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Monday News Roundup

Oct 11, 2010

BC Waste-collecting cyclists put a new spin on recycling (The Globe and Mail)
A street peddler of a different kind, Darren Douglas rides a $4,000, custom-built tricycle through the city’s downtown, picking up odour-emitting organic waste from businesses that is later converted into compost.

Celebrity sighting: Riding the bus with ‘Mad Men’ actor Vincent Karthesier (NYTimes)
A man is measured by his automobile in this city. But Vincent Kartheiser, the actor who plays the slick ad salesman Pete Campbell on “Mad Men,” is among the 10 percent of Angelenos who rely on public transportation. So on a Thursday night he and a reporter got around using his preferred, and for now, only, method of transportation: mass transit.


The Rise of the Bus Riding Celebrity (GOOD)
Why don’t more eco-minded celebrities in Los Angeles take public transit?

Skytrain service expanded to accommodate cyclists (Vancouver Sun)
TransLink will keep three extra trains running at the end of rush hour to serve cyclists.

Why cheaper streets are smarter streets (The Tyee)
Rule 7 for sustainable communities: invest in lighter, greener, cheaper, smarter infrastructure.

Vancouver plans for more bike lanes (Vancouver Sun)
With the Hornby, Dunsmuir and Burrard Bridge separated bike lanes under its belt, Vancouver is now developing a master plan for how to increase the share of bicycles on city streets over the next decade.

Bikes not welcome in Seattle (The Stranger)
Neighborhoods across Seattle have balked at having their streets changed to accommodate bike and pedestrian traffic, claiming that businesses will suffer and traffic congestion will spike. Now, Seattle’s Manufacturing Industrial Council (MIC) has joined the fray with a new angle on this argument: Some roads just can’t coexist with bike lanes and wider sidewalks, period.

World’s largest transit system is in … (Grist)
Well.. we’re not going to give it away here. Go read it!

By Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant
-Continued from Wednesday-

HYADians at a picnic

HYAD was formed by a group of parents who had come to the realization that they would not be around forever and that there needed to be something in place for their children’s futures. The realization of their immortality created the motivation necessary to take on such a large undertaking. This passion was further fueled by knowing that their children would need stability and routines as change can be a huge disruption and even detrimental to their wellbeing. The idea of being switched from home to home was not something these parents were willing to stomach for their children so they thought they would try to find another solution. They needed something that would give their children the freedom of having their own place, the reassurance of being surrounded by their friends, the connection to their existing North Vancouver community and the safety and care needed for these young adults with disabilities. The parents had met each other through social events and gatherings for their children, and through these events their children had formed bonds with each other. After a few informal talks they formed a group and went to the City of North Vancouver to find out what their next steps should be.

They were told that the best way would be to form a non-profit group and then approach the city again with a goal and concept which is exactly what they did. The next step was to find a building that could accommodate their children. They had originally envisioned finding a developer and seeing if they could have the lower level of a larger building but could not find anything with a floor that would be large enough to accommodate everyone. They then learned of a property that was previously a school site in North Vancouver on 21st and Chesterfield. After considerable effort with rezoning and discussions with the School Board, it was clear that this would be the perfect site. An initial developer was interested in the site for market residential on one portion and the School Board was to redevelop a portion of the site for their Artist’s for Kids gallery and an administration building with a small portion was offered to HYAD as the community benefit. Things seemed to be on track but with the fall in the real estate market the developer had to back out of the proposal. Fortunately a year later another developer, Polygon, stepped in and after some creative redesign the site finally was rezoned and received an Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment.

VIA Architecture’s design for the HYAD building

Currently things are ready to go but there have been delays with the funding from BC Housing. HYAD is currently “shovel ready” with the plans and design but they have not been able to access the money that was promised to them. The design includes 14 units for the HYADians, 2 manager suites and a communal kitchen and lounge. There will also be support for these young adults in the way of caretakers. Each young adult is allotted a certain amount of time per week so HYAD has asked that the group be evaluated as just that, a group. This will enable them to receive more hours as a whole and have someone on site more frequently.

Their model only costs about $220,000 a year which compared to $1.8 Million for group homes is a substantial savings for everyone, including the city. They came to realize that in order to make HYAD seem appealing there had to be a substantial cost savings, something they have clearly found a way to do.

In addition to all the work the parents have put in to organizing this, they have also invested a substantial amount of their own money. Because the group is still relatively small it can be hard for them to fundraise and as they cannot be a charity themselves they will have to form another society in the hopes of creating the funding needed. The only thing needed to move forward right now is funding from BC Housing so we are all rooting for them that this will happen soon.

