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Planning Debate

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Neighbourhood News: Tuesday June 30th

A Tale of Two Cites

Its a tale of two cities and two ways of designing them Seattle and Vancouver are both considered to be good urban models, each with their own issues, but overall they are design and planning styles that many other cities seek to emulate. In this addition of neighbourhood news we take a look a a set of media where spokespeople from either city spoke out in favour of the other.


The Great Vancouver vs. Seattle Debate

Is the civic grass greener on the other side of the border? Two urban experts each make the case for the others’ home town.

By Knute Berger

Two of the region’s civic heavyweights squared off at the Seattle Public Library on June 18 to settle the issue about which of Cascadia’s two biggest cities has the best built environment, Seattle or Vancouver, BC. It was a rematch of a debate conducted earlier in the week in Vancouver, sponsored by VIA Architecture, which has offices in both cities.

Making the pro-Vancouver case was Seattle’s Peter Steinbrueck; arguing for Seattle, Vancouver’s Gordon Price. Both are devoted sustainability advocates, both have spent years on their respective city councils. Steinbrueck is an architect who has taught at the University of Washington; Price heads up Simon Fraser University’s City Program and writes and lectures about urban planning. The shorthand introduction that Seattleites could relate to: “Gordon Price is the Peter Steinbrueck of Vancouver,” said moderator C.R. Douglas. Let’s just say the debate was between two apples arguing about which town had better oranges.


The debates focused on the positives of each city, and tended to prove the adage that the grass is always greener on the other side of your neighbor’s fence. Instead of rehashing (you can find one or both debates on Twitter feeds, a webcast and the Seattle Channel), I thought I would digest it by providing a list of the “pros” for each city that came up, with Steinbrueck mostly speaking for the Vancouver side of the equation and Price for the Seattle side. And then a couple of summary “con” comments on major downsides.

The gist for architects, planners, policy-makers, and citizens is that, as Robert Burns said, seeing ourselves as other see us is a gift that helps us question cherished assumptions.

Seattle urbanophiles, for example, love to tout Vancouver’s skinny towers as the end-all of downtown living and something to emulate. Price, on the other hand, found much to envy in Seattle’s risk-taking architecture and individualistic neighborhoods, and much mediocrity in Vancouver’s look-alike high-rises. READ MORE

Via Architecture

Neighbourhood News: Thursday June 18

A Royal Row

You may or may not be aware that recently the Prince of Whales sent a letter to the Qatari Royal Family requesting that they withdraw the plan they had previously selected for a site called the Chelsea Barracks  and take it to open consultation to come up with a plan that was in his opinion more suited to the character of the surrounding neighbourhoods. The Qataris then took the stunning step of not just revising the plan, but ditching the whole thing. Much to the delight of some… the prince and most of the surrounding residents… but to the absolute horror of others… architectural firm that lost the business, headed by Lord Rogers of Riverside (an unelected member of the British Government) and other modernists in love with the design. Now the screaming has begun, and the Prince is being charged with overstepping his authority by the deposed Lord Rogers.

“The prince always goes round the back to wield his influence, using phone calls or, in the case of the Chelsea Barracks, a private letter. It is an abuse of power because he is not willing to debate. He has made his representations two and a half years late and anyone else would have been shown the door. We should examine some of the ethics of this situation. Someone who is unelected, will not debate but will use the power bestowed by his birthright must be questioned.”

The Super Creative Plan by Lord Rogers

The Super Creative Plan by Lord Rogers

Personally while I can understand the need to bitch by the looser in this case it should be noted that the first master plan by Lord Rogers wasn’t exactly a gem of public consultation, and didn’t have the support of the surrounding residents. Plus to some it extent what good is it to be a prince if you can not write a letter telling other Royal Families what you think about things? Then Lord Rogers goes on to insult the Qataris by suggesting that “the Qataris never sorted out the difference between royalty and government.” Suggesting that they somehow had no idea that Prince Charles isn’t actually in charge of anything, that the Prince tricked them into thinking that he had some sort of power. Right…. so Lord Rogers is suggesting that the Qataris have no idea how the legal system and system of governance works in England? Because they don’t have TVs and Access to the Internet? Because they don’t have their own giant legal team who knows this stuff? PLEASE!  Try to accept your loss like a real Lord, Mr Rogers. Have a little dignity, and try not to insult the intelligence of one of the largest development corporations in the world. Or its unlikely they will be knocking on your door for any new contracts any time soon, and as one of the articles puts it, “Rogers has been paid millions, so I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.”

