Depressing evening with an Architect.

I went to a public talk the other evening. It was soooo depressing.

The speaker is an architect and town planner. And professor. And consultant. And urban design reviewer.

The secret to better cities? Hire more architects. Not just any architect, but Himself.

This is not to say the commentary was without merit. There were a number of good observations discernible in the mumble.

For example, his students have created a map of downtown basements. Not surprisingly, they reveal tons of space devoted to garbage and garage ramps. Often repeated over and over again in the same blocks. It would be better to encourage sharing. Maybe the first building would provide the down ramps for the subsequent buildings, if adjacent. Mind,  if it made sense, developers would already be doing this. They rarely do, so there must be a reason. Maybe, he suggested,  they should be required by law to hire an Architect to design the whole block once even one property owner plans a project. Gotta. Stamp. Out. Fine. Grained. Small. Lot. Ownership. In. Favour. Of. One. Big. Plan. I’m sure Ms Jacobs would agree faux fine grain development is just as wonderful as traditionally-evolved fine grain development.

When community members advocated for shared garage entrances in the Preston-Carling and Preston-Gladstone CDPs, the city’s senior planners were scornful. Sharing garage entrances and putting cars underground was “too suburban”; this was the urban area and “people want” lively busy streets. I think this thought process underlies the city’s suspension of the Gladstone CDP until the PWGSC parcel along the OTrain Trillium corridor can be sold for the highest price and then the plan recast to suit the developers (develop first, plan to rationalize it later). It is also underlaid by our planning department’s unremitting hostility to the popular-to-families-with-kids dead end streets along that corridor. Too much like suburban cul-de-sacs, they claim, open ’em up to rush hour through traffic. Thus far, they are winning. Lively = lots of cars heading out to the ‘burbs.

Our guest speaker also mentioned the dreadful street level presence of most high rise towers, with most of the ground floor given over to a flashy lobby, then garbage rooms and garage entrances. The urban point of highest people density (in theory, at least) gets the least street presence.

During the approval process for the ICON apartment building at Preston and Carling, the community groups called for some sort of off-street stopping zone for delivery vehicles, taxis, para transpo, etc. The City adamantly refused, calling for the building structure to be tight to the sidewalk. They then sponsored a noted Toronto downtown planner to come speak in Ottawa. One of his themes was how to handle the traffic to the front door by getting it into a laneway running through the building. Our planners turned deaf.

Toronto drive through under high rise, by Minto

Mind that visiting planner also mentioned that there are six dogs per floor of condominiums. And they all go for walkies at 5.30pm. Doggy toilets in the adjacent park or along the Trillium MUP? Nonsense! outrageous! railed our planners. So the ICON has no drop off or delivery zone. And the City went to the OMB to ensure Taggart builds their mid-rise on Norman Street, with an approved “traffic plan” that studiously avoids how traffic is to access and turn around when the front door is at the very end of a stub end street. That’s OK, though, the OMB also ignored the issue, so it must be OK.

Back to the big Toronto architect. He flashed some slides of proposals for downtown highrises in Toronto. Kindly marked up with derogatory swear words about their quality. He then complained Toronto architects aren’t welcoming to the design review panel suggestions. But Ottawa architects are, surprising to him, welcoming and interested, and actually make changes. It was hard to tell from his tone of voice is this was good, or in the line of “dumb yokels need guidance”. I paraphrase.

He did flash a sketch of a large site redevelopment in Toronto with the commentary that it will turn out well because … it was a large site, and he/Architects were controlling the planning. We didn’t get to the see the details. But I couldn’t help notice it had a Big Sweeping Road separating the residential area from the eye-catchingly big park. At least that was the view from a helicopter. And I couldn’t help wondering about the previous times architects and planners got large scale parcels in their hands. Remember the stunning successes of “urban renewal”, “towers in the park”, freeways to the downtown, high rise low income housing, slum clearance, the garden suburbs, the mega-mall?

At the end of the session, I slouched out of city hall by using the ped bridge that connects the heritage building with the new building. It’s got a glass gothic arch shape, and was totally wrapped in brown paper. Apparently the cedar waxwings were getting decimated when hanging out near the building, and the glass-on-both-sides bridge is invisible to them. Clearly not designed by an architect.

Do I have a better solution? Naah. As I said: depressing.



8 thoughts on “Depressing evening with an Architect.

  1. This is an interesting blog. It raises many points. At times it appears to dismiss architects’ efforts to make urban spaces more attractive. Also our architectural review panel is said to be imaginative, but somewhere the ideas get lost. City planning officials seem unreceptive. Who are the city planning officials anyway? A recent news article bemoaned the fact that Ottawa does not have an influential city planner on staff, like Toronto and like Vancouver used to have. Such persons dare speak out and have influence, until the politicians shut them down for their reasons. Hopefully they have laid some groundwork by then. Good professional help form design oriented qualified urban planners and architects should not be discounted. I say ‘design oriented’ because we need little additional zoning advice, except perhaps for those ‘drive-troughs’. To help readers understand the need for city scape for all of us, even those who pay no attention but feel good in some areas and not in others, I offer you this link. And if you get to the book it is an easy read and very applicable even today.

  2. I dunno Eric. Surely there must have been something more uplifting on the TV? Still, it’s always worthwhile looking around at these events to see who’s attending, who’s nodding in agreement, who’s quietly chortling derisively. Who’s thumbing their gizmos and not actually paying attention and maybe should be.

    1. future land fill: Don’t have a TV either, although I have since watch Pippa Malmberg on Youtube to considerable edification. I started at your mention of who was fingering phones, as the front row right in front of me included a bunch of city planners incl. some bigger names, and one of them rarely looked up by blackberried away the whole evening. There is body, but not in mind, and probably never in action.

  3. Interesting to see the Minto Toronto drive through portal. Our Lady of the Condos has a similar feature (two actually) of almost the same size and scale. Always wondered from where Ashcroft borrowed the idea. Have not actually entered the Our Lady of the Condos portals (starting to sound a little risque this post) to see if they are connected.

    1. fjf: I have stories up on WSA about Rowe’s Wharf in Boston, which is the grandfather inspiration of these portals. The Lady of Condos and Rowe’s is not the same thing though as what I was suggesting, as it is a walk through to the convent courtyard. What Toronto seems to implementing and Ottawa won’t, is a drive thru service lane for taxis, drop offs, UPS, et al that is off-street.

    1. I am facebook free, but got a ticket anyway. I think I emailed ecology Ottawa or someone on the public list of organizers and got it. It’s gotta be more useful than the depressing architect. BTW, my point isn’t that we lack ideas, or that Ottawa only certifies ideas as good if Toronto does it first, but that even when the evidence is there that things can be done better, we in Ottawa won’t even ask developers for them, let alone require them. Developers rule, Ottawa writes rules to suit.

  4. The difference is people in Toronto don’t tie the hands of developers like in Ottawa example there is a project in Toronto 85 floors some don’t support it but there getting a new community centre a big park and a open plaza for festivals etc now in Ottawa we have people wanting the same thing but scaled a proposed project from 45 floors to 4.

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