Ottawa celebrates Canada’s cultural mosaic, its urbanism full of delight and engagement. As with most North American cities, its oldest neighbourhoods have positive lessons for urban design today. This is because much of what makes Ottawa character delightful is illegal in the development bylaws that govern its more auto-centric outskirts. On a recent visit, I was inspired by Centretown, The Glebe, Sandy Hill, Byward Market, Lowertown, New Edinburgh, Rockcliffe Park, and of course, Parliament Hill.
Tag Archives: form-based code
I am fortunate to sit as a non-voting member on a SoCal city’s Design Review Board, which is a difficult job and I applaud the many people across our nation who serve on these boards to make difficult decisions for individual land owners and neighbors on behalf of their respective cities. The overwhelming majority of the issues I see monthly are redesigns in response to conflicts between neighbors due to a simple confusion between how new and existing buildings should relate to their lots and to each other.
As the second in a three part pictorial series finding inspiration in Canadian urbanism, I’ve been invigorated again by a short stint of cottage living. Which of us hasn’t felt the delightful lightness that comes with downsizing our primary residence? Some of my most carefree years were spent living in an 800 SF cottage in German Village, Ohio, and last week’s trip to the countryside near Mont-Tremblant, Québec, has reminded me why. Even if this round in the cottage was thanks to the hospitality of a kind friend, and not for keeps.
Ever had a teacher who was so amazing at storytelling that difficult subjects become clear – and riveting? Some of my favourites that come to mind are Professors John Kraus and Robert Garbacz on electromagnetics, and Andrés Duany and Léon Krier on urbanism. The last few days, I’ve spent some time in la belle province, and I’ve felt that the Ville de Montréal is such a teacher.
The other day on an urbanism listserv, someone asked for parameters to qualify a new development as a walkable, mixed-used, livable place. While measures like CNT’s H+T Index, Walkscore, and IMI’s Walkability Index go a long way toward measuring, there isn’t a single source that awards the title of Livable New Place.
This week my family enthusiastically celebrates both Canada Day and Independence Day, wishing Canada a happy 145th birthday, and the US a happy 236th. We honor the effective portions of the collective community vision that made these two nations great! The oldest continuously occupied settlements in each country are St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, at 429 years, and Acoma and Taos Pueblos, both in New Mexico, at 1,012 years.
The corporate culture of our government has been a carte blanche to keep doing what we’ve been doing. This culture implies that what we’ve been doing works.
In business, last year’s income statement is a major driver in this year’s action plan. If a product or service was profitable, then it’s nurtured and grown this year. If a deliverable creates a loss, then change is made as quickly as possible.
Because governments are focused on GDP and jobs instead of ROI, the reasons behind decisions often get muddy. Return on Investment (ROI) is quite simple. It’s just the gain from investment less the cost of investment all divided by the cost of investment. How many times over your money will be returned to you.
And yet our governments aren’t geared to think this way unless it has to do with a change from business as usual.
Getting ready for a TEDx talk in a few weeks, I’ve once again been noticing how the places that I love the most usually break the law. The contemporary development codes and bylaws, that is, which are geared to the car, not to the pedestrian and cyclist.
Then last week’s urban retail SmartCode tweetchat with Bob Gibbs sparked a debate about the rules of thumb that govern the success or failure of the most risky development of all: retail. And when those rules might be bent by certain special circumstances.
Ready to geek out with me for a moment?
Recently there’ve been rumblings of a very interesting trend among cities that have adopted form-based codes to guide the character of their neighbourhoods. That is, once a city begins to think urbanistically, they start to solve some really hard problems. And those problems lately have been to do with industrial uses, and how to reconnect industry to the walkable portions of the city.
Over the last month, I’ve lost count of how many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten asking for exemplary plans under form-based codes that incorporate industrial uses. I got one while I was writing this, in fact. Heavy industry is one primary thing zoning initially sought to separate. I am reminded of one of my favorite T.S. Eliot excerpts, from Little Gidding:
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”
Not that anyone’s adding back in noxious uses to the ‘hood, but it is a very interesting turn of events.
Given the means, most of us who work with communities to design and implement form-based codes would opt for a full-blown process, one that involves lots of community outreach, education and hands-on idea-testing in a charrette. But every situation is unique and sometimes you need something a bit more immediate.
Sometimes the process you use is the one the situation imposes. Kind of like sports, where, if you want to win, you’d better adapt to the way the game unfolds before you, as opposed to insisting on imposing a plan you carefully worked out the night before. And since I’m headquartered in Canada, where hockey is the game, let’s talk hockey strategy.
Talk about geek love!
When I wrote recently about having cooked up an iPhone app for collecting the physical metrics behind form-based codes, my intentions were pretty modest. First, I was just kind of giddy over how it was coming together and wanted to talk about it. But second, and more importantly, I wanted to get the idea out there and let the swarm take a crack at it, as a true, open-source initiative.
Okay, so I have a little problem. Since 1985 I’ve been a committed, out of the closet, Macoholic. I wrote my architectural thesis on an Apple IIe. Don’t do the math — I’ll be fifty this year.
A couple of months ago one of my business partners, Howard Blackson, suggested we find a way to use our iPhones and iPads to collect the urban DNA we use in writing form-based codes (another problem of mine — I’m a code geek). Understanding how to write standards that produce the types of places people love the most is my professional passion. Continue reading