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FormShift: Panel discussion tonight on design in Vancouver

May 6th, 2009 · 26 Comments

The city recently co-sponsored the design competition FormShift, to encourage people to come up with new possibilities for new forms of density in Vancouver. The awards were handed out (see previous posts) and now there’s going to be a little panel debate on the competition and design in general here in the city. People who post on this blog regularly are evidence of how much local residents care about the shape (or shapelessness) of the city. For a real, not virtual conversation, you can come to:

The FormShift Winners

May 6, 7:30 pm
Venue: Room 1400, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Admission is free; reservations are required. Email or call 778.782.5100

Meet the winners of the FormShift competition and join a panel of insightful Vancouverites in a discussion of the issues raised by the competition. FormShift was a design ideas design competition jointly organized by the Architectural Institute of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver. The challenge: how can Vancouver literally give shape to its goals of greener and denser development while improving the city’s overall livability?

FormShift had three competition categories:

  1. Vancouver Primary for a mixed-use site along a major Vancouver street that includes a rapid transit station;
  2. Vancouver Secondary for a small residential site in an established Vancouver neighbourhood near public transit; and
  3. Vancouver Wild Card for a design idea that pushes the envelope of sustainable design and community building for Vancouver.

After a presentation of the winners, there will be a panel discussion moderated by City Program Director Gordon Price, consisting of architect Peter Busby, journalists Frances Bula and David Beers, City Planning Director Brent Toderian and developer Norm Shearing.

Panel discussion is co-sponsored by the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, City of Vancouver, and the SFU City Program. For FormShift information and supporters: visit:

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Wow this has me rankled!

    Call me sour grapes if you like ‘cos I was one of the rejects and I’m big-time pissed . . .

    FormShift assessors ignored the ” Eco-density charter” and “Climate change policy.”

    Question: why did the assessors chose a winning entry fragmented into parts and levels: all surfaces unnecessarily exposed to exterior, floors, ceiling walls, therefore loss of energy? Contrary to good conservation practice . . .

    Why did the assessors award a design that ignored street presence, made no recognition of multi-building inter-relationships and buildings articulated to form urban place?

    What does a footbridge to Sunset Beach have to do with Eco-density?

    Recognition was awarded for “fun with Adobe Illustrator” not responsible shift of form to better urban design.

    . . . the assessors where not up to the job!

    I level the same critique at “Where’s the Square?” too!

  • Not running for mayor

    Urbanismo, I rarely share your point of view but I agree with you on this 100%. To me I see some worth in these competetions but more along the lines of fun. I’m a long time fan of Gordon Price and I’m glad to see his invovlment in these competetions. I’m much more worried by Brent Toderians involvement, I hope I’m just misreading his interest but he seems too keen on these outcomes to my liking.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    My comments at FormShift tonight….

    There is NOT ONE urbanist scheme among the jury selections. 

    • Were there any urbanist projects among the submissions? How many urbanist schemes came before the jury?

    The second point I have deals with the decision to be made around what type of product will be used for intensification.

    • We’ve gone condo crazy in Vancouver for the past 20 years. 

    • Yet, walling off the waterfront is nothing new. The so-called third world did it in the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the time I left Montevideo in 1970 the towers were moving inland.

    • Driving the process was not a concern “to provide good housing”, but rather to put the profits of building the city into ever fewer, and ever larger corporate hands. 

    • The effect of the concentration of capital on the municipal system are well documented.

    Therefore: Did FormShift fail to show a real alternative? 

    • We can build fee simple, high density, low rise. And…

    • The results we obtain building fee simple, high density, low rise can only be measured at the scale of the neighborhood as a whole, rather than the single architectural site. 

    • In urbanism, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Neither architecture nor zoning will ever account for the difference.

  • Lewis,

    ” . . . the whole is greater than the sum of the parts . . . ” Por supuesto tambien . . .

    But we are stuck with the legacy of Messrs. Doggie-run y Paradise . . .

    “Johnny’s always running around trying to find certainty!”

    Don’t you just love the lyrics?

  • Lewis, Urbanismo admitted he was one of the ‘rejects’ in the FormShift competition. In the interest of full disclosure, you should acknowledge that you were a ‘reject’ too.

    That being said, I agree with you that there is an important role and need for ‘fee simple’ (that is to say, individually owned row houses, not part of a condominium) in Vancouver. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Vancouver’s Law Department says we need a charter amendment before they can happen. They happen virtually everywhere else in the world!

