York Urbanist

Archive for July, 2012

Evaluating Economics of Sports Stadia

July 19th, 2012
Recreation, Sports

Single use sports stadia make little economic sense. I blogged previously on Pittsburgh’s obsession http://yorkurbanist.com/2012/07/pittsburgh-day-2-contd/. A little digging might establish the information that would reveal how much each of the four distinct sports facilities loses.

I have made recommendations on sports facilities in the past, mostly hockey arenas and curling facilities.  Inevitably, the sport body must consider adjunct uses in its economic planning for the facilities. The single sport tends to have limitations to use times and variety. Most sports cannot fill all time slots, but with some creativity in programming, the building utilization can be increased to make an economically viable operation.
However, Markham Ontario is considering a major arena. Justification for Markham is that if we build it then a possible NHL franchise could land…. but what if it does not? There are many large entertainment venues in Ontario, let alone in Toronto area.
I think Dr. Rotthoff is right on! Think about this Markham.

PNC Park, Pittsburgh

Economics and Gold Medals

July 18th, 2012
Recreation, Sports

“Hawksworth says the secret to defying economy-based medal projections is specialization. Kenya might not be able to produce medal winners in a range of events, but it can devote resources to developing the country’s deep pool of talented distance runners.” An article http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1227825–london-2012-best-predictor-of-a-country-s-olympic-success-it-s-the-economy-stupid in July 18 2012 Toronto Star has implications. Resources need to be applied where a country can best achieve. Kenya and Jamaica are the examples. Despite lagging economies, each is 17th and 20th respectively in medal counts…because of specialization.  USA has the largest economy and projects that its Olympic haul will also be the greatest. Second in both will be China.

Scale this down to the municipal level, and the same can be achieved. A pool and program in Ocean Falls, BC turned out Canada’s best swimmers in the 1970′s. During the same period, some of the best badminton players came from a small town near Sudbury, Ontario. Back then, it was more about the enthusiasm of the select group that drove success. Today, sports is driven by investments of time and money. Emphasizing special recreation pursuits in one municipality is the best way to increase notoriety (read marketing) and get best bang for the buck.

When you read Recreation Master Plans, inevitably the top recreation is trails followed by swimming. Dig deeper! What is the municipality known for? What individuals and groups are driving sports in town? King Township, Ontario had that happen when the curling community dominated all recreation masterplanning events. With tenacity, a new rink was built.

Epilogue: The future for recreation and municipal marketing should be specialization. The gold goes to the municipality that can sort through the recreation demands and find the gem that will catapult them into the public eye.

Pittsburgh – the Last Post

July 7th, 2012
Urban Design

From the Pittsburgh Zoo, we chose to avoid the limited access highways. Our trip took us through Lawrenceville to the Strip District before careening through the downtown.  Pittsburgh on a weekday at lunchtime is not much harder to travel than the holiday traffic, more evidence to support motor vehicle emphasis and dependence.  Making occasional stops, we discovered more about the people.  Sales and service staff are frequently over the top in friendly assistance. But when we (frequently) asked for directions, we returned to our limited mapping. The mountainous geography sends road alignments on non-parallel courses south of the gridded city centre, but one can intuitively relate to the river valley, never getting lost as downhill leads to one of the rivers.

But we could not avoid the limited access highway when we made a wrong turn.  It shot us back to the city centre from which we were trying to escape for our trip north.

What we take away from Pittsburgh:

Highways and Bridges, Engineers have done well in the past, but it is beyond time to think about the liveable city;

Friendly, yet less geographically knowledgeable, service staff for the traveler. Is this an indication that the city’s own people do not venture far from their neighbourhoods?;

Emphasis on the physical attractions and less concern about the experience of the in-between spaces which link the attractions;

Respect for heritage and history, but not if it gets in the way of limited access highways;

Art inspires in small ways while architecture triumphs over the street with classic or date-stamped facades that start at the street level and shout “we are here” to the belittled pedestrian or driver. The Cultural District is giving impetus and optimism that this City could become not just sports but a cultural center. ; and,

So much waterfront, yet so little access to it.  The token Point State Park itself is slashed by a limited access highway and framed by two bridge structures. The unpeopled ‘river walk’ pales in comparison to its namesake in San Antonio. It needs to relate to the city street grid but has not because of the impeding highways. Station Square worked with the rails, why can’t the city work with its throughways?

