Tall Timbers


This via Neil Lamontagne via Ray Spaxman …

The world’s tallest timber tower, at UBC near the old Student Union Building, is topped off ahead of schedule, according to the Tree Hugger Blog. Designed by Acton Ostry, it uses wood manufactured in Penticton by Structurlam.

…the building is fully sprinklered, the wood is encapsulated in concrete and drywall with a two hour fire rating, and the stairs are poured concrete. However Russel Acton also points out inherent properties of wood:

“Have you been up through forest fire country after a forest fire has been through? So you see all these trees? They’re standing and haven’t fallen down,” said Acton. He explained that fire will burn through the first layers of wood and then stop. “The reason why it stops is that in the depth of that charcoal layer, oxygen can’t get into the wood to keep the combustion process going.”

The blog post continues, reflecting on the critical issues of seismic and carbon footprint:

And of course TreeHugger loves it because wood is a renewable resource, and building with it sequesters carbon dioxide. In this building, according to Hermann Kaufmann, “the carbon stored in the mass timber structure, plus avoided greenhouse gas emissions, results in a total estimated carbon benefit of 2,563 tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to taking 490 cars off the road for a year.”

Is this the future, or is it a one-off? Is it time to sell my shares in Ocean Cement?


“Time to stop thinking of our cities as one place and nature someplace else” The remarkable story of Vancouver Greenways-the first Sustainable Streets




Back in the early 1990’s, a forward thinking, mindful and driven group of young landscape architects, architects, planners and city lovers sat down for a coffee. They mourned the fact that the city was developing without thinking through the language and connection with the urban environment and nature. They also understood the interconnectedness of systems, circulatory for traffic and city services and the need for access to  punctuated green park space alleviating the increasing density of urban building.

At a time when “being green” and environmentally friendly were not watch words they insisted that there had to be a way to respect nature in the city, plan with it, and incorporate it in everyday life.

The eight members of the Urban Landscape Taskforce formed in 1991 are an early who’s who on placemaking:Moura QuayleSusan AbsJoost BakkerRobert Bauman, Claire Bennett, Cindy Chan Piper and Sarah Groves. Moura, who became Dean of Agriculture at University of British Columbia and is now a professor of the Sauder School of Business was the chair.


They were supported by an eager group of volunteers including Michael Dea, David Fushtey, Doug Paterson, Brian Perry and Jeannie Bates.


In 1992 this Taskforce created a final report titled greenways-public ways. For some reason this document has never been scanned and is not easy to access. This is a true shame as it lays out very clear principles for decision-making that not only guided the work in creating greenways, but is helpful in assessing place making decisions today. The principles also lay out a plan and approach to ecology in the city by :

1.Recognizing legacies;

2. Recognizing diversity and balance;

3. Caring for and respecting the environment;

4. Making connections to nature and places for all citizens;

5. Creating and promoting community definitions of landscapes;

6. Encouraging innovation;

7. Promoting fairness and equity;

8. Ensuring decision are informed.

From these strong principles, the Taskforce urged the establishment of a “Greenway Trust” to create “corridors linking open spaces” which would invite residents to experience “the outside inside” of a city. These “greenways” are actually what we would call sustainable “green streets” today. The linkages would include a completed waterfront walkway system, ecological reserves such as the Grandview Cut and pedestrian and bike paths through spaces to allow for direct connections. The greenways would also showcase the latest in sustainable practices in storm water management and street design, and be a backdrop to commissioned public art and landscaped plantings.Greenway streets also would have pedestrian and bicycle prioritized before cars.


Instead of setting up a private “greenways trust” which was legally challenging for the City to do, Council created an interdisciplinary  Greenways team with planning, landscape architecture and engineering expertise. This interdisciplinary team would propose a greenways network connecting parks, schools, commercial areas and services.  An Urban Landscape Inventory would inform the best locations for greenways, which would go border to border across the city in all four compass directions.

By establishing a greenways system that recognized landscape legacies, a public realm plan was to be created that would be accessible for all residents. The team also recognized the importance of supporting a parks management plan, and the need  to reclaim local streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Public consultation and connection with residents in explaining the plan was also key. But imagine-a report from a quarter century ago stating “Examine the current street budget which is vehicle-based and use budget re-allocations to exponentially increase funds for streets designed to include cyclists.  A policy is needed to provide for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on our streets, in ways which are safe and effective.”

