Archives for category: structures

This post originally appeared on Urban Toronto

Toronto is a condo boom town. With the highest rate of condo construction in North America, Toronto’s cityscape has been dramatically altered by the doubling of condo towers in the last decade.

But are condos contributing to a liveable city? Or are they the product of a global investments game, sacrificing quality for profit to the detriment of the innocent Torontonian condo-dweller?

Condo Game Doc Zone CBCThe Condo Game airs on CBC’s Doc Zone on Thursday November 21 at 9pm

We know that UrbanToronto readers have strong opinions about these matters as Toronto continues to verticalize, and we are excited that CBC Television’s Doc Zone will explore these pressing questions in ‘The Condo Game’, a documentary by Bountiful Films airing next week, Thursday Nov 21 at 9pm.

The documentary will examine the forces at play behind Toronto’s fast paced market, exploring finance, construction and the future of the condo. The integrity of city planning in effecting the shape of the city will be examined, along with analysis of the forces of a booming market.

Check out the trailer, and read more about the documentary on CBC’s website.

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ESTATERS

Today’s edition of The Grid features an excellent article by Micah Toub about the escalating costs of rental housing in Toronto and its detrimental consequences.

To summarize:

– Renting a single bedroom unit in Toronto for $3000/month is common. Between 2010 and 2012, the price of renting doubled.
– Toronto has become a “landlord’s market”: landlords call the shots and can be painfully selective about who they want to rent to, and how much the unit will be
– Since Ontario’s Condo Act in 1967, Condos have been constructed instead of purpose built rental properties, as they are more profitable for investors. They are more expensive and less secure for tenants.
– 1997’s Tenant Protection Act threw out provisions that limited rent increases to reflect the inflation rate
– Other cities, like Boston and Montreal, are better at ensuring affordable units’ inclusion in new builds. As of 2010, Toronto’s condo boom contributed zero affordable units to the market. Legislated provision of affordable units in Toronto is based on area rather than number of units, and can be easily traded for other “community benefits” like public art, which make for a much less risky investment.
– A city without modestly priced rental units leads to exacerbated inequality, social unrest and straight up dullness.

Though my experience of finding rentals in Toronto is limited, I have been witness to a wealth of friends’ experiences who confirm the above unfortunate realities. Transit accessible, centrally located rental units are scarce. When they are available, they are too expensive or are dirty and dark basement apartments. When they aren’t too expensive or dirty, dark basement apartments, there are hundreds of hopeful applicants, and chances are slim that you will be the lucky chosen one.

It is in these situation that one of the most egregious, disdainful events occur, something that makes me mourn for the lack of soul and decency in Toronto: the rental unit bidding war.

I understand why it happens — how do you stand out amongst a sea of undifferentiated hopeful renters? Money talks, especially in this town. But in doing so, you are contributing to the rapidly soaring price of living in Toronto.  Total self interest stands over the well being of the entire city. One’s comfort is more important than an affordable, inclusive city.

Rental bidding wars inevitably happen. There are no mechanisms to keep rent down in Ontario, and when people get a chance, they look out for themselves. When I hear of rental bidding wars, it confirms my suspicions that Toronto is an overwhelming private place, where there is little sense of a wider civic-identity. A place where money is more important than vibrancy, care and community.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Next time you are looking for a place in Toronto, avoid rental bidding wars! Tell all the good people who come see the apartment to refrain from this behaviour. Tell them that collectively, we can keep Toronto affordable.

Wishful thinking, maybe. But the introduction of this thought has the ability to change the culture of renting and living in Toronto. It could lead to pressure for more tenants rights, and the public demanding more affordable housing in this city. There are effective urban planning mechanisms that ensure low cost housing, that have failed to do this in Toronto. But this is content for another post.

This post originally appeared on UrbanToronto

UrbanToronto member Androiduk captured the full length of the “tallest mural in the world,” recently completed on the side of 200 Wellesley, a 32-story Toronto Community housing building. Funded by a $24,000 city grant for public artwork, the mural was coordinated by STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Places), and is a colourful beacon of positivity after the building was engulfed by a fire in 2010.

