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The Great Urban Debate, Round One: Vancouver
June 16th, 2009

There are many varying topics presented throughout this debate — it was difficult to decide what points to touch on in only 90 minutes. We met with the debate participants to choose which topics we felt were most pressing in each cities, as well as what things each city could learn from the other city.

Over the next few months, we hope to continue the conversation and really look into ‘lessons learned’ with both Seattle and Vancouver.

CBC Early Edition

Jun 22, 2009

CBC Early Edition had Gordon Price and Peter Steinbrueck on their show Tuesday morning before the first debate as a “mini-debate” to get people excited about the actual debates coming up.

The videos of the debate will be posted here on our blog early this week, so stay tuned!

A Vancouver city planner summed up the debate well when he said: “Perfect debate – Vancouver is pleasant and ‘well planned’ while Seattle is bold but struggles to plan and be sustainable.”

Over the next few weeks, we hope to continue the conversations that this debate has started. We will post clips from the debates with analyses and thoughts from different people in each city about how to address various issues that were raised.

Thanks to everyone who participated — both events were lively and well attended and we hope that you will all continue the conversation with us!

The full versions of the debate will be available on the blog and on our website next week.

Following the Seattle Debate, Gordon Price and Peter Steinbrueck with their “keys to the city”

Because of the anticipated numbers at both events, we will be offering a live webcast for both the Vancouver and Seattle debates.

If you have any questions, please let us know (contact us link to the right).

Come hear two of the region’s most provocative thinkers call it as they see it, in what will be a stimulating, no-holds-barred public event that is sure to serve up some challenging new ideas.

In addition to questions taken from the floor immediately following the debate, attendees will have an opportunity to submit questions in advance by entering them in the form below.

For official twitter coverage, follow @viaarchitecture.
To join the conversation, use #VIADebate.


We often talk about having great streets as part of our city fabric in North America, but when asked what makes a great street, it is very difficult to put into words.

We often say that there should be good activities on it, there should be eyes on the street, it should be 24 hours, it should be pedestrian oriented, room for all modes of transit, etc


But the difficulty is is that we can talk about it poetically, but little is known about the mathematics.
• What width should a sidewalk be?
• Does a great street work with parking on both sides?
• How wide should the moving lane be?
• Do you need substantial street trees?
• What are the specific characteristics of shops and restaurants that animate a street?
• What is the role of sunlight and air movement?
At this point in time, in our practice, a lot of the answers are generic and not specific. Many of the images that we show as examples illustrate the poetic aspects without much detail of the specifics of some of the above considerations.


The intent of my trip to Budapest, Venice, and Vienna is to understand what makes a great street. One of the basic premises of our practice is that a great street is a great place to walk or to hang out. These three cities have different characteristics that may shed some light on the relationship between people walking and the presence of the automobile.

All three cities were seen to be great cities to walk in the era of the promenade (the late 19th century) before the advent of the automobile. Budapest and Vienna were both affluent capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Venice was one of the great destinations for tourists of the day.

The reason why I’ve chosen these three cities is because the introduction of the automobile affected them in very different ways. Venice, because of its particular physical constraints (canals), has limited automobile traffic that affects the walking environment. Therefore, Venice represents the one extreme of what it’s like to walk without having to share the streets with automobiles.

Vienna, in the late 19th century, created ring roads that focused the circulation of vehicular traffic. With the advent of the automobile, it tended to create a logical, organized method of moving automobiles. In the later 20th, Vienna fought back and claimed many of their key downtown streets as pedestrian.

Budapest shared with Vienna, many of the same origins of great urban fabric; the public squares and parks, the grand streets, the ring roads and the impressive civic buildings. Somehow, somewhere with the introduction of the automobile has had a greater impact on Budapest than Vienna in terms of eroding the pedestrian realm. From what I observed on my visit in 1992, Budapest, during the time it was a part of the Eastern Bloc, did not give the same priority to creating and maintaining an attractive public realm as Vienna did over the same period. I am looking forward to seeing what progress has occurred in the last sixteen years.

In 1992, I visited both Vienna and Budapest. Though both cities are incredibly beautiful, human scale cities, I was struck by the differences in the impact of the automobile. On this trip, I want to be able to be more specific in my observations and understand the relationship between what makes a comfortable street to walk and what makes it uncomfortable. I intend to observe Venice as a non-automobile counterpoint.