The Wall Street Journal

Prince Charles Tears Down Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood

charlesIn front of the Palace of Westminster, the so-called Mother of Parliaments that is the heart of the British democratic system, stands a well-tended bronze statue of broad-belted, big-booted Oliver Cromwell. He was the “Lord Protector” who ruled during the short-lived republic that followed the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles I. Cromwell might be excused a wry smile right now because another royal Charles is, some say, challenging the dearly held British principle of a constitutional monarchy. And all because of a row over architecture. Prince Charles, a vehement antimodernist, is up to his old tricks again.

The row has now escalated, with an English Baron — Lord Rogers of Riverside, better known as the architect Richard Rogers — calling for an official tribunal to examine the role of Prince Charles in state affairs. Mr. Rogers is incandescent with rage, and no wonder. It has emerged that the prince personally wrote to the Qatari prime minister (himself of royal blood) to ensure that a £6 billion ($9.85 billion) Rogers-designed housing development in the upmarket London enclave of Chelsea was withdrawn by its developer.

That developer, Qatari Diar, happens to be a company owned by the Qatari royal family. Prince has therefore spoken unto prince, ignoring the usual planning-approval process, the British government — everybody. Charles’s letter — the substance of which has been leaked, though not the actual text — decried the Rogers design. The neoclassical style of another architect, Quinlan Terry, was much more preferable, Prince Charles said. Last week Qatari Diar duly dropped Mr. Rogers like a hot potato, just as the architect’s design for the former Chelsea Barracks site was being recommended for approval by both local planners and the various national architecture and conservation agencies. Read More


Only Charles has kept his dignity on Chelsea Barracks

The quiet dignity maintained by Lord Rogers for the past few months while all and sundry speculated about his doomed Chelsea Barracks scheme was comprehensively shattered this week, as you may have seen reported here and there.

In a hissy fit of architectural proportions, His Lordship took to the airwaves on Tuesday to accuse Prince Charles of “unconstitutional meddling”. Rogers added insult to injury in that day’s Guardian, muttering about “abuses of power” and calling for a public inquiry to examine the Prince’s role in constitutional society. Harsh words from the mild-mannered Rogers, but given the way in which he and his practice have been treated on this perhaps you can’t blame him for throwing his toys out of the pram in such a fashion.

The design team was, I am told, assured of its position on the scheme by Qatari Diar no fewer than ten days before they unceremoniously withdrew the proposals from planning. Rogers was informed of the withdrawal just a single hour before the rest of us were. Curiously though, the Evening Standard knew enough to predict such a thing would happen the evening before. This has been a story dictated by private briefings from all manner of interested parties. No wonder none of us had the faintest idea what was going on.

One thing is clear, though. Throughout it all, Prince Charles has remained tight-lipped as to the nature of his “intervention”, as that is what we are calling it. An intervention is something that an alcoholic’s family and friends carry out to stop them from abusing their health. Perhaps the Prince sees himself as the kindly, benevolent figure preventing Chelsea from taking to the intoxicating liquer of modernism. We don’t know. Clarence House has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny any involvement by the Prince on Chelsea Barracks. As far as I am aware, the Prince has not mentioned either Lord Rogers or the development by name at any point in this whole furore. Read More


Richard Rogers Gets Fired

Architect Richard Rogers is in a steaming bate. He’s really very cross. There he stands, on the cusp of 76, a long and windy career in modernism behind him.

He has been feted by breathless peers and is quite the most modish and prosperous of intellectual Center Lefties in Western Europe. And yet he has just had his year ruined by two royal families.

