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Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Krystal and I am a junior designer straddling the VIA worlds of architecture and urban design.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I used to draw the floor plans for my dream houses when I was a kid… some of them were even dimensioned (albeit arbitrarily and probably without a lot of math behind it). In high school I took technical drafting classes and attended art school for half the day. As it turns out I was obsessed with urbanism and the built environment as a subject and incorporated it into most of the work that I did in ceramics, photography, painting, drawing and sculpture. Everything from Skylines, buildings, bridges, windows, and streets all made their way into my creations. I was really excited when I made my decision to help create cities.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were pretty happy about my decision, not happy about the cost of my decision.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Aristotelis Demitrikopolis (that is not a made up name). He was my 3rd year studio professor who insisted that the Greeks pretty much invented everything including architecture, civilization, outer space, telephones, pc computers, pencils etc. He was really hard on everyone, but he taught me the importance of designing in context and I had a major breakthrough in understanding scale in his class. Our project was to create an office building on a site in the middle of nowhere in Texas. I ended up having to design an entire city because I was so stumped as to how you inform design decisions with nothing but sand and tumbleweeds. Needless to say… I got an A and pretty much stuck to the urban realm after that.

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 Hurricane Katrina. The summer before my thesis I went home to New Orleans to research my project which was going to be a short transit line between New Orleans and the north shore. When the hurricane came, not only did we lose our house and all of my research, but I also lost my project’s theoretical ridership (since over half of the city’s residents had left). I adapted my thesis however and expanded the network to the suburbs to the north and created TOD’s everywhere. It’s really funny now to read my thesis… I had no language for what I just described. Thanks VIA 😉

What inspires you?
Music!!!!! Art. Technology. TED. Nature. Music.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Bachelor’s degree in Architecture although a master’s would probably be desirable.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Oh wow, that’s a tough question. It takes a whole lot of people with a lot of different attributes to make a successful team. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thanks Bucky 😉

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Growth is a funny word. There is always room for people who want to develop their skills and push forward for what they believe is positive and influential change.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Slow down. Take time off to think about it. I fast tracked through my masters in architecture, but if I would have slowed down, I realize I would have chosen a different path. Urban Design would have suited me better, but thanks to VIA I get to do both!

 

Thoreau’s Coffin

Jun 02, 2010

by Craig Hollow, VIA Architecture

“Formerly, when how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.

This did not appear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alternative. You could sit up as late as you pleased, and, whenever you got up, go abroad without any landlord or house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far from jesting.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Last week, at a dinner party with a group of the most dedicated proponents of density I know, I took an informal survey of how many of us actually live in multifamily housing. Out of eight hardnosed urbanists, I was the only one who could claim the righteous mantle of walking our talk, living in a 650 sq. ft. studio apartment in a multifamily…mansion? Ok, even I don’t rate as a purist given that my ‘dense, urban’ living situation includes a front and back yard, a two car garage, and is actually a grand old Capitol Hill manse divvied up into five surprisingly spacious if quirky apartments.

At this point, it’s a well-publicized fact that for all of their grime dense, walkable cities like New York are the greenest developments out there. Freedom from cars is part of Manhattan’s green story, but there are many other beneficial by-products of density: the energy efficiencies inherent in larger buildings, the critical mass necessary to support robust transit options, neighborhoods with enough amenities that they are worth hanging out in, infrastructure that serves more people per dollar, no lawns asking for constant doses of pesticides, the long list goes on and on.

The efficiency of the city is underlined when we look at the numbers comparing the net energy use of density and sprawl. The cowhands of Wyoming, the least energy efficient state in the Union, produce 124.11 million metric tons of CO2 and consume 937.9 trillion btu’s of energy apiece while driving 44,080 miles a year, from the ranch to the steakhouse and back no doubt. Meanwhile, the accidental environmentalists of New York produce only a tenth the CO2 and consume less than a quarter the number of btu’s than the average Wyomingan. Even compared to the latest and greatest utopian experiments in zero-energy ecotowns, the city comes out ahead. No matter how you cut it, single family housing just isn’t sustainable.

