Our City, Ours to Plan: Decide Vancouver’s Future in 2011

Our City, Ours to Plan: Decide Vancouver’s Future in 2011

Contributed by Randy Chatterjee, a Vancouver-based “civil libertarian”
November 2010

The text below was selected from an article in UrbDeZine, a well-respected, independent urban design journal. Many of the following guiding principles are taught in planning programs around the world. The first question is whether these ideas make sense to us, the residents of Vancouver, who are the primary stakeholders and funders of this city. The second question is how to make sure they are implemented.

In reading the concepts outlined below (most of which are familiar to us as those   that first drew us to Vancouver or contributed to our staying) please think critically, and do not just assume they are right because some famous planner or planning expert wrote them. Then (relating to the second question on making sure your beliefs and preferences are given their due) fix in your mind, as a voter, the contribution of each and every candidate towards those principles you hold dear…and act on this knowledge.

Meanwhile, take the time to find and join a local planning or residents’ association, and simply voice your opinion. This is Principle #13 of New Urbanism, the final one below.

2011 is less than a year away. Vancouver faces a civic election in November 2011. It is your choice how Vancouver looks and feels, evolves and matures, succeeds or fails. No one else can make that choice.

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10 Principles of Planning Pleasant Places, by Bill Adams

There are many academic lists regarding the principles of urban planning, a sampling of which is included below. However, I’ve put together my own list about what creates a pleasant place in the built environment. It is based on nothing more than my personal observations.

  1. 1. Narrow streets make nicer neighborhoods and shopping districts.
  2. 2. Setbacks suck. (Compare all the places we are attracted to for vacations.)
  3. 3. Great cities happen at the street level, not the skyline.
  4. 4. Preserve the old buildings not just for architectural significance, but for diversity of architecture.
  5. 5. Small lot development is smarter development. (i.e. large master planned developments lack soul)
  6. 6. Build cities and towns for pedestrians and human scale – the drivers will find a way to get there.
  7. 7. Plan for feeling, not for efficiency. (Wide streets, wide sidewalks, uniform traffic grid patterns – while all these things tend to make sense from a pure logical perspective, humans are not purely logical. As a result such planning tends to lead to blight.)
  8. 8. Plan to foster unplanned organic development. (Think diversity, small lot development, creativity)
  9. 9. Incorporate rather than create the topography.
  10. 10. Most planning principles that create livable communities are counter-intuitive. Based on the human mind not efficiency.

Source: http://urbdezine.com/2010/10/02/10-principles-of-pleasant-places/

Elements of New Urbanism

According to Duany and Plater-Zyberk (see source below), the heart of New Urbanism is in the design of neighborhoods, which can be defined by thirteen elements:

  1. The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
  2. Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 1/4 mile or 1,320 feet (0.4 km).
  3. There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles, and families, the poor, and the wealthy may find places to live.
  4. At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
  5. A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).
  6. An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
  7. There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than a tenth of a mile away.
  8. Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
  9. The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
  10. Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
  11. Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
  12. Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
  13. The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.

Source: Wikipedia, Principles of Urban Planning: “Elements of New Urbanism,” by husband-and-wife town planners Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

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