urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

Mapping Our Urbanism Part VI – Income


This animated map showcases the datum bookends of the excellent publication The Three Cities within Toronto: Income polarization among Toronto’s neighbourhoods, 1970–2000 by David Hulchanski from UofT‘s Centre for Urban and Community Studies (downloadable from their website). Income levels are shown as census tract averages as relative to the average for the Toronto CMA – the light pink is middle income (20% below to 20% above average), with the most interesting change occurring between that and the darker pink representing low income areas (20% to 40% below average).

The geographic explosion of lower incomes into the inner suburbs of north Etobicoke and Scarborough is almost stunning, but I think reflects a lot of our current received wisdom about the changes taking place in Toronto, in particular gentrification in old inner city neighbourhoods and the consolidation and bulwarking of high income areas. In short, it speaks volumes about housing affordability in the currently valued neighbourhoods of the city, and indicates that those who can afford to are abandoning many of the inner suburbs.


The more famous map from “The Three Cities” report is this one (above), which highlights those areas with the biggest increases (blue hatch) and decreases (dark brown) in average income between 1970 and 2000 – in this case, white areas are considered relatively stable. As you can see, looking at it this way clearly shows both gentrification at work and that the census tracts with the largest decreases in average income are almost all in the inner suburbs.

Hulchanski calls this a dramatic polarization and segregation of the city based on income, and firmly makes the point that we are capable of addressing this trend through better policies on housing affordability and requiring more affordable units in new developments to ensure that mixed income neighbourhoods are the norm instead of the exception: in his words “The segregation of the city by socio-economic status need not continue. It can be slowed and reversed.”

Crossposted to spacing toronto as part VI of a series – to view the five earlier parts follow these links:

Mapping our urbanism Part V – watersheds

Mapping our urbanism part IV – language

Mapping our urbanism part III – water mains

Mapping our urbanism part II – extents

Mapping our urbanism part I – snow ploughing

Sugar Beach for Jarvis Slip – a Defense

The Star’s Christopher Hume today wrote a scathing attack on Waterfront Toronto’s jury of “insiders” for its choice of Sugar Beach as winner of the Jarvis Slip Public Space Innovative Design Competition (see images from the 3 designs in our previous post).

Hume suggests that we were in fact making a choice between a couple of giant movable arms and a giant screen wind scuplture, but has the gall to say that architect Siamak Hariri may create admirable buildings but “has never shown any special understanding of the landscape”. Sorry Mr. Hume, reducing a landscape architectural public space project in a waterfront location to a choice between two sculptures (however animate) doesn’t show much special understanding of the landscape on your part either. The two features of the design proposals that seemed to attract the most attention both existed essentially in a vacuum disconnected from the site or its context, having no sensible relationship to the surrounding landscape, nor any spatial qualities that would add to the spatial experience of Jarvis Slip.

Yes, the wind sculpture by Ned Kahn would be fantastic, but what is the compelling reason for it to be in this location, and how is it remotely site-specific if it’s essentially similar to all of Kahn’s other wind sculptures? In fact, the Weatherfront team went out of its way to fuss about how we get our weather from Pearson International instead of the waterfront, but since weather stations are traditionally located at airports, the best place for this Ned Kahn sculpture would in fact be directly across from the island airport, not at Jarvis Slip. Not to mention the perversity of placing a screen of this kind across the line-of-sight of the best view from Jarvis Slip (across to the islands), or the fact that the ripples, waves and motion of water in a bay as large as Toronto’s harbour is nearly as endlessly interesting, fluid and dynamic as Kahn’s sculpture would have been, so again, why here? In fact, such a sculpture would be awesome covering one of the buildings facing Dundas Square, not here where the natural glories of Toronto’s harbour are on full display for all to see.

Hume does have a point in his skewering of the machinations of the jury in choosing Sugar Beach while proposing 14 modifications to the design including creating the beach somewhere else instead.

If you set up an “Innovative Design Competition” and then choose what was perhaps the least innovative of the entries, there is something to answer for, but in this case, maybe we should question the use of a competition such as this for this site, and the criteria for innovation we were really after – that is, innovation in public space, not in public art. The innovations in the West8/DTAH and Weatherfront designs were both essentially sculptural, while the overall designs for both were uninspiring and even adversarial to their context.

