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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.


Rouge Valley Park

May 25th, 2012

There is money for parks after all! http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1185267–rouge-valley-national-park-will-get-145-million-from-federal-government?bn=1


Toronto Park People have done their work well.  Let’s watch as the nature in urbanity concept lives.

Happy Rolph's – Opening Day

May 19th, 2012

At noon, May 19, 2012, Happy Rolph’s Petting Farm reopened to the public. The braying donkeys were the trumpets heralding the refurbished facility in a soft climax to a seven week construction period.  Twenty children were waiting at the gates, despite that there was no official announcement or advertisement.  Happy Rolph’s is such an integral part of the St. Catharines experience, that the community knows that the Victoria Day long weekend is the start of the summer-long event.

Construction is substantially complete.  None of the patrons noticed the minor deficiencies remaining to be completed.

Mike Wilson of the City staff was on hand with his two children and wife.  Mike and his children confirmed the success of the project.








The dusty paths have given way to solid pavement for the patrons, while the animals experience the luxury of soft mulch supplemented soils.  The bright red housings for the animals provide shelter, but on this perfect weather day, the animals were enjoying the new openness of their paddocks.

See previous post during construction – http://yorkurbanist.com/elements-of-design/happy-rolphs-petting-farm-week-7/

Happy Rolph's – Closing in on Opening

May 4th, 2012
This is week five of construction and contractor Stevensville has two weeks to complete.  God is in the details and the stone pier are a great example.

Horse shelter, fence and paddock floor

The High Line

September 11th, 2011
Parks, Urban Design


this concept of a linear park is an example to the world, if it is truly the real deal shown on the website. It is a bridge between the fuddy-duddiness of park designs of the past, uses the past to connect the future and endears itself to a new generation.  This will be a destination for my next trip.

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.


July 14th, 2011
Parks, Urban Design, Urban Places to Delight



Northeast of Baseline Road and Civic Centre Road, Georgina
What? The ROCwill be the recreational, social and historical centrepiece of the Town of Georgina and a major regional tourist attraction providing opportunities for active and passive recreation, socialization, economic development and celebration that contribute to the health and well-being of residents and to pride in this great community. Conceived with the intent of creating a centralized complex, the ROC incorporates high quality sports facilities, passive recreation and adventure based activities providing four -season, multi-generational opportunities to meet the needs of a growing, diverse and vibrant Georgina” http://www.georginaroc.ca/ As yet unfinished, this park already has plenty of activity to draw recreationists. With the promise of more facilities, this park appeals to all ages and all seasons, and promotes active living (unlike its more commercial counterpart, Canada’s Wonderland). The budgets have been enhanced by the federal infrastructure programs, which has sped up the development of this great idea.
Why? The land is owned by the Town, close to the Town Civic Centre and visible to the councillors that vote on the budget for its development. One is at first greeted by the 33m high earthen mound of the ski and bike hill, prominently visible from a distance as one approaches on Base Line Road.  The Civic Centre Road leads you to the municipal office building, itself steeped in the history of the area. A former nunnery, the offices have capably been incorporated into this former Christian bastion. Between those two prominent features are places for people of all recreational ilks.
How is it an Urban Place to Delight? The site is an eclectic mix that includes a train car / wannabee restaurant; pioneer village, baseball, motocross, downhill cycling and hiking trails.  And winter is not forgotten with skiing and skating.  The spaces will need to be more functionally and aesthetically connected, but time will heal. If you cherish recreation, tune your bikes, bats and skis as this place is going to ROC in the future.

Rouge Park

July 11th, 2011
Healthy Communities, Parks

Rouge Park will be the newest National park.  As a landscape architect, I am anticipating the Rouge Park process.  As I read about it in the Globe & Mail today, I reflected on the article’s notes.  This will be the first experience of nature for many living in Toronto.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/a-rivers-edge-view-of-canadas-newest-national-park/article2092001/page2/

I was 15 years of age and had grown up near woods, ravines and the natural surroundings of what is now Hamilton Region Conservation Authority lands. As a camp councilor in Ancaster, one day I was receiving 8 to 12 year olds from a bus that originated in the North end of Hamilton.  Curiosity got to me as I watched each camper exit the bus  google-eyed with head bent backward to take in the seams of light filtering through the maples of the forest in which they had just landed.  It was later that I learned that some of those campers had lived in the shadows of Stelco and Dofasco steel mills in Hamilton and had never witnessed more than a few trees planted together.

Rouge Park makes sense as an education for city dwellers.  Dave Harvey of Parks People and Jim Robb of Friends of the Rouge Watershed

Credit: Karl Martin / www.ethervizion.com

expressed concern for an invasion of 7 million persons, but expressed in other terms the need for Nature’s education.  The design of the park will need to consider how to integrate human behavior with nature’s evolution or both the education element and natural processes will be lost.


July 8th, 2011
Parks, Urban Design

Sensual, savvy and sensational, as art should be. Bronzes by Lea Vivot