While the title of this article may lead one to think that this was about some sort of violent retribution that took place on the mean streets of the city. This particular revenge took place in the municipal council chambers of North York Ontario. The council had been trying to block a townhouse development on a site that sits outside of the city’s designated North York Centre development area. However in Ontario there is a provincial body called the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) that developers can use to challenge rulings and in many cases see those rulings are over turned. In this case Hallstone Group’s challenge was supported by the OMB and the board ruled that the development should be allowed to go ahead even though it is at odds with the municipal council and the planning commission.
So the municipal council decided to thank the OMB by naming the new street an address that makes its feelings clear. ‘OMB Folly’. Councillor John Filion has been a thorn in the side of many a developer in North York was particularly incensed by the ruling;
“This one really stands out as the most ludicrous decision that I know of,” Filion said. “It takes the cake. I could cite a lot of terrible OMB decisions, but it’s the one that’s just obviously absurd and ridiculous.”
So he decided to get creative and came up with a suggestion for the new name. What he didn’t expect was the support for the new name he would get from council. It was 7-2 for the new name. One of the other councillors said that this may open the possiblity for the city to come up with some very creative names for developments that the OMB decides to allow without the support of the council or the planning department.
The OMB had no comment.
The developmer is less then impressed. He feels like council needs to ‘grow up!’ personally I love it, I mean really who needs another street named after a tree or a fantastical sounding woodland grove. Of course the new name isn’t a done deal yet.. council needs to make sure it doesn’t contravene the street-naming policy, a policy that says derogatory names should be avoided, but I hope it sticks.
You too could have a beautiful town home on OMB Folly Rd.
(Theoretical promotional material for the new development)
Check out these articles in the National Post and thestar.com
Author Add on, Check out the comments below one of our readers who has had a run in with the OMB has something to say and it turns out that our very own ‘themightyfin’ has experience working for the crazy cats at the OMB. Check out their stories below.
There is a great article over at The New York Times, about the debate between the two different perspectives on Energy Production. One of the things that is most interesting is that this debate over hard and soft power has essentially been done before.
Back in the 1970s the debate over nuclear energy vs. green power already took place, with nuclear power being the loser, though green power didn’t really win either. The big winner was actually coal and other cheap forms of power.
John Tierney writes in his article about how in some ways the fact that environmentalists won the last debate over nuclear power has contributed to more environmental pollution. While they succeeded in preventing more nuclear plants from being built the replacements weren’t green, they just built more coal fired plants.
The article goes on to discuss how all the bad press actually did wonders for for their design, safety, and efficiency. Making them a more realistic option.
While nuclear power has some serious issues that remain, this article is worth reading to update your perspective for the energy debate.
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?
There are a number of different places I like to go to read about buildings, urban areas, urbanites, trends, innovation etc. etc. etc. but I must admit that one of the people I am most enjoying following right now is the column of Allison Arieff, By Design at the New York Times, the last couple columns have been about issues common to a number of neighbourhoods. In the most recent one she raises a number of good points about homeowners associations, clotheslines, and the joy of having the liberty to decorate however you please. When you think about it, inflicting a rigid set of rules as to what things should look like, what appeases everyone just ends up being bland. When did we give a committee the power to paint our homes? Homeowners associations are important when it comes to maintaining a building and helping communities to interact. When neighbours start telling each other how to paint their homes, there is going to be blandness and bad blood.
Its origins are from an publication by the Urban Land Institute funded by The National Association of Home Builders and certain federal agencies: the FHA, U.S. Public Health Service, Office of Civil Defense, the Veterans Administration and the Urban Renewal Administration. The were always intended to control the communities they represented, first by the developer and then by the residents after the the developer was done selling the bulk of the properties. Some of them have developed into vibrant activist organisations. Some simply take care of their residents needs in a quiet an efficient manner. A number of them however tend to be mostly concerned with the colour of the garage or front yard foliage. Which do you think you would prefer to be a part of?