With no fewer than 10 colleges and universities, Pittsburgh could design itself around the knowledge industry. But then the demographics are different than a steeltown.  Yet the city could make the leap.  The youth need an affordable means of transportation and more intuitive recreation, desperately devoid in this city. The campuses are less integral and still give way to the automobile. Steeped in tradition, the universities should build more on that dynamic as they create heritage.  Neighbourhoods need intensification to survive.  Naming the Districts is a first step and encouragement of design and mixed use would assist urban integrity.


This “Last Post” follows http://yorkurbanist.com/2012/07/pittsburg-day-3/ and a series of four.  Watch in Waterfronts for Pittsburgh’s comparison to other international waterfronts.

Pittsburg – Day 3

July 6th, 2012

Although I wanted to be the urban design bloggist, my zoological hat led us to the Pittsburgh Zoo. An easy drive took us southeast of the City.  Seemingly, the south has embraced cyclists with talk in the hotel about having engaged international experts in cycling improvements. Sharrows and real lanes were evident in Squirrel Hill, an upscale suburb near the universities (Pittsburgh has 10 – last count). The downtown would be a monumental win if they can figure out how to fit in 1.2m wide lanes – sorry, 4-foot.

Schenley Park, Frick Park and Pittsburgh Zoo have retained greenness of the south end of the city. Had I my bike there were ample opportunities.  An outdoor cycling oval was the most interesting addition to the landscape, near the zoo. The southeast is blessed with mature canopies over their streets, making cycling a better mode of transportation than the downtown. Fortunately in the south are major universities and therefore a market for the use of cycle lanes.  Some are there, more could be done.

About the zoo: A single route takes the visitor though a jungle or jungles of Africa, Asia and Australia (at least you could meet a kangaroo). The design and layout move the patrons through, under, behind and even into exhibits with animals.  Perhaps the favorite experience was watching the elephants getting pedicures – well, feet washed.  You are close to the behemoths, can interact with the keepers and watch as the pachyderms respond to direction from their human handlers. Toronto’s troubles with their elephants made this special.  The experience is as close to behind-the-scenes as the operations could allow. The rhino exhibit allowed views from numerous locations, including a sneak look from above/behind after you have seen the other Savanna animals.

The interior/exterior aquarium was perhaps the most magnificent exhibit with glass dividers as the tactic to allow viewers to explore underwater without getting wet.   On the downside was the tiredness of some of the exhibitry and the method of Zoo Keys to automate a speaker about each exhibit, followed by an advertisement about … perhaps…. PNC.  But few of the animal dividing fences were evident, kudos to the designers for creating the layering effect.  The staff were all friendly but appeared steeled to the anticipation of those groups behind us.  The Zoo knows its market is primarily children but have brought out the child in many age groups, apparently.

Pittsburgh – Day 2, cont'd

July 6th, 2012
Parks, Urban Design

PNC Green Wall - How much does PNC own?

My hopes were dashed to experience once again the fantasy of good ol’ USA Fourth of July Fireworks, this time in Pittsburgh.  We were only 2 miles from downtown, normally a walkable distance for us.  We were cautioned not to drive because of road (bridge) closures, lack of taxis and the hotel courtesy van would take us anywhere but downtown.

Walking – no satisfactorily safe routes

Driving – too congested

Taxis – not available; afraid to go

Bike – What Bike?!? What bike lanes, anyway?