We know these facts and many of us repeat them like parrots. But given a choice, the best-intentioned among us often are not trading our single-family homes for multifamily living, even in the Pacific Northwest, a veritable hotbed of eco-activity.

Why?

This is an important question because as Saul Griffith pointed out in a recent New Yorker article by David Owen, it’s extremely unlikely that we will come close to meeting minimal global goals for carbon emissions reductions if we count on new infrastructure and green power to do the job. The problem of climate change is primarily a problem of over-consumption and while the magic of carbon neutral power sources will help us consume cleaner if they ever materialize, we simply need to consume less. Choosing to live more densely is a key to consuming less.

When gently chided for living the All-American single-family dream, the responses of my urbanist friends ranged from open-mouthed, blinking silence to apologetic stammerings about the pastoral requirements of raising children. The most cogent and disturbing response, however, was simple and distressing, “We can’t afford it.”

This was shocking to me. Aren’t condos and apartments cheaper than single family houses? How can less cost more? The answer is complex and says much about the challenges to increasing density in our region. On a dollar per square foot basis, a single family home is often cheaper and that’s the plea my delinquent friends made to me. “Try finding a condo with two bedrooms in a decent building that isn’t a million dollars or more,” they complained. But when you factor in the costs of owning a car, utility bills, and the costs of maintenance the numbers tend to flip.

If we try to account for the difference between the price of housing and its cost by factoring in the infrastructure of roads and utilities and remediation it quickly becomes apparent that the market isn’t working to bring price and cost into alignment. For the moment, because a buyer’s options are driven by financing and purchase price, it’s often true that you have to pay more to get less if you opt for a condo rather than a single family house.

The challenge to creating density today is that when even its cheerleaders add up the numbers they find that choosing to forego a single family house in exchange for a condo in an urban, walkable neighborhood is too often like choosing to live in Thoreau’s three-by-six foot box when for the same price you can afford to live at Walden.

Friday Feature: David

May 28, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is David Sachs and I am an architect from the United States currently working in Vancouver and I play an architect on TV (VIA TV). I have worked on a variety of project types over the past 12 years making me a bit of a generalist for better or worse and have deliberately avoided specialization.

Did you always want to be in this field or did you have other career aspirations growing up?
I built my first basswood house at age 6. At age 8 I helped my father draw elevations for his architecture school thesis. He used all of my blue lego pieces to build his site model. I wanted to be an architect. By early high school I thought it better to be a politician or psychologist. By end of high school I entered a design competition for a kindergarten and did well. I wanted to be an architect again…

What made you decide to go into your field?
Some people say ‘to be like my father’…in truth is was because I loved legos…

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Tony Schuman, my 3rd year studio professor. He exposed me to housing and responsible ‘pedestrian scale’ design. We designed an Olympic Village in the New Jersey Meadowlands… it had to convert to market rate housing after the Olympics through a combination of townhouse, multi-family and mixed use building. He also introduced me to Herman Hertzberger.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Deciding if I wanted to be a ‘real’ architect or a ‘theoretical’ architect. NJIT provided a well grounded urban architectural education with the ability to choose based on professors how you wanted to approach architecture. I chose to tread the line between…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
At lease a Bachelors of Architecture. Nothing prepares you for success like the real world, seeing your work built and learning from your mistakes and successes.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
‘Measure twice, draw once, Measure twice cut once’
‘Do the next best thing, the next “right” thing, and then move on to the next…’
‘Never have someone look at your work without reviewing it yourself first’

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
If the economy is behaving, yes.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
You have to love it and be willing to put in your time and sometimes starve…

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability

There has been an overwhelming amount of interesting writing recently around the topic of integrating food production back into our urban and regional awareness, and therefore our land use. This has taken many names and forms, among them Urban Farming, Community Gardening, Urban Agriculture, Agricultural Urbanism, Agriburbia, Agritopia … and related ideas such as farmland preservation, food security, the local food movement, community-supported agriculture, relocalization and many, many others.