In Urban Neighbourhood’s continued expansion as the posts get larger and the links get more numerous I am constantly coming across new things. Today over at archidose (a great blog devoted to architecture) I came across a post about what happened when an Ikea went head to head with the Armstrong Building, built in New Haven Coneticut in 1969 by Marcel Breuer. It is the age old story of old versus new, contemporary historic vs current economics. The Pirelli Building sat on a lot adjacent to where Ikea was building one of their stores, and needed parking spaces.
The author also has the same thoughts about where parking should go as in our article about parking at asian department stores.
In an article published on detnews.com on Tuesday it has been reported that Detroit is losing a segment of its population to the suburbs that isn’t usually shall we say ‘upwardly’ mobile. In the past five years according to public records the city has seen the remains of about 1000 people disinterred and moved outside of the city. To look at in relatively for every thirty living people who leave, one dead one follows. One Detroit professor suggests that the figures may be as much as twice that based on anecdotal evidence that he has compiled.
The migration appears to be mostly attributed to former Detroiters who left the city years ago due to your standard suburban flight, and are now moving their deceased family members out too. Patrick Lynch, a local funeral director and member of the executive of the National Funeral Directors Association believes that there are a couple reasons for the flight of the dead. “People have to drive to a place that may take them through neighborhoods that they otherwise may never go, their safety might be compromised. Whether that is real or perceived, it is real to them.” The evidence would seem to support his theory as the cemetery that is losing the most is Mount Olivet which is located in the east side; considered to be the worst part of town. The majority of those being moved are going to Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township which is out in the suburbs and shall we say much more peaceful.
“In our family you don’t forget about your people,” Palazzolo said. “I hope that’s human. It’s at least Italian.”
Love. That was one part of the decision. There is another.
“To tell you the truth, yes, it’s fear,” Palazzolo said. “Have you been to Detroit? I pray the car doesn’t break down. I cringe when I drive down Gratiot. I’m worried for my life. There’s a lot of bad people in Detroit. But to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of bad people out here. But at least we’re closer this way.”
This a side to the white flight issue that most of us would never have considered.
Read the detnews.com article.
It is one of those things that does not happen very often, a sudden stop of a practice or mass action, conditions are changed in ways that would not normally occur. The level of impact that humans have on the environment suddenly changes. The last time it happened was on September 11th when all civilian air traffic in Canada and the US was grounded, and now again for the Beijing Olympics. In what is being called the ‘great shutdown’ the Chinese Government has stopped large segments of industry, removed 2 million cars from the streets and even banned people from using spray paint in an effort to improve the city’s air quality. Officials state that industrial activity has been reduces by as much as thirty percent.
Scientists are very interested in seeing how such a large reduction everyday emissions affects a very industrially active environment. They plan on flying a number of unmanned drones into the pollution clouds that spread from Beijing and other Chinese cities. They will use their micro and nano-sensors to gather information about the sun’s energy and the interactions between the pollutants and clouds, and see what effect the reduction in activity has on the environment.
What happens when you turn off Beijing’s pollution?
By Eoin O’Carroll | 08.11.08
It’s not every day that a major urban center suddenly puts the brakes on its industrial emissions. As Beijing tries to clear the air for the Olympic Games, one researcher is jumping at the chance to observe how the atmosphere is responding to what’s being called the “great shutdown.”
V. Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric sciences professor at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography is taking advantage of this singular opportunity. He and his team are sending unmanned aerial vehicles into the pollution clouds that spread from Beijing and other Chinese cities. The flights take off from South Korea’s Cheju Island, about 725 miles southeast of Beijing, and fly directly into the smog plumes.
Gentrification is a highly contentious subject in urban circles; some people love it, preferring to think of it as urban renewal, other people see it in terms of the displacement of residents who have been priced out of their neighbourhoods and homes.
Early in July, New York Magazine had an excellent interview with Willie Kathryn Suggs. Considered the ‘Queen of Harlem Real Estate,’ she has been a force to be reckoned with breaking a number of sales records for the neighbourhood. Her critics blame her for wantonly driving prices up in the neighbourhood for her own gain; others admire her business acumen and appreciate her savvy for recognising the direction that real estate in Harlem was going before anyone else did. If you have any interest at all in the gentrification debate, I recommend that you read this article.
Whose Harlem Is It?
