// archives

Urban Reports

This category contains 18 posts

Software wish list: CityEngine 2010

As an urban planning student who has been involved in a number of planning studio’s 3D modelling often cames up as necessary evil. While when putting together presentations and proposals for assorted studio classes there is no rule that says you have to have a 3D model, the presentations that get all the ooohhs and ahhs are the presentations that have 3D models. Of course the problem with creating a 3D model for an urban planning studio presentation is that the majority of the programs that can be utilized to create these models are incredibly complex and hard to use. Often times the modelling program is too simple, or to complicated for the task at hand. Any student who has done an introductory class in urban design is made familiar with Google SketchUp, and is often forced to curse their way through modelling a city block, pushing and pulling a city block into existence from the most recent CAD file that the university has in its database. Later we graduate to ArcGIS and its shape files (which tend to get pushed back to SketchUp,) or for those who really want to marry their computers for a semester AutoCAD with a healthy sprinkling of Photoshop also tend to make an appearance.

The thing is that these programs are not exactly easy to use when it comes to modelling the urban environment, alternatively too simple or overly complicated its easy to get buried in shape files,  axis’  and vectors when all you want to do is draw a street. Enter CityEngine 2010.

CityEngine 2010 is an intuitive city modelling program that makes me want to weep a little when I think back on all the hours I spent labouring over shape files in ArcGIS. Often these labours just end up looking like little more then basic block forms with no detail once exported out of their respective programs.  Check out Turcot Quartier Eco Santé or Corridor Of Life – Ave du Parc LRT Proposal to see what I mean.

The demo for CityEngine 2010 shows how easy with it is with a couple of clicks to draw a city block and play with everything from the  street width, to the age and design details of the buildings that just pop into your city blocks as you click them into existence.

In their own words some of the features include:

Dynamic City Layouts

The new dynamic city layouts of CityEngine allow for full-fledged live editing of street networks. An intuitive tool-set is provided to design, draw and modify urban layouts consisting of (curved) streets, blocks and parcels. Street construction or block subdivision is controlled via parametric interfaces, giving immediate visual feedback

Node-based Rule Editing

With the new node-based rule editor, users can create procedural buildings by manipulating rules graphically rather than by specifying them textually. Thus, even users without scripting knowledge can now unleash the unlimited power of procedural modelling – without being restricted to pre-defined typologies or designs.

Advanced Block Subdivision

Along with the dynamic city layouts an advanced block subdivision method is provided. With the new offset subdivision and corner generation, so-called Barcelona blocks can now be easily created via parametric control. Furthermore, manual attribute changes are preserved and unaffected by street or block manipulations.

While at the moment the 149$ student price tag is not yet in my budget… not because it isn’t a great deal when I consider the time to cost ratio (basically 10 hours of work,) and all the time I spent using other less user friendly programs, I had better pay for my tuition and books first. For now it goes on my wish list, either as a Christmas present or maybe someone in the marketing department at Procedural Inc. would send me a copy so I can write a full review! 😉

Corridor Of Life – Ave du Parc LRT Proposal

Corridor Of Life

Live, Learn, Work & Play

Daniel Barham, Jeremy Kloet, Jade Layton, Allison Reid, Marilyne Trembley.

Concordia University 2009

Go to Chapter 1

Go to Chapter 2

Go to Chapter 3

Go to Chapter 4

1. Where We Are Today

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

This first section, “Where We Are Today,” introduces and  describes a series of important questions: What is the history of the communities surrounding Avenue du Parc, and the history of the Avenue du Parc tramway? How would be community react if it were reinstalled? How can these neighborhoods be described today, socioeconomically, as well as physically? The purpose of this section is to introduce the central corridor, and to provide some background on the role and importance of the study of the implementation of a tram along the avenue.

In this section you will find:
Section 1.1 – “History and Background” which describes the history of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities, provides a background of the tramway along Avenue du Parc, as well as provides a survey of residents’ reactions to the idea of implementing a new tram.