    But back to FormShift. I cannot agree the jury results demonstrate an absence of ‘urbanism’. Indeed, I would argue that the scheme that illustrates a transformation of a laneway within a city block into a new urban street is quite successful in this regard.

    I also think some of the other ideas demonstrate different attitudes towards ‘urbanism’ (at least as I define it), such as locating urban agriculture and housing over large industrial buildings within industrial zones.

    And the project that illustrates a new mixed use structure along West Broadway, while somewhat ‘out there’, is a recognition of a desire to re-think urbanism.

    In making these comments, I am not necessarily endorsing all of the jury’s selections. I haven’t yet seen all the submissions. But rather than question whether the winners adequately demonstrate ‘urbanism’, I think it is appropriate to celebrate the results of the competition, and congratulating both the winners, and all who submitted.

    At the discussion last night, it was noted that many, if not all of the ideas presented, would not be possible under existing zoning bylaws and building codes. But hey, that’s what an ideas competition is all about. And if some of the submissions, especially those promoting modular laneway housing (which I happen to think is a wonderful idea) result in changes to the city guidelines going to Public Hearing on July 21, this will be another positive outcome of the competition.

    Similarly, if we can encourage some municipalities to allow housing above large low rise industrial buildings, that will be another success.

    Furthermore, if the competition encourages the Vancouver Law Department to seek a Charter Amendment to allow fee simple row housing, that will be another success.

    And finally, as a bright young architect said over a drink following the event, if FormShift encourages our city to become more willing to experiment in building design and development, that could be the lasting legacy of this competition.

    (In the interest of full disclosure I was not a FormShift ‘reject’. But I was a ‘reject’ in another very public competition!

  • Cummon Michael, you’ve been in this business to be smarter than, “I also think some of the other ideas demonstrate different attitudes towards ‘urbanism’ (at least as I define it) . . .

    Wot! ” a foot bridge . . . hanging units exposing more surfaces to energy loss . . . complete neglect, nay lack of awareness of place . . .

    You bend so far to be reasonable you become unreasonable . . .

    We don’t need more rhetoric we need epiphany

    Dios bendice, paz, ojala Roger Kemble MA RCA MAIBC y mucho suerte . . .

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    For those who may be interested, look for “Simpson Villegas” submissions under “Primary” and “Wild Card” at

    What we are in the process of sorting out now is why our “Secondary” submission is not posted.

  • Joseph Jones

    Lewis N. Villegas said, and merits repeat:

    The results we obtain building fee simple, high density, low rise can only be measured at the scale of the neighborhood as a whole, rather than the single architectural site.

    Play it again … [well, not Sam and his aftermath, the Historic Area Height Review]

  • Urbanismo, I didn’t speak to the foot bridge, did I?

    However, had it been over False Creek, serving pedestrians and cyclists, with restaurants at each end (to help offset the costs to the public), I would have supported it as a good ‘urbanist’ response! cheers

  • Urbanist

    Lewis and Urbanismo, you both submitted entries to the FormShift competion. I think it would be very helpful if you posted them here so your comments can be put in context.

  • MB

    I too think that fee simple row housing would go a long ways to help diversify our existing housing choices.

    They’d be perfect as starter homes for young families, or for retiring seniors who do not want to give up on their neighbourhood when they are no longer able to provide upkeep on their detached homes with larger yards, and who find the thought of dealing with strata councils too distasteful.

    The legalities probably stem from the fact that row houses share commom walls, and therefore should (under current policy) be strata’d to death. If memory serves, a couple of jurisdictions (San Diego?) got around this technicality by providing a small air space between the walls.

  • Brent Toderian

    On fee simple townhouses, MB is right about the two-wall technique. Here in Vancouver, Art Cowie is doing some well-designed rowhousing using essentially that technique, which we worked out with him as a compromise given the Vancouver Charter issue (which frustrated both of us). Its a shame to do it that way though, more costly and wasteful, so we’re seeking a “speedy” resolution of the Charter problem so we can do just a party wall.

    Fee simple rowhousing is a very significant and strategic housing type for the city and all of Metro. Ground-oriented, human scaled, “gentle density” as we called them during the ecodensity excercise. The rest of the Country does indeed do them – I worked on many such projects in both Ontario and Alberta. Some well-designed examples were submitted for the FormShift competition, but given that we are doing them now and working to fix the problem, it was hard to give them an award as an innovative new idea.