HYAD car wash

Hearing more about HYAD was inspiring to say the least and I hope that everyone spreads the word about this great project. There was much gratitude to HYAD, the City of North Vancouver and the School Board for setting such a great example of how partnerships can be formed for the betterment of the community at large. It is partnerships like these that can help other groups achieve their dreams.

By Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant

Last Thursday we had our first VIAVOX which is a reoccurring event we created to bring people together and discuss topics they are passionate about. The name stems from the Latin word for voice so it seemed appropriate. Our first topic was partnerships and affordable housing and we had a great turnout which included people from Housing for Young Adults with Disabilities (HYAD), the Vancouver school board, Pacific Arbour, the City of North Vancouver, our own VIA staff and many other great people.The VIAVOX’s main presenter was HYAD so it was no surprise that Clay Knowlton, the president of HYAD and his wife Susan were the first to arrive. This allowed me the time to chat with them a little. Not only is what they’re doing inspiring but they are both extremely nice people and Clay has quite the sense of humor, just try to find out if he prefers to wear a nametag on his lapel or on the back of his jacket. Vera Frinton of HYAD arrived shortly thereafter followed by Cavan Stephens, HYAD’s vice president and I was able to show them the poster which we had created for the event.

The poster highlighted one of the fundraisers they had held, their website, a news article on their new location, the sketches of the new building and pictures of the various HYADians, as they are called. Because HYAD was created by the parents of young adults with disabilities, it was nice for Susan, Clay and Vera to see the poster which had pictures of their children, who as they pointed out are really young adults. In the pictures were Clay and Susan’s daughter standing in front of the future location of HYAD and Vera’s daughter as a torch bearer for the Special Olympics. People began to flow in shortly thereafter and some great networking ensued.

Armed wish sushi, assorted cheeses and tasty beverages, some great conversations took place. Some people were just catching up while others congratulated HYAD on their great work. Cavan and David Sachs, a VIA employee working on the HYAD project, discussed updates Cavan had about BC Housing. Cavan trained as a mechanical engineer but now works as a builder and does consulting work. David also shared with me Cavan’s background in construction which took him from the UK to Saudi Arabia and eventually to Vancouver where he and his wife have been raising their son, a future HYAD resident.

Lorenzo, also a VIA employee, had an interesting conversation with Ian Ambercrombie of the North Vancouver School board. They discussed, among other things, urban planning and our reliance on personal transportation, namely cars. This conversation evolved into a talk about the price of oil and what will happen when it becomes so scarce that it is unavailable. Will certain cities that have been built around streets and highways – cities that rely on vehicles, find it difficult to adjust to mass transit? Will they even think to adapt or will they look for alternate fuel sources?
After waiting for some of the last invited guests to arrive, a brief informal presentation was made by Charlene Kovacs, the director of Community Architecture at VIA and of course by HYAD. Charlene started by saying that VIA believes in connective communities, in ways to bring people together and that our VIAvox’s are one of the ways we can accomplish that. She discussed her involvement with HYAD for the last 5 years and HYAD’s hardwork over the last 25 years. She then passed it over to HYAD at which point Cavan discussed how HYAD started.

– More to be posted Friday –


Monday News Roundup

Oct 04, 2010

UBC researcher expresses streetcar desires (Vancouver Courier)
Silas Archambault, who studied the Olympic streetcar line for his master’s thesis in community and regional planning at UBC, said streetcars not only shape how neighbourhoods develop, but they also appeal to riders who might not catch a bus.

Building on Strengths (Planetizen)
In Lowell, Massachusetts, planner Jeff Speck painted a picture for locals of a transformed city that capitalizes on the strengths of the city to move forward with a greater vision.

Metro Rail: The Solution for India? (The City Fix)
According to Parisar, an environmental organization that works on sustainable development with a focus on urban transport, India is expected to spend 40 billion dollars in metro rail over the next 10 years.

A competition to transform 9,600 aging buildings (GOOD)
Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation competition is an annual showcase of bright ideas from emerging designers focused on a major sustainability challenge.

Fascinating slideshow of various landscapes (particularly sprawl) shot from a helicopter (Infrastructurist)
The New York Times Opinionator blog has a fascinating slideshow of the work of Christoph Gielen, a German-born photographer who has been shooting various landscapes — particularly, sprawl — from a helicopter for the past five years.

A free sparkling water fountain in Paris (GOOD)
The average person in France consumes about 40 gallons of bottled water each year. That means they’re buying and throwing away a lot of plastic. But what’s the alternative when they demand sparking water?

Cambridge parking tickets get yogic redesign (GOOD)
This fall, the city printed 40,000 tickets that feature “citation salutations“—illustrations of calming yoga poses for the driver and the parking enforcement officer to do together.