The remaining strategies from the Taskforce are still relevant today: Developing a street strategy for all users, Prepare an Ecological Management Plan, Adopt ecological performance standards, Promote the urban forest and Ecological literacy. Community gardens were also  addressed, as well as the need to celebrate the  diversity and culture of the different neighbourhoods.


The Urban Landscape Taskforce was very concerned about making the pedestrian comfortable and at ease using a convenient system of greenways. They  also addressed the need for new street design such as the Dutch Woonerf, stating

The Dutch woonerf is an excellent example of the redesign of streets to enhance their social role in neighbourhoods. No distinction is made between sidewalk and road, pedestrians are given priority over the car, speed limits are reduced to walking pace, parking is consolidated, and trees, benches, and gardens enhance the street. “


Two decades later, we have a network of streets that are for walking and biking ahead of car traffic, with each resident in Vancouver located a 20 minute walk or a 10 minute bike ride away from a greenway. The greenways display best practices in sustainable street building and place making,  and public art. They link together parks, schools, shops and services like pearls along several fine and varied routes.


We still have no woonerfs, but we have  infiltration bulges, baffles and swales along greenways that demonstrate best principles in water management. The Taskforce also recommended that Council establish the Arbutus right-of-way as another transportation corridor in the Vancouver Greenway, including  rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths.

I had the delight of being the Greenways Planner for the City of Vancouver and was involved in the creation of the Tupper Neighbourhood Greenway, the Avalon Greenway, and the completion of the Ridgeway Greenway. It was an extraordinary experience to work with a strong  interdisciplinary team focused on implementing the Greenways plan. A quarter century later, the work of the Urban Landscape Taskforce has turned out to be prescient and futuristic, and we have a greenways system that is the envy of many municipalities. May we all stand the test of time as well as this groundbreaking work has.







Ohrn Image — Public Art


Another in a series of trompe l’oeil images by the quite subversive artist at iheartthestreetart.

Located at the rear of the Hootsuite building, 8th and Ontario.  I call it “Jigsaw Heart”.  While I was there, 3 (three!!!) other photogs showed up, and we had a short, funny and lively conversation about our favourite murals from the Festival.





A People Place In the Morning

It’s a great start, but really, we need to be much more assertive and visionary in converting public space for use by people.

Jim Deva Plaza, mid-morning, a summer day.  The street furniture is coming out, and the plaza is getting ready for people who want to watch the scene, chat with their friends, read their book, paper or Kindle, have coffee or a snack.


Worth bringing forward: What’s causing traffic congestion on the North Shore?

Frank Ducote added this comment to the post on the Arbutus Greenway – but it’s worth pulling out to continue the conversation on its own post:

… vehicular traffic on the main North Shore routes has gotten ridiculously congested – if not exactly gridlocked – an increasingly large percentage of the day. (Marine Drive, Taylor Way, both bridges, Highway 1, Keith Road, Capilano Road, etc.) The directional split on the Second Narrows Bridge, for example, went from about 70%/30% to almost 50%/50% in just a few years, making the so-called reverse commute very painful rather than easy. I hope new changes at the north end of the Second Narrows will improve matters there.

Contrary to his point, though, it isn’t additional traffic caused by residential population development on the North Shore, which is actually quite modest and incremental. I’d hazard to say it is mostly generated by explosive development along the entire Sea to Sky Highway corridor since that facility was widened for the 2010 Olympics.

Living in Squamish and commuting to Metro is now about as common as living in the Fraser Valley and doing so. That, plus the fact that almost all freight is carried by truck and construction workers drive vans and trucks, both of which originate south of Burrard Inlet and probably even south of the Fraser.

Oh, how I wish that railway infrastructure was selected for the Sea to Sky route rather than yet more Motordom!


There’s a critical point here: the Province has spent billions on this corridor – Sea-to-Sky, Highway 1, Port Mann, interchange upgrades connected to Second Narrows, along with smaller road and bridge widenings.

For that money and those political commitments, couldn’t the public reasonably expect that congestion would be lessened?  Has it been? And if it’s worse, how could that have happened?  

