Archives for posts with tag: urban design

Cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

HALIFAX – For those who haven’t been scrutinizing the urban landscape for the last few years, the appearance of a centuries’-old house, stilted and shunted to the edge of the parking lot across from the Trident Cafe, must be a mighty strange site.

Having survived the demolition of the neighbouring Victoria Apartments in 2009, the Morris House has since found refuge on an adjacent parcel of land.

Spacing Atlantic reported extensively on the loss of the Victoria Apartments, a beautiful heritage property that has connections with the Morris family, the first and only Chief Surveyors of Nova Scotia. In its later years, the Apartments were a hub for musicians and artists and one of the last vestiges of affordable housing in the city’s South End.

An emotional affair, crowds gathered to share the Victoria Apartments’ final moments.

The historic Morris House, the second oldest wood structure in HRM, seems to have been dormant in the years since its rescue from the bulldozer. But appearances are deceiving, and over the last three years a buzz of activity has been surrounding the Morris House, its preservation and its future.

Since they saved the house in 2009, a Joint Action Committee comprised of the Ecology Action CentreHeritage Trust of Nova ScotiaMetro Transit Non Profit Housing Association, and the ARK have been busy preparing for the Morris House’s next life.

It took some time, but the donation of a lot at the south west corner of Creighton and Charles Streets in the North End secured the Morris House’s fate. When it’s moved in early 2013, the Morris House will be expanded and developed as (energy efficient) affordable housing  for nine young adults.

A rendering of the Morris House’s new home, at Creighton and Charles Streets, with an addition still in the design phase

The project is a beautiful mix of elements that would make any local urbanist melt: the preservation of the city’s heritage built environment, the marriage of old and new architectural styles, adaptive reuse of recycled building materials, the provision of affordable housing, and the monumental filling of one of Halifax’s infamous vacant lots.

It’s no wonder the Morris House has been the subject of countless academic and art projects. (Its allure most recently attracted Anna Sprague, who surrounded the house with whimsical white balloons for Nocturne 2012.) Since it was rescued in 2009, the sight of the lonely house has embodied a powerful energy, it’s back turned to the street it used to be an intimate part of.

There’s something captivating about the persistence of the Morris House, its insistence that it continue to be a conspicuous member of the cast of characters that make up Halifax’s built environment. There will also be something magical about witnessing the historic house sail three kilometers through the streets of Halifax when it is moved to its new home in the North End early next year.

With these qualities, the Morris House project is capable of catalyzing a deep conversation about affordable housing and inclusivity in Halifax, a conversation we desperately need to have. The project is also a dramatic testament to the idea that the “greenest building is the one still standing”.

In efforts to raise funds for moving the house, an Indiegogo campaign has been set up. The house is scheduled to move in early January. 2013. Check out the Morris House website for updates and more information.

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Check out the map your Urban Geographer recently had published in the Dalhousie Gazette.

The map was featured in a November 16 story about some amazing adventures and places to explore all accessible by Metro Transit bus!

➷➷➷ ::: CHECK IT OUT::: ➷➷➷

And exhausted from the same ol’ commute on the 52 Crosstown to Burnside, I know where I’m headed on my next day off – a bus-based adventure on the 51 to Shannon Park!

DISCLAIMER::::THIS MAY NOT HAPPEN

Exciting news, dear readers!

All this while, as your Urban Geographer, I’ve been thinkin’ bout the urban landscape – it turns out I’ve been shaping the urban landscape too!

That’s right, loyal followers. I am excited to announce that in a to-be-determined future date, my photo will become Sackville, New Brunsick’s highway sign!

The highway sign currently looks like this (credit to google street view, as usual)  :::::::::::::::::::::

And will soon be transformed to this image, featured below (in low res), originally appearing in a post from last summer. The photo’s rights-to-use have been formally purchased by the Town of Sackville.

The photo is of bright August day in 2011, when Sackville’s main thoroughfare, Bridge Street was transformed to indie-rock paradise by the annual SappyFest. On a journalistic bend for an upcoming Spacing Atlantic article, I climbed the roof of Tidewater books for this sweet-summer aerial view.

I am grateful that the Town of Sackville got in touch with me to use the image – my respect to this special place deepens, my connection to it expands. I am also thoroughly happy to be an official, paid-Urban Geographer, and take with that the great responsibility it brings.

