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2010 Archive

by Kate Howe, Urban Planner for VIA Architecture

In the Pacific Northwest, Tacoma struggles somewhat from its brand as a post-industrial place. But, I and many, many others HEART Tacoma for its deeply layered and intense urban infrastructure; it holds a similarity for rust belt and east coast cities we keep hearing about, like revitalizing Pittsburgh (see the link for a New York Times article), Youngstown and Providence. Because these communities are still scarred by economic loss, they appreciate that without the ability to adapt, experiment and elevate the cultural attributes of their existing place, the free flow of unencumbered capital $ will do just that, keep on flowing right out of town.

While its situation is drastically different from a growing Pacific Northwest, I am particularly impressed by Youngstown OH, which is making a name for itself as one of the most experimental planning cities in the US, with its shrinking city concept. It is led by the country’s youngest mayor (elected at the tender age of 33). Now in his second term, his city is making headlines as one of the best places in the country to start a business.

Tacoma is hard at work at its own structural re-invention. Over the past year, they have adopted a new downtown strategic plan, a new downtown comprehensive plan, and development studies for some of its key neighborhoods.

  For the Brewery District, …

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture Vancouver Office

At the beginning of 2010, two American cities made notable changes to their transit systems. Baltimore implemented the first of three entirely free bus routes called the Charm City Circulator, while Portland began charging bus fares in its well-known “Fareless Square” downtown.

Those looking for trends in the transit world will certainly be confounded by these opposing moves. What do they indicate about the viability of free public transportation for inner cities?

A large area of downtown Portland, commonly known as “Fareless Square” has been a free transit zone since 1975. It was initially implemented to combat air pollution and a lack of parking in the downtown core. Although the square has succeeded in attracting greater transit use, it has also been faulted for encouraging crime and annoyance on buses. This type of free transit zone also makes it slightly more difficult to collect fares when patrons board buses in the free zone and then continue travelling outside the zone.

Trimet (Portland’s regional traffic agency) reasons that 34 years ago when the square was implemented, bus service was the predominant form of public transit. With the recent expansion of the MAX light rail system, in conjunction with the streetcar, Trimet claims that 95% of trips within the square can be accommodated on these systems, which remain free within the zone (now referred to as the “Free Rail Zone”). They …

Monday News Roundup

Mar 22, 2010

Every Monday, we post links to articles and blogs that you may have missed from last week. Enjoy!

World’s High-Speed Train Makers Set Sights on U.S. (NY Times) “Central Japan Railway and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock are competing for the $8 billion that President Barack Obama has granted for 13 high-speed corridors across the United States, including a line between Tampa and Orlando in Florida that may include a station at the Walt Disney resort near Orlando.”

Letter from Baltimore: The Humanitarian-Design Debate (Metropolis Mag) “Nothing—not even well-intentioned design—is above reproach. The confluence of organizations and individuals working to bring design practice to those who might not normally get it seems to have hit a critical mass, and with it comes the inevitable backlash.”

White House Releases Climate Change Adaptation Report (NRDC)President Obama’s Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force releases Climate Change Adaptation Interim Report.

Climate Change Problems hit Native Americans (Carbon Based Climate Change Adaptation)Studies show that mountain snowpack in Montana is melting an average of three weeks earlier in the spring, threatening native fish and putting pressure on agricultural use of water. On the Flathead reservation hydropower and electricity generation is threatened by low water levels, potentially hurting business.

We Will Take Transit if it Meets our Needs (NRDC)Discusses the use of transit from the perspective of availability and cost rather than a subjective opinion that touts environmental contentiousness.

Midwest gets a jump on high-speed rail (Christian Science Monitor)“Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, center, announced …

In honor of our 100th post (!), we asked our staff to submit things that VIA has done or accomplished in the last 25 years. Out of a list of 100 entries (because you probably wouldn’t stick around long enough to read all 100), here are our top 10:

1  We designed one private residence that required higher levels of security than our work for the US Department of Homeland Security

2  VIA is the first Architectural firm known to incorporate the now popular “Dress as your favorite Revit Command Day” into its annual holiday schedule

3  Alan Hart (founding principal) is really a Blackberry in a man’s body

4  Translink, in an effort to show their appreciation for all VIA does for them, has both routes of the ever popular #17 bus say our name every time the doors open! “UBC. VIA. Downtown.” “Oak. VIA. Downtown.”

