Category Archives: urban

Some random urban design thoughts

  1. I was at the Peace Bridge tonight.  A couple hundred people crossed it while I was there.  Lots of tourists and families taking photos of their “accomplishment” and documenting the bridge.  Name me one place in Saskatoon where that happens.  It’s infrastructure and a tourist attraction.   Even Mark and Oliver thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
  2. There was an open air concert near there and yes, there were cars parking all over the place but there were hundreds of bikes down there.  a) Can you imagine the carnage that would happen if you didn’t have bike and pedestrian infrastructure in place to get people downtown. b) How much vibrancy would you lose without it as people said, “I’m not driving downtown?”  World class cycling infrastructure means less congestion for those that have to drive.
  3. The Peace Bridge is wide, a lot wider than Saskatoon’s under bridge sidewalks.  Wide pedestrian lane and a wide cycling lane one each side.  In Saskatoon we talk of pedestrians vs. cyclists but in Calgary their multi-use path are 3x larger than Meewasin or twice as large as the path along 33rd.  Cycling infrastructure is more than just protected bike lanes, it means building all sorts of things so cyclists can use it.
  4. The Cycle Track is busier (I took some time to watch it) than I expected.  It also isn’t perfect and has some design flaws as it begins and ends but it is being used by a lot of people.   I (and others) have always said, “build it and they will come”.  It is happening in Calgary.
  5. When I was in Banff, I was shocked by how little parking there is downtown.  Only a few spots and then they use parkades.  Like in Calgary and even in some malls, it gives you a real time update of how many spots they have left.  In Chinook Centre, they even had lights to tell you where there were open spots . Saskatoon could do that kind of stuff but first we would have to invest in some parking garages.  I can’t see it happening but it would totally change downtown and give designers so much flexibility into making it into a people centric place again.
  6. In downtown Saskatoon, we have this idea that since we have Meewasin, we don’t need any downtown parks while in Calgary, there is the river and guess what, several amazing downtown squares and parks.  One of the most interesting ones was a temporary park put up by where the Telus Sky will be.  It’s just a placeholder for a future development but it looks really good and isn’t surface parking.  I’m assuming there is a tax incentive for doing this but why can’t Saskatoon do the same thing.  Why does everything torn down have to be turned into the Impark Empire.
  7. Banff has a pedestrian bridge.  It isn’t even for tourists but locals but it looks great.  Think about that, Banff has a bridge for pedestrians.
  8. Speaking of Banff, they integrate cyclists really well despite no protected bike lanes.  They are so natural there that you expect bikes (and elk) to be everywhere.  Drivers accommodate them.  I believe in excellent cycling infrastructure but drivers who respect cyclists goes a long way.  I think Saskatoon and SGI could do a lot more to educate people.  It would take decades but it could make a big difference.
  9. Does anything think that Saskatoon’s North Commuter Bridge will look anything other than the cheapest design that can be built?  Why can’t we have any signature infrastructure at a time when it is increasingly part of the urban fabric?
  10. Saskatoon will never be the next Calgary.  There is a boldness and arrogance that has long been a part of Calgary that has always demanded to be seen on the same level as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  It has always punched above it’s weight, even in times of deep recession.  Saskatoon doesn’t have that kind of leadership and spirit. 
  11. I don’t think that is entirely our fault.  There is a different business culture with agriculture, uranium and potash then with oil and natural gas. 
  12. Calgary has much higher design standards than Saskatoon.  The architecture is better in Calgary in part because they demand it.  The result is that the city has incredible design even for things like parkades while Saskatoon has the Sturdy Stone Centre.  It’s not just the market that is different, city design standards are higher.  If companies want to play in Calgary, they have to pay.  Proponents of build cheaply say that the costs are passed on and they are right but the entire wage structure is different in Calgary so it can absorb it.  Great cities are expensive, Saskatoon is trying to become one by being cheaper than everywhere else.  It isn’t going to work.   For this I blame Lorne Calvert who recruited people to come back to Saskatchewan because it was cheaper than everywhere else.
  13. You know, Lorne Calvert probably isn’t responsible but still, it bugged me when he did that then and it still bugs me now.  You don’t invite people to come back because of cheap utility and insurance. 
  14. Macleod Trail is as ugly as street as I have ever seen anywhere outside of Winnipeg.    Luckily Calgary is trying to fix it.

