Technology and behaviour

The stamp on my disposable cup said “Without the internet.” I was visiting the Faraday Cafe on 434 Columbia Street in Vancouver. Beside the front glass of the space, many used cups were placed with phrases added to the existing one. I also finished my drink and added a few words to share my perspective.

Julien Thomas has opened a café that blocks wireless signals from reaching its customers. A few years ago I’ve read a disclaimer at JJ Bean explaining their stand on not providing wi-fi in their coffee shops. I’m not sure whether they are still doing that but at the time I was wondering if it really is necessary for a business to engage in such issues. With or without access to communication tools (A.K.A. Technology) it’s people’s behavior that determines their degree of engagement with each other.

Faraday Cafe-1082

What are the questions we ask ourselves in the context of our needs? I remember the emotional effort required to discuss with my wife the issue of using her cell phone in the presence of friends in a coffee shop. I’m trying to compare that effort with the effort invested in putting up the Faraday Cafe for the days it will operate. What I feel is at stake here is made up of many layers, branches and threads of thought. Maybe a significant one is the balance between confrontation and engagement.

It seems like almost everyone feels the challenge of giving our attention to the people important to us. That attention requires emotional investment that is acquired in time and reaches unique and many times incompatible levels. Face to face or through a variety of tools, our control of communication is a magical mess. Are you listening to me? Do I hear you?

As well and unintentionally Julien has come up with a design layout that in itself invites contemplation and discussion. For any of its achievements, this display is a great opportunity to foster awareness. Take away any part of your habits or routines and your awareness to its importance as well as its substitutes can improve.

What is a coffee shop without coffee?

How hard is it to turn off your device?

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Disaster by the books

July 9th 2013: Mary Rowe’s presentation introduced great insights and room for thought for our engagement in urban living. Mary is Vice President and Managing Director of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS). At times She sounded as if urban living is still questioned by some populations around the world. But her talk mainly focused on the issues of small scale activities within the urban realm: how individuals and neighbourhoods are key forces to consider when planning for disasters. The list of massive scale incidents since the turn of the 21st century is significant and includes floods, pest infestations, hurricanes, earth quakes and more.

Beached

Aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. (SOURCE)

Following Mary’s research into disaster stricken regions her concerns evolved: rescue and restructuring efforts by the authorities started to look like systemic acts of demolition of whole neighbourhoods. When residents of the destroyed places had noticed these acts, the intentions of authorities became suspect. One of the strongest messages from the talk was the need for awareness and action in all fronts of urban infrastructure. But when using the word infrastructure, social issues such as education and services should be taken as part of it: the residents of a city are also its owners.

A fascinating reality of urban life and management is the seamless ties between the built environment and the life it supports. Our technologies continue to facilitate more and more opportunities to interact with and protect us from the natural environment. However, no tool human kind has built to date has been 100% fail safe. The city is our most complex tool and we are maybe its most important component.

So I listened to the presentation and was intrigued by the discussion that followed. Eventually my thoughts brought me to a few feedback streams. Planning is a result of experience. It is also a trait we tend to employ even without experience. In many cases we plan our solutions to deal with experiences from the past, which are never going to repeat the way they have occurred.

Nola

A Street Scene in New Orleans from December 2012. (SOURCE)

Mary Rowe advocates for stronger reliance on local communities in determining their fate. A few arguments were raised in favour of seemingly contradictory policies: large scale systems were proposed as the better investment. In any society on our globe a varied set of balances are always waiting to be explored. The process of debate results in the story we eventually live. This is why the question ‘What is your story?’ is a compelling one.

Whatever we call disaster we always try to avoid, mostly by planning. We learn from the past and try to anticipate the future. We always wake up to the realization that disasters don’t happen by the book.

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I’ve heard about this presentation, ‘Community Based Resilience: Frontline Stories from the United States and Canada’ when only a few seats were left to grab on the sign up page. The talk was presented at Robson Square by Bing Thom Architects and the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. It was led by Mary Rowe and discussed with Moura QuayleJoji Kumagai and Gordon Price

Finding the way to your city

“So what is it about Vancouver that everyone is talking about?” my father had asked me on his first visit here back in 2009.

