Archives for category: infrastructures

I love the way many European cities’ train stations are woven directly into the fabric of the streets.

I mused about this with regards to the ticket-free barrier to the platforms at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, and now that I’m a regular GO train user, can appreciate that Toronto’s Union Station has a similar system.

But what’s different about Union Station is that the platforms feel very cut off from the city. They are a space apart, separated by concrete gangways, claustrophobic staircases and glass doors.

Copenhagen’s Central Station is different: wide open staircases connect the platforms directly with the street, and there’s a seamless transition from station-space to city-space.

I think the benefits here are more intangible. There’s a feeling of accessibility to a train system that presents itself so openly at street level. It injects dignity to the potentially inhumane scale of rail infrastructure.

Looking forward to investigating more of northern Europe’s rail-street connections.

Advertisements

Heritage Toronto commissioned me to illustrate their award nomination forms.

The commission was an opportunity to ruminate on what “heritage” means. Though Yonge & Dundas Square and the Don Valley Parkway aren’t directly the subjects of Heritage Toronto awards, their inclusion on the nomination forms hints toward how we may consider them in the future. Indeed, a decade after Yonge & Dundas Square opened to “consternation”, architectural critics are praising its role in the city.

Don Valley Parkway

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.12.31 PM

The Hermant Building’s recently restored entranceway

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.12.26 PM

Community Heritage
Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.12.20 PM

Yonge & Dundas Square
Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.12.47 PM

Short Publication 
Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.12.38 PM

Guelph_Transit_237Guelph is a small city with a small bus system.

Unlike in larger cities where many buses ply the same routes all day with 5-10 minute headways, Guelph can’t afford to do that – there are too few people.

What I initially felt was a bummer — buses every 20-30 minutes at peak times and every hour at other times of day — turned one of the system’s greatest strengths: reliability.

This seems like a major paradox – how can you build a robust transit system by providing less?

Transit planners have a maxim that people won’t adopt public transportation unless its frequent and reliable. In Toronto, it often feels like it’s frequent but not reliable. In Guelph, however, the service may not be frequent, but it is very reliable.

Because the bus comes so infrequently, users are forced to use the schedule to see when their bus is coming. The bus system becomes more like a train system in this way – fixed times when the bus will be coming that you can plan your routine around.

While the buses sometimes detract from their schedule, key points in their routes, like the University Centre and Guelph Central Station, put them back on schedule. At these transfer points, the bus will wait until their scheduled departure time to depart.

I think Guelph’s bus system would be much more frustrating if it didn’t follow a schedule and used the same amount of service at more random intervals. The degree of reliability would tire out the most dedicated transit user.

But as it stands, it works great. As Guelph grows, it will require a larger fleet of buses with more frequency – but until then, and in other small cities in Ontario and beyond, the reliability of a less is more approach to transit, while at first seeming like a contradictory approach to establishing a robust transit system, is a good way to go.

viaducts-984x500

Vancouver City Council recently voted to remove the elevated highway-like viaducts that have been cutting off its Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods with the rest of downtown Vancouver and False Creek.

Of course, this is a fantastic development for Vancouver, continuing a long history of progressive, people-oriented urban planning.

The removal of these viaducts will improve the surrounding area, making it safer and less hostile to pedestrians. And no, it won’t mean downtown Vancouver will not be inundated with cars. People who chose to drive downtown will find other options, and (hopefully), the money gained from unlocked development opportunities will go directly to transit funding.

As you may know, I visited Vancouver and the Lower Mainland this past summer. I had the opportunity to explore the spaces under — and over — the viaducts.

I was pleased to discover there was a bi-directional bike lane running the length of Vancouver’s viaducts. Approaching the viaducts from Main Street, the elevated roadway and its bike lane quickly climbs uphill, becoming suspended above the city. The feeling of biking the viaduct lanes was thrilling – high above the streets, the viaducts runs over many intersections, curving around the often-renamed Rogers Arena, and depositing cyclists to Yaletown at the base of Vancouver’s downtown core.

GVO-Eds-ViaductBikeLane-5 2926442 cyclinggroupupdunsmuir

I’ve explored car-style, human scale infrastructure on this blog before, where I described the thrilling experience of biking Halifax’s similar highway-to-nowhere Cogswell interchange, and Montreal’s Rosemont Flyover. Car-style infrastructure at a human scale, I wrote, offers a change in the rhythm of a city and a truly unique urban experience. That is, if it doesn’t define the urban form, and if adequate space for pedestrians is provided.

So, like many urbanists, I celebrate the taking down of Vancouver’s viaducts – ugly barriers that favour cars over humans, preventing vital urban life from thriving.