Section 1.2 – “Neighborhood Analysis” provides a detailed analysis of the corridor as a whole. For formatting purposes, the corridor was divided into three sections for analysis of key destinations, neighborhood characteristics, commercial activity, as well as dominant modes of transportation.

Section 1.3 – “Physical Analysis” is a broad look at the opportunities and constraints along the corridor; transportation flow, important streets, physical and psychological barriers, and zoning.


2. What We Want

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

Section 1 details the nature of our corridor, highlighting the opportunities and constraints the existing urban fabric posed on the potential LRT development. This section, “What We Want,” solidifies the vision and framework of the development strategy for the integration of the LRT system in the corridor to support the local and regional functionality. It also explores the concept for the development strategy.

In this section you will find:

Section 2.1 – “The Vision” describes the corridor we wish to create.

Section 2.2 – “The Goals” sets out three key concepts to guide the realization of the vision.

Section 2.3 – “The Concept” allows to visualize the enhancements we want to implement.


3. What It Should Look Like

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

With the completion of our contextual analysis, and the identification of our vision statement, section three of the Avenue du Parc Light Rail Transit proposal outlines a number of objectives and strategies that will help reinforce the primary neighbourhood functions within the transit corridor. These strategies are intended to enhance, support and provide additional opportunities for local and regional residents to LIVE, LEARN, WORK and PLAY.

The following section will be broken down into four parts:

Section 3.1 will briefly describe how the LRT will be introduced within Avenue du Parc.

Section 3.2 will describe how a balanced transportation system will be achieved.

Section 3.3 will explain how the LRT will be integrated into the corridor.

Section 3.4 will identify opportunities to enhance the vibrancy of the corridor.

Section 3.5 will Introduce the Master Plan.


4. How We Get There

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

The Ave du Parc Light Rail Transit project offers an opportunity to create significant improvements to the neighbourhoods it passes through and to the city as a whole. To fully capitalize on the project, the involvement of multiple stakeholders at both the local and regional scale is required.

In this section you will find:
Section 4.1 – “Moving Forward” describes the the stakeholders in the project.
Section 4.2 – “Parc LRT; Live, Learn, Work & Play” provides a summary of the projects goals, and approach.

Section 5 – Reference Materials


Profile of Denver


Having spent the better part of the past 2 months in a tiny, isolated town in Wyoming, perhaps my reaction to Denver is just the joy of options. There’s more than one street with shops on it, more than 2 bars, and the variety on the menus is overwhelming. But I think I’d like Denver even if I’d just arrived from New York or Toronto.

Downtown Denver is a mix of modern skyscrapers and late 19th – early 20th Century architecture. The steel and glass buildings are more than just boxes, however, showing some design innovation often lacking in office towers. The main shopping street is lined with older, more intricate stone buildings, 5 or 6 stories high and with elaborate details carved into their façade.

denver chess

Possibly the best feature of downtown is the 16th Street Mall – a pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants and café’s. The centre of the street houses kiosks and stalls selling various trinkets. There are also public chess tables, grouped together in two’s and divided by artsy “people” covered in bright mosaics of tile work. It’s a nice touch. The piece-de-resistance is the free shuttle bus that runs up and down the Mall, which is at least a mile long. The bus is part of Denver’s county-wide transit system and runs on a hybrid motor meaning not only is it “green” but also quiet. It is efficient, with many buses on service, meaning no long waits, and connects on both ends with regional bus terminals, and in the middle with the light rail line. Genius.

From the 16th Street Mall, it is ludicrously easy to access most of the cities art galleries, museums and sight-seeing spots. The State Capitol Building is located just across Colfax Avenue from the end of the Mall. Impossible to miss with its gold plated dome gleaming in the sun (which shines something like 340 days of the year), the stairs on the west side are an attraction in their own right, as the 13th step is exactly 1 mile above sea level. Standing on this step also offers you a gorgeous view down through the Civic Park, past the City Hall, and out to the snow capped Rocky Mountains gleaming whitely in the distance.