See you on the highway!

In mid-July, my brother and I wandered through the streets of Halifax in search of the Linden – a beautiful tree that blossoms for a few precious weeks in midsummer.

I had previously known the tree only by its scent – a subtle but intoxicating sweetness that accompanies long, shimmering days in the heat of summer.

We were harvesting the Linden’s flower in bulk to dry for tea. Linden flower tea is a potent sedative that regulates blood pressure, helps with digestion and eases anxiety. We were especially keen to haul in a large harvest to meet our needs for the Evolve Tea Hive  later that month.

With black shopping bags, my brother and I headed North by-bike to search for the tree. He had made note of some Lindens in the area in his previous days’ travels, and those would be our starting points.

As I’m of the city, I’m not usually aware of the species of trees in the urban forest. With a quick description of the Linden tree and its characteristics from my brother (who was enrolled in a year-long class in herbalism at the time), my senses quickly shifted from a typical city-vocabulary of sidewalks and pavement, to one rooted in the world of the Linden tree.

Wildcrafting our way North, the logic of the Linden suddenly became the city’s dominant organizing principle. Halifax’s streets started making more sense to me based on their orientation to the sun, the age of their vegetation’s growth. It became increasingly easy to spot where a Linden tree would be – in full bloom it is a golden bouquet, its scent hard to miss.

Biking farther North to the Hydrostone neighbourhood, the warm July wind and delicious Linden aroma fueled my brother and I, keeping us happy and motivated.

Once we hit Duffus Street, the Linden trees stopped appearing. We had found a Halifax tree line:  once fashionable, the Linden tree had fallen out of favour in the planting of Halifax’s relatively newer northern suburbs, and was absent from their landscapes.

On this cold November evening, it warms me to think of this sweet time had with my brother last July; guided by the delicious golden currents of the Linden flower, this is when I learned to read the city from the trees’ perspective.

Leading image is a silkscreen print by your Urban Geographer of the Linden flower – it grows an extra leaf with it’s blossom that is essential to its potency when harvested. 

There’s a juncture in Toronto – in time and space.

It lies at an edge between the Distillery District, and the yet to be built West Donlands neighbourhood.

Last I was there, gazing east from a tight alley of the Distillery, there was nothingness – a chasm of sight and potential. The tight and built up form of the Distillery dramatically gave way to emptiness at Cherry Street, emphasizing the extreme juxtapositions possible in an urban environment – the logic, and on the other hand randomness of fate in the city, where a street, rational and straight, becomes the definite border between two distinct Places.

Knowing of the West Donlands neighbourhood and its scope, I would look at this gap at Tankhouse Alley and Cherry Street with a feeling of awe, aware of the inevitable explosion of city that will soon burst out of this empty chasm, blooming into a city, full and real.

From afar, I can’t tell but for dispatches from travelling friends, that the new neighbourhood to the East is already being built up;  the drama of the edge-space is becoming less intense. Soon, but for the obvious differences in ages of the buildings to the east and west of Cherry street, the rip will be sewed tightly shut – and the urban fabric will be expanded into a continuous expanse of city. With time, the border will become less distinct, fading into the linkages that will inevitably be forged between one side and the other.

Looking into the past by virtue of Google Street view has allowed me to capture this rift, compensating for my lack of photo-documentation when I should have…

UPDATE: Going through old photos, while I was bored today at the Archives, I discovered that I indeed captured this Distillery edge space last year, during my September Toronto stint! A cunning Urban Geographer never lets an intriguing cityscape go uncaptured:

The red-bricked path way tapers off into a chasm of nothingness – this tear in the urban fabric will soon be sewn, and a continuous cityscape will fill the current gap.

It’s my first time in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Autumn – a new experience of a season, in a new place. New rhythms to adjust to, a new progression from lightness to dark to hone in on, a new pace of seasonal decay.

Biking to and from work today, at the twin magic hours of early-morning and pre-dusk – I deeply felt this juncture of my life of new seasonal rhythms, and felt it close, in the quality of light.

How beautiful it is here, on a sunny day in the Fall! A golden quality highlighted a deep blue in the sky, a deep green in the flora, crisp and warm.

I had a neat experience of geognitive dissonance the weekend before last, when I visited by former city-of-residence Montreal, along with many many other people from Halifax.