But I also lament their loss. We praise the Denmark’s cycling highways while we take down our own in Canada.

Imagine what the debate would be like in Toronto if there was a bike lane on the Gardiner Expressway!

Naples

Taken off the back of a golf-cart/tram at Clam Shell beach, Naples Florida

10712800_392048517619163_3101984277106453001_n

Toronto is a city of ravines and river valleys — and it needs a vast system of bridges to stretch over them. While these bridges are built to maintain the integrity of our famous grid, they inadvertently create amphitheatre like architectural spaces that beg to be explored, along with other overlooked parts of the city. Likewise, Toronto is filled with interesting humans with captivating narratives who need a space to share their stories.

LW LogoWith this in mind, my partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series last Fall. Building on the success of 2013’s Under the Grid concert, Learnt Wisdom invites attendees to “explore the city as we explore our hearts”, by holding story telling events in interesting and overlooked spaces across Toronto.

LW_1_Things Your Parents

Each event features four speakers from a diversity of backgrounds, sharing stories inspired by a set theme. The event is accompanied by an illustrated map showcasing the lecture location, and a short walking route from a set meeting point. While Natalie waits with the speakers at the lecture location, I go and meet the attendees at the meeting point, creating a psychogeographic procession as we make our way to the lecture space.

At the beginning of each event I introduce the space by sharing a brief history, including First Nations history, lost rivers, poignant events and quirky trivia.

Mount Pleasant Bridge

The first Learnt Wisdom Lecture was held under the Mount Pleasant bridge along Rosedale Valley Road. Rosedale Valley Road, voted the best route for motorcycling by YouMotorcycle.com, is in a ravine created by the now buried Castle Frank Brook. It was the site of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada’s mansion (Castle Frank), and one of the city’s first breweries.

LW_1_Map_Drotsztain

Inspired by the theme Thing Your Parents Never Told You, our lecturers regaled attendees with stories of finding roots, overcoming narratives of strength, and breaking into hotels. Sipping pay what you can mulled cider, it was an absolute pleasure to take in stories under the breathtaking arches of the Mount Pleasant Bridge.

LW_Humber

LW_Over_Poster

The second lecture, this time in the afternoon, took place under the soaring Dundas Street bridge by the beautiful Humber River. Despite the Humber’s eden-like qualities, many Torontonians have not explored this verdant paradise – a linear park that stretches, only somewhat interrupted, from Steeles all the way to the lake. I was excited to share one of the most breathtaking, but least known pieces of infrastructure in the city with friends and strangers.

LW_Map_Drotsztain

Before getting to the lectures inspired by the theme Over the Hill, I shared a brief history of the site with attendees, including the Humber’s importance to First Nation’s as a trading route, the River’s role in the naming of Toronto, and the flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel, remembered vividly by Anne Michaels in her Fugitive Pieces. The lecturers shared stories of epic travel, bicycle-based endurance, and the struggle of moving on from unhealthy situations. As the river flowed, we drank spiced chai under the soaring arches of the beautiful Dundas bridge.

Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series has been a huge success. Each event has brought out impressive crowds, and a chord has been struck by an event that combines storytelling and urban exploration. Natalie and I appreciate the support of our friends and collaborators in these early stages of Learnt Wisdom, and thank you for coming out!

For now, Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is taking a little hiatus until the new year. We are actively looking for appropriate indoor space for our next instalment. This is harder than you may think! Many of Toronto’s indoor spaces are privatized, and require lots of money or business insurance to use them. Learnt Wisdom Lectures has neither. But we won’t give up our search, and hope to announce our next lecture somewhere in the PATH system, 2015.

See you there and then, under the bridge, in the ravine, or under the grid! 

DSCF9966

Geomancy_Card

We are all implicated in the city. We cannot opt out of geography.

Geomancy, fortune telling with maps, looks at the routes we most commonly traverse through the city, suggesting ways topography, ecology, history, cardinal orientation, infrastructure and the grid affects our being.

Geomancy was first presented at the Algonquin Island Christmas boutique. It will appear next at Long Winter, Year 3, Vol. 2, this Friday December 12 at the Great Hall.

Come, explore your geography with me. Let’s try to understand the intersection of landscape and spirit.

Geomance

map_line 9 Last Spring, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the reversal of the flow of Enbridge’s oil pipeline 9. It will now carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Eastern Canada. Line 9, as its commonly referred to, runs through Toronto, and crosses over every river and creek in the city.