Mural on 200 Wellesley, Toronto Community Housing, STEPS initiativeMural on the side of 200 Wellesley, image by Androiduk

Retail podium

Depending on your politics, there is much to gripe about when discussing condo development in Toronto. Some qualms are knee-jerk reactions to a lifestyle of hyper-consumerism not cared for. Other criticisms are directed toward the financing of the buildings — reported to be fuelled by international real-estate investors that care little about the quality of a condo’s building materials or its contribution to the city. 

I think one of the greatest failures of recent condo development in Toronto is the homogeneity of retail podiums that seem to be planted at the bottom of every new construction. About a decade ago developers finally got the memo from post-Jane Jacobs planners that mixed-used development makes good city. Retail at street grade, residential above ensures that the messiness of city commerce enlivens a streetscape, creates spaces for social interaction, and fosters citizen surveillance and propriety over city space. 

Retail podiums are certainly a good feature, when done right. Something, however, has gone terribly wrong. The square footage of space provided by retail spaces at street level in new condos is typically so huge that only Shoppers Drug Mart, TD Bank and Starbucks are the only retailers wealthy enough to afford the rent. In the very technical bylaws that now require retail at street level, a bit of urban magic has been lost. The guidelines do not specify minimum or maximum square footage, so in the interest of efficiencies and obtaining reliable tenants, major corporations and banks are the go-to to fill the (very) large retail square feet vacuum. 

There are a number of reasons why this isn’t a great situation. First, it creates a suburban kind of inner-city monotony, where the same landscape constantly repeats itself. The store fronts are so large and corporately sanitized that walking by them feels drawn out, bland and boring — not conducive to the messy, fine grained rhythm of constantly punctuated, organically grown urban space. Second, it doesn’t allow small businesses to thrive. Small businesses ensure localized economic benefits, plus spill-over benefits such as entrepreneurs that care about, and thus contribute to, their neighbourhoods.  

I am always genuinely peeved to see a perfectly fine condo building tarnished by retail that’s too big for anything but Shoppers Drug Mart. That’s why my heart skipped a beat when I saw that “Bari’s Fine Food” had just been opened in the podium of 530 St Clair West at Bathurst (that is, re-opened — it apparently occupied the building that was demolished to make way for the new condominium). Bari’s is a local business, feels unique and at home in its location and is a welcome contrast to the TD Bank and Starbucks that share the condo’s podium further east. 

While the  phenomenon of retail at street level in new condominiums is a welcome step in making good city, it would be all the better if the bylaws went the extra step to assure space is made for small businesses. This would accomplish the above-mentioned goals of increasing local propriety of city space, investing in local economies, and achieving a fine grain of vertically articulated urban space — Imagine a city of sparkling new condo towers, with messy, niche, and unexpected store fronts animating the street and contributing to the city with their hard work — and what a pleasure it would be to walk by.

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A new temporary landscape has emerged in Toronto — a direct consequence of the transformational condo boom that is making this city decidedly more vertical.

Condo narrows occur when two condo-construction projects flank both sides of the same street. Protective construction sheds envelop the side walk and spill over into the street, narrowing a thoroughfare’s width. The effect is a tightening of space. Funnelled into a condo-narrows, flows of pedestrian and auto traffic slow as they are constricted through narrow and cordoned off sidewalks and streets.

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The example I’ve photographed is a condo-narrows in its early stages on Charles Street west of Jarvis. The condo construction has yet to emerge from the foundation and rise above the construction sheds, but when it does it will further canyonize the space. As sun light is blocked and shafted, the feeling of passing through will feel more constricting, like entering a deep desert chasm.

A condo-narrows then, is effectively a sign of things to come. When the sidewalks and roads are narrowed by construction sheds flanking both sides, this is a preview of new building forms that will emerge, leaving a  mark of city space that is permanently constricted.

i. the proclivity for like things to stay together

ii. the built form of a city  emerges relatively quickly. we are then forced to act/react/negotiate/make sense of the buildings for a long time

iii. all old people were once young and found themselves old. we are all faking it

Did-you-know2

A teaser for my poster-presentation at the upcoming Urban Ecologies conference. Read more below.

Dear readers,

This post finds my back in my home-town Toronto, after a relatively short, but very enriching period of time in Amsterdam. I have many (20ish) essays and observational posts about Amsterdam that will be coming out as a series over the summer. Time and space will bring my mind clarity, and I will be able to engage with the subject matter, explicitly as it relates to Toronto (as my point of view is inescapable, and Toronto is a very important point of comparison for my projects, past present future).