With residual heat from the cars and asphalt pavement and concrete walls, the parking lot of the Hampton became our venue. The bottle of wine partly made up for the lack of light show revelry. I am told that the fireworks were a spectacle and with effort it could have been experienced more closely. But such is the City of Pittsburgh – a city in fear of its own infrastructure. Those highways and bridges are like the blood vessels in a body after a life that has matured from running,  overheating, and now entering retirement years.

There is hope however with some of the makeup on the edges of the downtown covering the sores that are left from the dwindling steel industry.  Station Square, I already blogged on http://yorkurbanist.com/2012/07/pittsburgh-day-1/, is pleasant and maturing into a landmark gathering place near the core, but across the river.  The South Side results from daddy’s money being pumped into the former industrial plant lands by a young entrepreneur – again, across the river.  And the magnificent Phipps Conservatory is a gem around which to develop a tourism strategy – in the hills.

Then there is sports architecture. But will the single event spaces for football, baseball, and hockey cause an enduring effect? Nice structures, especially PNC Park, Field of Dreams for the Pirates, that seems to present itself to the city’s downtown with every ball game (from across the river).

Pittsburgh is a sports mad town which has a Cultural District. But it is the cultural district that has the potential to initiate real cosmopolitanism.  We were enthused by the first landing (from our car). From the 7th floor of the carpark we could first hear, then see, a jazz concert directly below in a pocket park. And beyond was the splendid Benedum Theatre.  On the street it appeared there were more theatres. Bits and pieces of architecture catch our attention. For the city appears to celebrate its history.

The daytime Fourth of July celebrations had the makings of real culture but they melted in the heat, a city not ready, or its people not convinced it was worthy to endure the heat to go to a cultural festival. Day two fizzled for us, with no relief in the hard core centre of the city, and 93 degree weather.


Pittsburgh – Independence Day

July 5th, 2012
Urban Design

The heat and humidity reinforced the problems with walkability of this city.  This series of highways and bridges with a city in them escalates the temperatures that limited our usually limitless desire to explore.  One’s first inclination is to find the water, but the rivers’ edges are hard with no relief from the searing sun. 

The July Fourth concert in the park was nearly devoid of people. Only the treed edges had human occupation.  The Waterfront regatta attracted the mightiest of heat lovers, but then mostly in the few shady patches.  One could only wish to have been one of the water skiers who fell into the river, protected from the tainted waters by wetsuits. One thing can be said for the planning is that a walkway seems continuous along the river’s edge. Grafitti belies its positive use.

What the city lacks in walkability and lack of trees is made up for by the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden.  There is no comparable Canadian horticultural display. Art, activity, sustainability demonstration and horticulture blend to make a complete experience, which we rushed through in three hours.

Pittsburgh – Day 1

July 5th, 2012
Urban Design

First Impressions: After a pleasant drive on the wide I-79 right-of-way, through the lush green mountains, Pittsburgh’s vista explodes on the windshield - tall glass buildings, three rivers, sports stadia and asphaltic concrete. On July 3, the day prior to a national holiday, traffic is light, a great feeling for a car traveler new to the city. But an unexpectedly few commercial establishments were open, despite a Pirates ballgame, theatre and anticipation for events surrounding July the Fourth.  After being rejected by one restaurant, we found a cafeteria style eatery that allowed us time to walk the downtown.  $2 beer was a surprise and yet the dinner was good.

Second Impressions:  The Benedum Theatre interior left us agape. The gilt interior was an unexpected contrast to a comparatively bland exterior.  This jewel box showcased the musical Annie, a show worthy of the extensive renovations of the former 6000 seat movie hall.

After the show and with prior knowledge of Pittsburgh, we headed to the dancing waters of Station Square. This is the former warehouse district that has been converted to an upscale or say, trendy galleria of restaurants overlooking the downtown across the wide expanse of the Monongahela River and an active freight rail line. We were drawn to the rectilinear brick fountain that was overspilling with water jets dancing to the music of a loudspeaker. We could have stood watching for longer, but were fearful that the last of the open restaurants would close before we could enjoy a late dinner. Our second impressions of Station Square did not meet our expectations.