Monthly Archive: May 2017

Toronto Releases Planning Guidelines Focused on Kids

The Simcoe Wavedeck in Toronto (Credit: City of Toronto)

As is the case in many cities, Toronto’s lower-density neighborhoods were planned with families in mind; developers considered access to schools, childcare facilities and parks. Now, however, the city’s high-rise demographics are changing. The once-single studio dwellers of yesteryear are having children. And, as a new report from the city of Toronto points out, they don’t necessarily want to store their strollers in their bathtubs.

The report, “Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities,” is pretty much exactly what its name would suggest. Toronto is literally growing up, and those tall buildings need to better accommodate families.

From the report:

Between 2006 and 2016, over 143,000 new dwelling units were constructed in the City of Toronto, 80 [percent] of which were in buildings greater than 5 [stories]. Increasingly, families with children are calling these buildings home. In 2011, 10,000 more families with children and youth lived in high-rise buildings than in 1996. While the overall number of households with children and youth will grow as the population increases, the long-term demand for family suitable housing will exceed the anticipated supply if current trends continue.

The document points out that the city doesn’t need to start from scratch. Like many urban centers pre-suburbia, Toronto has a history of housing families in taller, denser pockets, particularly at the turn of the 20th century, when “the growing urban population began to out-pace the provision of child-supportive infrastructure.”

Children sought informal play spaces: streets, laneways, stoops and staircases. At the time, in the vein of improving public health, these spaces were considered hostile to a child’s physical well-being. Recognizing the need for child-specific play space, the City embarked on building playgrounds that allowed for safe and sanctioned play. The Playground Movement, as it came to be known, represented a radical shift in the organization of urban space, marking the first time children were considered legitimate users of urban space, worthy of special consideration.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

The city is drawing on that legacy, aiming to retrofit planning on three scales — the neighborhood, the building and the unit itself.

The unit is, perhaps, the most intuitive. Spaces should ideally be designed to be slightly larger, with more storage and laundry on site.

On the building level, planners envision more collective indoor and outdoor amenity spaces, with lots of extra storage for bikes and trailers (and those strollers currently sitting in bathtubs). Larger units would ideally sit toward the bottom of tall buildings, with smaller units on top. Lobbies would ideally be gathering places with rooftop gardens and play spaces on site.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

As Stefan Novakovic explains for Urban Toronto, the city’s shift toward child-oriented planning aims to keep the underlying form of its tall buildings. The “embrace of more family-oriented housing and ‘whimsical’ design does not entail a move away from the ‘podium and point tower’ typologies that characterizes so many of Toronto’s new high-rises,” he writes. “Designed badly, bulky podium structures can hamper pedestrian permeability, also providing too little opportunity for fine-grained retail. However, through greater use of C-shaped and L-shaped podia, the City hopes to create more intimate green spaces to benefit families, preserving a sense of human scale, while putting eyes on the street.”

The neighborhood-level guidelines, however, have the most potential for changing the cityscape — and they’re pretty ambitious. They also underscore a concept that I’ve covered for Next City: that designing well for toddlers means designing well for everyone.

(Credit: City of Toronto)

They emphasize active transportation, and aim for bike and pedestrian routes to be made safer. “Walking or cycling are most accessible to children and help to reduce vehicle trips, provide physical and mental health benefits and they are often the most convenient, sustainable and affordable mode of transportation for a family,” the report states.

In 2015, I interviewed urban planner Eric Feldman, who had similar thoughts.

“If you design for ages 2 and 92 you’re probably going to do it right,” he told me, adding that “toddlers have a way of revealing things” about your streets.

“Design for a toddler and you’ll probably erect a landscaped buffer between the sidewalk and street for the moment they decide to bolt,” I wrote then. “Design for a toddler and you’ll plant trees along walkways because sunscreen application is (apparently) a tantrum-worthy fate.”

To read Toronto’s full report, click here.

