In elementary school, it was the only world I knew, where walking to the library required a snack break and chaperone. In high school, it was referred to as the "Masonville Bubble," our studentshed, the territory you needed a car to escape from. When I took a more dedicated interest in urban geography, I identified it as just the right size.
Last weekend, determined to show up a bunch of little kids who clearly have not mastered scissors and glue like this girl, I decided to overhaul the Masonville region of London, Ontario. No clue where that is? No problem. Just bring to mind in your head any suburban region of any mid-sized Ontario city. Stick a big mall in the middle that has valiantly tried for years to be a mini Eaton Centre; it's nice, but the UWO students from Toronto are still unimpressed. Throw in a bunch of gas stations (front and centre), grocery stores, strip malls, a Chapters, a handful of aging public schools, a handful of brand new Catholic schools in the new subdivisions, and a bombshelter of a high school (with a damn good soccer team, mind you). Picture a pretty crappy restaurant on a stripmall corner called Richie's that people go to simply because it's locally owned and has a weird sense of historical permanence. Oh, and that building sitting uncertainly in the parking lot used to be a Blockbuster.
The sidewalks are mostly empty because the mainstreet is a lazy highway, six lanes at junctures. BUT there's a cozy library by the mall and a pop-up farmers' market that occasionally graces the gigantic parking ocean on sunny afternoons. A YMCA with a living roof was unhelpfully built out of reasonable walking distance, however it does in fact exist. There's a big park north of the community and great farmland surrounding. Much of the city's water is stored just north of Masonville and the community is divided by a beautiful ravine system and the Thames River, although you'd never know it unless you've got a lucky backyard.
With a blank slate in front of me, I pictured Masonville and said, ARGH! I AM A WRECKING BALL.
Partly kidding - I just had fun with possibility.
I was pretty limited in terms of street layout provided, but here's my new Masonville.
Here's a reminder of how it works - you have to use all of the post-its provided:
- light yellow = residential
- pink/red = commercial, retail
- blue = industrial
- purple = municipal (schools, libraries, police, fire dept.) < I ran out :( ... so don't play with matches
- green/yellow = parks
I started with purple and wished I had more. I tried to place the schools and library roughly where they already exist. I was a dreamer and added LRT (light rail transit, which is what we call streetcars) down Richmond Street to reach downtown.
I turned Masonville Mall into a town centre with shops facing the streets, apartment units on top, a seniors' section, and inward facing housing as well. In the middle of all that, sits a big park, pavillion, and garden (every
park has a garden). The Bay and Sears stayed put in the adjacent block, but I built things that are actually pretty around them, like mews housing
and row housing.
As for 'industrial,' calm down, it's not what you think. Lots of industry in Canada these days would make a fine neighbour. I've got an engineering firm, logistics centre, furniture maker, food outpost, food processor (baking delicious bread, providing local meat, etc.), toolshare workshop (since fewer people will have huge garages and since very few people need to own their own personal table saw but it's handy to use one), a workshop and training centre by the highschool, an auto shop, a co-working hub, and a shared design shop. What this amounts to is that people can actually work in Masonville (beyond poorly paid service jobs)! I reserved space for offices too.
I kept some neighbourhoods quiet and away from the action, but even they get a local park and corner store/café/pub.
I also took the liberty of drawing in permaculture and urban agriculture wherever there was extra space because I had a marker and it should be there.
So that's my Masonville Recreated... Affordable housing, permanent farmers' market, bike lanes inherent, streetcar to downtown, live-work-play all together within walking distance, etc. I picked up the mall retrofits from Duany and the 'keep it small' attitude from Gehl, both of whom were featured in the previous post.
The kids at the Science Rendezvous had a lot of fun with this too. I was pretty impressed that they knew what they wanted enough to imagine cities that simply don't exist in their reality. It resulted in a lot of cookie factories, playgrounds, and water parks.
In preparation for Science Rendezvous and Doors Open Toronto with the MPI
, I've been doing some arts and crafts at work. If you're a planning nerd like me, let me know how I did. There are the same number of Post-Its used in each. You can come build your own city, and learn about famous city builders if you visit the MPI on May 12 (Science Rendezvous, Bahen Centre, University of Toronto) or May 26-27 (Doors Open Toronto
, the office is at MaRS).
