the renewed city.

for toronto, the best diet might be better land use planning
June 18, 2008, 4:44 pm
Filed under: commentary, ideas

toronto is a fat city. so says statistics canada at least, this country’s data collecting czar’s, in the results of a recent health survey of canadians. the survey found that more than one-third of adults who live in the city of toronto health region are overweight.

surprising? it shouldn’t be. one is hard pressed to find torontonians, particularly outside of the downtown core, relying on walking and cycling, even public transit, to get around the city – three means of transportation who’s use has proven physical health benefits including reduced prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease (see work done in Atlanta and Seattle/King County by Dr. Lawrence Frank and colleagues). this, despite toronto priding itself on being one of the most densely populated and most walkable urban regions in north america. indeed, toronto’s density’s (a key component to making neighbourhoods walkable) are among the highest on the continent, even surpassing many european cities. so what’s the problem? why so sedentary?

the problem lies in the finer details of toronto’s urban landscape, especially outside of the downtown core. truly walkable places need to have more than higher density’s to succeed. this needs to be coupled with dynamic and finer-scale mixing of uses and services, appropriate urban design and other transportation options – those elements that both make us want to and make it easier for us to walk and cycle for daily trips and tasks. this landscape is very much missing in toronto’s outlying urban areas. here, there is a severe disconnect between high density residential neighbourhoods and the sitting of accessible mixed use centres and efficient public transit opportunities. i lived just west of yonge and lawrence a few years back, a very established and very dense neighbourhood but was subject to a 20 minute walk to the lawrence station and an equally long walk to the nearest grocery store and LCBO. the bus system on the local streets was vastly under serviced and the long headways between buses made public transit an inviable option for me. the result? i hoped in my car more often than not.

pierre filion, a professor of urban planning at the university of waterloo, completed a study in 2006 looking at this preceived disconnect in greater detail. his findings back up my own observations. he notes, for example, that of the fifty-one non-downtown subway and light-rail transit stations in the city, only thirteen (26%) are in or close to high-density census tracts. this urban landscape, one of high density residential pods with no real connection to one another or everyday services like shops and transit, sustains a continued reliance on the automobile and less walking and cycling for daily trips. truly walkable places are characterized by a dynamic mix of uses and density. apart from downtown toronto, the danforth, queen west and yonge and sheppard are examples of this idea.

planners and developers, then, could do a lot to extend the “walkable city” mantra beyond bloor, the dvp, and bathurst. injecting more mixed use redevelopment/infill and better transit opportunities in these outer areas is defiantly a start. who knows, it might just be the diet that the city needs to get back into shape.


c’mon, embrace ecodensity!
June 16, 2008, 12:21 pm
Filed under: commentary

ecodensity, the controversial initiative to increase density and boost environmental city-building is official city policy in vancouver. huzzah! the gist of the idea, er, policy is to explore densification opportunities throughout the city, not just in the downtown or along major corridors. the goal? to accommodate new growth in the city in a way that is sustainable and reduces the city’s ecological footprint.

however, ecodensity, as a term, has earned a lot of enemies and opponents. the word density conjures up images of soaring towers rising above quaint, traditional neighbourhoods. downtown vancouver is dense. new york city is dense. density, at least at the scale people usually equate it with, is classic NIMBY thinking.

but ecodensity is something more malleable and less sinister. the ecodensity policy is about exploring the opportunities of densification across the entire city and this means determining what forms of growth and densification will work in different neighbourhoods and areas. point grey, commercial drive, and shaungessy are not downtown in charcater so why should they be subject to a downtown-style built environment?

the laneway unit is a well-developed idea being incorporated into the ecodensity model. these are housing units located in the backyards of older single-detached homes that can be accessed by a back lane. vancouver’s older traditional neighbourhoods are criss-crossed by a network of back-yard lanes. new, appropriately-scaled housing can easily be accommodated and accessed off many of these lanes, providing room for many new vancouverites in a sustainable, less land intensive and aesthetically/privacy-abrasive manner.

ecodensity, if employed appropriately in vancouver, will change the pattern of growth and development in the city. compacting new growth throughout the city is an important step toward building a more accessible and sustainable city. if we truly want a great city, this is something that needs to be accepted – embraced – and not feared.