One of the champions of Agricultural Urbanism has been New Urbanist leader Andres Duany, who has led the planning of numerous North American communities that seek to re-establish traditional village land use patterns that are based on integrated physical relationships between residential areas and surrounding rural lands. However in a recent presentation at the 18th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Toronto, he went beyond this concept into the new, more radical idea of Agrarian Urbanism, or the concept of a society concerned with the growing of food (0). This goes beyond the concept of land use into the idea of actual engagement of residents with their food production.

Attending the same event was James Kunstler:

”Among other things, the most forward-looking leaders in the New Urbanist movement now recognize that we have to reorganize the landscape for local food production, because industrial agriculture will be one of the prime victims of our oil predicament. The successful places in the future will be places that have a meaningful relationship with growing food close to home … Farming, at one level or another, is going to be your occupation.” (1)

One of the challenges of the architectural and planning perspective is the sense that we can use design to solve problems – in this case, really big problems like connecting people back to their awareness of food. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, “design it and they will come.” Agriculture has been called “the new golf”(2), now placed at the center of new development in lieu of recreational activities in places like Port Gamble WA (3) and Delta BC (4). But how successfully can we use land use planning to design communities that focus on farmland and expect that a steady supply of local food is the natural outcome?

Unfortunately farming isn’t quite that simple. There is much idealism associated with agriculture, which tends to be viewed through a lens of nostalgia for a past that very few of us ever have experienced. In addition, although farms can make for lovely-looking countryside, we venture into dangerous territory if we are now valuing agricultural land because of its aesthetic qualities and its marketability as the centerpiece of new development.

The practical realities of food production are considerable:

  1. Agriculture isn’t an optional accessory. Cities need farms, and farms need cities. If we’re serious about food security and a supply of affordable, nutritious food, we can’t just place farms where they’ll be nice accessories to suburban forms of development. We have to preserve all the viable land that we can within reasonably reached travel distances to our major urban centers. The NDP BC Government did a masterful job of agricultural land preservation with the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in 1973 (6). Even though this policy has been controversial since its inception, it has preserved over 18,000 square miles of potentially viable land primarily located in the Fraser River Valley that could easily have been consumed for suburban sprawl long ago.
  2. Food is seasonal. In the northwest and much of the rest of the country, this means that locally grown fruits and vegetables are abundantly available from May through November, and pretty much non-existent the rest of the year. Adjusting our expectations to this reality can be pretty challenging and requires the relearning of a whole new set of food preservation skills that our foremothers all knew. It also means that these centerpiece farms valued aesthetically for their verdant abundance, are going to look pretty sparse during a full half of each year.
  3. Prosperous farms aren’t necessarily pretty. Farmers who seek to make a living wage from their efforts are generally focused on food production, not necessarily keeping the 3-rail fences painted. Joel Salatin (5), the renegade farmer from Virginia and author of books such as You Can Farm, is very clear that profitable farms are often the worst-looking ones. This is because they’ve made an art form of frugality in order to survive without the crushing debt held by most current-day farm families.
  4. Growing food involves risk. There are no certain outcomes in farming. As if the risks of drought, flooding, lighting strikes, and pestilence weren’t enough, then there are the challenges of capitalization, competition, access to markets, community support and available infrastructure. So if a farm becomes the focus of a development, who assumes these risks? And what happens if the farm is not able to survive as a viable business?
  5. Farming is hard work. Creating a sustainable food supply isn’t the same as tending a p-patch. It takes physical labor, wisdom, and resources, and a commitment to be out there in the muck every single day from dawn til dusk if that’s what it takes. So in these planned communities, who is going to make that commitment? And how is this going to be more marketable than a golf course?
  6. The demographics don’t look very good. Not only is the average age of farmers in the United States is currently approaching 60 (7), but there is a critical shortage of young farmers willing or able to take over our existing farms. I once met a fellow who said that “every farmer is a closet developer”. Development of your land must look mighty seductive when you are 60 years old and your options are: 1) sell at minimal profit as farmland, if anyone is willing to buy; 2) keep farming until you die; 3) or abandon your land. Fortunately there are great non-profits like the PCC Farmland Trust (8) who have developed a creative financing model that allows farmland to remain in use while allowing land owners to cash out the development rights, while simultaneously creating opportunities for young farmers to get started.