Willie Kathryn Suggs, the so-called Queen of Harlem Real Estate, has sent local housing prices soaring. She’s also touched off a heated debate: Should Harlem be preserved as an affordable haven for blacks? Or sold to the highest bidder?
Willie Kathryn Suggs is walking me through a handsome four-story brownstone at 350 Convent Avenue in Harlem—or, as she puts it, “a house everybody goes gaga for.” The most successful and reviled real-estate broker in Harlem is small and intense, a prim, light-skinned black woman with wire-rimmed glasses, her hair pinned back in a clip. The house, a Suggs exclusive, is about to be listed at $3.875 million, up from the $380,000 it sold for just nine years ago. As she shows me the ornate parlor (“Four types of wood!”), Suggs mentions that she handled that sale, too, as well as one in between, in 2005, for $1.925 million. That’s two sales going on three, for a total of $6.2 million, and a tenfold run-up from the original price. From this place alone, Suggs stands to earn close to $400,000 in commissions.
Suggs has a habit—a compulsion, really—of talking nonstop and unself-consciously, changing subjects every few seconds, gesturing wildly and injecting cornball expressions that hint at the Wisconsin girl she once was, like “li’l ol’ me,” “works for me,” and “oh happy happy!” But a ripple of exasperation colors her voice as well, as though she’s convinced she’s the only sane person in an insane world. Out of nowhere, she’ll launch into derisive shrieks in odd cartoonish voices about how “stupid” people can be. “The biggest problem I have,” Suggs says, “is people think they know what Harlem is, and they haven’t a clue! First of all, they’re not brownstones. Brownstone is a building material, not an architectural style … ”
One of Suggs’s other favorite expressions is happy camper. This she reserves for the people who are sitting pretty in life, like the current owner of this house, a woman named Lovelynn Gwinn. Suggs had convinced Gwinn to buy another house in Harlem back in 1996. As the market exploded, that place soared in value, giving Gwinn the means and leverage to buy this one. Gwinn is now a close friend of Suggs’s, and runs Suggs’s firm’s Website. Gwinn also happens to be white. Their friendship, and the real-estate deals of which it was born, are Exhibit A among those who charge that Suggs is selling out Old Harlem. But to Suggs, Gwinn was just smart. She’s a happy camper. “People hate Lovelynn’s guts,” she says. “Now, did she do anything offensive? No. All she did was come to me to buy a house. I showed her how to buy a house.”
All you need to know about the current backlash against Harlem’s gentrification, Suggs says, comes down to the happy campers who bought at the right time and the stupid people who didn’t. Those who didn’t buy, she says, are just jealous, and Suggs never seems to miss a chance to rub it in—even if they’re black. “Black people can be racist,” she says, shooting me a coy look in the restored kitchen. “Hello? Reverend Wright? We’ve got our little racists running around. Some of them want Harlem to stay black. They actually think Harlem was built by and for black people. And we have to tell them all the time, ‘Excuse me, dear? We weren’t here. We didn’t even lay the bricks, right? Some of us worked on the subway tunnel, okay. But this was built by and for upper-middle-class white folks. We were the second and third owners. We were never—and I mean zero, nunca, never—the first owner of all these houses!”
The Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal group in Montreal was interviewed in the Gazette the other day about urban heat islands. If you are unsure as to what these are, just consider the difference between being in a parking lot at the end of a hot day vs. being in a park at the end of a hot day. Chances are you are at least subconsciously aware that the park is much more comfortable and much cooler. This effect has to do with the fact that, while plants and greenery tend to shade and absorb heat, concrete, pavement, and asphalt tend to reflect and then store heat, not only intensifying the heat during the day, but keeping the area warmer over all by releasing it later in the day. If you don’t believe it, try walking past a blank brick wall that has had sun all afternoon and once the sun is down and pay attention to the temperature. Cities tend to exacerbate this problem as these materials form the majority of their components. In many cities the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees above the regional average.
To combat hot spots, the city of Montreal has teamed up with the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal and the Conférence régionale des élus, a regional development group, to create more green spaces with the help of concerned businesses and residents.
So far, their are more than 30 participants, including Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, Alcoa and Hydro-Québec.
