Recent Posts


2012 Archive

Monday News Roundup

Apr 09, 2012

Happy sunny Monday morning! Here are last week’s interesting bits:

The End of Sprawl? (The Atlantic Cities)The story is built around a detailed analysis (supported by a terrific interactive map) of census data on population growth. The authors compared the data from 2006 with data from 2011.

The 100 Mile House (ArchDaily)If you could construct your house out of materials made, recycled, or found within 100-miles of your lot, would you? And if you did, would you feel proud that you never once stepped into The Home Depot? Would you tout the fact that you took an environmental stand, that you did your bit to help the world?

Seattle Spaces, Gray or Great: They don’t just fall from the sky (City Walker)Our truly public spaces, the ones that belong to the city and are maintained through city funds are bleak because there are no funds for operations and maintenance. If there is a lovely living landscape, someone has to maintain it.

Swimming Pool Balconies, Bad Idea? (Architizer)Photos of a possibly risky idea included in the plan for a Mumbai apartment tower.

Subway Platforms From Around the World (The Atlantic Cities)From the preserved layers of history on the walls in Athens, to the sterile, somber curves in Washington, D.C, each system’s platform offers unique insight into its personality. Varying from utilitarian to whimsical, The Atlantic Cities put together a sampling of platforms from the famous and not-so-famous subway systems around the world.

Squint to See: …

By Graham McGarva, Founding Principal, VIA Architecture

Three key statements from the DVA Forum held on March 27th on Vancouver’s Affordability/Amenity dilemma illustrated the paradoxical nature of the competing forces that must be resolved to maintain any equilibrium in Vancouver’s expectation of livability. Such as:

  • We need more older homes
  • Transit is not about transit, it is about childcare
  • Where is Vancouver?

With the focus of the Forum being “Realities”, a key issue was raised as to whether we have the will to “Rewrite the Amenity Contract.”  Our urban development system has been based on the premise that growth pays for new or expanded amenities, and that property taxes for existing residents are kept as low as possible.  User pay is increasingly an element in programs such as at community centres, in which participation can be seen as discretionary.  However, two essential amenities are vulnerable to dysfunction through the expectation of low property taxes: mass transportation and child care.  Sufficient and affordable child care is essential for a liveable city.  This includes neighbourhood parks and playgrounds, kindergarten, pre-school and after school, in addition to formal elementary and secondary education.  The private car, with its $600 per month average cost, is beginning to recede as the default transportation option, particularly among younger families.  So, mobility access via bus and rapid transit for work, home, and child care, and location of this trinity within immediate reach of the frequent transit network becomes the essential amenity.

Downtown Vancouver has amazed everyone with the number of children clamouring to …

Monday News Roundup

Apr 02, 2012

Happy April! Here are the interesting news bites that the last week of March had to offer:

Leverage the Golden Gate Transportation Monopoly (Sustainable Cities Collective)You may not realize it, but the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transit District has an effective monopoly on travel to San Francisco from Marin.  If you take transit, of course, you’re using GGT, but if even if you drive you have a toll to pay.  This gives the district enormous market power to influence the travel decisions made by Marinites, power that it should use for good.

Why Community-Based Planning Works Better Than Anything Else (the Atlantic Cities)The characteristics that make a city neighborhood great are by no means restricted to upscale developments. Indeed, sometimes older, low- or moderate-income neighborhoods exhibit greater continuity and stronger bonds – a stronger sense of what we call ‘community’ – than do those with higher incomes.  As a result, they can sometimes be the source of extraordinary achievement in urban revitalization.  There may be no more inspiring example of this than the neighborhood surrounding Boston’s Dudley Street, an avenue that runs through the city’s Roxbury district.

MapAttack App Turns Any City into a Virtual Gameboard (Web Urbanist)The MapAttack! smartphone app for Android phones and iPhones can turn any neighborhood or park into a virtual game board for four to twenty players, encouraging exploration of urban environments.

Illustrating a Commute, One Rider at a Time (the Atlantic Cities)For the past year, British illustrator Steve Wilkin …

At VIA, we’re passionate about living in and contributing to functional walkable and bikeable communities. Our lives are enriched daily by the benefits of being lucky enough to live in cities like Seattle and Vancouver- both hugely bike, transit, and pedestrian-friendly. Benefits of walkable cities range from the obvious- healthier residents and ease of community access, to benefits on a more macro level- lowered crime rates, the rage against climate change, and an overall sense of community livelihood and well-being.

