York Urbanist

Archive for August, 2011

A Contractor's dilemma

August 29th, 2011
Healthy Communities

Construction administration has been taken to an extreme on Main Street, Kleinburg.  The City is administering two contracts on our little 33 foot right-of-way.  The contractor’s challenge?  Not only to use this narrow passage, but also to accommodate the comings and goings of three vehicles from our home office.  Gotta give em credit, I have yet to hear the grumblings (expletive deleted), likely because my car is well away from the site before tempers rise.

……Onto my next project.

Trails – Snowmobiles help

August 28th, 2011

Outer Muskoka was our destination. Trails abound thanks to cooperation and winter fun.  The Ox Tongue River flows from Algonquin Park to Lake of Bays.  Access is provided along the edge thanks in part to trails enthusiasts, not least of which is the Ontario Federation of Snowmobiles Clubs.  A generous width exists for snow machines, having been cleared of woody vegetation.  At first one wishes there was a way to avoid vegetation removal.  But the reality is that Muskoka and Algonquin have urbanized. No longer is the park a distant destination, as cottages surrounding it serve as playgrounds for Those Toronto People and Ottawans.  Creating trails helps to direct traffic from endangering other areas, yet allows non-naturalists the opportunity to explore.

With a good budget and good management, the OFSC has cooperated with Ontario Trails Association to help found trails and maintain them. The noisy machines, and their owners, have taken much criticism due to the carelessness of a few.  They are an essential organization for summer vacationers whose passion is trails.  The Lions have been critical to funding trails in Outer Muskoka, too.

I would be remiss if I did not applaud those that find and encourage use of trails such as the Francis’s who helped us to find one of their Eden’s.

Goderich tornado

August 23rd, 2011
Urban Design

Goderich will continue to be the Prettiest Town in Canada.  It will be because of the tenacity of its Council and residents.  Their resilience was shown previously when another climatic event ripped through the town.  This time will be a greater challenge and leaves families in turmoil.

I offer my resources to assist in whatever manner possible.

Toronto Garden Contest

August 18th, 2011
Healthy Communities

For the seventh year, I have judged Toronto’s City-wide Garden Contest. Patricia Landry of the City’s Parks and Forestry organized the judging and we were accompanied this year by Malcolm Geast, somewhat of a horticultural guru in the city.  This is a contest between residents and between commercial property owners vying for a one of a kind glass sculpture.

Councilor Janet Davis is an immense supporter of this program that encourages property owners to keep Toronto green.  The owners all embellished their properties with varieties of perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs in a way that cause their lots to stand out in the neighbourhoods. This layer of urban design goes unnoticed until a contest such as this recognizes the importance that individuals have on the essence of the City.

Winners will be announced on October 16.


Observations of a Staycation

August 15th, 2011
Pedestrianization, Urban Design

Observation #1: There is much to do in Toronto.  We did not go to Dundas Square, CN Tower or
Yonge Street, the big draws in the Downtown.
Instead, we did a self-guided walking tour of King street, Kensington
and University of Toronto campus. King Street west of University is vibrant
with theatre and restaurants and clubs.
The volumes of people give it a safe feel. Kensington is not what we
remember it from the 1980’s. Perhaps it is the evolution of demographics that
have made it less diverse, or perhaps we were there too early at 9:30am.  U of T was a fascinating tour of the school
in the city. Although the city grid of streets permeates, the campus still
feels integral…and the heritage of the buildings amazes.

Observation #2: King Street vs University Avenue – the
safety of activity on King is not evident on University.  This observation I made while at Ryerson in
the 1970’s and it still exists. It remains a 9 to 5 stalemate, with pretty
plants in the centre median.

Observation #3: If cranes are an indication, Toronto remains
economically healthy.

Observation #4: I agree with Christopher Hume about the poor
connection of the Opera House with the street. Although a magnificent venue
inside, the wall facing Richmond salutes the Hilton with a middle finger. Even
the entrance from Queen and University offers little to entice the visitor to
enter.  Nice Beemer in the window at the SW
corner.  (I guess that’s how they pay the

Observation #5:  The
number one attraction in Toronto – people: its diversity of demography and

Flash mob

August 10th, 2011
Healthy Communities, Parks, Recreation

NPRA of the US has posted a challenge to produce the best Flash Mob in a park.  Already some interesting results on YouTube if you search for Flash Mob Challenge.  Great initiative of the NPRA – What about Canada? http://www.nrpa.org/flashmobcontest/ Fabulous way to instill fitness, albeit for only 1 1/2 minutes.


August 8th, 2011

Eco-Adventures near Turkey Point was an education and fitness exercise worthy of the cost.  At the urging of my athletic brother, we formed a group of seven family members to swing like the animal world through the canopy of the Carolinian Forests near Lake Erie.  And what dramatic landscape.  The guide, Jack, was a personable, if youthfully exhuberant, ecotourism school graduate.  He knew much about the Carolinian forest (which I now teach about at U of G), so the others in our party would confirm his accuracy with me.  We used eight zip lines, two swing bridges and a harrowing (for some) rappel to wend our way through the forest.  The decks at each end of the zip lines were located to frame views of the lake and marsh.  The canopy provided a cool environment to cajole over our lack of zip expertise.

And the site was also the site for “glamping” – glamour camping.  Large ‘tents’ house a king size bed, washroom and shower.  Patrons need not roll up the sleeping bags, the beds are made for them daily.  I could do that.  Indeed I am tempted back by that.  I can highly recommend this Eco-Adventures http://lpfun.ca/.

Seven Billion

August 5th, 2011
Healthy Communities

On October 31, 2012, the 7 billionth human will be born, according to the UN. 


How will they be housed?  What will life hold? The UN predicts that the 7 bth child will be born to a Hindu in India and that although it will have water, it will unlikely have a toilet.

Water, the next economy may be based on it.

Highway Noise Barriers

August 4th, 2011
Urban Design

In thirty-four years of consulting and after doing my final year thesis in noise attenuation, I reflected today about the evolution of the noise barrier in Ontario.

In my early Brampton days, the solution was the goathill berm with wood or chainlink fence on top.  Problem was that it took too much land from the potential development space, so the developers created a half berm with a wall to support it – less land swallowed up but the retaining walls overturned and wood fences decayed before the subdivision developer could clear his bonds and LC’s.  Then came the Evercrete Wall, the ubiquitous 5 to 8 foot precast concrete fence.  It did the job for about 8 years, when time took its toll on the non-epoxy covered reinforcing bars.  Those walls are still being replaced 15 years after the demise of the company.  Wood walls continue to be constructed, but their lives are 15 years max – not sustainable.

What we as designers are left with is the Durisol prefab concrete wall that have become pervasive along our already boring highways.  But AHAH! the vistas have been opened with windows on those walls.  (see photo aside). Bandaids at best!

What happened to common sense planning of locating residences away from highways and planning commercial and industrial in association with the travel routes they need?

New book

August 3rd, 2011
Urban Design

As I embark as a sessional instructor at University of Guelph, I have returned to more intensive research and reading.  Bob Brown has gone on sabbatical, but left me his latest book, Design with Microclimate, ISBN-978-1-59726-739-7.  It reminded me of G.O. Robinette’s book called Plants/People/ and Environmental Quality, 1972  the preeminent digest of its time.  Robinette’s book was encyclopaedic while Brown’s is personalized with experiential factors while explaining the technical effects of environmental influences on people’s physical, outdoor comfort.