I am reprinting below the defense of Sugar Beach I posted as a comment over at Spacing Toronto:


I agree with the choice of Sugar Beach for several reasons (to the chagrin of friends at DTAH who think I have a conflict of interest, though I had nothing to do with the design). I think it’s true that it may take some selling for the idea of a beach in this location to be given credibility, but personally I think the juxtaposition of industrial and recreation uses could be exciting and interesting.

As to the year-round use, it hardly feels like the site would be a place for people to naturally convene in winter anyways – how much effort should be expended on attracting people in winter to exposed west-facing sites bound to be windswept and cold? The location of the site next to the potentially inanimate private use of the Corus building hardly bills it as the Dundas Square of the waterfront.

I think if you only ask 3 teams for submissions (all of whom have already done work along the waterfront) you’re really handicapping the possibilities of the location – in this case, as exciting and attention-grabbing as the West8/DTAH scheme was, it failed to really evoke or respond to the specific place of Jarvis Slip and, without the gimmick of the arms, didn’t have a leg to stand on…

I think there’s a little bit of genius simply to the name “Sugar Beach” – I can imagine years from now, with the Redpath plant long gone, the subtle evocation of the relationship carrying on in the identity of this place – “meet me at Sugar Beach” sounds so much better than “meet me at those big arms that stopped working years ago down by the waterfront”. While the name HtO was clever but gimmicky. I feel it will eventually fade as a name through lack of use, Sugar Beach as a name seems like it will have lasting power and be able to become part of the physical and psychological landscape of the city.

Beyond the name, the design for the Sugar Beach scheme itself was well-thought out – not too complicated or cluttered, and just seemed to be a natural extension of the city and waterfront. In particular, the use of the angled waterfront promenade continuing the line of sight from Jarvis from the original East Bayfront Precinct Plan seems highly appropriate in guiding most pedestrian/active through-traffic in a direct desire-line to continue along the east bayfront, while the more passive use of the beach wedges in on the water side of the promenade.

While some people seemed against the use of rock-mounds (maybe it depends on whether or not you like the Cumberland Park version…) I think the way that they’ve been used in the Sugar Beach scheme is appropriate and a more subtle evocation of the canadian landscape than the West8/DTAH version which seemed to be trying too hard to be canadian. The rocks coming out of the sand of the beach seems like a great idea too, while larger rocks in front of the face of the Corus building seems like a good response to the future private nature of that building.

I think Sugar Beach will be a great place, appropriate to where it is, and with the potential to be an interesting hiatus on a walk along the waterfront. I think it’s worth remembering that too much glam and style in landscape architecture rarely tends to be long-lasting, but is too easily convincing in renderings and models. Old parks maintain their charm because they’re timeless, not because they were gimmicky. While certain key, central locations can more than withstand a glam and style design, Jarvis Slip is not this location, because people have no reason to be here – given that reality, Sugar Beach wins out…

I think in the end, Sugar Beach can be said to be representing the establishment and extension of something of a “style” for Toronto’s waterfront, a style that seems built on something that has come out of this city (regardless of Cormier being from Montreal). Something in the essence of Toronto got expressed in the success of HtO – but some people seem hell-bent to turn Toronto into something “else” – no doubt they also think the ROM and AGO renovations actually have something to do with Toronto instead of just happen to be here. It seems like the ultimate test of whether you love Toronto, as it is, with its quirks, foibles, frustrations, and just want it to get better, or whether deep down, you just want Toronto to be somewhere else – Chicago perhaps, or New York, Vancouver, Montreal, London – it’s always somewhere else that’s stylish, that’s good, that has taste, that has innovation – the grass is always greener somewhere else.

But from my point of view, Sugar Beach will only add to the greenness of the grass in our garden down by the waterfront. We should stop pissing all over Waterfront Toronto – the establishment of the urban design review process implies that the members of the panel are knowingly guiding development and public space towards the greater goals in the public interest that have been established by Waterfront Toronto’s planning work – even when that means they have to override the whims of individual designers (and, god forbid, newspaper columnists). In this case, the only true test will be in what gets built, and how well it works. Until then, we need to have a little faith. All is not lost. Sugar Beach will be a great place.