On Sunday afternoon, I was delighted to find that the visionary producers of Pop Montreal, and local Mile-End public space advocates and super group RuePublique, planned the final day of the fantastic music and arts festival to coincide with Les Bons Voisins de St Viateur, the annual St Viateur Street fair. Providing all-afternoon free shows on the street, Pop Montreal also had its Puces Pop event in the basement of a church directly fronting the fair. The result was a constant flow of people throughout the day, enjoying the street-hangs, slowly filtering through the church doors to enjoy the dense display of crafts on offer.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Black Street block party only one week earlier in Halifax, I was psyched to get a dose of some Montreal same-same but different. Though entirely different from the residential, leafy neighbourhood times of the Black Street block party, Mile End’s St. Viateur festival was Montreal’s gritty urban iteration of the same culture of the do it yourself, for yourself spirit, and take-back-the-streets attitude.

Several blocks were closed to cars, and the commercial high street yielded to small-job booths of crafters, free bike repair, and food stands by and for neighbours. Both Black and St Viateur festivals rejected corporate aesthetics, favouring the small scale and the scrappy. A successful intervention on the street was the laying of sod — inviting passersby to lie down in the middle of the street, reclining in repose, fulfilling the essence of the Montreal hang in an atypical mid-street locale. A characteristically grey but sunny autumnal day enveloped the hangs, and highlighted the beauty of St Viateur’s built form.

Scrappy DIY art-projects on St Viateur (courtesy of RuePublique Facebook group)

Midday I found myself on a picnic table in front of a brick building at the St Viateur street fest’s mid-point. I was in good company, joined by a few friends I’ve met in Halifax, laughing and reminiscing about nights’ passed. Contently, I looked around to marvel at the delightful street scene, quickly realizing that about 40 people surrounding me were from Halifax, or connected to the city in some way. I tuned into the sound beginning to pour from the nearby bandstand, and started to bopping my head to familiar tunes from Halifax’s Old and Weird. The picnic table, the closed off street, the brick buildings framing the scene, the people surrounding me, and the music narrating it all — the scene was an exact reproduction of SappyFest, an indie rock festival in Sackville New Brunswick, that similarly attracts droves from Halifax, only in this instance, it was several months later and several hundred kilometres further west.

Compare this Montreal Mile End street scene…

to a similar scene in Sackville, New Brunswick

A head-ache, it was – a veritable space-warp. Here was a social network I directly associate with a specific place – Halifax (and including Sackville, the Martime region, I guess) – transposed onto another city, a city that I associate with an entirely different social network to boot.

Pure geognitive dissonance.

Our HRM Alliance is hosting an All-Candidates Mayoral debate on Wednesday September 19 at the Lord Nelson Hotel in anticipation of the October 20 Municipal election.

It’s true that Halifax-the-City has a lot of untapped potential. It has unfortunately been the victim of corruption, political scandal and secrecy, and policies that continue to favour auto-oriented suburban development and generally developer-first policies.

Is voting in the hopeless state-of-our-contemporary-Canadian-democracy futile? Well, maybe… but you can’t deny the immediate nature of a Municipal election — the visceral voting process that has you as part of the conversation of Officially shaping-your-city. Provincial, Federal, these are abstract regional concepts… municipal politicians are the people that most closely effect issues that directly shape your life — things like public transportation! and liquor licenses! and development! and, other stuff directly experienced day to day!

Be even more part of the conversation, and participate in the Our HRM Alliance Mayoral Debate  — as the poster points out, questions will be taken from the audience, and, if you can’t make it, go ahead and tweet a question (#HRMAllianceDebate), or post one on Facebook and cross-your-fingers that it will be asked.

Our HRM Alliance is a fantastic organization comprised of over 40 urban, suburban and rural organization from across HRM, united in fighting for a more liveable, sustainable city.

Their efforts are valiant, and hope-inspiring: taking the enormous and somewhat ridiculous political entity known as the Halifax Regional Municipality, and transforming it instead into an opportunity for high quality, efficient, connected and sustainable regional governance with such issues as their incredibly succinct and no-doubt effective Greenbelt plan.

Plus, your Urban Geographer designed the poster for the event !