What lessons does that mean for the future of the North Shore and, to the south, with the massive expansion of the Massey crossing and Highway 99, growth on the Fraser Delta? The Province, without ever articulating a complete vision, has undertaken a region-shaping network of highways and some of the biggest bridges on the continent.  There is no reason to think they will stop.

And yet, if it is already failing to deliver the minimum expected – less congestion – we need to know why and what the alternatives are.

Item from Ian: Why do condo towers look the same?

From Toronto Metro:

Metro TO

Hans Ibelings first visited Toronto in the 1990s, before a condo boom sent the city’s skyline hurtling upward.

When he returned in 2012, the Dutch art historian found a denser, more dynamic city, but one whose architectural landscape was dominated by “a complete sameness” of glass condos.

“Coming from Europe, it’s unbelievable that there’s so little interest in the quality of design,” he said.

Along with local design firm PARTISANS, Ibelings has authored Rise and Sprawl: The Condominiumization of Toronto, a new book that takes Toronto’s “repetitive” and “bland” condo architecture to task. …

“As long as condos sell there is no incentive to change anything, and as long as there is nothing else on the market, people will buy what’s available,” he writes in the book.


Condo colours


Twinned Tweets

So it’s summer, and let the merriment continue.

But here’s that age-old tussle between safety precautions and the “get out of my face, let me do whatever I want” mentality.

First, this happened:  “Strong winds disrupted the annual event called the Port Huron Float Down on the American side of the St. Clair River over the weekend, pushing nearly 1,500 participants in dinghies over the border and onto the shores of Sarnia, Ont. . . .  “They were pushed over pretty quickly, and because they had no control over these dinghies and the wind was basically directing them and the current, they ended up over here,” Sarnia Police Const. John Sottosanti told CTVNews.ca. “

Second, a rant in Vancouver 24 Hours by Ada Slivinshi in favour of freedom on all city property, including large inflatables in the water, letting people play soccer on a field where (new?) grass is growing. And massive (50+) parties (picnics, gatherings, etc) in parks and on beaches. And, of course, no safety rules should be in place until all other problems have been solved first:

These nonsensical rules are an example of the nanny state at its worst. Unable to fix the city’s real problems, politicians zero in on those things they can control and the result is the kids have a whole lot less fun.

Personally, I find Vancouver’s beaches and parks full of people having fun, watching the sunset, cooking BBQ and all the other stuff that people do.

Quotes: On the BC Climate Leadership Plan

Tzeporah Berman, an evironmentalist who served on the BC government’s Climate Leadership Team:

Number of our 32 recommendations accepted in full today? Zero.

Another case of hope over experience.

Best summary so far: Mark Jaccard in the Globe and Mail – B.C.’s climate plan reaches Olympian heights of political cynicism:

If there were an Olympic event for political cynicism on the climate challenge, B.C.’s new climate plan would be a strong contender for the gold medal.

Metro Breakfast: Rental Housing in the Region – Sep 15, 21, 22

MetrO Break

Along with rising home ownership prices, continued low rental vacancy rates are of serious concern to residents, local governments and business in the Metro Vancouver region. Metro Vancouver’s new Regional Affordable Housing Strategy promotes housing affordability and diversity, with a focus on rental housing supply and location. Local governments are key to implementing regional housing policy direction. Join us to hear about the regional strategy and what some municipalities are doing to stabilize and increase the supply of purpose built rental housing.

Speakers for Sept 15 – Vancouver:

·        Margaret Eberle, Metro Vancouver

·        Andrew Merrill, Major Project Planner, City of Coquitlam

·        TBC Tristan Johnson, Planning Analyst, New Westminster

Register Now
for Sept 15 – Vancouver

Ohrn Image — Public Art


Giraffes peek out of huge magnolia blossoms.  Located in the alley west of Main at 8th Avenue. Artist Ilya Viryachev says this  (video HERE).

“In Bloom: An Ode to Vancouver” is a 100-foot wide mural that was created in collaboration with The City of Vancouver and Mount Pleasant BIA, to both of whom I am extremely thankful for. I got to collaborate with the youth from the Mount Pleasant Community Centre, who worked with me on the concept in the beginning, as well as came out a number of times to help me paint the wall. The image was inspired by the beauty of Vancouver in spring when all of the magnolia trees are blooming, while chickadees are there to represent the youth.



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