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: Hazel Borys
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.
Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.
Return on No Investment – my new friend, RONI – is the whole idea of leveraging assets and connections that are already in place, while investing a little more time and energy, to create a significant return. It’s a simple concept that PlaceMakers has championed since lean times made for more careful spending practices in city planning circles.
David Byrne noted in last Sunday’s NY Times that people get hooked on cycling because of pleasure, not health, money, or carbon footprint. “Emotional gratification trumps reason.”
Ben Brown agrees, using Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense” as a blog title on the subject of community engagement and how special interest groups often talk past each other. “Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second.”
People have an extraordinary capacity for compartmentalization. Sometimes we call it attention span: the ability to focus on one task at a time. Sometimes we call it meditation: the ability to clear your mind. Sometimes we call it cognitive dissonance: the ability to pursue an action when in direct opposition to values.
We compartmentalize in infinite numbers of ways. We may define our work/life balance as if they were completely separate entities. Along with the mind/body, public/private, self/community, and so forth.
Absorbing the Norman Rockwell exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery over the past four weeks, it’s extraordinary to witness one artist chronicling one nation over seven decades, from 1916 to 1978.
For more than half of his career, Rockwell was constrained by racism that dominated the nation, forcing him to depict people of colour in subservient roles, if he wanted to publish in most circles. This is the timeframe and the images that many people think of when they think Rockwell. And it’s the majority of his body of work.
While TED launched its City 2.0 prize last week to crowd-source tools for the next version of the city, I’ve been enjoying TED talks of several fellow urbanists who have been putting forth tools and ideas for making better places. The City 2.0 wish is stated as:
I am the crucible of the future.
I am where humanity will either flourish or fade.
I am being built and rebuilt every day.
I am inevitable. But I am not yet determined.
I wish to be inclusive, innovative, healthy, soulful, thriving. But my potential can only be reached through you.
Seems I’ve got retail on my mind. It all started in December, with Bob Gibb’s Placemaking@Work webinar, whose tweetchat sparked a Neighbourhood Retail BlogOff led by Steve Mouzon. Then last week Victor Dover’s PM@W webinar followed up with ideas about tactical retail, where he talked about the next version of mixed use being smaller, quicker, and more organic.
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?
With all the angst over Italy this week, I’m in the mood to count some blessings. To elaborate on some assets. To look at the local marketplace. And to debunk a couple of frequent idealist notions about European urbanism often heard from North Americans.
Last month, I was traveling in the Tuscan countryside, which is the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. Staying in a vineyard outside of Poggibonsi, waking up to the resident rooster, and walking medieval streets was cleansing for the mind and spirit. Even the parking lots are frequently overseen by amazing art, like this copy of Michelangelo’s David on the hill overlooking Florence.
Jobs come up in every community-building conversation these days. It’s making me go back to the start, to think it through. What created jobs in the first place?
Division of Labor. Access to natural resources. Human settlement patterns: cross roads, rivers, oceans, eventually railroads and highways.
In the last few decades, many cities have been racing to the economic bottom trying to incentivize jobs. It’s led to jobs being all about giving away resources, and not so much about the value of connections.
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.
Living in a century home with passive air and choosing cycling as my primary mode of transportation during this unusually warm summer may sound like hardcore Greenie behavior, but it’s been particularly satisfying.
This enjoyment of a modernized take on methods that have worked for generations has made me pick up Steve Mouzon’s Original Green book again, where he notes:
Delight is often a side effect of buildings that operate naturally for most of the year.
I can’t remember a summer that I’ve found such satisfaction in simple pleasures as I have this season. Maybe it’s because this is my third summer as a Canadian resident — a country that proudly dominates winter and passionately embraces summer. Or maybe it’s because the sobering events of late on many fronts have reinforced the importance of small blessings.
All the recent talk of Agrarian Urbanism has sent me down a tangential thought process. The difference between life and lifestyle. Lifestyle has come to mean how we spend our money on the weekends – or maybe squeeze in after work – before we get back to the grind. Things that often have more to do with entertainment than community. Over the last 50 years or so, shopping and golf have become central national pastimes.
What if, instead, life became a little more organic again?
If the attendees list of Placemaking@Work, my monthly webinar series, is any indicator, we’re increasingly united in our desire to improve the places we call home, wherever those places might be. Last month, I had participants from Hawaii to Russia, from British Columbia to Saudi Arabia, and many points in between.
The common thread among these seekers is their search for tools and tactics that have proven effective. And increasingly dominating these conversations are form-based codes.
What is it about a place that engages one so fully that years after moving away, a return trip feels as if you’ve never left? As if you never want to leave? It’s the elusive immersive environment we urban design types are always aiming to achieve.
Beware. A personal reverie is heading your way, to help answer that question.
Federal government to sustainability efforts: You’re terminated.
In a blockbuster-style showdown, the House Appropriations Committee started a furor this month as they proposed the elimination of HUD, USDOT and EPA sustainability programs in 2011-12, as well as suggesting the rescinding of dollars already awarded by the Sustainability and TIGER grant programs. As municipalities, counties and regional COGs scramble to find ways to focus the weak development market forces into more sustainable patterns of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, the possible removal of the federal support is discouraging.
Looks like we’re gonna have to go indie.
The Original Green is all about architecture and urbanism. But it’s also about reflection, living, inspiration, and delight. We can achieve sustainable living only when we “want to” or “love to” instead of feeling that we “have to” or “ought to” balance the needs of our society, economy and environment.
In the economic development world, we’re always trying to grow our economic base. And by that we mean goods and services that we export, not just what we use in our local markets. That might include university services, tourism, and any products that we pack and ship, or regional retail that we steal from our neighbors.
We see economic development in conventional terms, and we seek only to perpetuate the model, adding more of the same to the end of the chain. Another monkey from the barrel, so to speak. Continue reading
It’s that time of year, but it’s no holiday party in most city budget meetings. Cities across the continent are looking for ways to make ends meet. A quick survey turns up some sobering city deficits: New York $4.4 billion, Toronto $225 million, Washington DC $188 million, Houston $120 million, L.A. $87 million, San Diego $72 million, Cleveland $28 million. States are worse still: California $6 billion, Illinois $15 billion, Arizona $1.5 billion. Those are some major gaps to fill, before we make it to the federal level.