On a recent episode of Jamie Oliver’s television show Food Revolution (9), it was sobering to watch an entire group of middle-class West Virginia first-graders who were unable to name a single one of the vegetables that the chef had brought into their classroom. Not even a potato or a tomato, not a single one. Clearly as a society we have serious work to do to re-awaken our lost awareness of what food is and where it comes from.

But I think we have an equal responsibility as design professionals to take the problems of our food supply as more than a simplistic equation of land use. Every one of us is a consumer, and every one of us has a stake in the health of our communities. Let’s start by supporting the work of groups that are already preserving, encouraging, and advocating for our small farmers, and be real about the challenges that these hardworking individuals face in continuing to feed us.

Monday News Update

May 24, 2010

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

Reinventing the bus stop (Fast Company)
Teague’s Traffic 2.0 makes transit more friendly

People for urban progress (Urbanophile)
A new feature that will periodically profile great examples of positive urban change coming from the new grass roots.

Bike to work month – how to survive Seattle’s hills (Crosscut)
Thousands of commuters are taking the cycling challenge for Friday’s Bike to Work Day, and in hilly Puget Sound, a roller-coaster route is virtually inevitable.

Institute for Market Transformation
“Resources to the latest on energy efficiency financing, green buildings and codes under a changing energy regime”

Office composting service in Vancouver (Vancouver Sun)
Growing City leaves a lined plastic bin in your office and each week picks up the accumulation of coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit peels, bread crusts, paper towels, paper plates and uneaten carrot sticks, and has it composted.

Walk, Bike, Ride – the economic case (Publicola)
Growth of walkable neighborhoods in cities and suburbs can play a similar role in the decades to come, sparking growth in the broader economy—but only if we start preparing today.

Paper or Plastic? The answer is neither (NYTimes)
Some area cities are now considering bans on paper and plastic carry-out bags.

Backyard gardens grow cash in lean times (LA Times)
Green-thumb entrepreneurs turn a grocery list of items they can grow, hunt or collect themselves into extra cash.

Mandatory bike parking in North Vancouver (BC Local News)
At a public hearing Monday, North Van council unanimously supported a zoning bylaw amendment that would require new developments include parking for bicycles.

The crash of carpooling (Seattle Weekly)
Seattleites aren’t doing it anymore. All that remains are acres of reserved parking.

Three visual perceptions of residential density (Switchboard NRDC)
A visual representation of what rural residents imagine when they are confronted with a proposal for increased density:

Urban Green: The Mountain Dwellings (World Changing)
The award-winning Mountain Dwellings, located just outside of Copenhagen, prove that many advanced green building techniques still work beautifully at a large scale in an urban setting.

If any of you have been following the blog for a little while, you’ll remember a feature that MTV’s Get Schooled did on our principal, Alan Hart back in November called “What it Takes to Become an Architect.” We’re entering a busy time of year for our staff, and so it gets harder for them to find time to write thoughtful pieces. As a result, we’re going to start something called a Friday Feature where we highlight different staff at our firm (and possibly outside of the firm) and look at what it took for them to become an architect or a planner.

To kick it off, we’re going to repost Alan’s feature (which gives us some time to get features from our other staff ready):

Alan Hart, architect and co-founder of VIA Architecture, talks to Get Schooled about what it takes to be part of a great team and how he’s trying to make Vancouver and Seattle better places to live.

Alan Hart

GS: What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path?
AH: For me, the biggest hurdle in becoming an architect was believing that I could really become one.

In my junior year in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a profession. My dad suggested that I had the artistic eye and creative mind necessary to pursue becoming an architect. I thought that it was a great idea, but had no idea what that involved.

The career counselor at my high school told me definitively that I didn’t have the required course work to go to architectural school; ‘not enough Chemistry or Physics.’ I took his advice at face value and decided not to pursue architecture.

At college, I tried all sorts of courses, first majoring in History, then Psychology, and finally Urban Planning. All this time, I remained very interested in Architecture. I photographed buildings as a hobby and became friends with a number of architectural students. These friends saw my interest and encouraged me to take Architecture as a post graduate degree.