  • Andrea C.

    Are there any architects/planners in Vancouver that believe that neither fee-simple nor strata ownership are the only options out there? What I’m talking about are co-op buildings. My parents live in one in a location to die for. They own their suite and can sell it at market prices, but they had to pay 35% down in cash and cannot rent to the public. This keeps owners present and committed. Everyone seems to get along and the building is in A-1 shape. Can new construction be conceived along these lines?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Co-ops work.

    Our “AIS Vancouver” (Arterial Intensification Strategy) injected urbanist methodology into the project of shaping Vancouver’s future.

    Our Director of Planning puts us at a great advantage by communicating openly and transparently—to boot, he blogs! So lets shed some light on the house row as one product necessary to build a better Vancouver.

    In urbanism, we zone with building type. Our house row entry was in the “Wild Card” category because we felt, on the one hand, that the competition’s choice of site for the Primary Site obfuscated the fact that the vast majority of arterial fronting lots are residential (worse, a good many are single family houses holding out against impossible conditions). On the other hand, we were concerned that house rows building out ad infinitum on the oppressively regular Vancouver grid would obtain the wrong kind of result.

    Thus, AIS Vancouver—Wild Card identifies as a FormShift advantage the fact that most Vancouver blocks were platted with an east-west orientation, presenting “end-grain lots” to the arterials. We calculated that by zoning “residential-end-grain-lots” on Vancouver arterials as “house row lots”, full build would deliver sufficient density to reach the threshold population for surface rail transit.

    AIS designed on 110-foot lots, releasing 10-feet to the public R.O.W. (right of way) on either side of the street. 80-foot arterials would become 100-feet wide; 99-foot arterials would become 119-foot wide (boulevard widths in both cases, according to Allan B. Jacobs).

    Adding space in the public realm would facilitate surface rail implementation, planting trees, and building local access lanes complete with bike lanes. Property owners would exchange 8% of their parcel for 375% up-zoning (more density, or realizable building envelope).

    If you have been following Patrick Condon’s remarkable pronouncements that: (1) we can build surface rail in Surrey-Delta-White Rock-Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Coquitlam for the price of twinning the Port Mann Bridge; and (2) we can return BC Electric levels of service to Vancouver for the price of a Canada Line-style service from Main Street to UBC; then you can begin to sense that what we mean by urbanist method and methodology is getting all the parts together, getting them right, and all lined up at one time.

    When we do transportation planning without planning to shape the growth that will inevitable follow; or when we design FormShift without a strategy that can deliver the transportation system at the same time—whatever it is that we may think we are doing—it is not good urbanism.

    On 26 April Toronto issued a $1.2 Billion order to Bombardier for new streetcars. When are we getting ours?

  • MB

    Brent, that’s great news. I see much potential for rowhousing a block or two either side of our arterials.

    The 33′ standard Vancouver lot could be subdivided lengthwise (16′, 20′, 24′, etc), and even if rowhousing was allowed in lanes as well, there would still be room for a courtyard in back and small front garden.

    With the advent of rowhousing, I’d also like to see some relaxation in the height restrictions on fences between the narrow lots. A 2.44 m (8′) thin masonry wall will work wonders for privacy and sound attenuation. Some English rowhousing have 10′-12′ walls. Glass block or even real window panes could be installed in the upper sections to allow more light into the yards.

    The Fire Dept. may allow longer runs of attached rowhouses if there was a firewall protruding above the roof line every two or three units, and if the exteriors were clad in non-combustible materials. I prefer the centuries-tested clay brick myself.

    Andrea, there is indeed more potential in housing co-operatives and co-housing. One has to distinguish between government-backed co-op housing where some members are subsidized in relation to their income, and co-housing where like-minded people band together and buy common shares and become their own developer and build and maintain their multi-family units, sweat equity playing a big part.

    Subsidized housing co-ops lost a lot of government support in the 80s. I’m a veteran of three of them, and though I really appreciated them during my starving student days and agreed with the concept of self-management, the incessant politicking, nepotism and unwarranted sense of entitlement WRT lifestyle subsidy (with public or other member’s money) left a bad taste. It helped steer us away from buying a condo and having to deal with a strata council, and toward buying a drafty little old house on a tiny lot when we could afford to.

