Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The elimination of Nanaimo's Urban Containment Boundary : 1 : Full circle

Recent news that the Sandstone property had been purchased by Seacliff Group and that they were submitting Official Community Plan Update and rezoning applications, brings things for me full circle. In 2004 my wife and I and our daughter who was soon to graduate from VIU and go off on her own moved from a North Nanaimo suburb to the downtown "Old City."
At that time the City of Nanaimo was preparing for its 10 Year Official Community Plan Review. Downtown revitalization initiatives were a major reason we moved house and business to the inner city. A Business Improvement Area (BIA) was organized with funding from both a levy on commercial properties and matching funds from the City of Nanaimo taxpayer. It had a board of directors that included two city councillors and met at the council table of the day at City Hall on Wallace Street. More on this later...
There was well an organized and effective group, The Friends of Plan Nanaimo, that participated in the review process and were increasingly opposed to elements of the new plan that differed greatly from the previous OCP (Plan Nanaimo). I wasn't a member of the this group but increasingly we shared many concerns.
An important feature of Plan Nanaimo was the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB), meant to halt sprawling growth across the undeveloped southern area of the city. It was clear to most observers that the UCB was of critical importance to the revitalization of our downtown.
The new plan called for the elimination of the Urban Containment Boundary, even tho by the City's own Land Capacity Analysis there was sufficient residentially-zoned land to meet projected population growth to 2031 and beyond. Then Director of Planning Andrew Tucker was quoted as saying Nanaimo had growth capacity for another 30 - 50,000 people without extending development past the UCB. Why then, eliminate it?
The "review" turned out to be the formalizing by the City of its intent to eliminate the Plan's Urban Containment Boundary and greenlight low density subdivisions and big box retail and a fantasy destination golf course resort across the previously protected greenfields at the southern extremity of the city. I decided then I should perhaps pay a little more attention to civic affairs.

The OCP Review process began with a community consultation conference held on November 18, 2006 at then-Malaspina University-College. Approximately 200 people participated in the all day event that included keynote speakers and small group discussions.
Keynote speakers from Smart Growth BC and Urban Futures, as well as Vancouver Urban Planner Lance Berelowitz spoke on land use and sustainability issues with the overriding message that the Urban Containment Boundary should be maintained and strengthened.
From my letter to the editor, April 2007 : "Massive, sprawling projects outside the Urban Containment Boundary will set back downtown revitalization and therefore the economic and cultural health of the entire city for five, 10 even 15 years... Our regional shopping centre must be the revitalized core of the city. The 'gateway' to the region described in the South Nanaimo Lands [Sandstone] proposal is more accurately a wall."

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nanaimo City Council to decide on
downtown tactical "quick wins"

Monday's Governance and Priorities Committee meeting will be making recommendations on downtown “quick win” tactical interventions. I shared some thoughts…
>Subject: Quick Wins
Date: July 27, 2019 at 3:06:32 PM PDT
To: Mayor&Council@nanaimo.ca

I support the idea of taking high visibility actions now downtown, pop-up, tactical quick wins. It’s said it’s important for an organization to both do good work and to be seen to do good work.
Too, other cities are reporting that this approach results in better public opinion feedback and allows for corrections before being made permanent.
Some of the proposed quick wins I suspect will be easy for you to green light: refreshing crosswalk paint lines, and increasing sweeping and power washing frequency, etc.
Here’s the ones I’d prioritize:
Tactical trials of road diet configurations for Front Street with explanatory signage announcing its upcoming redesign. There will be push-back to be weathered! Let’s make a start.
Eliminate the slip lane to create an enlarged Dallas Square. I’d hope this would include signage announcing an upcoming redesign of this important ceremonial plaza. Include a temporary activation element, a piano perhaps, a basketball hoop, moveable tables and chairs...
Repair the Square! http://www.thesidewalkballet.com/2012/11/repair-square.html
Good to see attention to Robson St footpath to Fitzwilliam. Spend a bit of money here. Quality design, include lighting. An important neighbourhood street for infill uses (as are currently underway).
Green light Tideline park, include some tactical element and signage announcing its coming role in that area’s revitalization.
Unsure what re-configuring pedestrian crossings at Commercial, Wallace Albert and Victoria entails but I’d hope it would include elimination of “beg-buttons” (green light automatically includes “walk” signal) and no right turns on red light.
Access to the waterfront walkway concerns me. The drawings of the current plan show the walkway stops abruptly at the edge of the property. This is of course unavoidable but the important connectivity and continuity of the walkway would not be disrupted to the same degree if it carried on from the waterfront on a pathway at the north edge of the property. The access as configured in the drawings is a mistake. A footpath at the north edge would coherently mirror the footpath around the Cameron Island tower and create a superior walking experience.
I’m not sure a scramble intersection configuration at Bastion and Commercial should be a high priority. Crossings are plentiful now here, and my inclination would be to “take our victory” on Commercial and look to surrounding streets to expand on the kinds of things that have made Commercial a far better street than it was a few years ago. Consider though a test scramble at Front and Bastion and/or Front and Chapel.
Happy deliberations!

