Want to learn more about social housing in Vienna? Go to the Vancouver Museum exhibition. And watch this “How to live in Vienna” video:
Want to learn more about social housing in Vienna? Go to the Vancouver Museum exhibition. And watch this “How to live in Vienna” video:
Using Vienna as a case study, this lecture explores the relationship of affordable housing to urban planning politics and will discuss historic and current housing policies, not least in a critical cross-analysis with the Vancouver case.
Touching upon the re-articulated model function of 1920s Red Vienna, Gabu Heindl will present her approach to combining strong claims (Setzungen) in public planning with a critique of paternalistic governance and with maintaining zones of contact with popular agency.
Click here for more information on the Vienna Model.
Gabu Heindl is an architect/urban planner and theorist in Vienna, Austria. Her practice (GABU Heindl Architecture) specializes in public interventions, cultural and social buildings, urban research and planning. Her current research focuses on a post-foundational theory of planning politics with regard to radical democracy in contemporary urbanism.
Friday, May 19
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 West Hastings
The latest articles from Ralph Buehler, John Pucher and Alan Altshuler:
Vienna, Austria reduced the car share of trips by a third between 1993 and 2014: from 40% to 27%. The key to Vienna’s success has been a coordinated package of mutually reinforcing transport and land-use policies that have made car use slower, less convenient, and more costly, while improving conditions for walking, cycling, and public transport.
As John Notes, most of this issue of the American Journal of Public Health is devoted to transgender health, “which in the USA is a very controversial issue indeed.” On the cover: a couple from Toronto.
Vancouver is a young city. While this means we don’t have our own Arc de Triomphe (though some seem to imagine we do), we are lucky that if we let ourselves, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants.
I wrote about Design Thinking the other day, the great thing about this is that, somewhat like the scientific method, it establishes a systematic way of thinking which sometimes demands creativity, and at other times introspection, it involves the sharing of ideas, and the ability to learn from others.
What it does not involve is reinventing the wheel because you didn’t notice that someone else already did.
We get to see the runaway effects of a city growing increasingly unaffordable when we look at London. [see: There are now only 29 (yes, twenty-nine) homes in London deemed ‘affordable’ for first-time buyers]
We get to see how to design bike paths by studying the Dutch or the Danish.
We get to see how the city can build affordable housing by looking at Vienna (or Singapore).
We get to see how to deal with foreign money by looking at Singapore (or Sydney).
We get to see the effects of the conversion of streets to highways by looking at Miami or Pheonix and realize that Vancouver is fundamentally not really all that unique:
From the beginning of urbanized America, streets functioned to provide mobility in many ways:
People walked to work, trolley, horse-drawn then powered moved workers from factories and offices to home. Trains played a role in commutes. Bicycles incited a pedal power mobility craze for a while.
Then the automobile came along. By the 1950s, roads became the sole domain of automobiles. The automotive industry even created the term “jay walking” and launched a campaign to demonize people on foot. Sidewalks shrunk and beautifully landscaped medians were torn out to create more lanes for automobiles.
Trolley lines were ripped out and replaced with buses. But buses were devalued and branded as last ditch transportation for the unfortunate. Only the sedan was fit for the upwardly mobile middle class American. Crosswalks were diminished. Those brazen enough to move around on two feet were seen as merely an impediment to moving more cars faster.
Government loans encouraged suburban single family homebuilding, giving rise to the super highway, and when highways weren’t enough, surface streets – even the most picturesque and historic – were overhauled to turn them into another layer of de facto highways.
(Anything seem familiar in these? … if not, as Gordon has written, Motordom 2.0 is around the corner)
We get to learn how to install a bike share by looking at New York City (or Paris, or Montreal) … and get to see what happens when you have a combination of bike-share and helmet laws by looking at Melbourne.
We get to see why limits of pollution are a good idea by looking at Beijing’s air quality (or this last week, Salt Lake City), even if we don’t read the Governator Arnold’s words last month, and why putting all our stock in LNG isn’t the best idea:
I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.
And we get to look at things like fare gates in transit, and see if you install them, you have to make provision for the fact that when you put up a barrier, you put up a barrier, and some people won’t be able to deal with this fact. Again, in this we’re not unique, John Graham’s comments yesterday show one solution, but I can’t imagine its a cheap one.
The point of this is that in some ways, Vancouver is exceptional, we have an environment that many people would kill for, mountains that many dream about, and are generally pretty nice people. We are not, however, really that different from anywhere else except for the number of Learners permits on Lamborghinis … so let’s be creative and do RAD SHIT as often as possible, but let’s also learn from others just as often, from both their success, and their failure.
Finally, if something is a success, can we please accept it as such … just please, take it at face value as a ‘good’, and please stop treating it as a failure, or a reason to fight.
We can look a lot further if we stick with the giants.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This was something a planning professor of mine once told me which I never really thought much about … that is until I moved to Vancouver.