Last I spoke with you, I was curious about the 30 hour bus ride I was to be embarking on between Amsterdam and Rome.  Here are answers to some of those questions:

  • Who will be the other passengers?

A combination of Italian folks, young budget travellers, and people from Ghana (!?). I was the only person who was on the bus all the way from Amsterdam to Rome.

  • Will it be a double-decker bus?

It was not a double decker bus, to my chagrin. The view from the regular windows was nevertheless spectacular.

  • How many towns will we be stopping in? For how long?

We stopped in Den Haag, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, a highway rest stop in Luxembourg, Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg, the border of Switzerland, Milan, Bologna, and Rome. I had never heard of Metz or Nancy, and I was happy to experience them honestly. The stops were long enough for me to get off the bus, and “be” in the places.

  • Will we be driving under, or over the Swiss Alps?

A combination. Between the tunnels you are, indeed, nestled in the mountains.

  • Will it be dark outside while we’re driving through the Alps?

The deepness of night began to fade slowly in the middle of the Alps. The outlines of the mountains against the increasingly blue sky was spectacular. Sun rise came, revealing the full blown mountain landscape. I was thrilled. After several months in the Netherlands, the landscape was incredibly novel, and I almost couldn’t process how small the villages looked, stunted by the mountain ranges behind them.

  • Will Italy be hot?

It was hot. I also now understand the link between the font Times New Roman and the city of Rome.

  • Will i know when i’m in a different country?

I didn’t sleep much, and watched each country become the other — marked by signs.

__________

I am excited to be back in Toronto. There is so much going on here, and its Tall-rontoness is not limited to the downtown core. In fact, I have not been south of Bloor St since my return, perhaps revealing the truth of the suburban nature of my life-paths here.

My suburban adventures most recently brought me to #NYC (also known as North York Centre). I am amazed by the hustle of this place. It is a real Place. There is energy, and it feels good. The city that is being built is of a wholly different nature than downtown Toronto. This is no-B.S., anti-nostalgic, 21st century urbanism. The scale is undeniably huge, but it is a city, nonetheless. The scale reminded me of Manitoba, and honesty. I think the heart and soul of present-day Toronto exists here, without any filers of nostalgia or envy induced by other cities. The question is, however, will the independent survive here? There have been essays written  before about the importance of preserving the non-chain retail that remains along Yonge Street. The pressure of rent must be spectacular — will there be any semblance of place-rooted business here in 10 years? Let’s hope area’s community groups are successful in their efforts.

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Yonge and Sheppard – actually a nice place

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This little store front doesn’t stand a chance to a proposed condo development. Or does it?

My time finds me now working on my presentation for the Urban Ecologies Conference next week. I have created a studio in the attic of my parents house, high in the canopy of Toronto’s special forest ecology. I am arguing that Toronto is in Carolinia, its bioregion, and that we need to include this in the story of the city to make it a better place. That’s the short-version. The longer is to come in a future post.

Until then,

Your Urban Geographer.

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NDSM is a former ship building factory in North Amsterdam. Abandoned in the 80s during the wave of European de-industrialization, it lay empty for many years until it was squatted by artists and activists. Being quite a distance from central Amsterdam, NDSM became a free haven — a terrain of artist studios and creative living set-ups that existed outside the immediate influence of the Law. Here is a short history of the place.

NDSM has been slowly ‘legitimized’ and incorporated into the mainstream culture of Amsterdam. With regular free ferry service from Centraal Station, and fantastic views of the city from its waterfront, NDSM has become home to many beloved and often-frequented party venues and restaurants. NDSM also hosts the monthly IJ-hallen market, one of “Europe’s largest flea markets”, attracting many visitors from around the city and beyond. With the opening of MTV studios, NDSM had made the full leap from illegitimate and ‘free’ artist haven into a fully incorporated, and prosperous, district of the city.

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Of course NDSM retains the flavour of its artistic, squatted past: that’s why people love it’s vibe so much. Many cultural links from the past inhabitants of the space have been retained, along with a majority of its aesthetics. NDSM is home to abandoned Trams that people live in, venues built out of shipping containers, and enormous industrial cranes that are clear homages to its history of ship building. (Though it’s funny now, to see the smaller construction crane that has popped up beside the ‘heritage’ one — a sign of capital now being invested in NDSM. While the past is frozen as a monument, the crane re-emerges as a phenomenon that repeats itself symbolically, though with an entirely different purpose. After looking into it more, it turns out the heritage crane is being converted into a luxury hotel! 😮 ).

