Archives for posts with tag: development

This post first appeared on Urban Toronto

Construction shed technology sure has gotten advanced. UrbanToronto Forum member Lenser captured this shot of the shed and emerging podium of Great Gulf’One Bloor East at Yonge and Bloor. As a forerunner to the development’s contribution to this intersection at Toronto’s heart, the construction shed proves to be an elegant architectural feature in its own right, providing a covered walkway for pedestrians and contributing to the experience of the street with decorated posts and archways that mimic the scaffolding above.

Urban Umbrella Yonge Bloor Great Gulf One Bloor EastUrban Umbrella, image by Lenser

Advertisements

This post originally appeared on Urban Toronto

While there are several projects now planned and under construction in anticipation of the Yonge-University-Spadina line’s extension to Vaughan Centre station, another proposed transit station to the east may bring a lot more dense, mixed use and walkable development to this traditionally suburban city “above” Toronto.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe development would complement the addition of a GO Station on the Barrie Line at Highway 7, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The City of Vaughan is planning for a new GO station at Concord to be added along the Barrie line at Highway 7. Encouraged by the potential new hub, Liberty Development has proposed a far-sighted master plan that will complement the transportation node with density and walkability through new residential, commercial and recreational uses.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe proposed development at Highway 7 would complement a new GO Station in Concord, image courtesy of Liberty Development

The proposed site is bounded by existing industrial uses to the north, the West Don Tributary Ravine/Bartley Smith Trail to the east, Regional Road (Highway) 7 to the south, and the C.N.R. Rail line that is used for GO’s Barrie service to the west. York Region’s plan for the the Concord GO Station guides growth to 2031, and promotes an integrated transportation network with direct connections to VIVA rapid transit, at grade pedestrian and cycling connections, along with its proximity to Highway 7 and 407.

Liberty’s proposed development would include almost 4,000 residential units within 9 apartment buildings ranging in height from 4 to 38 storeys. The site would add 58,500 square metres of business and office space, and almost 20,000 square metres of retail space. More than 5 hectares of parkland and connections to the existing Bartley Smith trail system would also be preserved.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanUrban main streets connect the GO Station with the West Don Trails, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The development proposes a series of tapered towers with residential density concentrated on the site’s east edge, overlooking the West Don River. The heights descend toward the centre of the site, where provisions for open space create a central promenade, and a focal point for the development. The entrance to the GO Station would also open onto the promenade, creating a welcoming environment for pedestrians and concentrating flows on what could be a lively urban plaza.

The project is awaiting approval from York Regional Council, as zoning must be changed from its agricultural designation to allow for high density residential and mixed uses (the Open Space designation along the Don would remain). Changes to the plan, however, are consistent with Vaughan’s Official Plan, released in 2010, and Vaughan Vision 2020, both of which encourage concentration of growth along transportation nodes.

GO Concord Liberty Development Highway 7 VaughanThe development would be constructed in three phases, image courtesy of Liberty Developments

The plan for Concord’s GO Station and Liberty Development Group’s complementary site plan signals Vaughan’s commitments to principles of transit oriented development. As York Region reviews the proposal, it will take into consideration pedestrian connectivity, universal accessibility, and a road pattern, built form and urban design that ensures environmental sustainability. Along with the subway extension and its associated projects, another proposed development that includes urban main streets that are compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian and transit-friendly certainly signals Vaughan’s coming out as a city.

UrbanToronto will continue to provide updates as the proposal is reviewed by York Region and the design is updated and refined.

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.

Cross-posted from Volume 

The Cycle of Japan is an ongoing lecture series at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam that is exploring what the Netherlands can learn from Japanese urban practice. Edwin Gardner kicked off the series with a talk on February 14th. His lecture was a deeply poetic and psychogeographic meditation on the nature of cyclical time in Tokyo, and its effect on the city’s built environment.

Tokyo

Edwin Gardner is a theorist, architect and cofounder of Monnik, a Dutch research collective. He was in Tokyo to put together Still City, an alternative guide to the city. There, he met and did workshops with various artists, designers, and other urban explorers during a mentally stimulating and physically exhausting two-month stay.

Gardner presented his thoughts in the style of retrospective diary entries. Like his meditations on Tokyo, the entries were presented non-chronologically. He began by establishing the familiar. In the Netherlands, and the West in general, there is a notion that progress is equal to growth: an increase of buildings, of cities, of developed square metres. This means that in crisis, expansion mechanisms come to a halt, and the economy is effectively paralyzed.