Some summer photography posts

Here are some longer pieces I wrote for the Don’s Photo Blog this summer.

Those that can’t… write tutorials about how to do it.

Speaking of photography, I finally went out last night with my new Pentax K-3.  It was dark before Wendy and I left the house so using a new camera with only the light of street lights was fun but I was happy with the results… you know the results that I could see.

Horray for the High Bridge

I like this article in City Journal about the High Bridge in New York City.

The restored High Bridge, New York City’s oldest standing span, not only has great views and a high-quality path connecting two largely minority neighborhoods, it also serves a social purpose; kids from the Bronx will now have easy access to the High Bridge Pool in Manhattan.

The histories of great cities are replete with stories of Herculean efforts to supply them with clean water. New York is no exception. Originally dependent on surface and groundwater supplies, early New Yorkers dealt with water that was insufficient in quantity and frequently polluted. Diseases were common. An 1832 cholera outbreak, followed by a lack of water to fight the Great Fire of 1835, prompted the city to take action: it built the original Croton Aqueduct system, including the High Bridge, to carry clean water 41 miles into the city.

Completed in 1848 and constructed as a series of masonry arches in the form of a Roman aqueduct, the High Bridge is, in effect, a pre-industrial artifact. While it was in use, water flowed across the bridge not in an open trough, but in twin, three-foot, cast-iron pipes. The top was a pedestrian walkway. After it was decommissioned as an aqueduct in 1917, the city planned to demolish the bridge to improve navigation. Protesters wanted it preserved, so the city replaced the spans over the Harlem River with a steel arch section in 1928. The arch span replacement was built for what was basically an obsolete bridge, making the High Bridge an early historic-preservation success, if only a partial one.

In the mid-twentieth century, the walkway attracted crowds, often just for a see-and-be-seen pleasure stroll. “New Yorkers from either side would put on their Sunday best and parade from one borough to another. It was far more than an aqueduct, it was the center of a social world,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver noted at the reopening. But the High Bridge and its social life fell into decline, along with much of New York City, as the century progressed. The structure decayed, and there were reports of people throwing stones at passing ships from the walkway. The Parks Department isn’t sure when it was closed or why, but by 1970 the High Bridge was off-limits to pedestrians.

Over the years, various groups called for the High Bridge’s restoration. In 2006, the Bloomberg administration took up the task in earnest as one of eight major regional parks investments in the PlaNYC initiative. This included a commitment of $50 million in city money toward the $61 million total project cost. While Mayor de Blasio treats his predecessor as He Who Shall Not Be Named—and failed to attend the bridge opening—the High Bridge restoration was in fact a good handoff of the baton.

The restoration—including masonry repairs such as tuckpointing—was complicated by needing to be performed on a bridge spanning two freeways, a river, and an active Metro-North rail line. The faded and peeling lead-based paint had to be removed. While before-and-after photos show a sharp contrast in appearance, the bridge was actually repainted the same color as the original. “We sent the paint chips off to the lab for matching,” says the Parks Department’s Ellen Macnow.

The fiscally conservative City Journal asks if it is worth it?

It’s worth asking whether, with its $61 million price tag, the High Bridge project was really needed. Strictly speaking, the answer is: No. The structure was in no danger of falling down. And, just a half mile to the north, the Washington Bridge provides a functional, if unpleasant, pedestrian crossing over the Harlem River. Yet, the High Bridge is an important part of New York history and deserves its loving restoration. Spending serious money on outlying neighborhoods that are mostly minority and heavily poor to give their residents a humane environment instead of a minimalistic one shows that New York does care about all its citizens. Great cities don’t just do great things in a sanitized downtown Green Zone for visitors. They create greatness in their workaday neighborhoods, too, with projects that speak not merely to the pragmatic, but to the human spirit. The High Bridge restoration again shows what great commercial success allows a city to do for its citizens.