Inspired by one of the Our HRM Alliance’s Seven Solutions, and one especially pertinent to the location of the debate, Invest in Downtown and Growth Centresthe poster’s accompanying graphic and tag line “HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR CITY TO GROW” was designed to evoke reflection on the direction the city is heading, or could be heading. The green arrow is open to interpretation: after the election, and the new configuration of mayor and council, what will be this city’s official priorities? Social and ecological sustainability… or same-old same-old, i.e. money ?

UPDATE — Downtown Halifax didn’t like the original image… thought folks would confuse things and think the debate was exclusively about building height… sigh..I guess. Here’s the new design, complete with new illustration! A fractured HRM, unified by a strong core? Sure!

 

One more edit later, the final poster:

One of the things I miss most about Montreal is its parks.

Montrealers, with their unmistakable joy-of-life, live their lives publicly, in the city’s streets and laneways, and in its parks.

When I lived in Montreal, my local park was Jeanne-Mance: a beautiful green field stretching three long blocks, bordered by tall maples and elms, and framed by the mountain on its western edge. Parc Jeanne Mance offers a lot — wide parades, playgrounds, sports fields of every sort, perimeter paths for jogging and walking — but my favourite element of the park, hands down, is at its south-east end.

Here, at the corner of Duluth and Esplanade, is the loveliest of shady tree-groves. A desire line meanders in between woody perennials that provide equal parts back-rests and shady canopies. Here, under the immense and leafy growth, you can recline, quietly watch-people and be people-watched, and run into friends who are using the park as a shortcut from the Plateau to downtown. Stop and chats are as abundant as the old urban growth; picnics, instruments, naps and solo reading sessions common.

This is where I spent most of my time in summer-Montreal, where I began to sink my teeth into the magical intimacy a city can provide to someone open to it. Parc Jeanne Mance and its other-neighbourhood counterparts are the true gathering spaces of Montreal.

Halifax, my current city-of-residence on the other hand, has no such park — and as a result, no such park culture.

As a resident of the city’s North End, my park options are limited, and baby I can feel that park deficiency

That’s why I was delighted to attend this past weekend’s CKDU picnic, an outdoor bbq at the Commons hosted by Halifax’s campus radio station. It was an opportunity to enjoy the park in a way I hadn’t before — in a way that was distinctly more Montreal.

See, the Commons sort of sucks, in my opinion.

There is undeniable value in the refreshment it provides for the city. A great greenspace, no matter how it’s designed, provides invaluable pleasures and alleviences to the experience of urban living: we are all richer for breathing deeply and having access to spaces such as these.

But the landscape architecture of the Common hardly fosters the sort of gathering and straight-chills that Montreal equivalents harbour.

Halifax’s Common is barren. Save for the perimeter, which is indeed lined with beautiful old trees, there really is no nice place to sit. There actually is one, right in the middle of the North Common, however, nine times out of ten, it’s occupied by the punk-dog kids, and other parties — which is great, they’re great — but the space is so small, that trying to share it would those who are already there is sometimes uncomfortable.

Most of the Commons’ space is instead occupied by sports fields. It’s true, that on a sunny day the park’s baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and cricket pitches are completely full, a testament to the real demand for sport-space in the city. But it doesn’t make for good gathering, and in my opinion, is a real loss for the city, and a damn shame.

The fact that a giant pile of soil supporting a fresh layer of grass and vegetation recently freed from behind a chain link fence is now consistently used as a place for people to gather and sit is evidence of the need for Chills-space in the Common.

At the CKDU picnic, a temporary landscape architecture of tents, tables, vintage clothing stores, and music equipment transformed typically ephemeral “passing through” space at the edge of a soccer field, and marked it instead as a gathering space where people could comfortably hang in the presence of others and the lovely shade provided by a loose collections of tented canopies. The simple intervention in space introduced by the picnic transformed the park dramatically for the better.

I spent a whole bunch of hours at the CKDU picnic, soaking up the temporary Montreal-style park hang. I relished this Commons-hang, and ever-so-thoroughly enjoyed the chance encounters with passing friends who were using the Commons as a short cut between downtown and the North End. It made me sad to think how fleeting this use of the Common was going to be — gave me a glimpse of the sort of park the Commons could be with better design.

How easy it would be to plant a grove of trees in this small disused sliver of the Commons — what a lovely legacy that would be to the park-hangs of Halifax’s future.

Leading image by Chris Foster

// old routes

                    New frontiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

walkable suburbanism1

Beyond Portland’s downtown, and mostly, in my experience, across the river on the city’s east side, I experienced a very pleasant form of suburbanism.