jobs to take priority over condos in downtown
June 13, 2008, 12:26 pm
Filed under: commentary

the vancouver sun is reporting that vancouver planners are considering aggressive new policies that would effectively ban new residential condominium development in the downtown and provide for office tower development to automatically be granted 20 to 40 per cent more density, and that developers be encouraged to build as high as possible without blocking the city’s designated view corridors

this is welcomed and much needed policy for the city. recent travel survey analysis that i’ve worked with has shown that many people who reside in the downtown are working in suburban postal codes in burnaby and surrey where much of the new office development in the region has occurred. the result is people living in very walkable neighbourhoods are very reliant on their automobiles for the longest and most consistent trip of the week … the work trip. more jobs in the downtown, coupled with better transit opportunities (i.e. the canada line, evergreen line) could help reduce the travel burden and related greenhouse gas emissions

update: T.O waterfront board approves Gardiner assessment
June 13, 2008, 12:10 pm
Filed under: bits n pieces

so says the toronto star. some food for thought though: thinking in terms of waterfront access and pedestrian safety, is an 8 lane boulevard style arterial road any better than the gardiner? hmmm….

up with the trams!
June 9, 2008, 11:36 pm
Filed under: bits n pieces

subways and heavy rail. yes, they’re sexy, cool and maybe a little bit lovable but they cost fast-growing cities heaps of money and an exorbitant construction time frame that can hurt business and neighbourhoods (cambie street is a case-in-point). the new skytrain line from the airport to downtown is not even complete yet but vancouver city council is already toying with the idea of extending a new skytrain line from broadway/commercial to ubc. a recent, eye-opening study by ubc’s design centre for sustainability, however, indicates that for the same price (a cool $2.8 billion) the entire metro region could be blanketed in an efficient light rail system that would bring accessible and efficient public transit the the doorsteps of hundreds of thousands of people in the region. this kind of thinking makes sense. housing, employment and commuting patterns in the region have evolved in a manner that was, really, unanticipated. commuters are heading out in all directions to work and do business, not just into traditional business and employment centres like downtown vancouver or the ubc area. an efficient, web-like transit system would do better to serve this emerging trend.

sustainable cities are accessible cities. sure, new heavy rail can seem glamorous, but if they will only serve a select portion of the population, their contribution to true sustainability is questionable. i applaud the work done by dr. patrick condon and his students at ubc for bringing this kind of information to bear here in this region. i hope this type of work will get citizens talking about what options are actually available in pursuit of the ideal city.

metro vancouver sustainabiity summit 2008
June 4, 2008, 10:50 am
Filed under: bits n pieces

metro vancouver is on a sustainability push. this year’s regional sustainability summit is now open for registration to the public. prospective summiters can choose from three streams of discussion ranging in topics from transportation and growth, crime and drugs and ecological health. these events will be used to gain a fresh perspective on emerging regional issues and define a blueprint for action.

as a relatively new metro vancouverite in the planning field, these summits will be the perfect opportunity to get a better grasp on the discourse surrounding the areas major issues and opportunities.

more bridges for metro vancouver?
June 2, 2008, 9:45 am
Filed under: commentary

the pattullo bridge has the dubious distinction of being one of the deadliest bridges in the lower mainland. to fix the problem, translink is toying with the idea of twinning or replacing the aging bridge which links surrey and new westminster.

hmmm, ok i agree, something does need to be done to stop the senseless carnage happening on this bridge. but why does the “solution” to recent transportation issues in this region continually need to be in the form of more roads and more bridges? decision makers remain stubborn and ignore claims that more roadway capacity will result in more cars on the road and increase congestion. it’s laughable, then, to think that more roads, bridges, and CARS will actually result in “safer” roads.

let’s not forget, too, that these infrastructure initiatives also end up creating more problems than they are originally designed to solve. more road and bridge capacity makes it easier and convenient for people to hop in their cars instead of using public transit. money used to fund these projects will likely be diverted away from potential public transit initiatives (like better intercity transportation). more cars on the roads will eventually result in more congestion and even more greenhouse gas emissions then before.

if we want to make the lower mainland’s roads and bridges safer from speeding and aggressive motorists we need better short and long term solutions. a heightened policing presence can be directed to trouble spots like the patullo bridge to keep an eye on motorists. this should be relatively inexpensive. into the future, initiatives need to focus on getting people out of their cars by making it easier and more efficient to use public or active transportation alternatives.

the less cars we have on the road, the safer our streets will be.