“We need to start building a greener city,” said Helen Fotopulos, the city of Montreal executive committee member responsible for parks and green spaces.
“Instead of heat islands, we need to create more cool islands like this,” Fotopulos said after a news conference yesterday that was held in a city garden. source
Creating more parkspace will not only improve the look of our cities it can also help our bottom line by making the city less expensive to cool. Just in case you needed another reason to love parks.
It has often been bemoaned by Cyclists, New Urbanists, Pedestrianists, and anyone else who isn’t in love with cars that parking lots and the sheer amount of space devoted to storing our vehicles when we are not using them is a huge detriment to our cities. Take a look at a map of most major downtown cores and you will see plenty of big grey dead zones that people create to take advantage of the need for suburbanites to find parking for their cars when they are working their 9-5.
While I was in Korea, I came across the largest Wal-Mart that I had ever seen in my life. I actually spotted it one morning when I stumbled out of a friends apartment on my way to a ‘school staff picnic’ without having sobered up. As I stood on the side of the Ulsan River Road, I looked to my left and spotted the thing towering over the surrounding neighborhood like a monument to American capitalist imperialism.* I was flabbergasted and stunned by the size of the thing–a six story Wal-Mart? Seriously?
What I discovered days later when I actually went to said Wal-Mart as part of my search for sour cream, was that the Wal-Mart store was only levels 1 to B2 while levels 2-6 were actually parking. Can you imagine a big box store that is pedestrian friendly at street level and doesn’t have acres of parking in front of it? Well it would look a little like the photos you see here. Ever since I lived in Asia, I have felt that it is very important to have enough parking spaces for the number of tenants you have. Have you ever seen a parking lot where cars are parked 3 deep and left in neutral so that people can move them around when they need to get their own car out in the morning? I have also appreciated the made-in-Asia solutions to deal with storing cars in limited space. (Click here for an NYC adaptation) These park aids stacked on top of the stores that they service are not only space saving and pedestrian friendly, you don’t even have to worry about that long run across the parking lot when it rains.
While this style of parking came about in Asia due to sheer limitations on space (let’s face it when you have 43 million people in a country like Korea that is roughly the size of Nova Scotia you can’t really afford to take up huge amounts of space for cars), but that doesn’t mean that their solution couldn’t also be our solution.
* Wal-Mart has since pulled out of Korea, mostly because they didn’t understand the way a country like Korea shops. Well-to-do Koreans go to department stores, low income Koreans go to street markets, and well-to-do Korean housewives know exactly what every thing – not just the top 200 things that Wal-Mart undercuts on – should cost.
This past July 5th weekend the City of Atlanta welcomed an 82-foot-tall Roman arch as the tallest monument in Georgia, knocking Marietta‘s 77-foot-tall “Big Chicken” out of the number one spot. The monument is the first classical monument to be built since 1936 when the Jefferson Memorial was completed. There has been much commentary about the monument and its supposed value. I first caught wind of the monument while surfing ANMP – a great site if you love buildings like I do. AMNP doesn’t think too highly of the monument. Even the base article at the Christian Science Monitor asks the question as to whether it is just kitsch for a city in search of an identity. Personally, I still like older classical monuments and don’t have an issue with seeing new ones go up. That isn’t to say that I don’t like modernist monuments and feel that they have no place in our cities. Quite the contrary; I enjoy a number of modernist monuments in the city.
What is most interesting about this article and the online debate over it is the belief by some that there is no place for new classical monuments in our towns and that they are kitsch. Not to mention the assertion by classicists that it is impossible to build structures like these any more. In the video attached to the article, Hugh Petter, the architect of the ‘Millennium Gate,’ states:
Unfortunately after World War Two the Modernist establishment really took over and in Britain they still have complete control over what happens. I could never build this in Britain, and we are part of the European Union and there is all sorts of legal reasons why things of this scale, even if it is funded with private money have to go to competition, competitions are always judged by architects with a very particular outlook and people like me who do this kind of thing, which is quite specialised would never get a look in with something of this scale.
