// archives

Urban Discourse

This tag is associated with 10 posts

The Sheppard Line Subtext

Some call it the ‘subway to nowhere.’ Mel Lastman knows better

(Published by National Post on August 12, 2000 1:31 PM)

Malcolm Kelly
National Post

Walking eastward down the quiet westbound tunnel of Mel Lastman’s “Subway to Nowhere,” still two years away from seeing its first official train in mid-2002, a thought suddenly strikes: Despite its now well-known nickname, the new Sheppard Avenue line does indeed go somewhere.

At a cost of $932.9-million, the subway goes to Fairview Mall. And it goes to the North York General Hospital and Seneca College’s Leslie Campus.

And to the Bayview Village Shopping Centre, Michael of Willowdale’s Hair Design and the Altima Dental Centre.

It goes to a pair of Esso stations and a Shell station. And to Ikea.

It’s Mel’s Subway to a Shopping Mall.

Was the Mayor out of his mind when he proposed this? Or was he smarter than the rest of us?

Jump to this article

Architectural Alchemy

The public debate about architecture quite often just stays on contemplating the final result, sort of the architectural object. Is the latest tower in London a gherkin or a sausage or a sex tool?

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels rockets through photo/video-mingled stories of his eco-flashy designs. His buildings not only look like nature — they act like nature: blocking the wind, collecting solar energy — and creating stunning views. It is also quite an entertaining presentation.

Metropolis Mag Comments on Dwell's Content


Dear Dwell:

Love the magazine. As a favor, I have rewritten the Table of Contents of your July/August issue:

Cover        House with Horizontal Wood Slats
Page 43    House with Vertical Wood Slats
Page 52    House with Horizontal Wood Slats
Page 58    Ice Cream Makers
Page 66    Pavilion with Horizontal Wood Slats
Page 70    Philadelphia
Page 80    House with Horizontal Wood Slats
Page 88    House with Horizontal Wood Slats
Page 96    House with Vertical Wood Slats

I hope you find this useful.


Jeff Speck, AICP
Washington, DC

In a bit of cheeky fun Metropolis Mag printed a letter to Dwell on its website today regarding the contents of the July/August issue. Its funny because there is some truth to the rewrite. Up until this year I was a Dwell Subscriber and enjoyed getting the magazine every month, but the focus on houses with different varieties of slats was less then I was looking for. Then this past year I switched over to Metropolis.

horozontal slats

I have to admit that the switch has not gone entirely as hoped. I was drawn to the commercial profiles in Metropolis as Dwell focuses  predominantly on residential projects, and my interest is more in the city as a whole then just the residential sector.  However Metropolis isn’t turning out to be everything I had hoped it to be. The First two or three issues (I am not entirely sure) failed to turn up after my Christmas subscription. Part of the joy of my Dwell subscription was that it showed up regularly, heck that’s the joy of all most any magazine subscription. Another guy in my urban design studio comment on the fact that none of his issues had turned up either. Finally after a call or two to the subscription office they appear to be turning up.


I’m still not entirely sold, for all its focus on residential applications Dwell has a pretty strong focus on structures, where as Metropolis Mag has a tendency to spend a lot of time on minimalist toasters, and other products. Its not that I have any problem with minimalist toasters and I agree that industrial design is an important part of the the world we interact with. Its that I’m just not that in to it.  But it is rather hard to find a magazine that is quite what I am looking for.

If I could only find one that was a mix of residential and commercial design, with editorials on the urban form, I would be set.

My Name is Dan and I am a planning Nerd.

Modeling the City and Musings on Density


Ground Level At Festival Sation

So if you are a regular you potentially noticed that its been a while since I’ve done any real posting. Lately I have been concentrating most of my efforts on a studio project I have been working on. We’ve (My Group and I) been putting together a proposal for the implementation of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line down Avenue Du Parc in Montreal and I have been working on a lot of the 3D images.