Toronto’s rivers, creeks and valleys make up significant wildlife habitats, while providing invaluable resources to communities across the city, not to mention, carrying fresh drinking water from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. Despite intense protests and backlash against reversing the flow of Line 9 citing the aging pipeline isn’t safe enough to carry such a dangerous material, and referencing the devastating consequences of the pipeline leakage along the Kalamazoo river, the NEB approved the project. We are now learning that Enbridge, the company that controls the pipeline, failed to install adequate safety infrastructure before trying to reverse the pipeline’s flow.

This decision is demonstrative of the lack of democracy in Canada. Our government is essentially an agent for extractive resource industries, and despite opposition, unelected and non-transparent boards make decisions that effect us all.

Another problem, however, is apathy. Most Torontonians, (and most Canadians), are not aware of the major consequences and risks associated with pipeline decisions, or simply don’t care. This leaves me with the impression that we have to start getting better at telling the story of oil in Canada, to get the attention of the disenfranchised and the apathetic, and communicate the risks of Line 9, and the negative consequences of our country’s reliance on oil.

There are many groups that are dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of pipelines and Line 9 specifically. Some use direct action, while others are hosting events, protests, and lectures about the concerns associated with Line 9. DSCF9898 While biking in upper Scarborough and Rexdale, I passed hydro corridors, where with spray paint, a group has attempted to make it clear where exactly Line 9 runs. The strategy is effective, and you can easily imagine a disastrous leakage if the pipe failed. DSCF9897 I tried to image Line 9 myself, a few months ago, seen as the first image in this post. I tried to focus on the fact that the pipeline crosses every river and creek in Toronto. What do you think of this effort? How else can we get people to realize how close Line 9 is to their lives? How do we effectively image Line 9?

CSF_logo

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at the 7th annual Complete Streets Forum, a meeting of urban planners, designers, politicians, advocates and urbanists of all stripes committed to building streets that make room for all users — not just cars — in cities across the world.

The conference was hosted by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation at Daniels Spectrum, an art centre managed by Artscape in Regent Park. Regent Park is currently undergoing “revitalization”, and is home home to a number of innovative urban design features, including what’s almost a complete street.

The conference was invigorating. It is inspiring to see all the work folks are doing to advance inclusive, healthy and active street design in municipalities across the world.

The morning’s first keynote Speaker, Dr John Pucher, set an energizing tone for the conference as he spoke excitedly and passionately about the need for complete streets. He shared his research team’s findings that women are an “indicator species” for good bike infrastructure (more women biking = more bike infrastructure, and vice versa!), and that children who walk or bike to school are half a year more intelligent then their driving contemporaries.

Tactical Urbanism: Lesson in Test Driving had Nathan Westendorp and Robert Voigt share their experiences working with cities to pilot projects at 0.75% of the budget of the overall cost of the implemented project. The “try before you buy” mentality means smarter city building, and everyone, even urbanist focused city planners, can learn from the experience. I also enjoyed the idea that DIY city repair, like citizens painting their own cross walks when the city ignores the need, can be dangerous, and we need a way to leverage that energy and make the city more responsible and nimble to the requests of citizen groups.

Dr. Jeannette Montufar spoke after lunch about the history of transportation planning, focusing on “how we got here”. Her historical analysis showed empathy for the decisions of urban planners of the 50s and 60s who opted to build “ribbons of pristine concrete” through “slum” neighbourhoods. They were trying to make the world better, and could not anticipate the negative effects a total highway society would bring. Dr. Montufar’s perspective as an engineer was valuable, and she spoke about the need to get engineers to conferences on complete streets. Public realm is often in the department of transportation, and engineers are as the ones implementing the design of roadways. In terms of street design, they are only being taught to maximize capacity — thus missing on the essential stop and chat nature of a city.

After an afternoon walking tour of the revitalization of Regent Park, including the project’s complete-ish street between Regent Park Park and Nelson Mandela Elementary School, I was delighted to hear from Heidi Wolf, of NYC’s Department of Transportation. She spoke clearly and passionately about her work documenting the Before and After photos of New York’s many urban design and complete streets projects. She stressed the need for clarity, including people in the photos, and getting the same angle for the before and after shots as essential to “selling” the projects to the city, developers and citizens.

The day ended with an engaging panel on the redesign of Eglinton Avenue, moderated by Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. Incredibly, despite the current anti-bike, “war on the car” rhetoric in Toronto, city council approved a 19km separated bike lane, running along Eglinton Avenue, as part of the streets redesign in conjunction with the coming LRT. The panel included an urban designer, cycling advocate, community faciliator, and a representative of the area’s BIAs, and focused on the difficulty of suggesting a bike lane to business owners who overestimate the amount of business the yget from car drivers. A 19 kilometre separated bike lane on Eglinton! How exciting — but the details are material for another post.