Urban Fabric & Form Comparison

urban form comparison

The Star today published a cover story (Beyond Density) in their Condos section on the efforts in Mississauga to create a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown – key among the problems identified has been the large scale of the block patterns in Mississauga – to prove the point the article includes urban form/fabric drawings of 9 cities (one hopes at the same scales) in order to compare the scales of the fabric of the street network. I include the drawings below alphabetically (with Mississauga first).

(edit: a friend requested I lay out all the drawings in a grid for easier comparison – I hope you enjoy – click on the above image for a larger version)

More than anything, the comparisons expose the inherent problems of scale in trying to evolve any suburban, auto-oriented area into a more pedestrian-oriented centre. The traditional response in suburbia has been to internalize pedestrian areas (in the form of the mall), Square One (home to the largest Walmart in the world) being a particularly powerful example, though Scarborough Town Centre might be the more classic one. The size of Square One’s block makes a very interesting comparison with Copenhagen’s city centre (3rd below) in which a series of streets and spaces have been linked together and pedestrianized (view a map of the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen from Metropolis magazine). In size or length of pedestrian space, the two might even be close, but in overall character and degree of integration into the urban fabric (particularly important for pedestrians) they are from wholly different worlds and you can easily trace much of these differences to the scale of the street fabric.

The other striking lesson from such comparisons is that there really is no perfect form of street fabric – many different networks and patterns are capable of producing wonderful places and being friendly for pedestrians as long as their fabric allows frequent and comprehensive linkages – there simply seems to be an upper scale beyond which all hope of efficient (and therefore popular) pedestrian circulation is gone.

MISSISSAUGA: “Long blocks and virtually empty sidewalks”

Barcelona Urban Fabric
BARCELONA: “La Ramblas is the main north-south promenade”

Copenhagen Urban Form
COPENHAGEN: “City features a car-free zone called the Stroget”

London Urban Form
LONDON: “The Mayfair and Soho districts south of Oxford St”

New York Urban Form
NEW YORK: “Midtown Manhattan south of Central Park”

Paris Urban Form
PARIS: “Streets were designed by Georges-Eugne Haussmann”

Rome Urban Form
ROME: “East of the Tiber River bend that points to the Vatican”

San Francisco Urban Form
SAN FRANCISCO: “Market St splits the central city into two grids”

Toronto Urban Form
TORONTO: “Between Queen and College Sts east of Bathurst”

Jarvis Slip Design Submissions

west8 - dtah view

Waterfront Toronto has released the 3 competing designs for the public space at Jarvis Slip at the foot of Jarvis Street.

PDF files of the competitors’ panels and written report submissions have been made available at the Waterfront Toronto site. – but since at least one of the PDF’s is 90MB, and there’s nowhere else to just see some images from the designs, (edit: torontoist posted images on friday) I thought I’d make some available.


Info on the public presentation and exhibition:

Public Presentation
January 21, 2008
7:00-9:00 p.m.
Metro Hall (Rotunda)
55 John Street

January 21-25, 2008
Metro Hall (Rotunda)
55 John Street, Toronto


JRALA with Charles Waldheim and Ned Kahn

jrala view1

jrala view2

jrala plan

jrala view3


Sugar Beach
Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes

Cormier view 1

cormier view 2

cormier view 3

cormier section

cormier plan


Jarvis Square
West 8 + DTAH

west8 - dtah view1

west8 - dtah view2

west8 - dtah view2

west8 - dtah section

Mapping Our Urbanism Part V – Watersheds


Along with its article today about the TRCA‘s work preserving watersheds in the GTA (Clock is ticking for conservation dream), The Star included a beautiful map of the major watersheds flowing south from the Oak Ridges Moraine through Toronto (click on the image for a larger version). The article describes some of the difficulties the TRCA is having in expanding its protection in the upper reaches of many of the watersheds.

The Star poetically continues:

“Stripped of political boundaries and roads, the GTA map resembles a vast network of watery arteries originating in the Oak Ridges Moraine and emptying into Lake Ontario.”

The original PDF (watch out, 9MB) can be downloaded from their site.