I’ve also been working over theories on density and its measurements in preparation to discuss potential thesis topics with my adviser in the next couple of weeks and have been finding the concept of density a bit of a quandary when it applies to Urban planning. I mean sure we all think of density in terms of the number of people within a certain area, but is that really an adequate measure for density. Highly built downtown areas can end up measured as having very low density if you have a downtown area that few people actually live in.

Should building volumes be our measure of density? what is the total amount of built space within a certain area, and how much volume does it take up? This could certainly give a better view on what density feels like to the pedestrian, but then there is the issue of neighbourhoods with similar volumes but much higher population levels. Take a small apartment building in Korea and a building here in Canada, in Korea there are likely to be twice as many people in the building.


Until now density has been a fairly loose measurement, it has been ok for statistical purposes and when considered as an abstract number but as we move into a future where compact and efficient cities are the new goal, we are going to need to take a closer look at this measurement.

Pushing the Envelope in Architecture

Vegitecture – whose idea was it, anyway?

December 11th, 2008 | by Dan Stewart |

Vegitecture is essentially the use of organic materials as an element of construction. It has mainly manifested itself over here as sedum walls, but the idea goes further – looking at how rainwater can be harvested and air purified using natural means. Yeang, who has been lecturing on the concept for years, has even suggested the concept of a “vertical farm” where tenants grow their own fruit and vegetables on the walls and roofs….

Vegitecture has now become an architectural sub-genre – US superarchitect Perkins + Will have also jumped on the veggie bandwagon. Who is to say, now that Libeskind has joined suit, that some of his fellow starchitects might not do the same thing?

Seeing impetus for change in iconic architecture

December 12th 2008 By Christopher Hume

Geography notwithstanding, Toronto and Sydney have much in common. The former British colonial cities both came of age after World War II and by the 1950s had begun to assert themselves.

The results were strikingly similar. In Australia, the great architectural icon of the last age of optimism was the Sydney Opera House; in Toronto, New City Hall.

Though both projects endured painfully protracted births, each has been recognized as a masterpiece. Both changed the communities that built them and how the world views those cities. Both were designed by unknown Scandinavian architects, and both were panned by more famous colleagues who should have known better.

Welcome to the Capital Bunker


Some of you may or may not be aware that the Washington Capital Building has been undergoing a significant renovation, with the addition of the new Capital visitors Center. The center is the largest addition that has ever been made to the building, however all that one can really see of the project are the two massive skylights in the forecourt in front of the building.

Glass floor panels were install to allow illumination of the original wall

Glass floor panels were install to allow illumination of the original wall

The visitors center came about after a gunman killed two Capitol police officers in 1998. However much of the original design was scrapped after 9/11. It went from being a modest plan to a highly secure five acre subterranean complex.

One must admit that the facility is a beautiful piece of work. There is a grand lobby, food court, shops, public washrooms, a large food court and a history exhibition. Very little expense has been spared and rooms are well appointed. There are a number of expansive entrance halls and the renovation is an excellent melding of the modern treatment given to the center while still respecting the original structure. The renovation has also restored the original 1824 sandstone facade, which was mostly hidden behind drywall when the East front was extended 32.5 feet by the 1958-62 renovation work.

The building has been recognised by the Washington Building Congress with a number of 2008 Craftsmanship Awards and the interior is has been done very well.


The new visitors center however has a number of other features that in some way are symbolic of a nation that has suffered a number of high profile blows to its feelings of safety and security and is hunkering down. The way that visitors will now enter the building is rather emblematic of this shift. In the past visitors would approach the capitol much the way any other law maker would, with a walk up the East Front Plaza through the Columbus Doors and into the rotunda. Visitors had an immediate feeling of being in, and a part of the Capitol, travelling on the same level as the law makers who do the nations work in the building. When the new visitors center opens visitors are no longer able to walk right up and into the building but instead descend into the new center by entering through state of the art security checkpoints that are removed from the Capitol building itself.