Two block diet turns Vancouver neighbours into urban villagers (Vancouver Sun)
Neighbours Kate Sutherland and Julia Hilton have hatched a mini-revolution that has transformed two blocks of east Vancouver into a true urban village.

Struggles for Olympic Village low-income housing (Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city will proceed, if necessary, to find operators for social housing units at the Olympic village without the logistical assistance of the province.

Why is Portland so much cooler than Seattle? (PubliCola)
That is, of course, not an original observation, and if you’re among the throngs who are similarly puzzled, there’s an event this Friday evening that you ought not to miss. Alex Steffen’s sustainability non-profit Worldchanging is hosting a fundraiser, starring the mayors of Portland and Seattle, details here.

Saving shrinking cities (Huffington Post)
Now comes the ‘theory’ that the salvation of distressed cities is to once again ‘shrink,’ as if shrinking had been tried before and succeeded somewhere but who knows where.

Can anyone point to one city, just one, where any of these ‘renewal’ schemes have worked to regenerate, rather than further erode, a city? Just one. No theory please; just real on the ground success.

Map of commuting made worse by sprawl (GOOD)
Americans spend many hours in traffic each year, slowly crawling between work and home. And while most commutes are unpleasant, some are far more congested. Why? A new study by CEOs for Cities has found that what creates traffic jams isn’t more cars and fewer highways. It’s sprawl. This is a look at the 10 metropolitan areas whose citizens spend the most and least extra time in traffic due to sprawl.

Who are you and what do you do? I am the first Canadian born (Calgary) in our family who emigrated from Scotland. I live in Squamish with my partner, Ernie, and 2 dogs. I am an intern architect.

What made you decide to go into your field? It was a matter of finding what seemed to be the right fit…and came down to a choice between music and architecture. I had a Fine Arts degree but Architecture had the potential of satisfying my urge to sculpt spaces that have a positive impact on people in their daily lives… and it appeared to embody other interests of mine as well.

What did your family think of your chosen field? Mixed. My father was a physician who saw architecture as art (not good) and thought it was something I should do ‘on the side’! His opinion changed over time.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why? I think the most memorable one was my grade 4/5 teacher. While she was big on discipline, she had a big heart and brought creativity and music to the classroom, and got our classroom connected with one in Australia. We would send tapes back and forth of music, readings etc. We learned to knit [something resembling] squares for a quilt we donated to the red cross. She was inspiring in how she got us working together and connected with strangers. She also had a great sense of humour.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.) My biggest hurdle was finding confidence to present my ideas and avoiding the cinnamon buns at Yum Yums.

What inspires you? Beauty, music, travel, great architecture, good stories, going on wilderness adventures, good company, belly laughs, being on the water in some form and really good food!

What schooling is required for success in your career? A degree in Architecture, and perseverance to get through registration exams.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes? Depends how you define success. I see successful architects being those who demonstrate innovation, are inspiring, team people, good leaders and listeners, have a good sense of humour, among other attributes!

What is the best advice you were ever given? It comes from a quote by Goethe.. in which (in short), he says that it’s not until one is fully committed that providence moves…

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?) So long as people need places, buildings age, a community’s needs change and there are people with a commitment and passion, there is room for new entries.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Go for it! You never know what doors will open up for you.

by Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

This was the first year that I had enough advanced notice (thanks to a little thing called social media a.k.a. Facebook) to attend Seattle’s annual PARK(ing) Day.

Originally started in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco design studio, this open source global event has been catching on like wild fire – PARK(ing) Day is now being held in 140 cities, throughout 21 countries, and across 6 continents. I figured that there had to be something to this so two of my coworkers and I trekked down to Pioneer Square on our lunch break to check out a couple of Seattle’s many transformed metered parking spaces.

Our first stop was at Yesler Way & Western Ave to see Miller/Hull’s ‘parking space gone salsa dancing’. Salsa dancing in a parking spot? Absolutely! It really didn’t take much to transform two traditional 9′ x 18′ parking spaces into a dance floor. The local architecture firm laid down some recycled cardboard for the ‘floor’ and piled up old car tires at each end to make ‘chairs’ and then the dancing began. Granted, the city’s best salsa dancers weren’t flocking here to show off their newest moves but there was one couple brave enough to break the ice.

While we didn’t stick around to see who else would join in, I was quite confident that some positive peer pressure would lull more dancers onto the floor if for no other reason than to say they had danced in the street. Who wouldn’t want to have those bragging rights?

Miller/Hull’s PARK(ing) space at Yesler Way & Western Ave reprogrammed for salsa dancing.