10  We like to go to the end and come back

5  Everyone at our firm knows that inside every car is at least one pedestrian

6  Amongst our staff, we have an artist, a jazz musician, a few photographers, a boat enthusiast, a farmer, parents, a hip hop artist, a few flâneurs, a mushroom forager, a poet, bloggers, the wife of an olympian (archery), a choralist, community activists, a wine maker, runners, bicyclists, sailors, and some things that just can’t be written

7  Is it “vee-yah” or is it “vye-uh”

8  Our firm has so many competitions between the offices throughout the …

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant at VIA Architecture

Having recently had the pleasure of watching the Paralympic opening ceremonies, I can say that “one inspires many” is a very appropriate theme. While the Olympics appear to be about pushing yourself with “Faster, Higher, Stronger” as their motto and a creed which encourages the fight and the struggle; the Paralympics are about inspiration and spirit. With a motto like “spirit in motion” and this years inspiring ceremony, I think they spread their message well.

Not only were the performances inspiring, they were also amazing to watch. I think everyone’s jaw dropped when Montreal born Luca Patuelli’s used his crutches to propel himself upwards during his break dancing number. Patuelli, who goes by lazylegz, has needed crutches since the age of three but his outlook is, without a doubt, inspirational. During his performances he uses his crutches as an extension of his arms, he says “yeah, I need them, but what people might see as a disadvantage, I use as an advantage.”

Following Luca were some presentations that were a little more emotionally driven including those about Rick Hansen’s man in motion tour and Terry Fox’s marathon of hope. These two BC athletes have truly embodied “where there’s a will there’s a way.” Terry Fox had a vision to raise $1 for each of the 24 Million Canadians for cancer research, a vision which he well surpassed having raised over $400 million …

Mapping [City DNA]

Mar 17, 2010

by Jihad Bitar, VIA Architecture

Question: What makes urban design flourish in some cities but remain backwards in others?

My answer: Successful cities already have their [City DNA] mapped out.

The Idea: This is my attempt to explain why urban design remains unsuccessful in many cities around the world, while in others it is able to flourish and grow. In the process, I will also attempt to identify the element of urban design that is often missing in many of these failing cities.

Successful urban design tasks should start with a basic understanding of a physical location’s various dimensions; such as history, culture, environment, and architecture as well as the behaviors of its inhabitants. I’m calling it [City DNA], where specific elements of a city are mapped out, researched, published, taught, understood, implemented and challenged in order for that specific city to grow in its proper context.

I’ll start my argument by highlighting two essential points from two important articles written specifically about the Dubai experiment. These points will demonstrate how important it is to understand a city’s [City DNA] if we want it to develop into a healthy urban area with a promising and sustainable future

Article 1:

The first article I’m linking to here is written by Michael Sorkin for the August 2009 issue of Architectural Record, titled: Connect the dots: Dubai, labor, urbanism, sustainability, and the education of architects 1

Sorkin states:

“This is an environment designed by the world’s …

by Amanda Bryan, Intern Architect at VIA Architecture

Like many other young people just setting down roots and trying to grasp the finer details of what it means to be in the ‘real world’ (a.k.a. no longer a student), I found myself feeling rather ignorant when people started bringing up topics like mortgages and prequalified buyers – let alone ‘location efficient mortgages.’ However, I am apparently not the only one who is at a loss on this topic since there seems to be a general lack of knowledge on the subject. So what exactly is a Location Efficient Mortgage and why is it worth knowing about?