In the AMNP blog, the author asks the question “Shouldn’t we have some kind of committees set up – maybe even at the federal level – to stop this kind of shit from happening?” I suppose that these are the types of committees that Hugh Petter is talking about.
So this all begs the question in my mind as to whether or not the modernist establishment has in fact gotten a strangle hold on public design as Petter suggests. There becomes an inherent issue with an idea, no matter how well intended, when it becomes a self-propelled juggernaut secure in the belief that it is the right way. It’s something that one of my least favourite professors ever once brought up when he was talking about the New Urbanist movement, the current flavour in planning and city design. ‘Don’t just jump on because it’s the new better way, there are issues within this movement that also need to be addressed.’ These are lessons that we have had to learn the hard way from the failings of Le Corbusier’s design for housing projects and our century of car centered city planning. Should all our monuments be modern? Is there room for classic revivals? Is there perhaps room for a little bit of both?
Read AMNP’s response in the comments section.
New York Summer Guide has a great article on the battle for public space going on right now in Central Park. It seems that there is a turf war going on right now between cyclists, runners, dog owners, and, generally, any other mode of locomotion in the park.
It’s shortly before six on a recent morning in Central Park. Dogs frolic, off-leash, through meadows. Joggers breeze along the roadways. In the half-lit hours just past dawn, the park is the urban idyll that its founders, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, envisioned at the park’s birth, 150 years ago.
But then you hear it, approaching in the distance, a stiff wind rustling leaves. The presence grows louder and crescendos until—whooooosh—they’re upon you: a teeming pack of cyclists bursting around the corner in a flash of neon spandex. Runners brandish their fists—or middle finger. Dogs and their owners scramble across the road, lest they be run down by the onrushing horde. It is every biker, runner, or canine for him, her, or itself. Before many New Yorkers have even had their first cup of coffee, the ongoing battle for Central Park is in full swing. “People think the park is a refuge, when you’re actually going into a cage match,” says Chris Yerkes, a Citi staffer who races on an amateur cycling team in the park. “You can liken it to an area which has no local government, no rules,” Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer told me. The current situation is a New York City case study of the economic phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons, whereby a shared resource is, inevitably, overexploited. Although interspersed with the tragedy are moments of high comedy.
In Toronto, the King Street West Area, once mostly just factories and warehouses, the neighbourhood is fast becoming condo central for Toronto’s urbanite class. The area has a number of new projects, artist’s lofts, a new boutique hotel, and an abattoir. In the heated property market of years past, a number of condo owners have purchased their units and then been left with a bad scent in their nose. If the wind is blowing in from the west, the pervading odour isn’t the kind of thing that condo developers put in their brochures.
The city of Toronto has been receiving a number of complaints about said smell. However the abattoir has been there longer than anyone can remember (at least 100 years) and has an acquired right to the location since concepts like official plans were not even in existence when it was built.
“The only way you can get them out of there is by literally buying them out, and who has $100-million?” said Mr. Pantalone, quoting the figure city officials were told it would cost to buy the land and to compensate the company for lost revenues. Source.
It’s the kind of thing that is unfortunate if you bought on a day when the wind was blowing in from the east, but let it be a lesson to those shopping for condos to do a little more research than to check and see if the pool is inside or outside. Before you put your money down on a project, take a walk around the neighbourhood and see what is in the four or five blocks surrounding your potential building. At best you will discover convenient locations to do your day to day errands within walking distance; at worst you’ll discover a building where cows go to die. Located @ B
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 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.
Read More Here at Urban Neighbourhood with ‘The Fight for Fidler’s Castle Continues’
Life in the city has its hazards, crime, pollution and in some cases rioting. During the playoffs in Montreal the down side of city life was on display, the Montreal Canadians won the first round of the Stanley Cup play offs and fans drank and celebrated long into the night. While they were celebrating the Wu Tang concert let out and those drunken concert goers met up with the drunken hockey fans and then madness ensued.
Of course Montreal has a bit of a history with playoff rioting so the Wu Tang concert crowd may have had nothing to do with it.
Evil Gentleman over at citynoise has put together a collection of photos taken in the aftermath of the ‘party.’ Sometimes Urban life isn’t pretty.