Hi, let me introduce myself formally, my name is Ian Robertson, and I occasionally show up in these woods with ‘Items from Ian’. I did my Architecture Undergraduate in ‘merica, worked for a while in the Netherlands, MArch in Australia, worked for a while in Vienna, and finished my degree right around the time that the world called an architectural timeout for a while, and I found myself in Vancouver.
What links my experience in these other places is that they all involved looking forward. The aforementioned quote from my planning professor, masterplanning cities and countries while in the Netherlands (itself a product of what must be the most comprehensive masterplan anywhere in the world), then Sydney Australia – where I was first exposed to the kind of 2030 vision which Vancouver also now espouses (except in Sydney’s case, it actually backed up by a Master Plan to give it institutional heft), and finally Vienna, which has a uniform building fabric and density which puts most cities to shame, and which turned the old Hapsburg Stables into a technology and culture and startup hub which exists only in Vancouver’s dreams.
This week I will be under the broad category of ‘Ideas from Elsewhere’ (‘Ian’s Items from Elsewhere’ if I wanted to keep the branding alive) … frankly I am always amazed that there is such a strong desire here to reinvent the wheel instead of looking for what works (and what doesn’t) elsewhere (transit referendums, city planning, existance of a master plan, regional transit, fare gates, bike path design, foreign investment, affordable housing, sea level rise planning, etc… are all examples of issues where in either trying to be unique, or in willfully ignoring precedent, Vancouver/BC is certainly ‘planning to fail’).
So, with that lengthy introduction, I give you my first post, written for a recent architecture criticism competition requiring one to talk about a Library of one’s choice. As you will see, the Library wasn’t really my topic of interest 🙂
Many thanks for Ken and Michael, and all the rest filling in … and most of all to Gordon Price, for his care in establishing this great platform from which to view the world deliberately and with consideration.
(Longread) Nov 2015, Criticism of the Mount Pleasant Library (Longread)
It is not often that a library erupts from an intersection like the prow of an ocean liner cutting through the neighborhood, but when completed in 2010, the Mount Pleasant Library did just that. Immediately it was the tallest building in the neighborhood, and it represented the starting gun for a race to redevelop much of the surrounding neighborhood.
Height is an unusual quality for a Library, as the Dewey decimal system is an inherently horizontal concept. The library’s apparent mass is the result of the nine stories of affordable housing stacked on top, as well as child care, retail, and a community center beside1 — a configuration resulting from the unique desire to place all its civic infrastructure in one basket.
The building, designed by what is now Perkins+Will, is additionally unusual because it was developed by the City of Vancouver itself as a mixed-use structure, combining older, insufficient and inconvenient infrastructure into one centralized location, as well as provide additional affordable rental to address the city’s almost zero-percent rental vacancy, and rapidly increasing rents. The mixed-use aspect is itself not that unusual for a rapidly urbanizing city, what is unusual is that the developer was the City of Vancouver, and Vancouver does not often place itself in the development game — much of the Vancouver’s recent civic infrastructure has been created by leveraging the ‘Community Amenity Contributions’ (CACs) of developers.
Vancouver’s urban infrastructure, such as this library, is dictated by a unique set of influences which directly affect the manner in which Vancouver builds its libraries, and other public amenities.
Infrastructure, being a public amenity, is typically funded through a city’s tax revenues. In Vancouver, CACs are not a tax, but rather are “are in-kind or cash contributions provided by property developers.”2 These contributions take place to facilitate a rezoning application, the value of which is arrived at in closed negotiation and which is agreed to before the rezoning takes place. As each redevelopment application is negotiated independently, the resulting spot zoning creates a patchwork of zones-within-zones, which suggests that zones are more of a guideline to be negotiated, than a rule to be followed. In many cities, this kind of spot zoning is unusual, discouraged or illegal.3
The Mount Pleasant Library was not funded directly through CACs, but as these payments totaled about $250 million, out of a roughly $1.25 billion budget,<sup>4</sup> it is not much of a stretch of accounting to consider that this building was also financed in part by CAC funds. Why does this matter? It matters because a city which relies on development to fund civic amenity can easily become reliant on these funds, and the developers who provide those funds and with it bring a potential to influence city decisions.5
The first major influence, then, in the discussion of the Mount Pleasant Library, is whether or not Vancouver’s civic infrastructure follows the rule of money – is it a Plutocracy? Contributions made to universities carry with them a growing set of questions concerning purchased influence,6 so too must CACs.