Stamp, stamp, stamp go two little booties. Curses hurtle through the air. Kyboshed by hereditary princes! Lord Rogers of Riverside, an unelected member of the British Parliament, cries that it is an undemocratic outrage.

Having worked for months on a 3-billion-pound building proposal in central London’s former Chelsea Barracks, Rogers learned last week that the developers have pulled out of the glass-and-steel scheme at the 11th hour.

Why? Because Britain’s Prince Charles did not like the look of the thing.

The prince, whose traditionalist views are well known, wrote to one of the development’s leading financiers. We do not know the exact wording because the letter was private. It is understood, however, to have expressed horror at the aesthetic damage the shiny, angular Rogers design would have done to one of London’s more architecturally conservative quarters.

The recipient of the letter, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, is not only prime minister and foreign affairs minister of the Arab emirate of Qatar but also a member of that prosperous territory’s royal family. We can only imagine what happened. A flunky, bowing low, intones: “A hand-written letter for you, O Sheikh, written on the notepaper of Clarence House, London residence of the Prince of Wales.” The Sheikh strokes his luxuriant moustachings, plops another date into his mouth and licks his sticky fingertips before breaking the seal on the English Basildon Bond envelope. Read More


Chelsea Barracks Developer Draws up New Shortlist

Chelsea_Barracks_site_D3ADAChelsea Barracks developer Qatari Diar is preparing to invite a dozen practices including SOM, Allies & Morrison, Edaw and Demetri Porphyrios to pitch for its revised masterplan.

Firms will shortly be asked by the Middle Eastern developer if they are interested in coming up with alternatives to the abandoned Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners design with a view to selecting a shortlist of no more than six practices and choosing a winner by the end of the year, BD understands.

But the architects will be under pressure to refuse to take part after Labour MP Ken Purchase tabled an early day motion on Tuesday calling for a boycott.

Qatari Diar has approached consultants including Cabe and the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment for unpaid advice. And a source close to the developer said it was keen to “crack on” with a new scheme.

“It is on the cusp of approaching firms to form a long list of possible bidders,” the source said. “Some will say no from the off but others will have a look.”

Despite its ejection from the project, Rogers Stirk Harbour is believed to have been paid between £10 million and £20 million for its work on the scheme, originally for developer Christian Candy’s CPC Group.

“Rogers has been paid millions, so I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him,” the source added. Read More.

Andres Duany's Editorial Brawls and Agricultural New Urbanism


New Urbanism’s Andrés Duany is no stranger to editorial brawling, back in December I followed a progression of stories sparked by a his unveiling of a 64-point litany of mistakes that have been made by British architects and planners over the last 50 years. He charged architects with being infantile and too focused on ego and prestige, that they were “heedless of technical and social dysfunction and widespread lack of popularity” of their modernist designs. Well architects are a pretty sensitive bunch, and the flood gates opened; modernists struck back with an equally harsh criticism of Duany’s new urbanism. In the opening line of an article titled Thou shalt not follow Duany’s architectural gospel he is called the ‘Billy Graham of American architecture.”  The modernists claim that Duany with his strict guidelines for design and faux traditional styling lead to settlements more tailored to ‘wannabe Stepford Wives’ then real people. Next came an article by Stephen Bayle, and the gloves really came off when Bayle wrote  a scathing review of Poundbury, Duany’s British version of Seaside.

“To visit Poundbury is to be delivered to the furniture floor of a provincial department store in 1954, translated into architecture. It is fake, heartless, authoritarian and grimly cute.”  Then there were some salvo’s back by David Brussat who stated that “Prince Charles and Andrés Duany are making it harder for the modernists to whistle past the graveyard.”

Then today I came across another article in ARCADE where the magazine was good enough to reprint an exchange between Trevor Boddy and Andrés Duany from the editorial section of the Globe and Mail.  Duany has been selected to lead a design team that is heading up a plan by the Century Group for the Southlands project in the Vancouver suburb  of South Delta. Mr Boddy is most definitely not impressed with Duany’s plan and starts off an exchange between the two of them.


