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Singapore: Life on the MRT

April 17, 2015

From Sandy James:


… photographer Edwin Koo’s latest project has a lot to say about Singapore.

Transit, the 37-year-old photographer’s latest project, aims to “capture the daily theatre” of Singapore’s multi-racial passengers on board its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains.

“If you commute on the MRT and we are forced two inches in front of the doors, we’d all have the same reactions and share the same expressions and vulnerability,” he told the BBC.

He was inspired in 2011 when he returned to Singapore after a stint in Nepal, feeling like it was “a different country”.

“I found that the trains in Singapore had become so crowded that it was difficult to board them during peak hours.

Out of frustration, I started to photograph what I saw at the doors.”




Koo 1


More here.

Growth and the Suburban Chassis in the Silicon Valley

April 17, 2015

A revealing piece by Granola Shotgun:


Growth and the Suburban Chassis


I tend to explore what happens to suburbs as they age and begin to decline. But this time I’m going to explore what happens to suburbs that thrive and continue to grow and work their way up the value chain. It isn’t exactly what many people expect. “Be careful what you wish for.” …

By the 1960’s the area had become home to military and aerospace firms that then spun off civilian electronics companies in little low rise office parks. By the 1980’s the area had officially emerged as Silicon Valley. Oracle, Apple, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Google, eBay, Juniper Network, PayPal… these companies stretch out for miles in every direction. It’s an economic development dream for local governments. ….


SV 1


Here’s what’s happening to these office parks as the economy heats up. The land has become very valuable and it makes good economic sense to build new eight or ten story office blocks on vacant land and surface parking lots. …



This inward looking mega block form of development is common in suburbia. The images above show a college, an amusement park, and a corporate office park. When you’re inside one of these bubbles it’s actually very pleasant.

But getting to and from these locations is pretty much impossible without a car. Even if you live directly across the street walking wouldn’t work all that well. Add in the fact that many of the nearby residential subdivisions are gated communities and that each of these bubbles are separated by highways, walls, and drainage canals… a car becomes essential. That loads the road network with an insane amount of traffic. If the one story buildings incrementally ramp up to eight story buildings you have a very big transportation problem on your hands.



Driving to and from Silicon Valley to the outer outer outer suburbs is like pouring molasses through a funnel. People are willing to pay a lot extra to not have to endure that schlep every day. In theory public transportation could ease the commute for many people, but the dispersed development pattern guaranties that transit will never be efficient or cost effective since most people need to drive from their house to a transit center and then take a shuttle bus to the office at the other end of the train line.

From my perspective these intensifying suburbs are in an adolescent phase of development. They are rapidly losing the qualities that people like about the suburbs: open space, privacy, convenience, quiet, lower cost, ample free parking, and so on. But they aren’t yet delivering the things people like about cities: culture, vibrant street life, walkability, convenient public transportation, night life, and such.



I stopped and took photos of large numbers of tech workers walking along the side of the eight lane highways at lunchtime. There isn’t anyplace for these folks to walk to. There’s nothing but parking lots, highway fly-overs, gas stations, landscaped berms, and convenience stores as far as the eye can see. When I ask the workers where they’re going they say they’re just stretching their legs and getting some air. They eat lunch (and very often breakfast and dinner) inside their office compounds in subsidized cafeterias.

Perhaps in another thirty years the transformation from suburb to something more vital may be complete. Given the suburban chassis these places inherited I don’t see how the underlaying infrastructure will ever support anything other than a bad compromise.



Joel Garreau calls places like this Edge City: a place that has a suburban form but at an urban density. Driving private cars is no longer convenient here anymore, but transit will never function well either. Jobs are plentiful, but housing is too expensive. It lacks the privacy and peace of a good suburb, but is deficient in the vibrancy and culture available in a real city.

It’s too thick to be jam, but too thin to be jelly.


Full article here.

Twinning Tweets: Mutual support for the Missing Middle?

