May 5, 2017

Is Vancouver the urban-design leader? – 5

The final post in a series from urban designer Gloria Venczel (principal of Cityscape Design), who asked “Is Vancouver the Urban Design-City-Building leader in North America?”
Today a contrast with an older Toronto.


Comparing Toronto – Old but Revitalized

The older Toronto neighbourhoods and the tourist/heritage oriented neighbourhoods seem to be the exception, embracing the public realm notion of “public living room”.

The revitalized tourist / mixed-use Distillery District with mid-highrise residential and strong“Public Living Room”

The revitalized tourist / mixed-use Distillery District with highrise residential
Public living room close to St. Lawrence Market, a tourist/tocal destination
Should only tourist areas benefit from good streetscape design and public spaces?


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  1. Vancouver seems to have a chronic need to claim leadership in anything to do with the environment — green or social or built. And yet for decades Vancouver’s planners and developers and architects (of whom I am one) have travelled to Paris and London and Santorini and a whole host of other places in the world where rich townscapes have been humming with sustained and sustainable life for centuries, just to see how they did it. We think that a cafe in Kits is somehow breaking new ground when it has chairs and tables out on the sidewalk. If we’ve led in anything, we’ve led in the kind of bad weather that makes it difficult to do streetlife in a reliable and comfortable way. Yesterday was 22 and sunny. Today’s 14 and wet. Hard to generate street life in that. And that, unfortunately, is why the malls still do well here.

    1. I’ve experienced great urban environments all over Europe while experiencing the same kind of weather we get here. Many European cities experience much wilder swings of unstable weather than we do, especially in spring. And it rains there more than we like to admit.
      What sets us apart is we whine about it more than most.
      Vancouver is wettest in winter when all northern cities have less life on the street anyway. Many European cities see more rain in the warm months when we often have long stretches of dry weather. In any case, we should be more inventive about how to deal with a little extra rain. We could be a leader.
      It’s not usually cold enough to drive our urban population indoors out of necessity. But, so far, the few attempts at glass roofs over outdoor public spaces have not gone well at all. The fault lies, as usual, in the space – not the roof.

  2. Should only tourist areas benefit from good streetscape design and public spaces?

    There may be a bit of a reversal of cause and effect involved.
    Typically historic areas tend to draw tourists, because they are historic and tourists crave that stuff. i.e. Gastown
    Tourists typically shop and dine, so infrastructure like patios, etc are typically built for them to linger.
    Historic areas may also be removed from the central business district and have less foot traffic than more vibrant “high streets”, which encourages then to provide incentives (like a pleasant streetscape) to attract shoppers and diners (“revitalization”).
    A lower sidewalk count in out of the way areas may also allow more encroachment onto sidewalks with patios, compared to say, Robson St..
    The built form may also allow this, like on Yaletown’s loading docks or old industrial areas (like the depicted Distillery District) which have former driveways and loading areas that have become courtyards.

  3. It is suggested that many people in western Canada who have never lived in Toronto, have stereotyped ideas about Toronto. It is abit annoying .
    Sure parts of Toronto is suburban.
    Distillery district is probably the higher end of redevelopment that perserves and enhances liveability. I would recommend people get off the subway stops at Runnymede station, or High Park station and walk Bloor St. in between the stops to get a flavour of great liveability that is organic, historic with shops, services, seating areas. ANother area would be between St. George Station and Bathurst St. station along Bloor.
    Yorkville area by getting off Bay /Cumberland Station is another area.
    I wouid say that these areas….led in Toronto starting in late 1980’s onward before Vancouver changed.

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