— Frank

Many of you may have seen this. Urban Studies Prof Michael von Hausen webinar “Making the Next Great Small to Mid-Size Downtowns." Link to his webinar here : https://youtu.be/pnj7OUc5bBo. There are some good ideas for Nanaimo here...

Friday, July 19, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The City and You : Find Your Best Place. Richard Florida, Coursera #MOOC

Friday, July 12, 2019

City builder term of the day : Urban Design

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Twitter thread : The Death and Life of
Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs.
Ch 5 The uses of neighbourhood parks

Sunday, July 7, 2019

When you narrow the roadway from
3 lanes to 2, and expand the sidewalk,
you get to have more patios
(St. Paul Street, St Catharines)

Friday, July 5, 2019

On the problems with mid-rise and
tower housing densification in the
midst of car-dependent sprawl

There’s nothing urban about sprawl, it’s more correctly suburban sprawl. It’s not caused by the housing form itself, it's caused by single-use residential car-dependent zoning. Single family, mid-rise blocks, or towers, all contribute to suburban sprawl.
The most compelling argument against this kind of development is that they immediately introduce 100s of automobiles which will be required for even the most basic task. And this at a time when it’s clear reducing the number of car trips is an urgent priority.
Some buildings are for people 55+. As the population ages more and more people will be unable to drive. So if developments like these are supported by an “age in place” argument, in fact increasingly people will be aging in place with an eventual devastating loss of independence.
Compare these projects with the benefits this level of densification would bring to an already at least basically walkable neighbourhood. More and better shops, possibility of improved transit, lively and safe street activity, cycling a practical alternative for many tasks.
I want to see the City be proactive in identifying “20 minute neighbourhoods” where at least a certain number of amenities, shops, services etc are present within a 20 minute walk and proactively promote this kind of density into those neighbourhoods. Win-win.
"If we wish to reduce our carbon footprint, the single most powerful tool at our disposal is middle-density intensification in established, walkable neighbourhoods.” @alexbozikovic The Globe and Mail https://t.co/Bsrvj8JOnP

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Walking the Downtown Mobility Hub with the City of Nanaimo transportation engineers

Last week I met with City of Nanaimo Manager of Transportation, Jamie Rose and the City's lead on the Downtown Mobility Hub Project, Transportation Planner Amir Freund. We walked and chatted in the 800m downtown zone currently under study.
We talked about, among other things, how the culture of the built mobility environment changes and reinforces user behaviour, good and bad; the importance of the unbroken connectivity within the pedestrian network; the urgency to address Front Street now with a tactical intervention (apparently plans are in place for Front St road diet in 2021).
It was good to hear recognition that street design elements directly determine vehicle speeds and therefore the comfort and safety of vulnerable street users, on foot, in wheelchairs, on bikes, with walkers, pushing baby strollers, etc. And that narrow travel lanes, much more than any amount of signage or education or enforcement, slow vehicle travel speeds.
We looked at sidewalk bulges with zebra crossings on Fitzwilliam (observably safer as drivers read the difference in the design of the space they’re entering and respect it). I asked why at, for instance, Selby and Franklyn only 3 of the 4 sidewalks are marked across the intersection. The unbroken pedestrian network would line all sidewalks across all intersections in the downtown core.
The traditional short block street grid has been proven to support walkability and neighbourhood commerce. Nanaimo’s north-south streets are too long creating the need for mid-block crossings ideally with sidewalk bulges and zebra crossings. These are being done in some cities very economically with paint, fixed pylons and planters. In Nanaimo I’d say 300 ft is the longest someone should have to walk without a safe and inviting way to cross the street.

My concerns remain as I detailed in this earlier post Nanaimo Downtown Mobility Hub Project : I fear what might be hiding in the weeds. In particular concerns about staff understanding...
“the nature of the task itself. We’re looking at some of the biggest and most important public space in city. Fixes and modernization of this public space are not at core technical problems, not problems of engineering or problems of landscape architecture, tho both of those are essential once the vision and design have been established. It’s at core a problem of urban design and the technical process has to be preceded by a process of visioning and design lead by a professional urban designer with first hand experience in establishing walkable urban centres inclusive of the most vulnerable street user.”
Each of the city’s systems is co-dependent on the other systems. Focusing solely on transportation without careful study of impacts on public space; the local independent shopkeeper economy; social equity and inclusion; arts and culture, etc requires a more holistic approach, systems thinking, an understanding of the organized complexity at work in a downtown core.

Monday, July 1, 2019