Today I’ve asked a friend who moved back from Toronto what it is that she would “import”  from there to Vancouver. Her response was pretty quick: “Culture”. As I was about to continue from our short catch up to an event at the Roundhouse, my father’s question came back to me with an interesting twist. “Artists Walking Home (AWH) is a multi-year collaborative project between artist Catherine Pulkinghorn and 221A Artist Run Centre that invites public participants to discourse and learn about the complex historical and social conditions of Vancouver through the embodied experiences of the city’s cultural producers” (from their website).

Vancouver is a small and young city. This was evident when I had moved here from Israel in 2002 and it still is true these days even with the rapid growth we’re experiencing throughout the region. In many ways this fact can be frustrating to someone who’s been around the world and got used to places that have a formidable history and a vibrant present. On the other hand Vancouver is not a baby and the processes  it is going through make this a fascinating time to be part of the change, growth and development.

In one of the AWH gatherings I noticed my daughter and other adults looking at the map of Vancouver trying to orient themselves. It suddenly occurred to me that a map is like a face. As soon as you familiarize yourself with it you can make a distinction between its features. If you like a city, you can smile at the site of a familiar street. If you’ve had a bad experience anywhere you might cringe at the sight of its location on the map, just like you might when you look at the mirror and muse over a scar on your own face.

The workshops facilitated by Catherine and her team provided lots of room for thought and discussion. They all included walks along the blocks of Yaletown surrounding the Roundhouse. In trying to understand the built environment such walks are an indispensable way of looking at the past in order to understand what the future can look like. Yaletown as a neighborhood is a result of a concentrated planning process. A lot of its success is being studied around the world. Nevertheless, there’s always something to learn from the challenges of a success story. Some of the challenges existed in the development process. Some of them have stayed or were realized only now, when the structures are already in place.

Inbal walking in the rose petals maze made at the main gallery of the Roundhouse as part of the Memory Festival. The Artists Walking Home workshop was taking place in a close by hall, so we had a chance to engage in a side story of our weekend creative engagement.

Vancouver as a whole is making impressive efforts in a variety of neighborhoods to expand, improve and redevelop. Our participation in the AWH workshops was a great way of experiencing and being part of the building of our own city, our home.

Inspiring controversy – more following the design thinking unConference

The second day provided a terrific opportunity for a comprehensive exchange of information and insights. The concept of forming discussion groups based on pitches from attendees is fantastic. My topic for a session stated the question “What is the Language of Design Thinking”. The medium size audience for this topic allowed all to participate and this group turned out to be enthusiastically engaged in it. This was definitely inspiring.

Awareness is probably the strongest force in coming to terms with our discussion. One of the highlights in our discussion occurred when Design was suggested as a verb before Thinking. For many in the room it suddenly opened the scope of our term into new territories: not only a type of thinking anymore but also the creation of thought. My own practice of design has always involved the process of thought and provoking.

Interpreting our reality into innovation involves dissecting of our tools for the purpose of reconstructing them. We can then tweak them for optimum use. Language being one of our core tools of communication is thus an endless source for thought and provocation. Although the LinkedIn DT group is a fine platform for valuable insight into the field, before the unConference started I tried to follow some of the discussions and felt somewhat disenchanted. I got the impression as if some people out there are trying to appropriate the term; as if some of us deserve control over its meaning and rights of use. The urge to blow the air out of this Design Thinking Balloon grew stronger as I tried to keep my research going.

The information of the Foo Fighters’ Garage Tour got to me just as the unConference concluded. I look at it as a fabulous illustration of challenging the thoughts of a target audience. It also installs an updated if not new look at marketing and management of resources for those who have an open enough mind for interpretation. Who would believe this: an international rock band with a fan base of millions promoting their new record release by hauling megatons worth of equipment through the humble garage spaces of six or seven lucky fans? The language of design thinking is loudly speaking from this case. You don’t have to be an official ‘design thinker’ to tweak people’s minds into new perceptions of what can be done.

