Consider This
Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

The importance of mixed-use and how to get to there from here.

First published: November 12, 2004

by Keith Oliver

This is the eleventh in a series of articles about planning the growth and
development of human settlements including Area C at the northeast corner
of Cobourg. In 30 years, when this two square mile, or 500 hectare area is
fully developed, Cobourg will be twice its present size.
Our resistence to mixed-use

We have an underlying, often unarticulated, resistence to mixed land-use.
Today more than ever we like our living environments neat and tidy, to the
point where arguments presented in favour of mixed-use are often dismissed
as arguments in favour of a kind of chaos. With mixed land-use an important
element in achieving a more compact urban form, town planners and
architects must collaborate closely to solve any arising conflicts.

Many times we see and experience on a daily basis the kind of mixed-use
that a present day developer, or town council, would never dream of
proposing, or approving. This reticence is so pervasive that we even have a
term to describe it, which is NIMBY, or “not in my back yard”.

Central Cobourg as a model of successful mixed-use.

The Olde Town Residential Area and Main Central Areas of Cobourg, which are
bounded by William Street, D’Arcy, the railway tracks and the waterfront,
combine to become one of the best, unacknowledged examples of the facility
of the NIMBY argument.

In this area, which the postal map shows contains 3,009 dwellings, and all
the uses needed to justify calling it a village (at least until the recent
loss of the IGA, the MOT office, the Park Theatre and the hardware store),
all kinds of housing, from high income, to high-rise, to co-ops, to
subsidized rental units, exist comfortably side by side, or at least within
a very short distance of each other. The diverse housing pattern is a
product of a slower pace of development, and happened, almost unnoticed as
needs arose to subdivide the large lots on which “the better” homes were
located. The controls that did exist had more to do with public safety and
less to do with aesthetics and social sensibilities.

The contradictions of paradigm thinking.

Another form of resistence to mixed-use is found in the difficulty we
experience in breaking away from an existing paradigm, or rigid model of
what we perceive to be the norm. Wearing a bikini on the beach is fine,
while wearing one on the main shopping street, 300 metres away, is not. We
endorse public transit as a good and efficient way of moving people, but
never consider the fact that at off-peak hours it could be an even better
way of moving goods around a congested city. We see ourselves as rational
creatures and believe that change is good, yet fail to understand that it
isn’t change per se that’s the problem, but rather the rate of change. One
glaring example of this is in our relationship to the natural environment
on upon which we depend. Through our uncritical use of evolving
technologies we are causing change in a vital system at a rate that is much
faster that our own ability as a species to adapt to those changes.

The value of cooperative problem-solving.

One example of how change can happen in an enlightened manner when
different interests work together, is how a developer, Cadillac Fairview,
and an architect, Ernest Annau, worked with the residents of Bedford Park
in North Toronto to develop a site in a 1920’s neighbourhood of modest
well-maintained two-storey brick houses, with shaded front porches
overlooking manicured front lawns, flower beds and quite streets.

Because of the value of the land, with its exposure to Avenue Road, and the
difficulty of its traditional development, caused by the presence of a
ravine, previous developers had proposed high-rise buildings which the
surrounding residents repeatedly defeated.

In 1975 Cadillac Fairview suggested that the Bedford Park Resident’s
Association join them in a cooperative problem-solving venture that started
with the selection of an architect capable of satisfying both the
developer’s and the community’s needs. Architect Ernest Annau then worked
to help the community express and analyze its concerns.

Annau clearly heard the values expressed by the residents and then used his
considerable analytical and design skills to produce five different
development concepts, which in turn were discussed and analyzed, both
separately and collectively, by all six ratepayers organizations involved
in the original controversy. Within six months of being retained, Annau had
developed a final scheme, and an application for re-zoning was made with
strong community support.

Bedford Glenn is worth a visit.

Bedford Glenn, completed almost 30 years ago, is located at the southeast
corner of Woburn and Avenue Road, several blocks north of Lawrence. It
consists of 49 townhouses, and 158 terraced apartments in two buildings
that are five storeys above street level, the larger of which can be said
to be a modified form of a terraced garden apartment. The mix of the two
housing types results in a residential site density of 40 dwellings per
hectare (dph). This is almost four times the dph of the surrounding
neighbourhood.

The three storey townhouses along the North and East side of the site form
a transition between the five storey apartment structures and the existing
neighbourhood single family homes. The ravine which passes through the site
next to, and parallel with Avenue Road, is used as a pedestrian pathway and
the contrast between its quality of public space and that of the Avenue
Road sidewalk, only 25 to 50 metres to the West, is impressive. These two
very different pedestrian experiences are further exaggerated by the fact
that the depression of the ravine pathway eliminates most of the noise from
Avenue Road traffic. Imagine if the ravine had been preserved as part of a
pedestrian path system as it once extended beyond the site, instead of
having been bull-dozed.

Bedford Glenn represents the added quality-of-life that well designed,
higher density housing can achieve, as well as an example of the
value-added results of a cooperative, as opposed to an adversarial,
problem-solving process, in which all participants are equally respected
for what they have to contribute.

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