Not five minutes from the Capitol are a cluster of interesting buildings; the library, and several art galleries and museums. As is now requisite, these have all been designed by world-famous architects, and are works of art in their own right. The library is a multicoloured modern castle, with turrets and towers leaping up above the roofs. There are also several small museums dedicated to distinct disciplines, such as textiles, or the Unsinkable Molly Brown, a woman who survived the Titanic.

art galleryLibrary

A central feature of this area is the Denver Museum of Art – a huge, sprawling complex of post-modern architecture similar in parts to the new extension on the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It’s an excellent museum, with large, airy galleries displaying works from all over the world, but highlighting works from Native American tribes and Western American artists. The northern wing of the building is, in my opinion, more of an eyesore than a work of architectural genius. A large, square block of plasticky looking white finish with irregular windows, it has no features that appealed to my taste. However, across the square is a lovely modern art-deco styled place in which the irregular window shapes work in its favour.

All in all, Denver is a city that seems ludicrously easy to navigate. It’s laid out in the traditional American grid pattern, with plenty of one-way streets to help with congestion, large street signs to let you know where you are, well-designed transit, and a great atmosphere for walkers. To top it all off, there’s an excellent web site (www.denver.org) that allows you to download maps of transit routes, major attractions and hotels, and also provides excellent lists of top attractions, restaurants, sites to see, etc. It was one of the easiest and most pleasant visits I’ve experienced in my many travels.

Light Rail Transit and the 2007 Montreal Transportation Plan

In the following article the author examines the potential for the City of Montreal’s 2007 Transportation Plan to achieve the goals it has set out for itself in terms of ridership, and improvements to the city over all. The article cross references ‘Urban Rail Systems: Analysis of the factors behind success’ by Babalik-Sutcliff (2002) and ‘Urban development, redevelopment and regeneration encouraged by transport infrastructure projects: The case study of 12 European cities’ by Gospodini (2005).

The Montreal Transportation Plan: Reinvent Montreal, published in 2007, lays out the city’s priorities for public transit development in Montreal. The overall objective of the plan is to meet the mobility needs of greater Montreal, make the city a great place to live and to foster economic development.(Montreal, 2007) The plan forecasts increases in population and jobs between 2007 and 2021 and suggests a corresponding increase in commutes within the island. The transportation plan lays out a number of additions and improvements that should to be made to the road network, subway network, and the introduction of tramways or a light rail transit (LRT) system to the city. The transportation plan proposes concrete measures to reach a balance between the commuting needs of the population and the quality of environment.


Profile of Hanoi

Hanoi tree

Do you like chaos? Do you want to feel the whisper of Death in your ear each time you leave your front door? Is the ever-present sound of motorbike horns music to your ear? Then Hanoi is the city for you!

Don’t get me wrong; Vietnam is a wonderful country, full of amazing sites, friendly people and delicious, cheap food. The problem with its cities, including Hanoi, is simply the frenzy that takes place in every square inch. There is no respite from the noise and the traffic.
Motorbikes reign supreme in this city of over 6.2 million people. To put that in perspective, that is almost the combined populations of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver. As far as I could tell, there are at least that many motorbikes on the streets at all times, and their drivers are honking their horns every 3-5 seconds. The traffic is like a river, flowing unceasingly through every street. When an accident occurs, the rest of traffic surges around the blockage.

The sidewalks are no escape for pedestrians, as they are for parking one’s bike on when one is not cruising the streets. This means if you’re on foot, you must take your life into your own hands and walk in the streets with the bikes, taxis, delivery vans and trucks. This does not create a peaceful strolling environment, which in my mind is a major strike against a city.