The 56th Street Interface A lake fronting on 56th Street will form the foreground of a pleasing vista over the open farmland. The lake will function as a reservoir for natural drainage and irrigation water. image courtesy of the southlands project — www.southlandsintransition.ca

I have to admit that while I generally agree with the principles of New Urbanism in terms of compact walkable communities after reading this exchange I don’t really understand how Duany’s position and plan for this town is in fact urban.

“Southlands, which is designed specifically to embody food self-sufficiency, devotes 42% of the land to agriculture and keeps 26% open for other purposes. That kind of diversity — and not a crude single standard — is what authentic urbanism calls for.”

42% of the land for agriculture? This sounds more like a farming town then an urban environment. He then goes on to specify that residences will have a significant amount of this space FOR agriculture. Of course specifying that the open space in your back yard is for urban agriculture does not by any way shape or means guarantee that it will actually be USED for agriculture. Sure food self sufficiency is an important direction for cities in the future but to assume that everyone is actually going to plant and tend a full garden in these yards is just a little naive. As a general rule people are just way too lazy for that, what happens when homeowners don’t decide to make use of these agricultural spaces? My guess is that it looks a lot like a lawn. Furthermore what is stopping existing suburban municipalities from claiming that they meet these qualifications for new urbanism, just convert those vanity lawns into gardens and you’ll be well on your way to new urbanism.

I know  I am over simplifying things  but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark . Take a look at the linked articles, decide for yourself, and please comment  if you have a different opinion. I would love to hear other perspectives on how you think we should build our cities. I think I should mention , I don’t think that the Southlands project is bad, it looks like a pretty nice place to live, I just dispute the statement that it is urban. It looks a lot like my grandmother’s town.

Not everyone agrees with me though; to read the perspective of people who love Southlands new  urbanist project go here: http://www.southlandsintransition.ca/

Is that a mock Tudor Castle in your haystack or are you just happy to see me?

That is quite a Haystack you have there!

That is quite a Haystack you have there!

In Redhill Surry Robert fiddler created a massive pile of hay bales in his yard and his neighbours didn’t really think anything of it, he is a farmer after all. Then about six years later the bales came down and voila a Mock Tudor Castle. The fiddlers built the house in secret over the course of two years and then lived in it while it was hidden within the hay bales for four years in a bit to avoid needing to get planning permission for the structure. The town council wants it down but Robert fiddler is arguing that he followed the letter of the law. A law which states that if a structure has been built/erected for four years and there are no objections to it then planning permission is automatically granted.

The Banstead Council is arguing that the four year period is void because the fiddlers had the house hidden under a haystack and therefore no one could see it to object to it. I suppose that no one thought to wonder where all those bricks being delivered to the farm were going? (They are right there in the picture after all) The house was revealed in early January and the matter went before town council in February. While there are plenty of articles (much like this one) talking about the unveiling there are none that speak of what happened after it went to the council, or maybe he has hopefully taken the case to a higher court if they turned him down.

The Offending Castle

The Offending Castle

The question of Aesthetics aside I personally, while a fan of planning laws myself, think it is genius that this farmer found a loophole in the law and was able to use it. In terms of the legal aspect he did satisfy the terms of the law if not the spirit of the law. How often do we see people get off on technicalities in criminal cases? It is refreshing to see a farmer able do the same. Plus I have a feeling after my google map look at the property (which still shows the haystack) that this ‘castle’ is an improvement. I also find it funny that the biggest objection listed in the article is “Everyone else has to abide by planning laws, so why shouldn’t they?” That said the Banstead council and councils around the world would be smart to alter their regulations so that no one can use this loop hole in the future.

View Larger Map

The Farm is located in the bottom middle of the map on ‘Axes line’ between ‘picketts line’ and and ‘new house line’ to the left of the service road. Google Map “Honeycrock Farm, Salfords, Redhill, Surrey” to get the little red marker.
The Evening Standard Article.

Read More Here at Urban Neighbourhood with ‘The Fight for Fidler’s Castle Continues’