What is a ‘Location Efficient Mortgage’ and why does it exist? A Location Efficient Mortgage (LEM) is a type of mortgage created for homebuyers to incentivize purchases made in urban areas that accommodate walking to nearby stores, schools, parks, and public transit. At the consumer level, the LEM provides more opportunities for low and middle income homebuyers, who would ordinarily be forced to live in less expensive fringe areas, to buy into transit and amenity rich areas. At the broader national level, these loans satisfy four overarching goals:

  1. Boost public transit ridership
  2. Reduce energy consumption
  3. Improve local and regional air quality
  4. Encourage development of more efficiently designed communities

How is an LEM different from any other mortgage? In many ways an LEM is similar to a standard Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan because it specifically targets borrowers that struggle to amass a traditional 20% down payment by allowing …

Monday News Roundup

Mar 15, 2010

#1 Tweet from last week: Granville Street during the Olympics vs. Granville street today

PREFAB FRIDAY: Beautiful Green Roofed Affordable Housing In the UK (Inhabitat)“Affordable housing meets stylish design, renewable energy, green roofs, energy efficiency and prefabricated construction in this fantastic housing project in the London Borough of Hillingdon.”

Biking in Portland to become as mundane as housework (Momentum)

Lost in Penn Station: Wayfinding in huge transit hubs (Slate)Why are the signs at the nation’s busiest train hub so confusing?

Pedestrian Survival Techniques (Discovering Urbanism) Interesting post about trying to be a pedestrian in the middle of a city.

Samuel Cochran of SMIT (Design Glut)SMIT’s products are beautiful, sophisticated panels for harnessing renewable energy. Their work is already in MoMA’s permanent collection.

The Future of Cities in the Internet Era (Next American City) Ever since humans began to organize themselves in cities, people have been wondering what the cities of the future would look like. Many urban advocates and policy makers are now recognizing the extraordinary potential to use these mobile phones, personal computers + the internet to engage citizens and ultimately improve the way cities work.

Practicing cautionary placemaking: urbanism and the Venetian Ghetto (my urbanist)Provocative post placing new urbanism and density in historic context. Where does this new one – of transit oriented communities’ fit?

San Francisco Solar MapA map of solar activity throughout San Francisco

Entire cities recreated from Flickr photos (New Scientist) 3D computer models of beautiful cities produced in a day …

by Jennifer Kennefick, VIA ArchitectureLink to Part 1: Pre-Olympics

One Olympics down, one to go! And didn’t the first installment go well!! The hosts could not have asked for a better result, with Canada winning 26 medals and 14 of them gold. And to top it all off, on the last day, a fairytale hockey ending, with Canada beating the USA in extra time and Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal. It was like a scene from a Mighty Ducks film!

So, what happened to all the worries and concerns regarding the lack of snow and the ‘outrageous’ amounts of people?

Snow: No real problems; Whistler had plenty and Cypress had prepared enough in advance to deal with the precipitation shortages! Crowds: Amazing! So many people, in such a great mood and dealt with so well.

The Olympics really tested the city, tested it to see how it would deal with such an influx of people and exposure. It was tested infrastructurally, socially, culturally, spiritually and I feel that it passed on every level.

A major worry people had prior to the start of the Games was problems and crowds on public transport, which in my experience wasn’t too bad at all. For me, the main problem was the crowds for entertainment events! The queues to get into many of the events and various international houses were crazy! I guess when you think about it, it wasn’t really a bad thing after all! Better to have too many people than not enough!

by Lydia Heard, Urban Planner for VIA Architecture

Part 3 of A Citywalkers Take on Vancouver: Walking the Livable City looks at transit and transportation. Although a citywalker’s favorite mode of transportation is eponymous, transit greatly increases the reach of our feet, so to speak. Walking the Livable City, Part 1  Walking the Livable City, Part 2

Vancouver made great strides in transit improvements even before the Olympics. What did they do in order to move a few hundred-thousand extra people around the city? Getting there to find out is a worthwhile journey in itself.

 From Train to Train This was my first time taking the train, Amtrak Cascades, to Vancouver. We’ve been talking recently, in our Seattle and Vancouver blogger meetups, about how we’re part of one larger region (sometimes called Cascadia), and how we might start more dialogues about what that means. Taking the train through the region is a good reminder.

We travel in tunnels under cities and under wooded cliffs; through industrial yards and backyards; past cattle pastures, and fallow fields with grazing flocks of swans; by greenhouses, grain elevators and lumberyards; sloughs, ship channels and estuaries; and to the west, directly against the tracks for much of the way, that body of water that the two countries have agreed to call the Salish Sea, acknowledging Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia as one great system of shared resource, beauty, and hazards. From the train you can …