York Urbanist

Archive for June, 2011

The Right Park

June 30th, 2011
Parks, Urban Design

Remeniscing about parks in which I have had a hand is often a sore point with my family.  But I could not resist a photo in GreekTown’s Logan Park. The fountain is the only relief from the urban clutter of a very successful street, Danforth Avenue.  The picture speaks for itself on a hot day in June. This is the right park for this intense urban space.

When Does UD start?

June 29th, 2011
Urban Design

Markham has some excellent examples of buildings with urban character…only to be diminished by their unfinished surroundings.

Today, I visited Leitchcroft 3/4 of which has been completed.  For about two years, the construction of condominiums fronting Hwy 407 has been emblazoned on the commuters who avoid the chaos of Hwy 7 by shortcutting through the subdivision.  Bumps over hoses crossing the roads, dirt laden asphalt roadway, incomplete and ugly hoarding, and impromtu signs are more than squirts of lemon in the eye of the visitor!

This project has the potential to be an excellent example of urban design, but when does that start.  A review of the lanes and buildings of phase 1 from 2003-5 reveals that negligence may also intrude on an urban design award for which it could be eligible.  Rear lanes were embellished with landscape strips whose shrubs have given way to herbaceous weeds.  The alternative of a barren lane in Phase 3 (?) is less remarkable and a heat island.

The crowning UD blow on the west side of the subdivision is eye candy to the gruff construction worker – a makeshift utility box that impedes the view of the architectural design elements and soft landscape edges.

Urban Design can start with the construction of unique or at least clean hoarding.  Construction activities can contribute to the optimism of what the future place will be.  But as long as contractors have their (easy) way of construction, there will be no urban design character until completion of Leitchcroft.  Urban Design Guidelines were completed in 2001 (I developed the landscape guidelines). Ten years later, I am not sure the concept has been achieved.  Will it be 15 years before urban design has its place?

Golf as fitness

June 28th, 2011

Rent a cart, burn off the beer.  But carry your clubs, stay fit for a year.

I was reminded yesterday that golf has a fitness component…but you have to carry your clubs.  With fair warning of our fitness challenge, I emptied all the balls others call practice along with the two extra clubs over the regulation 13.  As a casual golfer, my game was typically inconsistent. At the end of a good night’s sleep, I was untypically stiff.

Calorie burning and carrying golf bags was discussed between yesterday’s foursome. The argument that was posited and not refuted was twofold. One burns 1600 calories by carrying your clubs. The second part was that your score will be better carrying the clubs.  This I had to find evidence in a study.

“The scientist who conducted the study is Neil Wolkodoff, who is the director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, Colo.

Calories Burned on 9 holes

  • Walking: 721
  • Using push cart: 718
  • Using caddie: 613
  • Riding: 411

Miles Walked

  • Not riding in cart: 2.5
  • Riding in cart: 0.5

The study concludes that golfers who walk 36 holes a week will burn around 2,900 calories per week….

The study also looked at the effects on golf scores of different methods of transporting one’s golf bag. Those findings were just as interesting:

Average Scores on 9 holes

  • Using push cart: 40
  • Using caddie: 42
  • Riding: 43
  • Carrying bag: 45

Many golf purists argue that walking the golf course is not only better for your health (no doubt about that), but also better for your score. The thinking is that when walking the course, the golfers sees more: He or she takes in what lies ahead of them on the hole, has time to consider options and to think about club and shot selection.

This study certainly bolsters that argument. Walking the course with a push cart or with a caddie both produced lower average scores than riding in a cart. Walking while carrying one’s own bag yielded the highest average scores, however, which likely has to do with the extra physical exertion required. That causes the golfer to tire more quickly and also, Wolkodoff surmises, increase instances of lactic acid build-up in the muscles. When lactic acid increases, fine motor skills decrease, and fine motor skills are what are required for the precise motions of the golf swing.” http://golf.about.com/od/fitnesshealth/a/golfphysical.htm

So there you have it.  Or here is my excuse for a score of 107 or 109.  I was carrying my bag.  Had I been pulling a cart I would have broken 100.


Markham's CathedralTown

June 27th, 2011
Urban Design

Historical city centres were composed of Church, public square and centre of government. That is not what influenced CathedralTown. The Star pre-empted me with an excellent article on the Cathedral of Transfiguration. http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1014935–the-cathedral-that-toronto-forgot

Slovak Cathedral of Transfiguration

“Since its massive structure was completed more than 20 years ago, the cathedral has been a towering landmark for anyone driving on Highway 404. It’s the monumental legacy of (Helen) Roman-Barber’s late father, mining magnate Stephen B. Roman. The cathedral’s three onion domes, plated in 22-karat gold, suggest the grandeur of his obsession.”