Amid all this chaos, however, lies a charming Old Quarter, with beautiful, French Colonial buildings, excellent bakeries, and every possible item you could think to buy lining the narrow, winding streets. There are also traditional wooden Vietnamese buildings, lovingly preserved and open to the public. If only one could meander through the streets at one’s leisure, rather than constantly watching for the killer mopeds…

The streets of the Old Quarter are named for the various wares traditionally sold in the shops along them, such as the “metal street” and “silk street”. While the shops are more varied now, especially in the heavily touristed areas, there is still a unique feel to the different areas.
One of the highlights of a trip to Hanoi is tasting the coffee sold by independent roasters at little street carts. While you sit on brightly coloured, low plastic stools, the roaster will grind some fresh beans, and brew small amounts of the different types of coffee for sale, so that you can chose to your liking. I have it from some serious coffee connoisseurs that this is some of the best stuff in the world.

Hanoi is 999 years old, and has been the capital of Vietnam for most of the time since it became a city in 1010. There is a unique blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences in its architecture. Being an essentially poor country, much of the city outside of the touristy areas is run-down and in sore need of rebuilding and renovation. It is dusty, noisy, crowded and polluted. But ultimately, Hanoi is a diamond in the rough.

Profile of Seville

Seville, Spain, is a city for wanderers. The warren of tiny streets and alleyways that make up the heart of this interesting place twist and turn their way past buildings of architectural grandeur, making every corner the gateway to a new discovery. Hours can be spent strolling the streets with no purpose other than admiring the skill of builders and artists long gone.

Moorish influence

One of the things I enjoyed most about Seville, besides the delicious, cheap tapas and beer, was it’s walkability. Armed with an imprecise map, and a vague idea of the main sites of the city, I spent two days strolling about in wonder. The maze and size of the streets seems to keep most traffic at bay, so the heart of the city is relatively car-free. Add to that the vast number of café’s and restaurants scattered about in the plazas, and it becomes a walker’s paradise.

Now, despite an interest in architecture, I’ve never studied it, so I don’t know the first thing about building styles and periods. I only know that I like certain things, admire others, and am bored out of my mind by steel and glass rectangles. I like and admire Old Seville.

There is no cohesive style. Seville has been constructed over the millenia, and influenced by the Romans and Moors as well as the Spanish themselves. There are aquaducts to be found, and the Moorish elements crop up everywhere from window designs to the extensive buildings and gardens in Alcazar, the palace. Perhaps it is the blend of North African and European styles that sets Seville apart from other cities I’ve visited.


Seville also boasts one of the largest cathedrals in the world, built on the former site of a mosque after it was taken back from the Moors in 1248 and conveniently located next to the Alcazar. In fact most of Seville’s tourist attractions are within easy walking distance of each other; another point in it’s favour.

I was also impressed by the bicycle rental system. Throughout the city there are stands of bikes that anyone can rent for a low fee. Team this with the bike lanes on most major streets, and low traffic volumes on the smaller roads, and you have a terrific, green transportation system to augment the trams, buses, and soon-to-be subway system.

The reputed home of tapas and flamenco, Don Juan, Carmen and The Barber, Seville is a true gem of a city.

Open Source Sketch Books

As the end of this year rolls around and I realise that I have only about one more semester to choose a direction for my thesis proposal I have been keeping an eye on some other projects. The first one to make mention on here was the Miniature Activism post and today brings another. While still in an embryonic state, A Stage For The City is an interesting concept for collaboration and public consultation while exploring ideas in public space.


A stage for the city
The use of urban space fused together with the access of technology. This blog is an Architectural Design Thesis for Adam Lee, Leeds Metropolitan University. The idea is that I will post my design research and development allowing Internet collaboration, acting as an “open sketch book”. This will be submitted as part of my overall research.

The Bethesda Metro Center


A common refrain of the New Urbanist Movement that Transit Oriented Development or TOD grew out of is; “thou shalt mix uses”(Porter 2004) However when planners think of transit oriented development we usually think of predominantly residential uses. Most new urbanist transit oriented developments concentrate on the residential, usually leaving only street level and small scale boutique type commercial services when it comes to the commercial uses.