    I now value private ownership, and am very please to not have to consult a strata council or committee to paint a wall or plant a rose bush.

  • Urbanismo
  • MB

    Lewis — great stuff! I especially like how you tied land use to transit. That is vital. And adding additional space from private property for widened arterials to accommodate a decent urban design treatment along with streetcars is an excellent idea and could be applied to a wide number of roads.

    I see great potential for the Transit Boulevard espoused by Peter Calthorpe, which seems to have been co-opted by Patrick Condon and the Design Centre for Sustainability group. No matter, it’s a model with fantastic potential not just to increase the efficacy of Vancouver neighbourhoods outside of downtown, but to revolutionalize the suburbs.

    But transit is in senior government control, not the city’s. That is the Achilles heel of this idea. We may not agree with the provincial government’s priorities on transportation, but the near absence of the feds in their own cities — except for a few dribbles of funding on limited projects — is shameful.

  • Van-Man

    Lewis, as an advocate for more low-cost housing integrated into the urban aterial fabric I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of widening our arterials to accommodate increased density.

    Unfortunately, your admirable ‘urbanist’ theories are not backed up by your formshift submissions. I found your architectural building forms, urban layouts and graphic imagery to be overwhelmingly oppressive and relentless; lacking social, environmental and cultural integrity and refinement.

    The key to any successful urban progression is finding a balance between prescribed by-law regulation and playful natural evolution.

  • Andrea C.

    Thank you to Mr. Lewis V. and MB for the encouraging replies. MB, I deliberately didn’t mention low-income or socially-supported co-op housing, not because I’m against it, but because I think co-op housing arrangments should be mainsteam and encompass all income levels and neighborhoods. That’s why I went on about my parents’ co-op. The way the co-op model works cuts down on the standard strata BS because, among other factors, no absentee ownership or rentals are allowed. I also strongly believe that co-ops work best in lower density multi-family dwellings – rowhouses, smaller apartments. When you try to tell an entire 20-storey condo tower what they can and cannot put on their windows – holy Moses. One of the sweet things about a “just right” co-op, one that caters neither to the richy-rich or the govt. funding dependant, is that it severely limits the chances the board will go on a power trip. The owner sells their unit privately to a qualified buyer who agrees in writing to the restrictions, and no further vetting is needed. The board should never, ever have the power to “hand-pick” future share-owners.

    I know that was veering off course, but I am big believer that many people in Vancouver could enjoy greatly reduce housing costs and live in a progressive and well-designed urban environment by going co-op. Think of all of great design ideas that could be brought to life!

  • Lewis N. Villegas


    (By some twisted act of fate;) Brent and I are B.C. reps of a group of concerned city design professionals that will try to make sense of all of this Division-by-Government-Equals-Zero none sense.

    Stay tuned.

    My take on it is that Canadian urbanism is a distinct entity because… well, we are governed by our own distinct laws: Articles of our own making and un-making. Yeah, let’s change that Vancouver Charter and do fee simple, high density, low rise house rows of a quality to match Cabbagetown, Montreal, Quebec, Beacon Hill, Greenwich Village, Alexandria, and North Beach San Francisco. The FormShift panel might not permeate them ’cause they’re not ‘new’… But damn, they are goooood!

    So, what is the city we want?

    Studies in California (not exactly the Walking State of America) suggest that we can reduce automobile trips in half with urban design–literally, by the shape we give our neighborhoods. We can reduce automobile trips in half yet again by providing rail transit. Buses on HOV lanes will do in a pinch.

    The best way I know to build consensus is to start with the facts that we can all agree on. Focus on that first. I feel a consensus building, and I sense that you do too.


    I appreciate your candor and agree with your observations. I thought the axonometric on our Primary entry looked a bit fascist. Oh, well…

    Competitions don’t let you give slide shows. They provide limited time & force hard choices. We went with “no color” on plans, sections and elevations, and with the “block-up drawing” as the axonometric view. Typically, the axo would get two tracings by hand with pen and ink: an under-drawing, and a final drawing. In the two passes the edges get softened a bit.

    However, consider that everything you see in the axonometric drawing are elements of urbanism. No eye-candy. We thought that was impressive all by itself.

