, and it’s only worth it if the member shops there all the time. This excludes many people from wanting to shop there on occasion or who can’t afford the membership, dividing the social fabric of communities across its target zones.
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At the end of the day, most people would agree that Costco is extremely convenient, and that having easy access to one is a great idea. However, it is unfortunate that this greed outweighs the importance of place. If Costco could consider adapting different store designs for different types of environments (anything from suburban outskirts to downtown cores) that originate from a base design in order to have a more appropriate design out of respect for its surroundings and the City that houses it, then maybe the Costco in Oshawa could have more of a positive impact. As it is now, it’s simply not working.

COUNTDOWN – WHO ARE THE SIGNALS TALKING TO ANYWAY?

Pedestrian countdown signals are beginning to appear more and more throughout our cities. Research shows that this type of signal helps to create a safer pedestrian experience.

The City of Toronto states on their website that

“The City of Toronto’s Transportation Services Division has installed ‘countdown’ signals at more than 2,100 intersections in the city to assist pedestrians in crossing the street.

“The devices provide a numeric count down display that indicates the number of seconds remaining for a pedestrian to complete their crossing of a street. The countdown counts the length of time between the current ‘walk’ signal and the solid ‘don’t walk’ signal which gives more precise information to the pedestrian than the current system.”

Pedestrian signals and pedestrian countdown signals were created with the intention of targeting pedestrians with information. But let me play devil’s advocate and ask – what if these signals are targeting drivers as well? Drivers are not the intended recipient of this information, but it has become common for drivers to use the countdown signal as a ‘pre-warning’ for the yellow light, helping them to make more informed decisions regarding their navigation and speed. Drivers may be doing this consciously or semi-consciously, but either way – drivers are not intended to be directly affected by the countdown signal.

hurryoryouwontmakeitDevil’s advocate again here – what’s wrong with using this pre-warning for the intended pre-warning? Doesn’t the anticipation help the driver make more informed, and therefore safer decisions? This can hold some truth – for example, halting at a yellow light can be more dangerous than beginning to slow down naturally with a 10 second yellow light warning. But take a second and think about all of the times you’ve seen drivers abuse this information (similar to advance green arrows) – many drivers will use the countdown to make damn sure they get through the intersection no matter what. The second this happens, they are putting themselves first, and the second anyone on the road puts themselves first they are putting everyone else at risk (with shifts happening in modal split, awareness to ‘share the road’ is increasing, which means we must all be on the look out for each other, not simply ourselves).

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It has been brought to my attention that truck drivers and larger or heavier vehicles commonly take advantage of this signal and call it a ‘stale light’. This creates another grey area to be considered – does this mean that the roads travelled by trucks are not fit for larger or heavier vehicles? Does this mean that truckers need their own signal?

Aggressive driving is a risk factor, and my hypothesis is that this risk is increased when the pedestrian signal countdown targets the driver – the non-intended user. This raises the question – should the pedestrian signal have a different design, one that can target the intended user more successfully?

A Few Ideas…

ISOLATED PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS

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A new design, or an addition to the current design, in order to attempt to block off the view to the existing signal light except for straight-on.

LINE-OF-VISION SIGNALS

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Average ped height or low.

HIGHLIGHTED CROSSWALK

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We’ve seen the futuristic renderings of all kinds of ‘highlighted’ crosswalks.

ACCESSIBLE PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS 2.0

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) were designed to convey information through the auditory sense for the visually impaired. APS 2.0 could build on adding more ways to receive information by transferring the countdown onto a screen near where the button is positioned.

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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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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