Our next stop was a little deeper into the heart of Pioneer Square, on the southeast corner of Occidental Ave, where Olson Kundig Architects rolled out the grass and put up benches for a little sketch fun. Had the sun decided to grace us with her presence, we might have seen a good number of Seattleites lounging on their extra long post demolition benches, soaking up some rays. However, even without the sun, there were at least 15-20 people milling around and a steady trickle of passer-bys coming over to check out this rare sight.

Just to throw in a little extra fun, the architecture firm set-up a brass symbol with a string running up six floors to their office windows where free sketches, upon request, would periodically come zipping down. While we chatted with the firm’s youngest employees, waiting for the signatory ping from the brass symbol to notify us that our sketch had arrived, I realized just how surreal the situation was. We were comfortably occupying a space that has traditionally been established as a ‘no-go zone’ for humans, where I would normally feel uncomfortable even standing there to hold the space while my husband circled the block with the car. This small act of putting down some grass and benches somehow renegotiated the relationship between building, sidewalk, and street.

Olson Kundig Architect’s PARK(ing) space on the southeast corner of Occidental Ave (left) and our free sketch of ‘a group of architects’ (right).

This phenomenon of temporarily transforming parking spaces into mini-parks may sound peculiar but what an absolutely fantastic way to reprogram the prolific 9′ x 18′ space that happens to occur throughout our entire city. It begs the question, what would it feel like if an entire Seattle city street like 1st Ave or Pike Street had all its metered parking spots reprogrammed for a day? What if an entire street was dedicated to open space and people? Well then we would have Seattle’s first walking street. Imagine that.

Last week, four teams presented their qualifications for the redesign of the Seattle Central Waterfront in front of more than 1,200 people.

As one of the firms on the MVVA team, we don’t want to add much commentary before the project is awarded, but we wanted to post these two video links on-line because we think that people might find them interesting:

Video of Ken Greenberg walking through the Lower Don Lands

Video of MVVA discussing material reuse at Brooklyn Bridge Park

(Also, if you are looking for books about any of the leaders of the four finalist teams, you should go to Peter Miller Books!)

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Richard Borbridge, and I make great places. In some circles they call that an ‘urban designer’, my paperwork says ‘city planner’.

What made you decide to go into your field?
Lego, SimCity, a failed week of electrical engineering, a year in Europe and a preference for the issues of people over plants.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
I grew up in a “you can do anything you put your mind to” kind of home. I think meat packing might have been off the table, and professional sports were unlikely in any case.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Sheri Blake helped me redefine community – introduced me to participatory design process and showed me the vital potential of empowering consultation. Ted McLaughlin transformed sustainability from a buzzword into a worldview.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Two hours of sleep every Tuesday morning – the day the newspaper went to press. History class is a blur, but I learned everything I know about Adobe Creative Suite between midnight and 3 am.

What inspires you?
Consensus, sunny sidewalks, desire lines, little old buildings on big ol’ streets.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
First – Planning, in my mind, is a generalist’s domain, and I love that any wacky bachelor’s degree – and a passion for cities – gives you the educational foot in the door. There are few if any accredited undergrad planning programmes left, so a Master’s in Planning will pull it all together and aim you toward a professional career.

Second –Urban design is a bit more muddy. Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners, among others, all intersect in the urban design oeuvre, so there are a lot of paths to choose. For me, it started with an undergrad in Environmental Design. The important thing is a grounding in “design thinking” (and drawing and writing and math) so you can communicate with all these perspectives. The cachet of “planner as urban designer” is in bridging the architects, policy-oriented planners, developers and politicians with the community that the designs ultimately serve.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
It all depends how you define success. Good draw-ers, good speakers, good listeners. The great thing about planning is that you don’t even have to be a planner to have a great influence on the field – software engineers, journalists, activists and cyclists can all make great urbanists.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Don’t stop believing.

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Planning is at the forefront of the emerging enthusiasm for sustainability, so cities are recognizing the value of investing in strong, progressive plans and generally open to good ideas. The long-term perspectives and relatively low cost of doing planning means it doesn’t get hit as hard with the rise and fall of the economy and often plays catch-up when people can’t afford to build. Demographically, there’s also a generation gap within governments that will need filling too.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Draw a lot. A picture is worth 1000 words and no one has the patience to read that anymore. Read more. You can’t think of all the great ideas yourself, and we’re going to need them. Make great places.

How to bike in a city that’s built for cars

by Jen Kelly, Business Development Coordinator (and blogger at New Pioneer Square)

Yesterday, I attended zipcar’s “low car diet” ceremony to kick off living car free. At the end of the event, I handed over my car keys (or rather, the “token” car key they handed me) to Council member Mike O’Brien.