Thank you to TCAT for hosting such an excellent, informative and positive conference. I left feeling inspired, energized and motivated to contribute to a world of increasingly friendly environments for pedestrians, cycling, transit and cars. Congratulations to all the presenters and attendees, it was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to working with you in the future!

Spadina Avenue, closed to traffic - Pedestrians and Streetcars mixing. Image courtesy of BlogTO

Spadina Avenue, closed to traffic – Pedestrians and Streetcars mixing. Image courtesy of BlogTO

Love it or hate it, Nuit Blanche delivers the spectacle of Toronto’s streets crammed full of people. With the sidewalks at capacity, and many streets closed to car traffic, we are treated to a hyper-urbanized version, 24/7 version of Toronto. Every October, the city becomes fully animated — perhaps a preview of things to come if population growth keeps apace in the next 50 years.

This year’s edition of the all night contemporary arts festival included the addition of new zones. Along with Fort York and City Place, Spadina Avenue was closed to traffic, and many artworks were displayed along the street.

The experience of Spadina closed to automobile traffic was highly enjoyable, providing a new perspective on the potential of this thoroughfare. The broad avenue, with dedicated street car tracks running down the middle, naturally lends itself to being a pedestrian boulevard. The dynamic was reminiscent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona — a boulevard famous for its walking culture.

I noticed, however, Torontonians struggling with the concept of a street being set aside for pedestrians and streetcars. Though barricades and traffic police were present to ensure that people would not cross the tracks when streetcars were coming, people kept on running through the tracks at the moment a streetcar was approaching.

The mix of a pedestrianized thoroughfare and streetcar tracks reminded me of some of my favourite street designs in Europe, where this kind of configuration is more common. As a past post explored, along Leidsestraat, a pedestrian-only street in Amsterdam, people freely walk along the tram tracks until one needs to pass by. The street is both a tram track and a pedestrian walk way and works beautifully. In Manchester, dedicated Tramways line the central Piccadilly Gardens, a bustling square. The square’s surface covers the entire area, with only slight demarcation of where the trams run, other than their tracks. The flow of this place is lovely — as pedestrians cross the square without stress, and avoid the trams when they come every-so-often. And when they do they blow their gentle whistle and all the senses have their outlet.

Making room for trams as the need arises, on Leidsetraat in Amserdam. Image courtesy of Urban Capture

Making room for trams as the need arises, on Leidsetraat in Amserdam. Image courtesy of Urban Capture

Pedestrians share space with trams and their tracks in Manchester. Image courtesy of ManchesterHistory.net

Pedestrians share space with trams and their tracks in Manchester. Image courtesy of ManchesterHistory.net

In Toronto, where we’re not used to this kind of shared space (yet), things were a little more challenging. Perhaps the presence of safety officers and infrastructure contributed to the tension, and people would have been better of interacting with the streetcars organically.

In any case, I was delighted to experience a step toward shared flexible space in my own Toronto. Little by little, we are demonstrating that streets are not only for cars, and can host multiple uses, complimenting and accommodating one another as the need arises.

20140731-Ontario-Place

Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, keeps promising that a revived Ontario Place will not include any condos.

That probably provokes  many-a-sigh of relief to those Torontonians who are tired of the constant construction delays, obnoxious ad campaigns, homogenous design, and iffy quality of overpriced downtown condos.

Ontario Place, a theme park opened in 1971, has been largely unused since 2012, when its amusement park closed. Only a concert venue, an event space and its marina remain in operation. The site, including its iconic geodesic dome, takes up a large portion of Toronto’s waterfront.

I think it’s a lost opportunity to not include any residences in a re-invented Ontario Place. The vastness of the site leaves room for high density, mid-rise development, while maintaining large portions of open, publicly accessible park land.

A newly developed Ontario Place that is purely parkland risks becoming dangerous space at times when it is not populated. As we’ve learned with Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street philosophy, when there is no one around taking ownership of a space, it becomes harder to defend its positive uses.

Also, not including any residential units in Ontario Place is a lost opportunity to build much needed affordable housing, that is central and well connected.

As a commenter on BlogTO puts it:

Now I am not a condoist. Nor a condophobe. But has nobody learned anything from Jane Jacob’s?

Let me see if I have this right…. we’re going to build a prettier park in what was essentially a not pretty park and magically it will have life and people and interaction?