This week, we’ve seen a few interesting bits on bikeable and walkable neighborhoods come through our news feed. Here’s a collection of some of those bits:

The True Cost of Unwalkable Streets, from The Atlantic CitiesThis article, through a collection of graphics and images, highlights the American obesity epidemic using informative graphs and statistics, linking those stats to the shapes of our built environments. The article also notes the dangers in many areas of being a cyclist or pedestrian, stating that some streets are just not “complete” in a way they need to be to encourage a more free-flowing pedestrian culture.

The Benefits of a Walkable Neighborhood“Walking In Your Neighborhood: It’s Not Just a Mild Workout”, from, whose motto is “Drive Less, Walk More”, shares the benefits of creating compact, walkable communities as opposed to poorly planned sprawl.

On, you can also check the “Walk Score” of your current city or neighborhood, or do some research on a new place to hang your hat (and …

Monday News Roundup

Mar 19, 2012

Hope everyone had a fantastic St. Paddy’s Day weekend!

Here’s the roundup of last week’s most interesting articles:

Envisioning a Havana Bike Culture (Sustainable Cities Collective) Cuba’s largest city, Havana, lacks a comprehensive sustainable transportation plan. Realistically, the city will not have the means for massive infrastructure for a number of years but cost effective alternatives exist, particularly in biking.

It’s easy to steal a bike in NYC  ( Casey Neistat tries to steal his own bike in several locations around NYC and finds it’s pretty easy…even if you’re doing so right in front of a police station.

Seattle Gets the Street View on the Quality of Its Lights  (The New York Times) Enlisted by a consortium of power companies, consultants, the Department of Energy, the Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle City Light, about 300 people were paid $40 each to spend an evening engaged in a civic version of the kind of debate that has taken place in households for some time now: what kind of light do you prefer: old and yellowy or a new and cool white?

Interactive Map Reveals Whether You’re One of 4 Million Americans Threatened by Sea Level Rise  (TreeHugger) Scientists have been criticized—and have criticized themselves—for failing to do a better job of communicating the risks of global warming to an apathetic American public. A new report, entitled ‘Surging Seas’, has utilized a number of different tools in its authors and supporters’ efforts to carve out some media space for its findings.

SDOT Encouraging …

by Kate Howe, Urban Planner, VIA Architecture Monday, December 30, 1940 California’s first modern freeway, the “Arroyo Seco,” was born. The event initiated the population’s full embrace of limited access freeways and expressways in a building boom. A year after the passage of Eisenhower’s 1956 Interstate Highway and Defense Act, the California Division of Highways proposed construction of a vast system; 12,250 miles of controlled access highways would serve every city with a population greater than 5,000. In the next decade the dream was made possible by a large infusion of Federal cash (in California, the federal burden clocked in at 91% percent of the costs for designated Interstate Highway mileage), top down planning and few environmental controls. Infrastructure investment throughout the fifties was an extension of post-depression economic development intended to stave off recession, as well as providing one face of the coin for access to the Modern Suburban American Dream.

1958 Bay Area Freeway-Expressway plans (courtesy Erik Fischer Flicker Photo Stream)

Sixty years later, cruising around the State, we alternatively take this infrastructure for granted while also being astounded at the scale of change accomplished in such a short time. Here in Oakland, at the landing of the Bay Bridge’s eastern shore, four highways converge in one of the Nation’s largest distribution systems, completed in the late 1950s. Arguably the zenith of California highway building, it is known locally as “The Maze.”

Oakland’s approach to the Bridge in 1936 – note the pedestrians on the on ramp. (courtesy Erik Fischer …

Monday News Roundup

Mar 12, 2012

Hope you all had a great weekend! Here’s a roundup of last week’s highlights:

Why Do Green Schools Matter? — Part1 & Part 2 (Sustainable Cities Collective) London Middle School in Ohio pursues LEED Platinum certification; this article discusses the project a few months after first occupancy, and talks to the school’s principal and superintendent to give us a feel for the impact of the work being done.

Starbucks ‘The Bank’ Concept Store in Amsterdam (Contemporist) Starbucks Coffee have recently been opening special concept stores in various cities around the world. Last week, their latest concept store known as “The Bank” opened in Amsterdam.