Dublin Looks to Speed Up Buses

Central Dublin (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)

Seventeen major bus routes in Dublin, Ireland, could soon have continuous corridors with segregated bike lanes — part of a 1 billion euro cash injection for Dublin Bus.

According to Irish Times, those routes are only part of a proposed overhaul that would also include a reorganization of “existing routes; the implementation of a cashless payment system; simplification of the fare structure, to allow movement between different transport services without financial penalty; as well as the segregation of buses from general traffic on the busiest routes to and around the city.”

Currently, most major bus routes only have dedicated lanes along about a third of their lengths, according to the paper, which adds that this “means that for most of the journey, buses are competing for space with general traffic and are being hit by the increasing levels of congestion.”

Last year, the Irish capital saw the launch of a new cross-city passenger rail service. As Josh Cohen wrote for Next City in 2015, congestion is a major issue and is poised to become an even greater problem as the population grows. That year, the Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority proposed a vehicle restriction in the city center — which has faced opposition.

Nonetheless, the bus redesign is being touted as part of the city’s changing transportation structure.

According to the Irish Times: “The redesign has been sought to reflect the major transport changes in the city including the introduction later this year of the Luas Cross city line, the opening of the Phoenix Park Tunnel, as well as recent and upcoming changes to the road network.”

Shop Houzz: May Bestsellers (201 photos)

Your home is in good hands with this collection of can’t-miss items. Create that outdoor haven you’ve always envisioned or update that room that’s stuck in the past. One look at these bestsellers and you’ll understand their popularity.

Digital Tool Aims to ID Urban Planning’s Winners, Losers

SimCity 4 (Credit: flickr user sntc06)

I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes when I’m walking the streets of any city, and I take a seat on a park bench to do some quality people watching, and definitely when I’m looking out an airplane window at the cities passing below, the music that still plays in my head is a super-tacky yet somehow brilliantly catchy mid-1990s MIDI composition: the original soundtrack of SimCity 2000.

I thought the soundtrack and the game, released in 1993, could never be topped. Until SimCity 3000. Then SimCity 4. The soundtracks got more memorable, while the game got even more addictive. The game principles hardly bear repeating, but just to be clear: SimCity simulated the residents, workers, children, businesses, factories, farms, government and tourists of a digital municipality, with you as an all-powerful mayor. The game taught me about zoning, infrastructure and planning, and also about the limits of simulated omnipotence. Not every decision led to a thriving, healthy metropolis.

Now, the new Doppelgänger tool from Sidewalk Labs promises to provide real-world planners a simulation based not on some 1990-era coder’s best approximation of people, but instead one based on the terabytes upon terabytes of real-world data available in today’s digital world.

“Doppelgänger enables planners to create a set of virtual households that accurately reflects real neighborhoods, cities, regions, or states, along any dimension relevant to the problem at hand,” writes David Ory, modeling lead at Sidewalk Labs, a Google-connected company launched in 2015. “Doppelgänger can create households that have accurate numbers of children, seniors, teachers, persons with disabilities, electric-vehicle owners, swing-shift workers, and so on.”

Ory is formerly of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. In his vision, Doppelgänger will be of huge help to transportation planners, helping them identify the winners and losers of decisions like building a new light-rail line or retrofitting an old subway line in need of major renovations.

Equity and transportation were among the issues highlighted by Google when the company announced the Sidewalk Labs venture two years ago. In November 2016, it announced that it would create four themed labs focusing on affordable housing construction, health challenges for low-income residents, fiscal policy and efficiency, and transportation.

Doppelgänger comes out of the transportation-themed lab. It starts with the capacity “to consume all of the data sets created by the Census Bureau (as well as other sources) to create a complete and internally consistent virtual representation of a given community,” according to Ory. Using the math of statistical modeling and the power of modern-day microprocessors, it projects into the future as well.

“Before we can understand how transportation services, policies, or infrastructure impact a community, we must understand who lives in the community today, tomorrow, and 20 years from now,” Ory writes.