Crossposted to spacing toronto as part V of a series – to view the four earlier parts follow these links:

Mapping our urbanism part IV – language

Mapping our urbanism part III – water mains

Mapping our urbanism part II – extents

Mapping our urbanism part I – snow ploughing

Mapping Our Urbanism Part IV – Language


The Star included a map of “Greater Toronto’s language quilt” in their Ideas section today compiled based on recently released 2006 census data. The map is hidden away on their website in a massive (c. 20MB) pdf file (if you dare, here’s the link), so here are some more easily digestible images of the spread’s content (click to enlarge).

While we love to trumpet Toronto’s diversity, it’s nice to have some statistical proof to back up our claims. It’s pretty fascinating that the second largest language group in the GTA (by mother tongue) only represents 3.5% of the population, and yet with only 56% of the GTA reporting English as a mother tongue, the balance of 44% is made up of an incredibly diverse group of languages.

The Star describes their methodology for the creation of the main map (above):

Our challenge was to show the many language communities while retaining the areas where English overwhelmingly dominates:
– Only languages that ranked second in at least 5 census tracts are shown on the map.
– To replace English — the dominant language in 95% of census tracts — the second language must be above its GTA average.
– If languages were tied, the census tract was assigned to the language that was highest compared to its own GTA average, representing a more significant pocket.



Crossposted to spacing toronto as part IV of a series – to view the three earlier parts follow these links:

Mapping our urbanism part III – water mains

Mapping our urbanism part II – extents

Mapping our urbanism part I – snow ploughing

A sense of scale, a sense of space, a sense of place?

Construction Hoarding on St. Thomas
Photo: St. Thomas St, Yorkville

A second construction hoarding was erected on St. Thomas St south of Bloor recently, across the street from an existing hoarding (which has since been taken down). For a short time, the two facing hoardings protecting the sidewalks appeared to resemble a street lined with arcades, in its small spatial scale not unlike many you will see in southeast asia, such as this one in Singapore.

Street with arcades, Singapore
Photo: Street/lane in Singapore

This small scale of space is a relatively infrequent occurrence in Toronto, especially as part of a public street. While we’re used to such small scales in our back alleys, those alleys are, with but few exceptions, the city’s backdoors – infrequently travelled and largely empty, with few uses facing on to them other than the occasional residence and dominated by garages or blank walls and service entries. They do not really form a part of the public face of the city or city life.

Photo: Laneway in the Junction

Photo: Kensington Market (photo by raptortheangel)

Somewhere approaching this scale of space that is part of the public face of the city is most famously exemplified by Kensington Market, where not only the buildings, produce and products are jostled up against the sidewalk, but the streets are narrow and bustling with people, and to add to the compression of space, filled with parked cars and delivery trucks and slowly crawling traffic. It all adds up to a very human (dare we say humane?) scale that somehow makes you feel comfortable, as though you’ve been enveloped in the city. In fact, Kensington moves beyond a sense of space, and somehow transcends that rather empty word, to have evolved a sense of place, one that is both undeniable and unique.

Photo: Wilkins Ave, off King St E, east of Parliament

There are a few other examples of small space in the city, but they tend to be rather hidden and brief moments – although that just makes them seem all the more jewel-like when you discover them.

Photo: Tree-lined street at Rice University, Houston

While small space is not the only way to attempt to foster sense of place, I think that there is some connection between this sense of scale, sense of space and sense of place. Similar effects of scale can even be created by the canopies of closely-spaced street trees, as at Rice University (above), but can also be misguided in implementation as in this accident of line-of-sight where Casa Loma’s tower is perfectly framed by the laneway between Walmer Rd and Spadina Rd south of Davenport, which doesn’t so much benefit the laneway itself, but creates some sense of drama and intrigue for all those people walking along MacPherson Ave towards George Brown College.