Bicycle Buses Let Dutch Kids Pedal Together to School (Treehugger) In an age of rising gas prices and skyrocketing cases of childhood obesity, Dutch educators have devised a wonderfully positive way to get kids to and from school — by letting them pedal there themselves on a brand new fleet of bicycle buses.

Tools to Help Cities and Towns Guide Green Development (Switchboard) A lot of towns and cities now recognize that there is merit in going greener.  They now want to encourage the kind of development that will help reduce pollution and consumption of resources while at the same time saving taxpayer money and providing beautiful, walkable, convenient neighborhoods that give people choices about how to live.  But this is new territory for many jurisdictions that wish to follow good, 21st-century green practices but whose basic authorities governing how to plan and build neighborhoods …

By Katherine Idziorek, VIA Architecture

A recent New York Times article about density in Manhattan caught my attention, both because it asks “how much density is too much?” – a thought-provoking question, if not yet applicable to most U.S. cities, which are nowhere in the neighborhood of “too much” – and also because it brought again to the surface the stance on urban densification taken by Edward Glaeser in his recent book, Triumph of the City. Glaeser, an economist, makes the argument that denser cities are in a broad sense more successful and resilient cities, a point with which I have no general objection, and the explanation of which made for a truly interesting read. It’s one of his solutions to the problem with which I take exception – the specific identification of historic buildings and districts as barriers to achieving increased density and therefore successful urban environments.

Are dense urbanism and historic preservation really at odds with one another? It seems they shouldn’t have to be. In a world awash with “green” language, sustainability could be understood as the development of dense urban environments. It could also be understood as the reuse of existing and still viable building stock that promotes the continuity of unique urban histories and identities.

I was genuinely surprised that Glaeser targeted historic districts as a major impediment to achieving urban density.  This might be a more relevant argument when referencing geographically-confined and historically dense Manhattan (though I’m still not entirely convinced), but what …

Monday News Roundup

Mar 05, 2012

Happy Monday, all! Following are last week’s news, art, planning, and architecture highlights:

Mapping the Happiest States (Planetizen) Richard Florida reports on a new map showing the results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which analyzes a number of “happiness” factors on a statewide level.

Are Container Houses the future? (Sustainable Cities Collective) French architect Patrick Partouche recently designed and developed a single-family unit made up of five shipping containers.

California’s Groundbreaking Green Building Ordinance ( California State policies to date have created exceptional green buildings that effectively raise the ceiling for green building. By setting minimum standards, California is doing something equally important: raising the minimum floor.

New York Botanical Garden to Debut Living Wall of Orchids (Architizer Blog) Famed French botanist Patrick Blanc, renowned for his lush, gravity-defying gardens, has made his way to the New York Botanical Garden this spring to design a series of horticultural walls that will showcase the illustrious tropical orchid.

Is Urbanism Slowing the Rise of Car Travel?  (The Atlantic Cities) Researchers have been saying for several years now that cities in the United States and other developed countries may have reached “peak driving” — a level of vehicle miles at or near the saturation point.

2030 Carbon Targets May Be Within Reach ( Architecture 2030 says new energy projections from the federal government show the building sector is on its way to achieving long-term goals in energy and carbon reductions.

Meet Steve McDonald, one of the newest members of the VIA family:

Who are you and what do you do?   I am Steve, and I am an aspiring guitar player, dad, and architect. The latter two items take up a lot of  time, so the aspiring guitar player is a perpetual thing.

What made you decide to go into your field?   In summer 1978, I was traveling from New London, Connecticut to Spokane, WA  via the Empire Builder, and we had a layover in Chicago.

I remember looking out our hotel window at the then Sears Tower. An old gentleman asked what I was looking at, then described to me the skyline- but specifically the Sears Tower and its bundle tube design. He said he was an architect, and from that point forward that’s what I was going to be. I’ve still never designed a super high-rise building to date, though.

What did your family think of your chosen field?   Yea… he’s going to college!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?  Harry Merritt-  in college he taught me to see what wasn’t there, and then draw it.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)   Probably financial. In 1987, I took out $8k in loans during college and was petrified every time I signed for a new loan.  I  wondered how I was going to pay this off when most of my peers were graduating with no …