(he left his pants rolled up throughout the ceremony…he must be a true biker)

I am a resident of Pioneer Square — hands down the easiest neighborhood to be without a car. Not only do we have light rail, the free bus zone, the water taxi, bike paths, and the ability to walk to downtown neighborhoods, but we will also soon be getting the streetcar.

Although I work only two underground tunnel bus stops from where I live, starting this low car diet has inspired me to give biking in the city a try.

I have the bike, a helmet, a lock, a bell, and plan on buying saddlebags, and other great bicycle accessories. One big problem: I’m absolutely terrified of biking in downtown Seattle. 

Most bikers that I see in the city not only wear great looking spandex, but seem to be fairly aggressive and comfortable weaving in and around cars. That doesn’t even start to get into the animosity that seems to exist between bikers and car drivers.

As PubliCola’s BikeNerd put it, I’m a biker, not a cyclist.

My only previous experience of biking in a city happened when I lived in Holland, which I can only refer to as bike heaven. The bike paths are super flat, are very clearly marked with signs and colored pavement, there are tons of bike racks (see below), and there are so many fietspaden that are like “bike superhighways” — they are separated from the road with arterial paths that feed into them, and you almost feel like you’re out in nature, and not riding parallel to roads in the city.

I think this awesome time lapse video of an intersection in Utrecht says it all:

So how do you bike in a city that’s built for cars? 

It’s not like I’m expecting Seattle to magically become their own version of Holland’s bike heaven, because there are just too many challenges (read: hills). But it would be great for the city to set up a better infrastructure for “bikers,” and to help newbies like me feel more comfortable biking next to cars.

Someday soon, I hope to have a post on my first downtown bike ride and even though I will not wear spandex (unless going to an 80′s party), I hope that cars will remember that not every biker on the road is experienced. And if it made a difference, I for one, would not be ashamed to attach a neon sign to my bike labeled “student biker.” At least then drivers might be patient when I forget to bend my arm the right way, bike in the wrong lane, or end up on the sidewalk.

Friday Feature: Angie

Sep 10, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
Angie Tomisser, Interior Designer

What made you decide to go into your field?
Looking back, I see that I had a love for interiors from a young age. I would scavenge the house for odds and ends to use as furnishings for my Barbie house. I would deconstruct toothpaste boxes and reconstruct them back into a sofa. Pizza box stands became end tables. I spent more time working on my Barbie environment than I did playing with the dolls.

As I got older I struggled with the decision of what to do with my life, attending college with no real direction. I originally planned on majoring in business, then switched to radiology. Both of which I believed would bring me great riches, but I soon came to realize that neither were a good fit.

Many of my Satruday mornings were spent at a book store surrounded by design books. Though I greatly enjoyed my weekend ritual, interior design never seemed to be a realistic option…surely not one you would study in school.

At that time, I was still seeing advertisements on television where Sally Struthers would pedal her “as-seen on tv interior design certificate” which made the profession seem like a joke, not to be taken seriously. Lucky for me, my husband had been looking into architecture schools and come across some very professional interior design programs. He suggested that we look into it, and we did…here I am.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
As with most people, interior design is thought to be decorating. My grandmother was very excited that I would be able to help her select new curtains for her bathroom!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
My third year studio instructor made the greatest impact on me. Our first assignment was to take a famous person and design a restaurant based on their personality. I was given the famous product designer Karim Rashid. It was in this studio that I first began to think about space a three dimensional object and not just a room with four walls. My instructor was severe…but forced us to push boundaries that we hadn’t know existed.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
My mother passed away from cancer the year before I started design school. It required that I drop in and out of school for two semesters, ending in a permanent withdraw. Design school was just the fresh start that I needed.

What inspires you? 
Many things…art, food, people. Magazines, history, music.

What schooling is required for success in your career? 
Currently anyone can call themselves an interior designer, with or without schooling. In my opinion, as interior design can have a significant impact on the built environment, it is imperative to have at least a bachelors degree, followed by on the job training, and certification.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field?
Are there any specific attributes? Still finding that out…will let you know.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Critical path…don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture, work with what is in front of you first.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?) 
I think the profession of interior design has come along way, but has an even longer way to go. There is a strong movement within the design community that wants to elevate the professional requirements needed to call yourself an interior designer. Things like educational requirements, experience, and testing. None of which is currently required but highly needed.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours? 
I would suggest that someone interested in this field intern at a few design firms before starting school – to see if they really like it. Design school was rough – you want to make sure you love this field before you take that path.