There are a number of other features that the visitor will never see, a new network of restricted access tunnels for both staffers and vehicles. Needless to say security has played a big factor in the redesign and the visitor will no doubt be aware of it. One only has to look up at the bomb proof skylights, (which almost didnt’ make it into the final design due to security concerns) to see the Capitol Dome crossed with a metal grid that on some level, whether conscious or not will remind the visitor that this is a nation securing itself.

But these are the times we are living in…


There are plenty of photos after the first link


The Architect of the Capitol

Freedom Check: Metropolis Magazine

Ad Space in Public Spaces

There was an article over at spacing Toronto a little while ago that covered the city of London Ontario’s decision to let the Canadian Egg producers place adds in its bike lanes. Whether or not you agree with the use of private advertising in public spaces the most shocking part of this transaction is the price. The city in my opinion, and in the view of a number of other people sold itself short. $5000, seriously $5000.

antlerThere are a number of different ad campaigns that have made use of public space, there are the bathroom ads (arguably a semi public space) that we have all become used too, remember when those were new? There are the faux guerrilla ads like the Antlerheads that were put up in Montreal, there are even ads that make use of man hole covers to make you stop and look.

There is a lot of controversy over ads in public space.  Usually when people debate these deals its all done from a predominantly idealistic point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of public spaces being co-opted so that I can have yet another advertisement shoved at me, but the blunt fact is that decisions about ad sales are made from a primarily economic point of view. When the city or the local business association decides to sell, it often comes down to the fact that there are bills to pay and not many other ways to come up with the money. Unless we are willing to talk about the economic motivation behind sell advertising space in the public realm, most main stream stakeholders will just brush us off as hippy idealists with our heads in the clouds.

This past summer the Village Business Association in Montreal decided to sell its space (some say soul)  to Labatt’s in order to finance its summer long street pedestrianization of Saint Catherines Ave in Montreal. There was a ton of debate in the blogosphere over whether or not this was a reasonable thing to do. Personally I feel that the pros outweighed the cons but I guess it depends on your perspective.

The importaint thing is for cities to reduce the amount of red tape and the underlying costs to pedestrianise our city streets. It shouldn’t be so cheap as to make it stupidly easy, but buisness associations shouldn’t have to sell their souls either.

What's the matter with Canada? – By Christopher Flavelle – Slate Magazine

There is an election coming on here in Canada and its been a while since I have come across any articles that really put into words what I have been feeling about the country lately.

What’s the matter with Canada? – By Christopher Flavelle – Slate Magazine.

It almost seems to me that politics are repeating a little here. The Progressive Conservatives were the long standing party that fell apart and brought about the Liberal Dynasty when the party deftly moved into the political center. Now the Liberals fall apart and the Conservatives are suggesting that they are much closer to the political center…

Canada isn't playing nice anymore

Canada isn't playing nice anymore

Why should we build subways?

At the heart of any good urban community is it’s transportation system. The heartlessness of most North American cities comes from their growth in the postwar years, during the pinnacle of the car. 30% of the modern city is covered in tarmac and concrete. 30% of the value of a city is lost due to roads. 30% of our land is covered. Why? For cars.

Trains? Who needs stinking trains???

Trains? Who needs stinking trains???

Our modern lifestyles have to undergo a radical rethinking. With the price of gas being pushed higher by such diverse causes as raids on facilities in Nigeria, or a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Polar Ice caps rapidly turning into new habitat for endangered tropical fish, we all must seriously consider, is driving a car worth it?

There is a great article at the Independent which can be summed up as this. We aren’t quite doomed yet, but if we keep flying around the world for vacations, we are. What we need is high speed trains. I’d take this argument a lot further. Yes, planes cause a lot of damage, but a lot of people don’t take many long-haul flights (except those of us who live in Asia…we are excused). Most people do commute to work. North Americans are guilty of creating entire commuter cities, which are filled with nothing but parking lots.

Half of the problems in North America could be helped with better URBAN train systems. I’m going to avoid arguing for high speed trains in N.A. because I’m trying to be realistic. North America would be fantastic if it had a train system like Japan, but let’s get serious, it’s never going to happen. Urban rail is possible, even plausible.