It seemed that those who knew me knew I would make a good architect, yet I listened to advice that I didn’t have the stuff to become one. And ultimately, it was me who had to believe. The rest is history.

GS: What schooling is required for success in your career?
AH: Schooling is such a personal choice. What schooling you pursue to become an architect depends so much on what aspect of architecture you are interested in (there are so many).

In a way, I was lucky not to go directly into Architecture right after high school. I had the opportunity to develop a much broader understanding of the world around me and how it worked This bigger view has allowed me to put architecture in a more real world perspective that has given what I do more meaning and value. My advice is to begin by studying the broader context before you delve into the detailed aspects of architecture.

GS: What inspires you?
AH: I am inspired by the commitment of recent graduates that we have hired to make the world a more sustainable, fairer, and healthier place to live. The younger generation I work with has reminded me of the important questions that have long been overlooked or forgotten. Common sense that has long been forgotten–like putting people before cars, being concerned where our food comes from, understanding that sustainability begins with our personal choices, and that making the world a better place is a very exciting reason to be practicing architecture.

GS: Your latest project was selected as the site for Athlete’s Village at the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics in February 2010. That’s amazing!
AH: We were very excited to be involved in the project from its inception as an “ecodistrict”, or a community that would model walkability, livability, and deep long-term sustainability principles. Our planning emphasized the need for conservation, restoration, management of energy, waste, water, and transportation, and integration of opportunities to grow food in this urban neighborhood. Buildings will use less energy and create less waste. As architects, we feel that work of this kind is a contribution that we can make to our communal well-being, and we hope to take these ideas much further in our future projects.

Here are a few bonus questions that weren’t featured on Get Schooled’s website (including a photo that just had to be shared):

Alan Hart2GS: Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
AH: I have had some very good teachers who have taught me but the one who had the most influence at a key time in my life was Mr. Wright, my English and History teacher in Grade 10. He was an animated teacher whose joy was seeing the present as part of a continuum of history. He could put you back in time as if you were there today. I really enjoyed his way of seeing life and he influenced how I perceive the world we live in. But Mr. Wright went beyond the subject he taught; he taught me to believe in myself, especially during difficult times. And I saw tough times in that year.

It was a time when I was trying to explore new ideas and find new ways to express myself. In the process my clothes, my hair, new music all changed. Changes that were not welcomed by many of my teachers. It seemed the more I tried to find what I really liked and who I really was the more friction I got . Conflict I didn’t welcome but that just seemed to be part of the journey. Many friends were unhappy with my changes and many teachers who once liked me now seemed to be disappointed and even hostile to me. The whole situation seemed to take on a life of its own.

It was in the midst of these tough times for me Mr. Wright seemed to go against the flow and spent extra effort to engage me. I found him asking me about my ideas and he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. A group of us would often stay long after class and discuss things that seemed to really matter. It was through these exchanges that Mr. Wright’s generosity shined through and I learned to focus on ‘content’ and not get lost in ‘personality,’ to do things out of joy and not fear, and to know your own voice in ‘the conversation.’

GS: What is the best advice you were ever given?
AH: The best advice I was ever given was from an architectural professor who advised me to focus on content before personality. He said that we so often get caught up in who or how people are saying things rather than what is actually being said. The principle of this is that innovation comes from ideas and that ideas are ‘open source’ and not possessed by someone. He said possessing ideas is death to innovation and that if we truly believe in what we do we have to be ready for the best idea to win.

GS: Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
AH: The answer to this question depends on what your definition of growth is. Right now, many firms have much less building design work than they had a year ago. As a consequence, many architects, like other professions, have lost their jobs. During hard times though there is a real opportunity for new ideas to solve problems in an innovative way, a time to rethink some of the basic assumptions about how we build our cities and our communities. It takes a lot of thought and consideration to do more with less. Therein lies the opportunity for young people entering the profession.

Our experience is that during prosperous times, there is a desire to get things built quickly in order to profit from the economy, but often the resulting buildings suffer in terms of quality. At VIA, because we approach our work from the perspective of longevity and integrity, our firm is often less busy than others during fast times. Conversely, slowdowns in the building industry often mean busier times for our practice because we can better serve clients who are interested in developing thoughtful, reasonable ways of doing projects. Our clients are more likely to ask the questions “Why should we build it?”, “How much should we build?” and “Are there other ways to achieve this than building something?”