The cityscape in these parts is characterized by the archetypal suburban elements:  wide streets, stand alone retail plazas, and single family homes with lots of yard space.

The streets, however, were incredibly walkable, and due to Portland’s progressive approach to urban planning, accommodating to cyclists.

As I explored, it became evident that east-Portland is home to a unique urban form: walkable Suburbanism. Yes, the streets were wide, and cars quickly zoomed through them. Cars are not, however, the dominant form of transportation, the standard unit of planning. Ample room is given to pedestrian space, bicycle lanes are omnipresent, and on some streets, light rail takes up a portion of the roadway.

The archetypal suburban architecture also had a walkable spin: retail plazas and restaurants, usually found set back several hundred feet behind immense fields of parking, were rather directly fronted to the sidewalk. Parking, if present, was limited to a small strips in front of stores.

The neighbourhoods were characterized by detached homes, but the area retained its urban feel, with shops and parks nearby.

As developers become more constrained by the cost of goods and transportation and construction, let’s hope they finally heed to the calls of sustainably-minded urbanists. Grey-field sites, such as already developed suburban land, should increasingly becoming the focus of development.

This is the new frontier of urban planning: the densification of the suburbs. Suburbs are already serviced by water, electricity, and transportation, and can easily accomodate more people. Cities, as they are, have vast tracts of land that can support increases of population: we no longer need do to develop farms and forests on a city’s fringes.

Portland’s walkable suburbanism provides a good model for the densification of the suburbs, the real need being in suburbs that have been developed in the last 20 years.

As most of Portland was probably built in the 1950s, an era of suburban city-building that still had an ounce of dignity, its neighbourhoods are well connected, located in walking distance to commerce, and the streets, though wide, are certainly inhabitable. Portland, along with cities like Winnipeg, and inner-suburban Toronto, is lucky to inherit this built form. It is a great mix of the urban and suburban: it heeds to the desires of those who feel they need fresh air and space, but can also be serviced efficiently, is walkable and bike-able, and certainly fosters social relationships amongst neighbourhood fixtures and passersby.

As we densify the suburbs, let’s look to east-Portland for inspiration. Due to history and good conscience, the future is already there, and its thriving.

Several months ago, your Urban Geographer culture jammed his way through the streets and bathroom-stalls of Tall-ronto, QaRt coding  his and all his friends’ faces wherever and anywhere.

Some thoughts since then:

QR codes are on the wane — I think. Already there is technology that allows one to scan an image, any image, and that is enough to link online, to a website. We’re there already, folks — one step closer to the Internet-Reality, a total World-Wide-Web-geography, heading toward a future where the city blends into the internet, without anyone even realizin’… yet the QR code persists as an icon of these transitional days. Perhaps we aren’t ready to accept that anything, everything? might somehow trigger the internet. Another case of cultural inertia. Perhaps those black and white pixels are a source of comfort in this time of great transformation — they keep it real, somehow, contained — it’s okay, because only the old fashioned pixelated thing will lead us to the internet — the internet is kept at bay, right?

Another thought:

QR codes seem to be incredibly popular in Toronto, but not in other cities. Case in point: Halifax. Another one? NYC including Brooklyn.

Well, those are the only cities I’ve been to since my 2012 Toronto-times.

But it does indeed seem odd that not even New York would have QR-fever. It looks like we’ve got e a place-specific technology fetish, and readers, I’m not at all surprised with where it’s located. What with Toronto being the city of Now — the economic frontier of the Western World — it’s no longer  that old 20th century maxim, “I’m headin’ West baby” only the fresh new “I’m goin’ West but no further than Tall-ronto” kind of economy frontier. It only makes sense that such a current technology, you know, the one that links physical reality with the internet could be squarely found in the gridded streets of T-o-r-o-n-t-o.

Also!

The internet has leaked several QaRt Code spottings my way. They’ve come my way by way of my formal online social networks which leads me to the conclusion that many people have snapped photos of  (or simply talked about) those devilish smiling pixelated faces and shared them with their friends. 

Here are some of the spottin’s I’ve spotted:

From facebook:

And another, from facebook:

And here’s one… from Twitter !

 
 
 
And one more… from Facebook
 
 
 
 
(Leading photo is from my brother’s facebook…)