IDEO, who are credited for promoting the practice of design thinking in the past decade seem to have used the term to allow design to be perceived as more than just decoration. Needless to say I whole heartedly agree with them. They too might not have been the first or last to engage in this effort. IDEO certainly managed to do so with a fair bit of success. My grandmother once asked me “so what do you do there all day, draw nice pictures?” She wasn’t the only one who found it hard to understand what sort of money can be made in this “non business”. Associating thinking to that artsy word was definitely a useful way of using language to elevate IDEO’s positioning in the market. The image of Thinking injects a more lucrative level of business making to the process of Design.

Of course the question what design thinking is, still prevailed throughout the unConference. My sense of where the confusion comes from is that there is a spectrum of engagement under the intellectual umbrella of our term. Some of the younger designers were humbly curious as to ways of actually making money. It was also apparent that some of the more established professionals in the room were gently or not so gently trying to promote their business(es). What is Bruce Nussbaum’s demise of DT if not a direct economic threat to anyone immediately dependent on the term’s image for their business? This year’s event was definitely more than just a response to Bruce’s article. Like many conferences in any field, ours was an array of opportunities.

If we look at the DTUC as an excuse to engage in inspiring conversations; a platform to connect with peers; a way to assess an industry; the Design Thinking unConference managed to stir its audience with more than just one spoon. I hope to expand on this metaphor later sometime.

Urban Design – Implementation Methods in Brief

BURNABY RIVER POINT
Let the Big Box Bend For You

Overview
The intention of this discussion is to see how to get from words and paper to action and results; to form the interface between restrictions of reality and academic freedoms.

Proposal: develop to become a showcase
‘River Point’ has an opportunity to lead the way in urban use of, and connection to agriculture. Based on the local heritage and existing working farmlands a wealth of knowledge and expertise can be tapped. The interaction between urban dwellers and the farming community is utilized in exploring new types of domestic food production. Go to Implementation Methods for details.

Urban Design – Implementation Methods

SFU URBAN DESIGN 2010-2011 SPRING SEMESTER

IMPLEMENTATION METHODS

BURNABY RIVER POINT

Let The Big Box Bend For You

15 JUNE 2011

“ … Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix.”

9th & Hennepin, 1985 – Tom Waits

Overview

The intention of this discussion is to see how to get from words and paper to action and results; to form the interface between restrictions of reality and academic freedoms. On the one hand my effort is to propose realistic ideas that could actually be built and programmed. On the other, in telling the story of a place, some of the more compelling scenarios might seem fantastic at times. This is one of the joys of pushing or at least trying to push the limits.

In 2001 a development plan for Big Bend Crossing (named ‘River Point’ in this paper) was approved by the city council of Burnaby. ‘River Point’ refers to the region in Burnaby of which the intersection between Byrne Road and Marine Way is the main gateway. Following the phasing plan for the sustainability challenge, a section of this precinct was selected for implementation. The main points from my Eco-Planning assignment are used for the Vision, Goals and Principles of Implementation.

The idea is that by implementing those points in the boundaries of the selected region, their success will be carried over to the rest of ‘River Point’. Some of them, such as mid parkway drainage swales, playgrounds and community programming could be implemented in any part of ‘River Point’ as soon as funding is available.

Vision

Through our commitment to earth, water and air our transactions balance between responsibility to our environment, growth in business and the experience of life. Each day is an opportunity to give back to the land we use while nurturing the ties we have to one another.

  • ‘River Point’ is a community dedicated to the promotion of farming in urban settings
  • We integrate agriculture with the fabric of urban living
  • This community maintains a unique local texture to the public realm
  • Our facilities are laid out to enhance walkability and usability for the sake of wholesome, healthy living

Goals

‘River Point’, as a neighborhood in transition needs to respond to changing market conditions both local and regional. The development plan from 2001 has resulted in mixed degrees of success for the businesses who occupied its new spaces. New residential developments to the west are emerging that could shift the economic balance of the precinct. Its development requires a revised approach. Focus on human needs should result in the following:

  • Maintain a working balance between industry, agriculture, commerce and living
  • Promote healthy living as a leading component of urban development
  • Create a sense of place within the community
  • Connect with neighboring nurseries, farmlands to nurture a unique local urban fabric
  • Integrate Marine Way into its urban context while taking care of traffic flow.