GS: What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
AH: My advice to those considering architecture as a profession is to think of it as an opportunity to help make the world a healthier, fairer, and more sustainable place to live.

If our cities are to become more sustainable, the world need leaders who can understand, envision, and implement the possibilities and who can inspire others to make the necessary changes come true.

Architects, because of the breadth of their training, their ability to visualize and to communicate ideas and have the skills to build them, have a great opportunity to become those needed leaders.

GS: Describe your latest project or current focus.
AH: In the past few years, we’ve realized that the way in which we can make a difference is to look beyond the design of buildings as stand-alone works of architecture. At VIA, our focus is on both buildings and infrastructure, and using the integrative power of design to make sure that all the parts and pieces of a community fit together in a way that supports people’s lives. A recent opportunity to accomplish this was our planning work for a neighborhood in the central part of Vancouver, Canada called Southeast False Creek.

This 50-acre site consisted of former industrial lands, bordered on the north by False Creek. We were very excited to be involved in the project from its inception as an “ecodistrict”, or a community that would model walkability, livability, and deep long-term sustainability principles. To our delight, the site was subsequently chosen for the recently completed Athlete’s Village for the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics in February 2010. The Village will be converted to predominantly family housing immediately following the Games.

Future residents will enjoy a community where they can live, work, play, and learn in a neighborhood that will achieve the highest levels of social equity, livability, ecological health and economic prosperity and that will support their choices to live in a sustainable manner. Our planning emphasized the need for conservation, restoration, management of energy, waste, water, and transportation, and integration of opportunities to grow food in this urban neighborhood. Buildings will use less energy and create less waste. As architects, we feel that work of this kind is a contribution that we can make to our communal well-being, and we hope to take these ideas much further in our future projects.

Monday News Roundup

May 17, 2010

… and we’re back to our regular schedule!

You Are So Wrong, Frank Gehry! (Metropolis Mag)
The blogosphere is buzzing with Frank Gehry’s derogatory remarks about green design. In a recent public interview, the starchitect summarily dismissed the movement that’s working to make the built environment more responsive to our deteriorated natural environment.

Sustainable Communities…What’s Missing? (Planetizen)
As planners, we try to live the urban lifestyle, minimize our carbon footprint, and even grow our own vegetables. I’ve lived in New Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, and now Miami. And as every year passes, I find it more and more challenging to cling to my planning ideals.

10 South African Stadiums Of The 2010 FIFA World Cup (Web Urbanist)
Though many have expressed doubts that South Africa can successfully host an event of this magnitude, an in-depth look at the 10 spectacular stadiums selected as game venues is sure to surprise and impress sports fans the world over.

Bicycle Rush Hour (buzz feed)
This is rush hour in Utrecht, Holland. Hopefully this is the future of all cities around world. Clean, healthy and safe transportation for the win. And look – no fixies!

Toolkit for Change: ICLEI’s new Urban Sustainability Framework  (Open Alex)
Sustainable cities has been a hot topic for over a decade. But there has never been a time when the challenges and opportunities of sustainability have been so clearly on display.

Grow your own lunch!  (NY Times)
Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts is one of many companies that have started gardens as an economical way to encourage a healthy work force. 

More Bike Lanes in Seattle (Seattle Times)
The rollout of Mayor Mike McGinn’s Walk Bike Ride initiative to wean travelers away from fossil fuels by creating a network of connected transit routes, bike paths and walkways has begun.

Light Rail in Seattle-A review of the journey (Seattle Times)
Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels reviews the process that Seattle has endured towards bringing light rail on line.

Friday News Roundup

May 14, 2010

Starting and maintaining a corporate blog has been a very interesting experience. When working with Banyan Branch, our social media consultants, we decided that the blog would be more effective if our posts were thought pieces written by our architects, planners, and marketing staff, instead of corporate blogs, which typically post about company news and events. By choosing this method, we could not only showcase the incredible group of individuals at our firm, but could also stay on top of current topics in the architecture and planning world.