April 17, 2015

Two items thast came in that same time, both dealing with the dominant planning and social issue of our city: affordability.

Phase3One is city-initiated: to rezone significant stretches of off-Cambie for the missing-middle urban form.  From The Sun:


Cambie corridor plan calls for higher-density housing


About one-quarter of the single-family homes in Vancouver’s Cambie corridor could eventually make way for higher-density “ground-oriented and family-friendly” housing, according to proposals contained in a report from city planning director Brian Jackson.

The report — which details the scope of work for Phase 3 of the Cambie corridor planning program — said 74 per cent of single-family-zoned parcels in the area would be left unchanged as the city promotes more townhouse and row house development.

The other 26 per cent could be affected, though a lot of community consultation has to take place before the Phase 3 plan is officially approved in about two years. …

It said townhouses and row houses offer many of the desired qualities of single-family homes at a more affordable price — including front-door entrances and private outdoor spaces.

The area affected by the proposal stretches from 16th Avenue to the Fraser River and from Oak Street to Ontario Street. (Study area in dark gray in graph on right.) Phases 1 and 2 of the Cambie corridor plan have already permitted extensive mid-rise and highrise housing developments, with 26 rezoning approvals the past four years paving the way for the construction of 6,600 new housing units, including 2,900 at Oakridge shopping centre.

Report here.

Initial criticisms, I’d predict, would be (1) too little and still too long, and (2) too much and still too expensive.  (Already in the comments to The Sun article: “When will politician figure out that densification is not a good thing.”   “Delusional. Higher density does not equal affordability.”)

But this is the first significant initiative to start converting tracts of single-family housing to a form of housing this city jumped right over in the streetcar era when land was cheap: we went directly to detached housing, without districts of row housing – a form that is now the dominant style in this region’s suburbs but not in the city.  It’s the missing middle.

Row housing in this neighbourhodd won’t be inexpensive, but it will be cheaper than the single-family homes they will replace.  And hence in the interest of these people, who I found out in the second tweet, linking to a CBC News piece:



Vancouver housing prices tweet spurs ‘DontHave1Million’ social media campaign

“It’s not just me, everybody’s talking about it,” said 29 year-old Eveline Xia, in an interview with CBC News.

“It’s the number one issue we’re talking about. People in higher income brackets, people in lower income brackets.”

Sick of stressing out about how she could afford to have a family in Vancouver, the environmental professional took to Twitter to express her anger over sky-high real estate prices in the city.

Xia had no idea her #DontHave1Million hashtag would go viral, trending on Twitter across Canada on Thursday.

“It’s really struck a chord, people are responding like crazy,” she said.

Many people have taken to Twitter to express their frustration over the lack of affordability in Vancouver real estate.

I’ve been wondering how long it would take before we seem some action among younger people sufficient to create a new political dynamic.  I’m not sure whether this is it. But is it likely that the those holding the signs will be in the same process as those with a vested interest in maximizing land-value return along the Cambie corridor?


Donthave1million tweets here.

Ohrn Images: Heads up

April 17, 2015

Seventh and Spruce.


Ohrn - 7th and Sprice


Shed the Monster

April 16, 2015

I like how the monster uses hand signals.


In Japan, it’s illegal to bike to work

April 16, 2015

Jean Chong sends in this article with details:


Strict government policies regarding employee travel insurance, and inflexible insurance company policies, have created a situation where cycling to work is effectively banned in Japan. That’s right, bureaucracy is preventing people from cycling to work in Japan.

Article here.




Geller Video: 12 Great Ideas from around the world

April 16, 2015

Michael Geller’s April 1 lecture for the SFU City Program:



Vancouver may be one of the world’s most livable and sustainable cities—but other cities around the world can offer lessons to make us even better. Over the past five decades, Michael Geller, a Vancouver architect and planner, has visited 55 countries in search of interesting places and good planning ideas: better use of water, improved public spaces, innovative approaches to lighting and enhanced civic pride.

His blog is here.


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