Principles

Among the ideas presented in this paper, some are already in use elsewhere either in the world or in Burnaby itself. Our challenge is to utilize the tools we already have in an economical manner and explore new solutions in ever changing settings. The challenge then becomes our opportunity to be our best.

  • Means of transportation have advantages to be enjoyed and challenges that enable creative solutions.
  • The built environment is a tool that supports human needs.
  • Integration of facilities is a process in the evolution of urban development.
  • The built environment creates space and spaces that should be thoughtfully utilized.

Ownership

Stakeholders: Property owners want long term residents; Businesses want prosperity; Employees want a convenient workplace; visitors/clients want a stress free time getting around. Develop communications that respond to stakeholders’ wants and needs. Find the connections between those to illustrate mutual interests of the parties involved.

Involvement: Investment in the environment is property- and business-owners’ power to contribute to the improvement of visitor and client satisfaction; Festivals, seasonal events, great gathering opportunities provide reasons for people to come to the place and have a connection.

Recognition: Media attention, tax revenues, a place to show off are part of a politicians moments of grace in the usually thankless reality of governing. Property and business owners can enjoy similar moments when a place succeeds.

Partnerships: Between City Hall and Volunteer groups; businesses of the neighborhood; the neighborhood at large and the surrounding farming properties; City Hall and Translink, Science World, Aquarium, Universities and others. Collaboration and education, apart from being means of interaction are tools in generating change.

Organization

Random conversations with local occupants were conducted with an almost obvious conclusion:

People have interest in the environment of their workplace, hard core as it currently is at places. An extensive survey of the region should look for input by residents or neighbors, and visitors who show interest and commitment to the success of ‘River Point’[1].

The adjacent Burnaby allotment community gardens should be a good resource for collaborations

Bus rides: Explore more bus stops; local shuttle service

Existing railway: Re-introduce rail transit as part of inter-urban transportation. This is a negotiation between such parties as federal government, metropolitan municipalities, Translink and CN.

Road traffic: The region as a whole is becoming more and more residential[2]. A joint effort between municipalities should coordinate traffic and find solutions for alternatives for the current heavy traffic going through Marine Way and Byrne Road. A speed limit being one of the tools in this process will also help in directing traffic into ‘River Point’. North Fraser Way is an imminent option for traffic distribution and is integral to solutions in ‘River Point’.

Community gardens/planters: The effort to preserve farmland in an urban setting needs to be seen and manifested. With growing interest in the city for community gardens, it is almost obvious to integrate planting boxes into new and existing developments. With close by nurseries and farm properties, many interactions and business making are bound to evolve.

Landscaping: resting places invite people to stay longer and possibly extend their spending.

Community center: explore viability. The region is evolving and its residential component is a leading component. The school location to the east looks like a suitable option.

Parkade: densification should apply to parking as well. A well designed parkade that integrates other functions will help reduce wasted land and improve access for pedestrians.

Fitness: Businesses focused on sports and recreation should find ‘River Point’ to be a useful junction for commerce and gathering. Examples can be Cliffhanger, yoga establishments and fitness clubs.

Resources

Prioritize types of development to allow selection of the most appropriate investment based on phasing plan. Funds, when available, should be proportionately directed according to priority list.

Apply for federal government’s Building Canada Fund and other sources of funding.

Utility investment matching program: Create a formula for street furniture/features investment. For each item property owners install the city will add agreed upon complementary items/services.

Collaborate with volunteer groups: Developers leave space for planting; City delegates planting programs to volunteer groups; get business owners involved.

Tools

Rezoning: introduction of residential space will require this.

The following is an example of ideas to make a working connection between ‘River Point’ and the surrounding farmlands and agricultural properties: Encourage/require gardening boxes at each block. This will facilitate growth of vegetables to interested parties. Vacant planning boxes will need to be maintained by residents/property owners. More ideas can be harvested in community gatherings with city staff.