    Our gambit freed up time to work out the elements in detail. The parking works. Zoom in on the unit plans and they are market-ready. One assumes the engineers would eventually have a go at the street sections. When they did, they would find enough space provided to fulfill the program.

    We also felt we were confronting a problem in culture. Sensing a lack of exposure and capacity in urbanist methodology in our region, we chose to show design fully worked out right down to the door swings, the number of risers in the stairs, pedestrian crossing distance, etc.

    For us design is proof. Rather than seductive images, and unbuildable stuff, we wanted to state with certainty that a gross density of 70 units/per acre was possible with fee simple product (a bungalow on a lot is 6 units/acre gross).

    These are significant numbers given the particulars of Vancouver’s platting.

    Had we felt our audience was familiar with the building types, then we might have tilted the emphasis to the rendering.

    However, you bring up an important difference in the practice of urbanism and architecture. Since the dawn of the Modern Movement, architecture has been forefront, and in-your-face. Every building is designed in isolation: All monument, no muscle.

    By contrast, in urbanism 95% of the architecture is considered “background”. Paris is arguably the most beautiful city in the world, yet all the buildings are more or less alike.

    In urbanism, you don’t see the architecture for the trees.

    The human experience of place is richer when we move along a continuous enclosure, under a leafy canopy, open to the sky.

    The opposite is also true. Walk on Broadway from Toys-R-Us to the Lee Building on Main Street. Truly one of the places in our city with great potential to develop as a genuine urban place. Yet, we will experience one boring building after another if we go there today. Each building clamoring that it is ‘good’ architecture… Better that they blend into the background supporting the kinetic experience of people and place.

    Broadway lacks design in the public realm to ameliorate all the traffic and noise. An elderly person, or a toddler, cannot complete the curb to curb distance in a single traffic light cycle. This is “very Vancouver”: no investment by the municipality in the public realm. Get it from the developer, or don’t get it at all.

    We need to change our approach.

    Our vision, the value that we assign to the experience of the public realm, must come under re-vison. Not the building on the private lot–although there is a role to be assigned there as well–but the stuff that happens between the streetwalls. That space gotta change.

    We need to foster a new understanding of how we build meaningful ‘place’. Stuff so real you think you can cut it with a knife.

    Andrea C.

    Just call me Lewis.

    Urbanism thrives on diversity. Provided we agree on some basic measures of common decency, our national strength lies in our ability to make room for ‘difference’.

  • Andrea C.


    I will definitely research this concept of “urbanism”, which is obviously an important touchstone for discussing today’s architecture and planning.

    From my non-professional perspective, I’ve always believed:

    “Let the city be the city and the country be the country.”

    I guess my outlook is a just a little dated….like back to those times when cities were walled and you had to be back by closing time or face the consequences!

  • Andrea C.

    MB (if you’re still on this thread)

    Something has been bugging my conscience. I know you and I had a little exchange in another thread. I am sorry for the last post that I made. If you haven’t read it – please don’t now, or you’ll be hatin’ me if you aren’t already.

    Yes, the word “developer” is a loaded one for myself. You see, I grew up right next to Terra Nova (in Richmond). It was my beautiful natural playground. The whole community treasured it. My mother shopped at the farmer’s markets and poultry farms. When Progressive Construction came forward with the proposal for rezoning this irreplaceable arable land (and the bountiful natural life it supported), I was devasted. This happened when I was in Grade 11. I was already volunteering with community television when the public hearings started. I was part of the crew that ensured that every minute of those hearings was covered and broadcast, no matter how many late nights, how many long weeks. I manned a table for the Save Richmond Farmland Society on the dyke and I canvassed in the neighborhood with my sister. We were all rooting for the land, for Terra Nova. Well, I think we all know how that ended. To this day, the loss of that land and the disgusting actions of the aldermen who brushed aside hundreds of citizens’ impassioned pleas in front of council still haunts me. This was a fight I was personally involved in at a very impressionable age. Let’s just say that some developers (and their toady councils) have left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

    I hope that makes my ranting a little more comprehensible, if not more agreeable.

  • Lewis N. Villegas


    The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the UK has been involved in an initiative since about 2000 to define, refine, and fund “good” urbanism. Their publication the “Urban Design Compendium” is available free. You can get a hard copy or simply down-load the pdf version.

    I recommend it to anyone, professional or not, who has not seen it (you too, Frances). Google “Urban Design Compendium” and get a cuppa ready.