A Transport Development Analysis of the Toronto Transit Commission

The Toronto Transit Commission currently operates the largest public transit system in Canada.  For the time being it is the most comprehensive rapid transit system in the country. The Toronto system saw the majority of its growth in the late seventies through the early nineties(Transit Toronto 2008). The Subway is run by the Toronto Transit Commission and is one of Canada’s oldest rapid transit systems. The first train left the platform in 1954 when the Young Line opened along a former streetcar route that ran south down Younge Street from Eglinton Avenue to Front Street before making a turn into a station that was then called Bay Street but later renamed Union due to its proximity to the city’s main railway terminus Union Station. (more…)

An Outsiders View Of South Africa

By Cherry Marquez

30 Sept 2008

When I found out very early this year that I would be accompanying my husband to the IFORS 2008 Conference in Johannesburg, I was thrilled. It was going to be our first time in the country and in fact, the first time in the region. Being an architect, I knew that I had to make the most of this trip. Here was an opportunity to explore a territory very much unknown to me. So I straight away decided to do some research on South Africa – I read up on its history and culture, but most of all, its architecture and the building industry in general.

It was to my delight when I came across an interesting article on the website of the Green Building Council of Australia informing that South Africa had recently established its own Green Building Council – the GBCSA. Through the assistance and guidance of our own GBCA, they were in the process of customizing the Green Star Office Design rating tool for use in the property and building industry of South Africa.

Because of this somewhat indirect association with South Africa, I felt an instant connection with this unknown territory. I found myself wanting to find out more about the country. So I set about organizing a meeting with the GBCSA through our own council; arranging meetings and site visits with Arup Offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town (Arup, an engineering firm has several offices and projects throughout Africa); as well as meetings with some local architects (MDS Architecture, Bentel Architects and Osmond Lange Architects) by contacting the South Africa Institute of Architects.

The prospect of meeting new colleagues to share experiences, to exchange ideas and to discuss environmental issues and challenges was a great opportunity. The trip was going to broaden my perspective on how a developing country such as South Africa is addressing the issues of climate change on top of its socio-economic and political issues.

The political events and news of riots and crime against foreigners and immigrants from neighbouring African countries like Zimbabwe in late June 2008 gave me feelings of apprehension and trepidation. Fortunately, my early research on South Africa has given me confidence to know that my visit will certainly provide me a more optimistic view of this unique country.

The following are some of my impressions and observations of South Africa while I was there for three weeks in July 2008. It also includes some information that I have gathered during the trip and since coming back, and my reflections on some of the many challenges and issues that the country is currently dealing with.


The Urban 1%

I had this idea last year after the conservative government decided to drop the GST by an additional 1% in what was the biggest tax cut that no one noticed. Sure when they initially dropped the GST from 7% to 6% it was a big deal and everyone knew about it but when the government decided to improve things for the average Canadian (polish their image) by dropping the GST an additional percentage point to 5%, most people I talked to didn’t even notice. I thought that it was a bit of a shame since it didn’t really help stimulate the economy or do much of anything for those of us not making giant purchases. Even companies don’t really benefit much as they get an input tax credit on GST so they only pay the GST on the goods that they sell but get a credit on the GST they had to spend to buy in initially, only remitting the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it didn’t help anyone. I mean sure, it helps a bit… but unless you are spending a lot of money it is not going to help that much. I tried to think of other ways that that 1% could have been re-purposed in such a way that would benefit the average citizen and the economy. That’s when the 1% for cities came to me. Instead of another percentage cut that no one would notice, why not direct the 1% to a jurisdiction in the country that needs the money, specifically the cities, towns, and municipalities that generate wealth and desperately need funding to maintain their capacity to drive the economy.

The Urban 1% proposal that I would like to put forward to our political leaders (and if any of them decide to hop on this proposal and make it their own they will have my vote in the bag) would be a direct return to the economic value each municipal area makes. It’s a simple formula really; for every purchase, for every goods and services sale, one percent of that value is returned to the community that generated it. There is no squabbling about how much money each area deserves to get. The area gets whatever it earns. Is it not fair and democratic that those areas whose infrastructure and services are strained by generating wealth maintain their ability to do so and share in the benefits?