Seoul, a city with a greater metropolitian region of 22~25 million has a subway system that carries 8 million passengers a day, with 8 lines, and 2 suburban lines.  They are currently building 2 new lines in the city, both due open by 2010, and putting additions onto 8 other lines.

Building new lines and stations is critically important if we hope to tackle urban problems. Subway stations act as hubs for development. Development which ultimately slows urban sprawl. The electric trains carrying hundreds of passengers reduces a city’s carbon footprint dramatically. The amount of traffic in a city center is reduced. The air of the city is remarkably cleaner. People are actually fitter because they are walking MORE. The city will be much more traveller friendly, ultimately attracting more tourists. Trains have fewer accidents, saving lives, and more importantly to governments, money. More jobs are created as people must build, maintain, and staff the trains and stations.

We must start forcing our governments to spend more money on transportation systems, and less on road building and maintainence.

It's all in a name

Where would suburbs be without delightfully cute names and addresses like 22 Tiffany Trail (where my much loved high school English Teacher used to live) or Pinecrest Estates (a great lump of bush I learned to mountain bike in which was clearcut of pines to build a gated retirement community).

Normandy, France

Normandy, France

Town’s like Brampton, Ontario, with the navigationally impossible neighbourhoods of all B or C, depending on where you live. Directions can include things like, Turn left on Balmoral, then right on Beverly, then left onto Brownstone and a final right onto Brooklyn make finding a friend’s house almost impossible. It leads to the question, what will we name streets in the future?

The Koreans have tried to simplify things, the vast majorty of towns ending in either -ju (state) -san (mountain) or -po (port). All this makes is for maps littered with towns like Jinju, Jeonju, Chungju, Cheju, Gwangju, Gongju, Gyeongju, Yeongju, Sangju, Wonju, or Busan, Ulsan, Masan, Yangsan, Gunsan, Ilsan, Iksan, Yongsan, or Mokpo, Yupo, Chilpo, Mipo, Chelumpo, Guyongpo adum-infinitum.

In a similar vein comes the towns of Ireland. Ireland’s greatness is not in it’s charm, but in the repeated localities. Passage East and Passage West, hundreds of kilometers apart. A random look at Ireland on Google Earth will find you such great places as Tomcool and Tomcool Little, Camros and Camaross right next to each other. Other names are simply too Irish to believe; Lambstown Great and Mountainmuck and The Leap. If there was anywhere worth exploring simply for town names, it’s Ireland.

Would Hong Kong be as famous if it was called by the name of one of it’s parts, Happy Valley? Or would generations of expats grumble about the worst ski destination in history?

Would Ottawa have been selected capital if it were still Bytown?

Or the Capital of Korea be as memorable if it were still named Wiryeseong, or Hanseong, or Hanyang, or Namgyeong, or Gyeongseong, or Keijo? (in that order). No, Seoul is a much better name.

My Canadian hometown carries the rather heavy monograph of Gravenhurst, which is probably better than the original Sawdust Town, but still brings images of death to mind.

Other towns are named after heros, and then renamed when that hero passes from fancy. Think of all those poor people growing up in Stalingrad, or Karl Marxstadt. Kitchener, Ontario was renamed from Berlin after those nasty Germans invaded the French in 1914 (this being the Lord Kitchener, who during the Boer war oversaw the construction and filling of the first Concentration Camps which had a death rate of 34% which surpassed both Stalin’s Gulags at approximately 10% ). Yet Paris, Ontario wasn’t renamed after the devastatingly embarrassing invasion of Germany in 1870. And to my knowledge, nobody has ever thought of renaming Mongolia, Ontario, even though the Khans weren’t exactly friendly to their neighbours.

Should a town name be simple? Tokyo simply means ‘East Capital’.

Should it be something historic like St. Petersburg (rather than Petrograd which sounded too German, or Leningrad, which now sounds a little too Communist).

Should it be pronounceable like Toronto?

Or fresh like New York?

With a name comes an image, as do both the Austrian towns of Vienna and Fucking. So pick carefully when you are chosing your next city name!