New Human-Scale Neighborhoods

This is the second blog on issues to be addressed at the 55th International Making Cities Livable Conference, May 14-18, 2018, in Ottawa.

Many of the world’s cities are growing rapidly. But HOW should we grow? Should we grow vertically? Should we grow horizontally? Or should we search for the missing sweet spot in the middle? How are cities around the world accommodating growth? And which approach offers the best solutions?

Photo by Design Archive

Most of us can agree on the principles of creating healthy, sustainable, equitable, 10-minute neighborhoods, outlined in the previous blog. How well do the cutting-edge developments around the world fulfill these principles? This question leads to the great debate that will take place at the Ottawa Conference.

How can these goals best be met?

Many new neighborhood developments have moved away from the high-rise mantra promoted by those developers and architects who emphasize economic returns over livability. 

Freiburg, Germany, long renowned as a model sustainable and child-friendly city, developed two award-winning new urban neighborhoods, Rieselfeld and Vauban. As Mayor in charge of urban planning for 20 years, Dr. Sven von Ungern-Sternberg supervised these developments and will present in a keynote address how the guiding principles were made manifest in the planning, urban design, and construction of these transit based neighborhoods. Special attention was paid to human scale, small footprint, low energy use buildings, ecological landscaping, pedestrian and bike transit. We can see today how well the goals have been achieved.

In the past, Toronto has built the full range of new development, from high-rise towers to low rise suburban infill. Arguably the most successful developments have been in the mid-rise range, the 5-6 story, mixed-use continuous urban fabric promoted by Jennifer Keesmaat, in her former role as Planning Director, City of Toronto. The Saint James Condominiums, designed by Quadrangle Architects, is one of the projects embodying the guidelines the City of Toronto has adopted for mid-rises along the avenues. Keesmaat's keynote address will focus on creating places where people flourish: human scale mixed-use neighborhoods.

Alexandru Taranu, Brampton’s Sr. Advisor for Architectural Design will present the Greater Toronto Area’s emphasis on creating healthier, livable, complete neighborhoods and places with human scale, strong character, and identity building on the spirit of place.

The Conference will also look at transit oriented walkable neighborhoods in other Canadian cities such as Burlington Ontario, and Vancouver. Much of Vancouver has tended to focus on high-rise condos, 12.5% of which are uninhabited investments. In Coal Harbour high-rise condos have a 22% uninhabited investment rate. Joyce Mariann Drohan, Special Advisor, City of Vancouver, Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability will analyze four new Vancouver neighborhoods from the '70's to the present: False Creek South, Downtown South, Southeast False Creek, and East Fraserlands. This talk will look briefly at each of these communities to demonstrate the continuity and the evolution of livability in Vancouver over the last four decades.

Scott Jordan, Principal at Civitas, will demonstrate how Denver strengthens urbanity on under-utilized sites by focusing on transit, enhanced pedestrian experiences, and a robust parks system. The revitalization of the blighted Central Platte Valley spurred multiple urban plazas and a series of mixed-use communities. Villa Italia Mall was transformed into a new urban neighborhood that became the cultural heart of Lakewood. The former Stapleton International Airport has become one of Denver’s most prized new neighborhoods. These developments include a mix of scales and varied levels of urbanity.

Over the last 20 years, under the leadership of Mayor James Brainard, the US city of Carmel, IN, (pop. 90,000) has seen a dramatic transformation of their sprawling bedroom suburb of Indianapolis. Here, the first job was to create a compact, walkable, human-scale, mixed-use city center that draws people of all ages to its beautiful squares, parks and trails. Residents strongly support the concomitant traffic calming (with now over 100 roundabouts) and identify with the classically-styled architectural language of the growing city center. In 2017 Carmel was voted the most livable city in the US.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, several new 10-minute neighborhoods are being built, designed by architect Maxim Atayants, using a classical architectural vocabulary to create a traditional 5-6 story urban fabric that shapes parks and squares.

Simon Conibear, Development Consultant for the Duchy of Cornwall’s Poundbury, will present the latest developments in this human scale new neighborhood on the edge of Dorchester, UK. With Queen Mother Square, framed by the Royal Pavilion apartments, the Strathmore (luxury condo building), the Dutchess of Cornwall hotel/pub/conference center, plus offices and shops, the heart of the community is now taking shape. Poundbury is maturing. It has a mixed demographic, a growing population of young families, and over 35% of housing is affordable. There are shops, services, industry, and workshops, two thirds of which are run by women. 

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of these vastly diverse approaches? Who benefits and who loses? Are there ideas we can borrow, solutions we can adapt for our own cities? In comparing the goals and strategies used in these different cities around the world, can we learn how to more effectively achieve healthy, 10-minute neighborhoods in our own city? This debate will continue to be explored at the 55th IMCL Conference. We must be willing to learn from the best. That is the goal of this conference.

In a previous blog we have described guiding principles, that will be presented at the 55th IMCL Conference. See our next blogs about 3 - Transformational neighborhoods, 4 - Visionary opportunities and challenges to be discussed at the Ottawa Conference, and the 5 - Strategies and 6 - Tools being used to achieve Healthy, 10-Minute NeighborhoodsJoin the discussion