Because we have our team write most of our posts, however, we sometimes hit a week (or two) where no one really has time to put something thoughtful together. So instead of the Monday News Roundup, which I missed this week, I thought I would pull together a Friday News Roundup, and hopefully we’ll be back on track next week.

RAFAA’s Solar City Tower for Rio 2016 games features energy-generating waterfall (World Architecture News)
Going for green at the Olympics in Brazil, with the briefest mention of Vancouver’s green Olympics.

Enabling walking in cities (Washington Post)
The time has come to acknowledge that walking will be an indispensable component of 21st-century transportation.

How to turn your streets into sidewalks (GOOD)
What if streets belonged to people and not cars? With the rise of car culture over the last half century, our roads have grown bigger and wider, while our sidewalks have grown smaller and more narrow. The global movement “Ciclovia” wants to reverse that trend, at least for a day. The idea has caught on and spread throughout South America and up north to places like Ontario, New York, and El Paso.

Cul-de-sac hell and radius of demand (Human Transit)
Cul-de-sacs make people travel more miles

Our first sustained decline in driving (GOOD)
The New York Times has a fantastic infographic up that charts the price of gas and the number of miles we drive per capita. And while we’ve declined before, this is the first sustained decline in US history.


Throw out the spare tire, replace it with an electric bike (EcoGeek)

Living small in Vancouver (The Globe and Mail)
The city’s first laneway house drew a big crowd. Is this the beginning of an affordable housing revolution on our back lots?

Cooperative Housing

May 05, 2010

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant for VIA Architecture

The cooperative housing movement in Canada began in the 1930’s. The intention was to create a safe, collaborative, affordable living model in which people not only relied on their neighbours for a cup of sugar but also to maintain the grounds and make the important governing decisions. Rather than a traditional model in which a building has tenants and a landlord or manager, co-ops wanted their members to be in control and because co-ops have traditionally been subsidized, it was only fair that people give back to their community. This is where committees and a self governing board became integral to a smoothly running co-op. In fact co-op members can be kicked out for not participating.

Today’s co-ops follow the same principles, although I have heard that some are more successful then others. Each member joins a committee which either deals with finance, the newsletter, the garden and grounds, membership or everything else in between or is voted onto the board. The board governs all of the important decisions which are then put to a vote and each member is given one vote. Members join the committees which best utilize their strengths and in return they get a safe, beautiful, friendly place to live. The idea follows the age old Marxist ideal of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” In addition to this, there is also the option to apply for subsidies in rent in case of a layoff, retirement, sickness or anything else affecting income levels.

Given that co-ops are a very ideal way of living, gaining membership can be a difficult and long process. In order to become a member you have to be interviewed to be placed on the waiting list. However many waiting lists are full as space is limited. Our coop has only 4 or 5 one bedroom units so the waiting list for them hasn’t opened in about 12 years. If you are lucky enough to make it to the waiting list the process from there can take anywhere from 6 months to 6 years (and possibly even longer). Once a unit becomes available people on the waitlist are invited to see the unit at which time another interview would be required. If all goes well and your membership is accepted you must then purchase a share of the co-op which can cost anywhere from $600 to $6000+ depending on the coop. From then on you are part of the community. You are responsible for your garden and taking care of your unit but things like appliances and necessary renovations and upgrades are taken care of by the co-op.

Co-ops have been criticized for getting “government hand outs” but this is not a something for nothing scenario. “Co-operatives boast a successful twenty-five year record of sound and cost-effective management, self-governance, sustained public-private partnerships, and participation in broader social issues. This success can be traced directly to the empowerment of ordinary Canadians to own and democratically manage their housing (link).” Contrary to a subsidized building which houses those with little to no income which don’t participate in return, co-ops expect their members to give back and in fact rely on it. They also house people from different income levels to embrace a community consisting of varying socio-economic statuses.