Standard linear growth scenario

In Japan there is more of a cyclic notion of growth. Construction and demolition, growth and non-growth are essential elements of the same structure. As its economy has not experienced growth for two decades, Japan is indeed a post-growth urban society. The country is in fact demographically shrinking.

The idea of cyclic time in Japan versus linear in the West is conceptually clear, but is hard to grasp and apply to the realm of the pragmatic. Instead, we quickly get to deep philosophical meditations on space and time that are very interesting, but not too useful. Gardner puts it straight: “Tokyo doesn’t grow or shrink. But what does that mean?”

Japan GDP Growth Rate

Before delving into Tokyo, Gardner brought us back to the Netherlands, where space and time are more stable. Generally, Western cities are essentially timelines. The progression of medieval, organic and compact centres, followed by more organized expansions of inner city suburbs, with newer ones surrounding those, followed by 1960s modernist towers and American-style suburbs in the periphery root us in a linear progression of stable time as expressed in space.

This type of stability is not present in cyclical Tokyo, as reflected in the city’s built form.

Using a variety of examples, Gardner demonstrated instances of cyclical time in Japan’s biggest city. For one, the average age of a person in Tokyo is 40, while the average age of a building is 26: people live to see their city change. Gardner explains that this is because the Japanese put more emphasis on the land itself, rather than the buildings on the land. Houses are treated like cars. The newer they are, the more valuable. With use, their value depreciates. Houses are built with their demolition written into their contracts. Therefore, there is constant re-building. In Tokyo, there are temples that are younger than communications towers. This recurrence of things, rather than a linear progression in space, provides stability.

Tokyo Megalopolis

Gardner’s lecture was enhanced by the simultaneous presentation of large-format aerial footage of Tokyo. The footage is hypnotic, panning over the city’s endless horizons and periodically focusing on specific buildings, monuments, and intersections. Tokyo is enormous. A city within a metropolitan region of 35 million, 4 hour commutes are common. The undulating aerial views illustrated both the enormity of the place, and the difficulty of grasping the concept of a city that is constantly rebuilding itself in endless growth and decay. Tokyo, abuzz with traffic, appears otherwise motionless. It is a city that is simultaneously still and dynamic, “a starry sky, twinkling/a city of continuously regenerating cells”.

In terms of cyclical time’s application to economic and architectural pragmatism, Tokyo’s low average building age and constant de/re-construction translates to a housing market that can quickly react to demographic shifts. Recently, there has been a rise in households comprised of singles and couples with no children. These two categories currently make up 40% of Tokyo’s population. As a result, the demand for apartments under 20 square metres has risen. The city of simultaneous growth and decay provides a built environment that can quickly adapt to reflect this new demographic reality.

Tokyo

While the lecture was a deeply engaging, poetic and psychogeographic meditation on time and space in Japan, it provided relatively few practical examples of how the Netherlands can learn from Japanese urban practice.

Gardner’s talk, however, provided the space for a deep (re)consideration of how our notions of time and space effect our cities and our economies. To widely acknowledge the possibility of simultaneous growth and non-growth is the first step in include it into our consciousness and practices as we continue to build and densify cities in the Netherlands. The notion of a functioning economy, despite crisis, is also powerful. (Despite official positions, you’ll know this intuitively in cultural scenes’ abilities to thrive within times of economic trouble.)

Gardner also referenced the concept of the ‘circular economy’, and the challenge of our society’s transition toward that model. The circular economy reflects a natural system that reuses its waste and values diversity. There is no “end” of a product’s life cycle, rather a constant reuse of materials – the cradle to cradle model.

Tokyo Subway control room

To be clear, establishing a circular economy would not be a case of simply adopting the Japanese notion of cyclical time. It is a radical economic transformation that would mean a shift from dependence on fossil fuels toward renewable energy, a transition that Japan, despite its cyclical notion of time, has also not made huge advancements with.

Be sure to join us at the next installment of the Capita Selecta Cycle of Japan Series on February 21st for Moriko Kira’s lecture and more in-depth investigations of Japanese urbanism and its application to the Netherlands. The lectures are open to the public and take place at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam, Waterlooplein 213. All lectures are in English and start at 20:00. Admission is free.

Toronto’s electric mountain range is growing.

I hear they’re calling it “Tall-ronto” these days…