It’s not like it is High Park or Beaches, etc which are surrounded by residential – this thing is surrounded by the CNE and a busy road. Some residential nearby to the east but to the north it is walled off by CNE and train tracks and any residential access to the west is pretty far away.

So there was no money for Ontario place and since there will be no real development there will be no new money from anywhere other than govt for this. So what we will end up with is a $100m pretty park with crap access by public transit (not too many families gonna lug the cooler all the way from CNE streetcar across Lakeshore) and no residential embedded within. Basically we’ll end up with a $100m unused park.

Would it not make more sense to allow some moderate mixed use development which would accomplish a few goals: integrate residential, generate development income, generate real mixed-use, potentially have critical mass to justify some public transit?

Errands_On_Eglinton

Judging by the amount of traffic along  Eglinton Avenue, it’s safe to say that construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT has begun in earnest.

Running underground through central Toronto, and above ground at its extremities, this new rapid transit line is sorely needed in a city that has long outgrown its transit system. Fixing the mistakes of the past, when an Eglinton subway had begun to be dug, but was cancelled by Mike Harris in the late 90s, the Eglinton Crosstown will transect Toronto, cutting through culturally diverse neighbourhoods, linking together the six former boroughs of Metropolitan Toronto.

In anticipation of the frustration that will be felt by 8 long years of construction on Eglinton, the Upper Village BIA had a contest for a poster campaign that will encourage residents to shop locally during these hards times.

I entered the contest with my good friend and collaborator, Josh Schendel, a student of Advertising at Humber College. With my spatio-analytic skills as Your Urban Geographer, and his debonair intuition as an Ad Man, we thought we really had a shot.

We didn’t win, but I present you our submission anyways, pictured above, with our biographies and rationale below.

I think we put in a really good effort. What are your thoughts?

________________________

BIO
Daniel Rotsztain and Josh Schendel grew up along Eglinton Avenue West. Daniel is an artist, designer and urban geographer who celebrates Toronto in his written and visual work. Along with freelance art and design, he is employed by Evergreen Brick Works, Artscape, and writes for Spacing Toronto. Josh is a writer and student of advertising at Humber College. He is finishing a novella that follows the residents of a Forest Hill home, chronicling their misadventures.
Recognizing complimentary skill sets — Daniel’s visual communication skills and urban issues acumen, and Josh’s sense of humour, wit and advertising sensibilities — this is Josh and Daniel’s first collaborative effort. At early stages in their careers, the Experience Eglinton contest has been an excellent opportunity to sharpen their design, communication and writing skills. They will undoubtedly continue to collaborate in the future. Josh and Daniel are excited at the opportunity to give back toEglinton West and contribute to the celebration of local businesses in their home Ward.
Josh and Daniel explored Eglinton West as kids, made relationships with its proprietors and frequented its restaurants during school lunch breaks. They continue to live in Toronto and visit the strip when doing errands for their parents. Josh and Daniel understand the essence of Eglinton and are perfect ambassadors to spread the message of support for local businesses during the strain that construction of the LRT will bring to this beloved Avenue.
RATIONALE
Eglinton West is the backbone of the Ward 21 community. Unlike destination streets such as West Queen West and Bloor/Yorkville, Eglinton West is a working street that serves as an important conduit for transportation and services. Eglinton’s charm is in its honesty, serving the purposes of the everyday needs of its residents.
With this campaign, we intend to celebrate one of the pillars of Eglinton West: Errands. The importance of the errands of Eglinton deserve to be celebrated. Highlighting its everyday activities in the form of a playful visualization and ad campaign will remind residents of the value of their street and its importance to their lives.
While acting as a reminder to shop locally during construction of the LRT, our slogan, “Your Errandswill still be on Eglinton” contains within it a secondary slogan “Errands on Eglinton” that is meant to extend beyond this campaign and become part of the way people talk about their main street.
By including pictograms of the now ubiquitous construction fences, and directly addressing them in our tag line, “get beyond the fence”, we wanted our poster to honestly engage with the disruptions construction will bring, rather than ignore them. The disruptions construction of the LRT will bring toEglinton West can already be felt, and it is important to take this opportunity to make a solid call to arms to support local businesses in these difficult times. “Errands on Eglinton” is a poster that will do just that.
____________________
BONUS
Collaborations often mean compromise. I had an entirely different vision for the piece, pictured below, but through my partnership with Josh, let it be and took the project in another direction.
With this version, I was trying to evoke Instagram. My idea was to celebrate what Eglinton is, thinking that an image of a familiar scene on a billboard would cause a resident to pause and reflect.
Errands on Eglinton