I have recently moved back to the co-op in which I have lived off and on since I was 8 years old as I am subletting from my mom while she is working in another city. Members are only allowed to sublet for a limited time period as the person subletting is not considered a member and does not have the same responsibilities or rights. Having such people living in the co-op for an infinite amount of time would transform it into any regular apartment or town house. Although I am only allowed to be there for a limited amount of time and applying for membership is extremely difficult for me even having grown up there, I love what I would still consider my community. People stop in the stairwell to catch up, there are pot lucks for summer and celebrations in the winter. People invite each other over to their roof top patios to watch the fireworks or for a holiday dinner. Most interestingly of all, when I started at VIA Architecture I learned that one of our founding principals lives across the courtyard from me and has since I first moved in. He was the 3rd member of our co-op which began in 1979 and therefore has a pretty top notch view.

Of course co-ops have had many challenges as well. We all dealt with the leaky condo situation as our building lay buried under scaffolding and green mesh for many months. This in turn led to decreased reserves to fund subsidies. I know that our coop is unable to accept any member that cannot pay full market rent. Of course as a non profit, full rent is about half to a third of what others would pay. The idea that members would pay according to their salaries is something of the past. However, once membership is granted members can apply for subsidies in case of layoff, illness or anything else effecting income levels. Other issues include members that won’t participate or don’t follow the cooperative ideals and some who lack common neighbourly consideration.

Just like any community we have our struggles but at least we are in it together. Recently funding for co-ops has been cut as our operating agreements with the government will begin to end, leaving co-ops to “fund” for ourselves. However we are not doing it as independent unheard tenants but rather as a group of decision makers, working together for a common goal. We will continue to work to make our living space beautiful, liveable, friendly, accommodating, safe and affordable. Not an easy feat but when everyone comes together and cooperates, well that is really what it is all about.

Monday News Roundup

May 03, 2010

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

Couch Cushion Architecture; A Critical Analysis (Build Blog)
A fun look at couch cushion architecture and how it establishes the “basic building blocks of our design logic.”

Vancouver peddling safer cycle paths (Vancouver Sun)
City wants to boost bicycle ridership in the downtown core with more separated bike paths.

Aging Burrard Bridge not failing: city engineer (Vancouver Sun)
Concrete barriers on the Burrard Bridge are not causing structural problems, city engineers say. The falling pieces of concrete on the south side of the bridge are a normal aging process that officials are monitoring.

A post-Olympic dawn, with a bit of a hangover (Vancouver Sun)
B.C.’s economy has much going for it, but a coherent strategy for the future is still missing

Road Lobbyists Take Hit From Livability Movement (Planetizen)
The concept of “livability” seems to be catching on — both at a local level and up in the federal government. This is especially true in the Department of Transportation. That could mean bad news for the road building lobby.

22 cities exploring streetcar systems (GOOD)
According to Scientific American, 22 cities are actively exploring new streetcar systems.

Urban agriculture upsetting the neighborhood (The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver homeowner says neighbours’ ambitious vegetable plot is an eyesore eating away at his bungalow’s property value

Do it yourself maps of realtime information (Human Transit)
Eric Fischer wondered how fast San Francisco’s transit system really was, so he asked the transit agency’s realtime data feed, and drew a picture of the answer

A tale of two cities (Zach Shaner)
“I hate to beat up on Seattle.  I love the Emerald City, and I have lived there quite successfully without a car.  But after living here in Vancouver for 4 months, I am unequivocally convinced that Vancouver offers far superior bus service.”

Transit decorations for your home (The transit pass)
As someone so kindly put it on twitter: Nerd Alert!

Density and the successful provision of public transit (The transit pass)
Transit planners and lovers wax romantic about the virtues of transit oriented development as well as the potential of current and future urban areas to support successful public transportation.  However, as Yonah Freemark at the Next American City points out, such development is only successful for cities that have sufficient urban density. 

The Architect’s Role in a Warming World (World Changing)
“The City is not part of the problem, it is part of the solution.”

Community Land Sharing (World Changing)
SharedEarth is a free service in the Craigslist mold with a dash of online dating; a globally geared tool for connecting landowners and gardeners in both rural and urban environments.

Do Community Gardens change the food system? (Word Changing)
Spring has sprung and for thousands of northwesterners, thumbs are turning green. But for apartment or condo dwellers—like me—urban gardening can be a challenge.