Sunday, December 18, 2011

Toronto Needs More Bike Parking in Parks

Recently, the City revamped Sally Bird Park, this little parkette on Brunswick near Harbord. They landscaped the park, added bench, and also three strange work-out machines. But what they forgot, and what the City frequently seems to forget in parks, is a place to lock your bike.

There are clear spots for four ring-and-posts in the space where the park's fence is set back from the sidewalk. As usual, when there is no infrastructure provided, people make-do; this time by locking their bikes to the fence. I've seen as many as six bikes locked up here before.

While there is a decent amount of ring-and-posts on commercial streets in Toronto, there is a dearth of bicycle parking along the residential streets in small parks like this one. This means that when people are at a park, or visiting friends on a residential street, they either have to walk awhile to find actual bike parking, or lock up to a fence or pole, which doesn't provide the same amount of security and, I'm sure, is annoying to residents and the City.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book: The Vancouver Achievement by John Punter

Ah, Vancouver. That gleaming, sparkling, oasis of a planners wet dream. At least, that's what, at first glance, this book appears to say.

But if you look past the cringe-inducing boosterish title of John Punter's book you'll find a great documentation of Vancouver planning history and policies since the 1970s, up until about 2001, when the book was published. Punter, a professor of urban design in the UK at Cardiff University, has exhaustively catalogued the development of the city. While the title may give away just how Punter feels about Vancouver, he doesn't shy away from criticisms of affordability, architectural monotony, and exclusivity.

Particularly interesting was the chapter on Vancouver's single-family neighbourhoods and the infiltration of discretionary zoning and development controls sought by neighbourhood associations (usually wealthy ones) to preserve the "character" of their area. Punter describes how City Council and planners bent to the demands of these neighbourhoods, instituting zoning that restricted intensification and secondary suites. This obviously has had a severe impact on the affordability of Vancouver as a whole, confirming the power of these neighbourhoods in the political and planning process. It's hard not to see that the rhetoric of preserving a neighbourhood's character is often a guise for social exclusion.

There were a few things the book left out. There was no real mention of Metro Vancouver, or regional planning, which I think is a mistake. Many things are decided at the regional level and it would have been interesting to see how these interacted at the city level in Vancouver. Similarly, there was no real discussion of transit planning, except for a few paragraphs near the end. This, too, is an oversight. While SkyTrain is mentioned a few times, I would have liked a discussion of the planning and development around the stations and how it changed the city. Finally, Vancouver's elected Park Board only got a few brief mentions, even though there was much discussion of the provision of park space.

It's difficult to talk about planning in Vancouver without talking about affordability. The obvious question that runs through the book, and one that Punter does address (though not nearly enough, I think) is that, sure, Vancouver is shiny and mostly well-designed, but who gets to enjoy in this when the city is so utterly unaffordable? What does "livability" really mean if you find it hard to live there?

Friday, December 16, 2011

LEAF Brings Gardens to TTC Stations

Just outside of the Walmer St entrance to the Spadina Subway there is a sparse, wood-chip strewn space where a median of muddy grass used to be. This is part of a LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) driven project in association with the City of Toronto, among others, that sees volunteers take care of what is called an Urban Forest Demonstration Garden. The volunteer gardeners are from LEAF's volunteer Tree Tending Trainer Program, and they oversee a total of five different gardens outside TTC stations, including the Walmer one. 

It looks a bit sad right now, but I'm sure come spring this will prove to be a nice addition to the streetscape. Someone has even gotten a little festive and planted a small evergreen tree with a red Christmas bow on it.