Interestingly, the article refers to the association between the edifice and Toronto. Municipalities look for landmarks on which it can be identified.  But I am not so sure that Markham envies its association with the Cathedral. Nonetheless, this structure also lends its name to the surrounding community – CathedralTown.


Roman’s Grandeur was not translated either in the finalization of the cathedral or in the surrounding community. The residential subdivision has semblences of New Urbanism, but falls back into a typical example of sprawl beyond the roads facing the cathedral.  The main road into CathedralTown has an old worldly appearance with it stone clad and brick exteriors.  Art Deco appears to have had an influence on the architects for the buildings on Betty Roman Boulevard. But inside the community Georgian tones can be found amongst 21st century examples of wrap-around porches on corner lots.

The Cathedral is certainly a basis upon which to grow a community. The church and park combination was the core of communities throughout Europe and Latin America.  The difference is that the communities in the old world supported and became involved with the church. CathedralTown is not old world and the Slovak community appears not to have rallied round the Romans.

Vancouver Real Estate Remains Hot

June 23rd, 2011
Urban Design

“….Vancouver’s real estate industry, with recent reports suggesting it is now the third most expensive in North America.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/daily-mix/china-not-driving-vancouver-house-prices/article2072241/

The article in the Globe and Mail goes on to state the impact of the Chinese investors.  Over 50% of the over $2m sales were from Chinese investors, but what the article is indicating is that it is not speculation, it is occupation and sustainable.


When will the bubble burst? Developable land is constrained by ocean and mountains.  Time to reflect on Hong Kong’s history to view the future of Vancouver.


June 23rd, 2011

Is the sport of golf in decline? In the past week, I have attended four golf courses, not all for a game.  Inevitably the conversation with the staff comes to how many rounds and cost of the golf game.  All indicators are pointing to the stagnation of the sport or recreation of golf:

  • Rounds of golf are down over the past five years;
  • The cost of a round of golf has either gone down or stayed the same;
  • Wet weather in the spring has been one cause of reduced rounds, last year it was the harsh winter;
  • Saturation of the Toronto market with golf facilities leaves few openings for new venues; and,
  • Businessmen are less able to find 5-6 hours to entertain clients in this paced-up environment.

Jack Nicklaus, during the US Open, suggested that golf consider a 13 hole event to make it more tv friendly.  After all, how many of us were glued to TSN for six hours for four days during this premier event? The idea was summarily dismissed by the commentators.  During the 1990′s, Mr. Nicklaus also introduced a golf ball that would not carry as far, so that courses could be constructed on less land.  It failed to catch on, as what man will boast about driving 150 yards? But it is exactly that kind of creative thinking that could move golf into a growth sport once again.


June 22nd, 2011

For as many years as I have been planning, designing and using trails, birding was rarely a consideration.  But it is now.

June 2011, changed my perception.  The Humber Valley Trail Association has a premiere resource in Joanne Nonnekes.  As our group entered a beaten trail, we stopped and started with regularity, listening and looking.  Joanne would announce at each stop that there is a type of bird in the vicinity. Each of the six of us would search the tree layers (because a birder knows the ground dwellers from the tree toppers). The pinnacle of the event was the discovery of a Baltimore oriole (a tree topper).

Unbeknownst to me, there are some closet birders in my business and social circles who knew that orioles were a rare sight.

Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Urban Design

June 21st, 2011
Urban Design


The organization of space between buildings within the urban context

York Region – Iconic Places

June 18th, 2011
Urban Design

While Toronto basks in international glory, gaining on Vancouver for the most sustainable Canadian city, York Region population grows.  Unlike Toronto, it has not yet been as constrained by land.  As Toronto grows up, York Region develops out.

So, can York Region have Urban Design awards? Clearly, international award winning projects are few. In the coming weeks, this website will count down eight of the region’s urban places to delight and eight iconic built forms.

Is Ford going green? Toronto, the bikeable!

June 18th, 2011

“Build 100 km of bikeway trails along rail, hydro
corridors, ravines and valleys to serve as the backbone for bicycle
transportation across Toronto, at a cost of $50 million over four years; and

Implement on-street bicycle lanes and complete some
critical connections in the City’s current bikeway network, where the community
supports them and where they do not impede traffic flow, at a cost of $5
million over four years.”


from June 9 2011 memo from acting general manager,
transportation services to Toronto City Council