Forming of a neighborhood board for visitor interaction: the ability to help clients and browsers in finding their needs, requires good coordination between business establishments.

Encourage workshops for cooperation between business owners, neighbors and interested parties: enhancement of the above point.

Negotiate formulas with the Burnaby School District to attract volunteering in the region.

Invest in advertizing of regional/seasonal activities.

Conduct design competitions for bus stops, signage, landscaping and so on.

Reach out to local businesses such as Rona and Canadian Tire for fundraising of capital investments. Their tools and employees can be economically more efficient in forming gardening boxes, sheds and the like. Other businesses can contribute relative to their operations.

Evaluation

Traffic: reduction in car usage within site; increase in use of bikes and public transport; people are seen in various hours of the day. Monitoring can be delegated to volunteers.

Business: businesses opening and remaining in area; space vacancy low

Visual: place looks well maintained, clean; signage useful and decorations in place; people are gathering, using the space, shopping, enjoying.

City: tax revenues compatible with business inventory; subsidies eliminated; debts reduced/eliminated

Summary

‘River Point’ has an opportunity to lead the way in urban use of, and connection to agriculture. Based on the local heritage and existing working farmlands a wealth of knowledge and expertise can be tapped. The interaction between urban dwellers and the farming community is utilized in exploring new types of domestic food production.

The location of ‘River Point’ between farmlands of various scales allows a type of interaction that is unique to the neighborhood. Physically making connections between our precinct and its surrounding is one of the ways selected to facilitate this.

Pedestrian bridges, the green belt, planting boxes and public realm are some of the tools to be used in turning the place into a livable and working urban community. The introduction of residences into the development process can be gradual but needs to be an integral part of it.

Files of interest

The following are references with background and inspiring information used for the work on assignments, the eco-planning and the implementation. The descriptions below the images in this page refer to file names.

   
20080305_Future of Big Bend on the table: A 2008 interview with resident re: the development in ‘River Point’. (Link) 2010_StateOfByrneCreek: A 2010 report by Stream Keepers re: condition of Byrne Creek. (Link) 1st LEED PARKING GARAGE: A six story parking garage in Santa Monica, CA. (Link)
   
Beautiful Chinese Pedestrian Bridge: Completed in 2009 at the Qingpu district of Shanghai by CA-GROUP, an international architecture and urban planning. (Link) La Closeraie & Tower Flower: Inspiring use of materials on buildings designed by Edouard François from France. (Link) Tynehead Overpass Project: Pedestrian bridge recently completed in Surrey, BC. (Link)
   
vegswale: Reference information re: swale planting for storm water management. (Link) water_quality6677: valuable information re: water quality of the Fraser River. (Link)

Appendix

Following are maps and drawings to reference the information above.

Proposed Land Use

Phasing Plan


Main Roads Sections

Master Plan


[1] At the Burnaby Auto Mall, visitors can notice a small and tidy wood boxed vegetable garden. It is maintained by owner Edgar Mark Uhlmann. He understands the city’s need to expand the road but expressed dismay with the way in which it was executed.

Further to the north, among the wrecks of crashed cars and industrial equipment, a mass of planters with a variety of growth forms the entry to Evelyn Burch’s stained glass workshop. She finds the concrete structure for the future Jordans flooring company to be disrespectful of the low rise nature of the neighborhood.

[2] ‘East Fraser Lands’ is a development in Vancouver, West of ‘River Point’, which illustrates the regional context of riverside residential development. A story from the Globe and Mail is attached in the CD (20110527_RelentlesslyResidential.doc)

Urban Design – Eco-Planning in Brief

BURNABY RIVER POINT

Thinking Outside the Big Box

Overview
As a region in the process of development (named ‘River Point’ in this paper), the Byrne Road/Marine Way intersection provides an opportunity to assess intermediate results of the approved development plan from 2001.

Proposal: working out the P.A.C.E of commerce.

  • Programming: a good balance in variety of businesses
  • Amenities: Each vehicle that arrives in the region can support many businesses.
  • Coordination: network of business making.
  • Education: take home more than what you came for.

Go to Eco-Planning for details.