    Richmond is a sad example of what has gone wrong in our society for ignoring for too long this other area of professional practice, civic management and design.

    The Richmond platt consisting of quarter sections, or 1/2-mile square blocks bordered by arterials, and colonized on the interior by non-connected streets is as bad as it gets. At least in the Vancouver grid the streets are continuous.

    Add to that the city managers error in failing to recognize that you can do high density, fee-simple, low rise. The quality of the tower build out that has ensued is the worst anywhere in western north america.

    There are some interesting town house projects on No. 1 Road. However, even there the ‘urbanism’ hasn’t been looked at. The product, if it is fee simple, is the right one. But the public realm, the streets fronting, have not been designed to function for people and for cars. And one worries that the neighborhood too has not been given shape by city-drawn urban design plans. The street scale is disappointing today, although theoretically, that could change.

    Today, we have transportation coming to No. 3 Road on “sticks” (isn’t it time already to NAME these places?).

    This is the third design for No. 3. The first was of a strip shopping mall á la King George Highway in Surrey, or Scott Road in Delta (two other areas of blight). The second was a “bus way” with fences erected to impede the cross flow of pedestrians. We are seeing this sensitive approach at Brentwood Mall and Lougheed Mall Sky Train sites.

    These folks never been to Paris. The French must have found a way to screen for them 😉

    The elevated system may be required for seismic considerations (I have not read reports on it), however the problems for the all important ground plane presented by elevated anything are legacies that will burden us going forward. It’s difficult to keep those kinds of landscapes free from crime.

    All of Richmond is on land that is subject to liquifaction should an earthquake of sufficient strength hit. The land will shake, and the sandy wet soil will turn to soup. Foundations are designed to “float”.

    Our entire region is suffering from the professional and political avoidance of urbanist praxis…

    Oh CNN is just replaying the footage of the shoe-hurling-through-the-air at President Bush.

    Good note to close on.

  • Wow, Daniel you’re on a path that wont end until you do . . . keep up the good work.

    I have been on a four day spiritual retreat, so have been out of the loop. And, now, have come back to Frances B’s FormShift conversation that I left as it was beginning to dissipate into irrelevancy.

    Poor Lewis is accused, on F’s blog, of some form of Fascism, which is unfair, because Louis is a consistent commentator on urban design with much good to contribute. Sin embargo, so long as he persists in obsessing and talking issues he has no expertise in, accusers have a point. And that is my point: so many of us want to get our oar in we forget how the city accretes.

    In my opinion a city does not grow it accretes: i.e. accumulates! Good God even at the retreat they were talking the necessity to grow the movement which goes to show how ingrained the notion is.

    May I humbly suggest intelligent, experienced, well positioned people like Lewis would help the cause by refraining from brown-nosing the like of the VPD director: he has enough of them already. Instead Brent T. must be told he has dropped the ball with a big-time clunk: i.e. NEFC replicating the mistakes of FCN, studying sky-lines in the Hasting-Heritage area. Sky-lines for Christ’s sake . . . how many angels can he fit on the head of a pin? And hanging his hat on no shift of form I can see . . .

    VPD has a 100+/- clock watching time servers all conspiring to create more, as you call it, paper.

    Planning? Why even the Gypsy Vardo evolves out of necessity. So too the Bantu hut/village/arrangement.

    You target three essentials:

    TRANSPORTATION: Is it true the car/oil oligopoly nixed progress in public transit in the early part of the nineteenth century. You’re dealing with some pretty big-time shit in that! You deal with it, no one else will. So you need to do a bit of work on that . . .

    LAND-USE: Planning is till bogged down in “private property” as it was defined some 250 years ago . . . until that is addressed land use planning is play-time for the few! So you need to do a bit of work on that . . .

    COMMONWEALTH: The first Britiish Commonwealth, needless to say, ended in the usual blood bath. So you need to do a bit of work on that . . .

    FormShift was a fiasco: opportunity starved players having fun with “Illustrator.” You can repeat that a trillion times and it won’t get thru the hard cast carapace of fear. Only brutal circumstance makes change!

    But visionaries like Daniel Appell are so desperately needed: they pave the way . . .

    PS I’ve loaded this on F’s blog hopefully for closure . . . I thinq I’m done with F’s blog! Check it out . . .