Vancouver has an unusual ability to create spot zones because it is incorporated under the Vancouver Charter, not the British Columbia’s Municipalities Act, which means that the city is not required to create an overall Comprehensive Plan for development. A community plan was issued for the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, but it was passed by Council after the Library was already open.7
The second influence affecting the discussion of Vancouver – whether it is an Inconditopolis8 – a city run without a plan. If there is no openly approved plan, what is there to guide decisions? How is it possible to negotiate CACs when they exist apart from the typical planning process, and when there is no Comprehensive Plan to act as a long term guide? It has been said that these CACs are ‘Corrupting Vancouver’s Soul,’9 if that is the case, then so too are they corrupting the City’s civic infrastructure, and the creation of this library.
In Vancouver, where much of the new civic infrastructure is tied to new private development, there is an apparent incentive for developers to propose large projects, which have both the potential for more profit, and which might have more likely development approval because the larger project would yield the City the enticement of larger CACs, and therefore a means of financing otherwise-unfunded infrastructure. Opposing such new development projects, often in equal and opposite reaction to the scale of the development itself, are those who belong to the neighborhood. There is no cost premium to those in a neighborhood in keeping their neighborhood exactly the way it is, and whereas a proposal by the City to simply build a Library would likely be met with open arms, a neighborhood’s reaction is understandably different if that Library is instead a part, for example, of a ten story tall tower, when the existing context is otherwise no taller than two or three story retail.
This is the final influence affecting Vancouver and the Library – the neighborhood NIMBarchy [Rule by ‘Not In My Backyard’]. When Public Goods, such as a library, are tied to private gains in a transactional manner, the concept of an intrinsic ‘Public Good’ is called into question. If a neighborhood fights development, it implicitly fights the provision of civic infrastructure, and it becomes easier for the City to forgo building this infrastructure in the future, because it can point to the opposition faced by that infrastructure elsewhere in the City as ‘proof’ that such civic amenity is unwanted.
The risks in reliance on CAC and spot-zoning lie in the creation of deserts of civic investment – neighborhoods which are successful in keeping their character but receive little/no investment – and in the creation of neighborhoods which undergo extensive development. This unplanned and potentially ad-hoc feast-or-famine of civic development follows easily from a politically expedient decision to not raise taxes to fund the public realm and the absence of a Comprehensive Plan.
Andrew Carnegie once said that “a library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” The Library is one of the few truly democratic spaces where status and qualification is irrelevant. The act of combining the Library with housing, and retail development presents a risk, as the presence of the most private of space colours the activity which is considered acceptable – the space becomes implicitly privatized also, and its public function made precarious, and it loses its ability to be agnostic to individual interest and risks becoming another commodity to streamline, or make redundant.
This essay is not so much a specific criticism of the Mount Pleasant Library – although in truth it is a bit small, quite cramped, and overall is rather insufficient to serve the neighborhood whose development boom is quickly outpacing the Library’s planned capacity – as much as it is a criticism of the City that has largely stopped building civic infrastructure, does not have a cohesive plan to guide its development, and ties the creation of civic infrastructure to large developments, risking the character of the very neighborhoods which are to benefit from the city’s growth.
Frank Ducote must have noticed that several cities were mentioned in posts yesterday – notably Vancouver and Vienna, two of the cities declared as ‘best place to live,’ as well as Houston.
Coincidentally: “Just compare their footprints and therefore their relative densities and proximity to destinations without needing a car. (Credit: Jack Diamond, undated but some years old).”
From Andreas Lindinger:
Here it is for Vienna, and later for Austria as a whole.
Currently, there’s a test phase with up to 5,000 pilot users. Will also include public transport, cycling, car, train, carsharing, bikesharing and taxis. Will show time, costs and CO2 emissions of different routes and you’ll be able to book the whole journey in one app that also considers all your membership/discount cards, transit passes, etc.
The city of Vienna has just adopted its latest 10-year city development plan, known as STEP 2025. Key from a transport point of view is the goal to reduce the already very low proportion of 27 percent of all trips by car down to just 20 percent by 2025 as a part of a comprehensive plan to further increase Vienna’s already well-admired high degree of liveability …
By comparison, here are the City of Vancouver’s goals:
Back to Vienna:
The risk here is that even if Vienna succeeds in meeting its mode share targets, the freed up capacity on the higher-order road network will simply be taken up by more commuters from suburban areas. This means that agreed metropolitan-wide solutions are required to ensure that the transport problems of suburban areas are not simply transferred into Vienna, making their problems an issue for Vienna to resolve. …
Cycling is an area that remains a challenge for Vienna. Currently cycling mode share sits at six per cent with the aim to double this by 2015. However, this mode share is well below that achieved by many other European cities. …
While there may be challenges for cycling, the same cannot be said for public transit which achieves one of the highest mode shares for a city in the developed world with 39% of all trip-making on public transit. As with other modes, the sheer force of resurgent population growth, partly fuelled by strong immigration and the sheer attractiveness of Vienna’s high quality of life, is putting pressure on the system. …
Just a few excerpts. Much more here, along with a good slide show.
* Darren and Andreas will also be participating in the SFU City Program’s course – Next Generation Transportation. Details here.