Red/Pink = commercial
Purple = municipal
Green/Yellow = park
Blue = industrial
Light Yellow = residential
Duany Plater-Zyberk style - New Urbanism
Alexandria, Virginia (an inspiration for New Urbanism)
New Urbanism – modelling new development after traditional small towns. Like Jane Jacobs, this embraces mixed use and mixed income. More recently, Duany has been applying New Urbanism in the form of Sprawl Repair, retrofitting suburban neighbourhoods to provide functional mainstreets, town squares, and higher density housing (including affordable units).
Some specific recommendations:
- permit backyard garage apartments/granny flats
- eliminate gaps that disrupt pedestrian flow (such as parking lots between stores and offices)
- on-street parking is necessary for vibrant sidewalk life
- neo-traditional, local heritage inspired architecture
- cluster by building height, not building use
- mainstreet storefronts require affordable apartments on top
- flat frontage to housing, which is brought close to the street
- vertical/horizontal ratio can’t be more than 1:6 (avoid very wide roadways)
- encourage urban agriculture
- provide small public squares
- slow down traffic near people and buildings
- give people the choice to live near downtown or not to
- give people many ways to get somewhere, not collector roads
- parking should be situated behind offices, or on-street for retail (supplemented by parking lots behind if necessary)
- integrate affordable housing in many small doses; make it look normal
- affordable housing allows for income diversity; don’t segregate by income or you’ll need to import workers for lower wage work
See for yourself: Video lectures
Jan Gehl, father of "Copenhagenization." No cars allowed, please.
Jan Gehl is famous for his focus on “People Scale,” and is largely responsibly for the vanguard urban design of global livability hotspot, Copenhagen, Denmark. In order to determine the best urban formula for vibrant street life and economic activity, Gehl uses a quantitative data-driven analysis to see how people interact with particular features of the built environment. Number crunching on pedestrian traffic allows for rebuilding on a human scale, which he calls Reconquest
– the reclamation of urban spaces from the dominion of the automobile. Copenhagenization
happens incrementally, with improvements driven by data on how people like to use space. The process focuses on expanding pedestrian and cyclist options for transportation and providing abundant outdoor seating and public spaces. Vehicle traffic is moved to the periphery and the square becomes a vital space for cultural and political activities, the meeting place, marketplace, and connection space. A secondary network of ‘pedestrian-priority’ streets is available where cars are allowed but they have to drive slow and yield to people on foot and bicycle
- Inspired the work of Janette Sadik-Khan in New York City
- Public spaces are seen as essential for democracy, humanism, and green livability
- Gehl advises to always make spaces smaller than you think you need. He thinks scaling down and making places close and intense works out best. “If in doubt, leave some meters out.”
Sources: Chris Turner's, The Leap
& This Video
Larry Beasley, who expanded high-density, mixed-use in what is often referred to as "Vancouverism."
cannot be applied and simulated everywhere, it demonstrates the values that Larry Beasley seeks in an urban setting. Beasley considers density, diversity, and citizen engagement essential to planning, but only the first step. His success is largely attributed to seeing the inhabitants of a city as consumers of the city, not just stakeholders. This led him to the practice of "experiential planning:
fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city." Experiential planning means that streets, buildings, public spaces, and neighbourhoods are designed with an intense focus on how they would feel to the average citizen experiencing them block by block. Acknowledging the culturally specific needs of cities around the world, the outcomes will no doubt vary from Vancouverism, but Beasley’s claim to fame was the transformation of downtown Vancouver into a mecca of condos and density.
Here are some of the features exhibited in Vancouver:
- high-rise and high density,
- dominance of podium and tower buildings (thin glass high-rises with a view corridor to the coast, sitting on medium-height platforms with mixed uses at street level)
- incorporates the principles of Jane Jacobs and New Urbanism to an extent
- high amenity, with parks, waterfront walkways, school sites
- vibrant urbanism at the street level
- using increased density to finance amenity
- enticing to families with children and a younger, creative class
- a city where you can do everything
- high downtown residential population reduces need for expressways heading out of the city.
- high dependence on public transportation.
- ideally, everything of importance (grocery stores, schools and places of employment) is within the citizen’s walking distance
Additional sources: "Larry Beasley's Simple Plan