  • MB

    Lewis, thanks for your contribution. You covered a lot of ground about urbanism in a scant few paragraphs, and did it without unfairly slagging public officials. Is there a book in the works?

    I especially agree with your comment on the public realm. Our cities have a humongous chunk of public land devoted almost exclusively to the most utilitarian movement and storage of cars possible. One could see it instead as a ‘land bank’ that could be tapped incrementally over the years for better and more efficient uses, like transit and housing. THAT would be a real form shift.

    Urban design should be a recognized poly-profession. It taps not just architecture but gives more energy to planning, engineering, economics and and landscape architecture.

    Currently, our public realm is dominated by engineers, and the private realm by architects. Dem people godda come togedder.

    Andrea, your eluding to a private co-ops sounds a lot like co-housing to me. No matter, self-management is a viable idea and could work in a variety of housing types, expecially if the co-op membership own the land + structures, and presumably acted as their own developer. There’s even a private acreage co-op on Saturna Island. It does still require a significant time commitment.

    PS: No worries on the former thread .

  • Lewis N. Villegas


    As long as folks like you keep making good points, and raising interesting questions, the thread’s just gonna keep getting longer.

    There is a lot of ground to cover, and as you allude, it is defining a ‘common ground’ that is the challenge before us today. When we are speaking truth to power, there is no need for mud slinging. Ultimately it is our place, our nation, our wealth, our future, and the future of our loved ones that is at stake.

    The public right of way is typically thought of as comprising 1/3 of urban land. It is the most visible and (arguably) the most vibrant third.

    I believe that Urbanism is the right place for the city design professions to come together. Municipal management is most often described as bogged down in ‘silos’ (engineering; planning; finance; parks; by-law enforcement; etc.; all lacking a common language). Thus, we need a place where we can create a consensus vision of place. Somewhere to hold intelligent discussions about things everybody cares about, regardless of where we go to pick up the pay check.

    I believe urbanist theory and practice is that place.

    At the FormShift evening moderator Gordon Price taunted the panel, and his audience, with a question I did not address at the microphone, but will take up here.

    He asked, “What about the proposals that the people just don’t want?” The NIMBY thing (not in my back yard).

    What I felt the FormShift night plainly demonstrated was that a former politician, a leading architect, and a top municipal bureaucrat showed little or no understanding of urbanist praxis. In other words, they did not show capacity in an area of professional practice that affects how our cities and neighborhoods work, or fail to do so.

    And, here is the buzz. When you do take urbanist praxis as I have out for a walk on the streets and sidewalks of a neighborhood–any neighborhood–the results you get are exactly what Gordon was asking for!

    I have either led or participated in neighborhood urban design plans that took as their aim to try to show the people of a place what the next 20 years of build out would look like, and more importantly what they would deliver. Properly managed, Growth Is the Engine of Change.

    It’s either that, or higher taxes.

    In one memorable instance, confronted with a pen and ink drawing from my own hand showing the existing conditions on one sheet, and full 20-year build out on another, the city planners went into a huddle before opening the doors to the public meeting. They were worried about how the people would react!

    To their credit, they decided to let it ride and held the public meeting with all the drawings up. The reaction was entirely positive. People seemed to appreciate their government fairly “showing them” what would result from proposed changes in civic policy.

    While this group of planners acted in a particular way, and thus make for a dramatic tale, the fact is that city management in possession of urbanist praxis returns this kind of result time and again.

    What I lack are examples of when the urbanist method didn’t work.

    It’s a funny thing, “transparency, openness, and consultation” seems to inoculate against failure in town planning. I am fond of saying that at the “charrettes” our first duty is to hose down the public with a healthy dose of proof. Only then can we go on to show them how things they want can get done.

    All that urbanist method and methodology brings to the table, besides common sense, is a set of concrete and measurable ‘principles’ or statements of fact. In the rare cases when these facts are contradicted by local anecdote, we stop and drill down deeper.

    Urbanist praxis is a changing and malleable thing. We welcome difference because typically it presents our best opportunity to learn, which in turn, is our best guarantee for delivering a better product.

    I cannot comment why there is not a stampede of city design professionals and politicians in our region bursting to access this kind of approach.

    A book? … Thus far the theory of the origins of place has found safe harbor at Simon Fraser University’s Seniors Program, where the participants have been receptive, enthusiastic, and very helpful to me.