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It’s somewhat of a shame that NDSM has lost its political, ultra creative routes. But in general, the project is quite successful in integrating an immensely creative space into the wider city, while letting the creativity breath. (Also, ADM, further west in the city’s port, remains an illegal squat in a former shipbuilding yard, where the essence of the artist/free haven NDSM continues to live).

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Quite impressively, the incredibly large  ship-building warehouse of NDSM has been slowly converted into an indoor village of artist studios. The Kunststad (Art City) is an impressive and novel project that looks and feels like a small European town has somehow sprouted under the shelter of the warehouse. The streets are curving and narrow, and the front facades of the studios — each its own structure — address each other pleasantly. There is even a second floor of city streets the criss cross above the ground-floor laneways. It was amazing to explore this space with my father, and how good and functional it felt — how interesting the site lines of the warehouse were, and the enjoyment of climbing stairs to get a closer look at the machines that hang from the ceiling.

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It at first surprised me to think that the concept of an indoor city has never quite taken off architecturally. But I think that if this were ever planned or designed intentionally by an architect, it would never be a success. The indoor village that has emerged in NDSM is a product of a rich, organic phenomenon. Amsterdam was forced to reinterpret the behemoth structures of its past, and like a city built in a valley or the base of a mountain range, NDSM has treated the warehouse geologically, constructing something that works accordingly.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City.

Note: Over the past few months, I have been doing an internship at the Pop-Up City, along being the mobi-aider for the Mobiation Project. Writing a post about the Mobi-01 for the Pop-Up City (along with the Mobiator’s presentation at the fantastic Pop-Up City Live event) represents a coming together of the extreme sides of my personality. Less of a spectrum, and more of a circle, the Mobiators and the Pop-Up Citizens share  foundational values of ad hoc, flexible urbanism.

Have you seen the Mobiators roaming around Amsterdam? It’s likely you’ve encountered urban nomads before, but you probably quickly shrugged them off as punks, hippies, architecture students or circus performers just doing their thing.

But the Mobiators are a team of DIY urban nomads that defy categorization. Over the past year they have been temporarily setting up their self-built, foldable, completely transportable and undeniably uncategorizable home, the Mobi-01 in playgroundsparks, music festivals and lake-side communities around the city. The Mobiators are working towards having their Mobi-01 off grid by summer’s end, with solar, crank and pedal powered electricity, a grey-water system and a bio-digester to process their waste.

The Mobiators

The Mobi-01 is the first manifestation of the broader Mobiation Project. As the ambitious undertaking of the world’s first Mobiators Geert, a carpenter, welder, designer and tattoo-artist and Moroney, a vegan-cookin’, artist, writer and eco-architect, the Mobiation Project is a reaction — to the broken global economy and the increasing degradation of the environment. Mobiation takes big political questions and brings them into a personal light, asking visitors to consider their engagement with others and the world around them. With creative autonomy, the Mobiators argue that we can “get rid of the bad stuff and maximize the good stuff”, and work toward a more sustainable, inclusive world.

The Mobiators

The Mobi-01 is a living example of a functional off-grid living environment. As an open house, it acts as a podium for education, providing a major source of inspiration to anyone who visits. The Mobi is also a space for hosting organized workshops, and its mere presence in a community has the potential to bring inspiration, motivation and creative-awakening to their neighbours.

And let’s talk about the urban nomadity thing. Is this even possible, in 2013, in Amsterdam? Where is there land to set up and camp out? On first survey, it seems an impossibility: Amsterdam is full to the brim, and every piece of land is accounted for. Ignoring this reality, the Mobiators look at the city in different light, and have successfully found spaces to temporarily inhabit and infiltrate.

The Mobiators

Perhaps we could say that the Mobiator’s city is the Pop-Up City. To the Mobiators, Amsterdam is a purely flexible place, outfitted with temporary urban spaces that invite ad hoc experimentation. The Mobiation Project proves that with a certain attitude, any city can be a Pop-Up City. A shift in perception has the ability transform any mundane space, from the most barren to the most bureaucratic, into a place to be popped into, a place for unexpected transformations, a place where the most creative, sustainable and appropriate activities can take place, emerge and fade away as needed.