Photo: Looking towards Casa Loma up rear lane between Walmer Rd and Spadina Rd

Whether or not anyone agrees with me about the importance of small scale when it comes to sense of place, I think we can safely say that a key missing ingredient in the urbanities being created in suburban locales around Toronto (and the rest of north america) is the absence of small-scaled space. This absence has been compensated for in many different ways, but most notably (need I say, horrifically and ironically?) by the deliberately pedestrian scale of space of the “shopping street” inside the typical mall and, more recently, by the creation of “pedestrian-oriented” centres in suburban locales, usually surrounded by seas of parking and/or parking garages and huge arterial roads and/or expressways. These new “centres”, sometimes presumed to be the end of the mall (and often replacing them), are in reality the mall’s evolution into a more plausible (but still staged) “reality”, one that is once again based upon the smaller scale that has become nostalgically associated with our cities’ historic centres and main streets.

Whether this small scale can once again be more fully integrated into the urban environments we are building may depend on the level of commitment we as a society are willing to make to creating spaces and places planned and designed around people instead of cars. On this question the jury’s still out. Despite recent progress and a lot of talk to the contrary, the evidence on the ground does not convince.

A plea for more seating

Improvised Seating

With summer fast approaching, we’ll be seeing more and more people out on the streets, hanging out, talking, eating their lunches and generally enjoying being outside – as Canadians tend to do when fine weather brings us out of winter’s clutches. But where are they doing all these things? Surely we’re not all standing around on street corners, loitering in front of doorways or squatted on the pavement?

No, it’s this time of year when finding a plum bench or seat in a nice location at lunch time is something like trolling the streets looking for a parking space. But is the culprit just too many people in a concentrated area all out at the same time, or is it really that we have a sadly deficient amount of seating in public areas in Toronto? And I don’t just mean benches – seating walls, stairs, ledges, chairs, window wells – people will sit on almost any horizontal surface within reach (as the couple in the photo above show in such intimate fashion).

It certainly seems as though in many of the most bustling parts of the city there are hardly any places to sit along streets or at intersections where all the action is happening. I hope that we can improve on the current situation in future, and sincerely hope that the current transformation of Toronto’s waterfront will provide ample (nay, over-ample!) seating of every kind and for every occasion.

Photo: Couple seated in a wall along Balmuto Ave opposite the Manulife Centre

A plea for subtle signage

Just back from Houston, a city which, despite its problems, has some fine moments and some beautifully detailed parks and streetscapes. This stepped edge of a pond in Hermann Park simply uses subtle carved words to ask people not to enter the water. In case you think people should be allowed in the water, there was an area for that too!

286 8615

Too often, it’s easy to forget how signs (particularly restrictive ones) can clutter and dominate public places. While there’s plenty of place for sign clutter on heterogenous and chaotic streetscapes, their intrusion into more passive and contemplative spaces can seem offensive and misplaced.

Hermann Park, re-masterplanned with design projects ongoing by landscape architects Hanna/Olin (now Olin Partnership) and SWA Group (including Keiji Asakura, now of Houston-based Asakura Robinson) and funded by a non-profit group, is a stand-out example of quality urban park refurbishment that practices restraint and holds the line against the commercialisation of public space.

World’s tallest wooden house


A friend just sent this around, and what a doozy! Props to Gaston!

Sutyagin House, Arkhangelsk, Russia

This imposing building is believed to be the world’s tallest wooden house rising 13 floors to reach 144ft. The house is also crumbling, incomplete and under threat of demolition from city authorities who are eager to end Nikolai Sutyagin’s 15 year project. Driven to inspiration by his formative years spent in a Soviet communal flat, Sutyagin felt lonely living by himself. Building began in 1992 and was only going to reach two stories high, however, convinced by a trip to see wooden houses in Japan and Norway, he decided he had not used enough roof space efficiently enough and decided to keep building. He firstly added three floors, but was not keen on the outcome, so he added more floors and just kept goind, he calls the finished project a “happy accident”. For the one-time gangster, who has spent four years in jail on racketeering charges, Nikolai Sutyagin’s home is certainly different. Not only would his house be a perfect love nest, but it could even accommodate the 18 executives of his construction company. Now penniless Sutyagin lives in four poorly heated rooms at the bottom of his wooden log cabin with his wife. Many neighbours consider the building a monstrosity, others feel it is a glorified barn, fire hazard and eyesore but Sutyagin is determined to save his building and has erected a roof around the second floor that he says allows him to claim that everything above is decoration.

Note the lookout tower for those pesky planners