York Urbanist

Archive for June, 2013

Vaughan Cycling Limited

June 18th, 2013
Healthy Communities, Recreation, Trails

Bike Month in Vaughan – it seems anomalous that my city needs a whole month to travel the two major trails that are pictured on the York Region Cycling Trails map. http://ww4.yorkmaps.ca/YorkMaps/CyclingMap/index.html  .

With the exception of the subdivision north of Major Mackenzie and west of Weston, there are no through routes that connect communities of the City without revving your motor!
In Vaughan, there is a chicken and egg scenario. The City Council will not build bike routes because there are not many riders. There are few riders because the bike routes are limited. Every Vaughan bike seminar and event was held in a location to which I had to drive. As adamant as Geoffrey Haines and Mike Tavares (City Staff) are to see routes constructed, the pace of that construction is slow. And it will be thus until it is indicated that there is a financial benefit. There is (a financial benefit):
These are only two of many studies. Look no further than Kleinburg to see the land values. With surroundings of greenways peppered with trails, Kleinburg housing commands more than 20% premium on similar properties in Woodbridge and Brampton. That translates into higher taxes for the city. Health benefits will rarely be quantifiable, but undeniably, residents with access to recreation maintain a healthier lifestyle. PriceWaterhouseCooper in their study for TransCanada Trail explain it succinctly:

“A dollar spent on trail construction, maintenance or by users of the trail, circulates and recirculates within the economy, multiplying the effects of the original expenditures on overall economic activity. This process is referred to as the economic multiplier effect. It operates at several levels:

The initial expenditures of the trail users and trail operators on goods and services, wages, materials and other trail-related expenditures are generally referred to as the direct costs of operation and their effects are referred to as the initial (direct) effects.

Subsequent purchases by suppliers of materials and services to sustain the direct expenditures are called the indirect effects.

Induced effects emerge when workers in the sectors stimulated by initial and indirect expenditures spend their additional incomes on consumer goods and services.”

Currently, east to west travel by non-motorized means is, at best, unsafe. Regional Councillor Deb Schulte says she rode Major Mackenzie to City Hall twice last year, but has no plans to do so this year. A plan, I am told, exists to construct a bikeway adjacent to a reconstructed Major Mackenzie between Weston and Islington. It still does not get one across the near-impenetrable Highway 400. The hospital planned for construction in the next 5 years should be an impetus for the construction for such a crossing.
Cycling can be a healthy business, call it Vaughan Cycling Limited, instead of limited Vaughan cycling.

Knoxville – Urban Renaissance

June 7th, 2013
Urban Design

Knoxville street garden

Dropped into Gay Street Knoxville, the city shines as an example of urban renaissance. The broad pedestrian spaces, but still active with traffic and vital commercial spaces. I stopped by a somewhat vacant office space whose street windows shouted out Landscape Architecture. Clint, a student intern with this not-for-profit community design group explained to me, with pride, the changes that have now created a vital downtown.Fireside Lofts Former offices are becoming high rent accommodation, Bijou Theatre reconstruction, streetscape upgrades all contribute to a fine pedestrian experience. I asked about the “Waterfront Plan” that was posted near the entrance. He was hesitant to explain that this was one of the ideas to rebuild on the riverfront, but that it is unlikely to be near future.


I passed by on the riverfront highway that was the site of the Waterfront Plan and I understand his reticence. Like Pittsburgh, city planners of the past ignored the water’s edge, only understanding how easy it was to build transportation conduits on such easy grades. Indeed, the significant Tennessee River appears and disappears depending on your vantage on the highways that shoot people past the downtown. Tributaries of the Tennessee are only evident because of the location of other highways. One example is James White Parkway that wends its way past the downtown and there it was, a valley bottom that variably appeared and disappeared under structures.

The gem of the city is the University of Tennessee campus.  The lush greenness separates brick buildings that fit their sites.  The campus occupies what seems to be a third of the Knoxville downtown, as defined by the Tennessee River meander. Unlike the University of Toronto, the boundaries of the campus are definitive, meaning that it has not quite integrated into the city fabric.  It has become a sanctuary for students, not that they isolate themselves.  The streets of downtown have a youthful exuberance.  But the urban design shouts COLLEGE. Brick entry features, change in streetscape…it just feels like one has entered a different, yet pleasant space.

The UofT recreation fields are enormous, and extend by way of a 15 foot wide pave trail that follows the adjoining active rail tracks. Despite the late evening hours of my 2 mile walk, and the vegetative cover, I still felt safe in the suburban setting.

World’s Fair Park is distinct from the downtown, somehow separated from the city by the broadness of Henley Street and the solidity of the convention center. When are we going to realize the impact of servicing the car!! While the downtown caters to pedestrians and the city in general revels in outdoor recreation, you still ‘need’ the car to get around. Yet the grand spaces that are the remnants of the 1982 World’s Fair are appealing, attractive at a distance from the elevated roadways, but off the grade of the surrounding streets.  Once in, the grounds are an oasis.  It appears also to be a maintenance drain for the city, and for what future benefit. I hope that I have the opportunity to see it alive with people.