The Mobiators

And that’s why we’re excited to be having the Mobiators on stage at The Pop-Up City Live, a night for urban innovators. So join us on Tuesday May 21st at the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam to hear from the Mobiators and be inspired about their project, and the possibilities for sustainable, nomadic city-living in the 21st century, along with an exciting program of crispy themes, multi-media formats, and inspiring guests that will celebrate the best of five years of The Pop-Up City!

Mobi-Map-GIF

It’s my pleasure to share with you an animated map I created for the Mobiation Project.

The map charts the Mobi-01’s nomadic travels through Amsterdam — from its first semi-built incarnations at the Fiction Factory, Friekens and NDSM in Amsterdam Noord, its official launch at the 2012 Magneet Festival on Zeeburg Eiland, it’s short stint as an art piece at Huize Frankandael in Frankandael Park, its winter stay in a playground in sleepy Watergraafsmeer, to its current location on the banks of the Nieuwemeer, in an artist community called Nieuwe en Meer. The map playfully animates this clockwise journey around the city and the trail of goodness the Mobi has left in each of its locations.  The Mobi-01 is the first manifestation of the Mobiation Project. It is a self-built, foldable, fully transportable living space/open house that is working to be off-grid by summer’s end.

It was enjoyable to take a break from digital media and make the map by hand, using a cut and paste technique, with paper and cardboard. I quickly returned to digital media by animating it in Powerpoint, and creating a GIF.

The map was created for the Mobiators’ presentation at the Pop-Up City Live, this Tuesday at Amsterdam’s Brakke Grond. As I have been doing internships with the Mobiators and at the Pop-Up City over the last few months, Tuesday night marks an unexpected colliding of worlds, that appropriately marks the end of my current stint in Amsterdam. Just how will the radical-squat-autarchiks clash with the trendy-urbanists in this surreal manifestation of the extreme sides of my personality and interests? We’ll see on Tuesday night!

// Negotiating space and time in London and Amsterdam :::::

you-are-here2

 

 

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Holland-motion

I know it may be hard to conceptualize, but try and imagine the provinces of North and South Holland — the Randstad specifically — as one big city.

the ranstadThe complex dotted-and-linked towns and cities of the Randstad

I know it’s hard to conceptualize when looking at a map: a highly complex and widely spread system of independent-seeming towns, cities, farms and transportation in between — the Randstad alone has an area of 8 287 square kilometres (about 4000 of which are urban).

But functionally North and South Holland is one big city. And with that comes a lot of motion:

A first example of Holland-mobility is that many people from the Netherlands that I’ve encountered have personal geographies that consist of a lot of movement between the cities of North and South Holland (the sort of movement you associate with the United States and the American Dream).

Of those I’ve spoken with, many of their grandparents are from one city, their parents grew up in another, they were born in that town, but now live elsewhere.

These common stories of intra-provincial migration contribute to a blurry sense of place-based identity, and soft declarations of one-point-of-origin as where they’re “from”: a confusion that ultimately leads to a Holland-wide identity, and the allegiance to the Randstad as a whole as the basis for identity, rather than an individual town or city.

Another point of Holland motion: people travel from in between cities near and farther away, to live, work and socialize on a daily basis. My fellow interns at Golfstromen themselves live in Utrecht and Zandvoort. A friend’s colleagues similarly travel from major regional cities — cities with their own employment — to work in Amsterdam.

And a final meditation on Holland Motion —
Lining the bike paths of Amsterdam are the constant appearance of way-finding signs directing you to far-flung Haarlem, Almere, Den Haag, and Utrecht — cities that are relatively quite far away. But these cities, appearing on the streets, inhabit your consciousness as you negotiate the local geography of Amsterdam. Being constantly reminded that they and are within biking distance — indeed that they exist! — wraps their being into the being of Amsterdam, tightly weaving Holland together as a series of neighbourhood-cities within a greater regional metropolis.

Bike signs

This May, I look forward to “following the signs”, that is, choosing a city that I see a  bike way-finding sign for, and biking there without consulting a map — to experience Amsterdam, the city I choose to bike to, and the spaces and tight relations in between.