Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

10,000 Square Foot New Library in Manhattan for $6.7 million?

March 28, 2010

I came across this in Sunday’s NY Times.  The article describes with much enthusiasm  the opening of a new public library in Battery Park City, a redeveloped residential area on the south-west tip of Manhattan.  The library, which looks stunning from the pictures, uses natural materials, abundant light, and achieved a LEED designation of sustainability.  What floored me however, was that this new facility was built for the sum of $6.7 million – I almost thought this was a typo at first, but maybe I have become to accustomed to the monster price tags attached to any new civic project here in Calgary ($500 million plus for a new performing arts centre, $400 million plus for a new central library).  I am all for city-building as I hope this blog attests to but I just don’t know how projects of this scope are dreamt up by the powers that be, and if they understand the futility of proposing them, certainly in the current economic and political environment.  It is possible to build interesting, well-designed and sustainable buildings for a reasonable price, and this should be the basis of engaging with the design and contracting community, along the lines of “dazzle us for what you can build for x dollars”, which might actually be close to amounts budgeted by public authorities and/or realizable by potential fund-raising campaigns.  Not “assume Calgary is Dubai circa 2004 and money is no object”.  The point of city-building is to actually get things built, not ugly things but as any architect will tell you, good design does not necessarily cost more, and not the things that you would want to incorporate into civic buildings, such as light, openness to the street, and conformity with the existing urban environment.  I am trying to make this perspective known in my own civic capacity, which may be futile but at least I have this outlet!

GTA commute takes longer; double on some 400 highways –

January 6, 2010

Not too surprising – this is what happens after 50 years of bad planning and 30 years of underinvesting in infrastructure…

via GTA commute takes longer; double on some 400 highways –

Hume: We forgot how to build cities –

November 16, 2009

Excellent commentary from Christopher Hume in today’s Toronto Star on the “heroic” age of infrastructure building, and how that perspective has been lost:

Hume: We forgot how to build cities –

Developers Oppose Density

April 16, 2009

In this Herald article today, a study commissioned by two groups representing builders revealed that city residents approve of the direction laid out in Plan It, the city’s proposed long-term plan for land use and transportation, but that they don’t intend to change their own marked (73%) preference for single family unit dwellings. This is, in my opinion a succinct manifestation of the gap between the public’s collective desire for action on sustainability issues and individual intentions or preferences, and why, I also believe that serious change requires more than mere moral suasion on the part of governments. I’ve talked about Plan It below; the plan itself is hardly radical in its basic premise that Calgary’s relatively enormous urban footprint is not a sustainable (or affordable) path forward – a separate financial analysis of the document reveals that the status quo would cost the city an additional $11 billion present value dollars in infrastructure and operating costs over 60 years. Since municipal government is mainly where the proverbial rubber hits the road i.e. where actual planning and infrastructure decisions get made that will affect how people live, I believe it is incumbent upon them to set direction and targets that will affect positive change. If that is some people’s “social engineering” than so be it (of course I am saying this as a private citizen, and not a city employee, who doesn’t work in the planning department at any rate). Creating a network of walkable inner-city neighbourhoods is Calgary’s great opportunity, and by showing leadership on this issue, Calgary has the chance to change thinking and the marketplace, as we have seen in Toronto and Vancouver, whose inner city neighbourhoods, if price is anything to go by, are far and away the most desireable. The people are rooting for it; it will just take some time, good policy, and a few more “early adopters” to trade up to true city living.

Plan It Calgary

March 25, 2009

I went to one of the staff open houses for Plan It, the City’s new 60-year growth plan which includes a draft development and transportation plan. I have not read the document in detail, but had a good look at the displays (there were a lot!) and heard the 15 min presentation, and I think there is a lot that is good in it. The plan attempts to strike a balance between a totally market dominated strategy, which would like have sprawl covering much of the south half of Alberta by 2070, and rigid limits to growth and intensification, which would be difficult to implement and unpopular. The plan put forward has garnered lukewarm reviews from the media and developers, some describing it as a “social engineering” document, but I think they are missing the point, which is that this document is a policy document, and that is the role of municipal government: to set development objectives and to implement them given the best information available about what the future environment might look like. This is for example exactly what Calgary did in the 1970s when it rejected freeway focused plans and decided instead to build the C-Train. Had that decision not be made, the periphery of downtown, instead of being up and coming communities with condos and restaurants, parks and jogging trails, would be off ramps and parkades – and traffic would be worse, not better. The worst traffic congestion in the United States is in cities like Houston and Dallas where the market dictated planning and every freeway dreamt up got built; higher order transit is non-existent.

I think the main challenge with Plan It, and other plans like the GTA Growth Plan for Greater Toronto, will be in getting the right kind of infill development. Developers are correct to say that few families what to live in condo highrises. Multi-unit low rise development with plenty of green space (I like the idea of courtyards as this safe resident only space for kids etc) would work much better. These types of smaller apartment building used to be commonly built before WW2; it should be reviewed what they are not anymore.

As for transportation, my own main interest, I think the plans builds on Calgary’s solid creditials in transit. However, the city’s current transit modal share is only 9%, which could clearly be improved upon. New LRT lines currently in the planning stages will help this, as will transit-oriented development and station area plans that are also in the plan. Commuter rail, though this would take provincial involvement, is also in there: imagine being able to take a train from Cochrane or Okotoks and be downtown in 15 mins! And for better or worse, the biggest highway project in Calgary history is currently under construction: the ring road. When all is said and done this will probably cost $4 billion or more and push the development of more sprawl and even employment into the suburbs. I do think Calgary needs to make some modest raod improvement; a result of the boom-bust cycle means that the city has an awkwardly truncated road network in some cases – the ring road will help address this, as well as allowing long distance traffic to avoid the city all together. In the central city however, new capacity can and should be addressed through transit, and to a small extent, cycling (though this latter theme has limited year round potential in a city where it can be -35 and pitch black on a January morning).

More discussion to come – if anyone finds this blog, I welcome your comments!