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Revitilization « leadingleed.com
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Cities As Gardens: Sustainable Urbanism & LEED’s Role – Part Three

Part Three: Smart Location & Linkage and its Benefits for Modern Cities

Smart Location is application of mere common sense but , observing current cities, it is a principle avoided at an alarming rate. Cities of our age are exemplars of sprawl-based dwellings. The dependence on cars – and its precursor, the chase for a big home and a backyard – have led to cities moving further and further outwards with complete disregard of the dimensions of space and the environment; for some, including me, this phenomenon borderlines the absurd.

Concerning site choice, Smart Location & Linkage entails both the preservation and restoration of the natural ecosystem and proximity to mass-transit networks to reduce dependence on cars. If sites, be it for neighbourhoods or buildings, are chosen according to these principles their footprint will be drastically reduced without a single brick laid. It is about appropriateness of our project and not blatant disregard of its context.

This image shows how certain sites are more favourble due to their proximity to mass-transit and distance from pure eco-systems

This image shows how certain sites, in Seattle, WA, are favourble due to                                                                                                        their proximity to mass-transit and distance from pure eco-systems.

I paint a bleak image for their do exist fantastic examples of Smart Location. Toronto does have a positive history, though it parallely develops outwards, in building along the Yonge subway line; this should be an encouraging sign for policy makers and developers to lobby for better public transit, it boosts other industries. To further reduce car dependance, Smart Location also calls for better bicycle infrastructure – such as bike racks, proximity to lanes, in-house showers and even public bicycle networks such as BIXI.

Map showing BIXI’s – Toronto’s public bike network – locations around Downtown.

Furthermore, it outlines the development of sites near areas that have a wide range of services to reduce commute times- similar to development proposed by New Urbanism and Jane Jacobs.

The second half of Smart Location outlines conserving sensitive ecosystems and managing them as to not hamper their processes. Brownfield development – on a previously used site – is highly encouraged. Designs are encourage to conserve  wetlands – which are highly sensitive – and to manage water. It is encouraged to postulate a long term plan to manage and restore sensitive ecosystems – including wildlife and agricultural land.

Overall Smart Location has shown economic benefits too. Environment-mindedness and proximity to public transit do encourage more users of that neighbourhood. It is an achievable goal – that will prevent many long term issues – that most new neighbourhoods should adopt.

Part Four: Benefits of Appropriate Neighbourhood Pattern & Design

Revitalizing Toronto’s Regent Park Neighbourhood – Part 2

Along with the layout changes to Regent Park mentioned in the last post on this topic, the revitalization plan also includes the replacement of several of the old low-rise units with a mix of subsidized and market rated condos and townhouses. There will be a greater variety in the building types, where before the North region was characterized by lower density housing and the South was mainly high density. Planners have also decided to weave the pockets of subsidized housing in with the other residents living in townhouses, condos and homes of varying price.

New Condos Planned for Regent Park

The new condos will be designed to LEED Gold certification, with a cold water heating and cooling system for the entire district. Due to budget restrictions, the townhouse units will only be designed to LEED Silver but still feature in-suite heat recovery systems, high performance insulation and design for daylighting.

Synergy Between Residential and Community Space

I am optimistic in the future of the Regent Park neighbourhood, as this time the plans are taking into account external context and the population diversity that a community needs to thrive. Clearly the new area is being designed as part of a whole city as opposed to an isolated homogenous grouping of subsidized housing as it was before. It’s through this housing mix that Regent Park will hope to develop into a proper neighbourhood that caters to its inhabitants. For example, there are more centrally located multi-purpose community facilities and parks, necessary to anchor a population to a neighbourhood.

Mural in Old Regent Park Shows the Community's Passion for Change

Revitalizing Toronto’s Regent Park Neighbourhood

Part 1: Introduction to the Urban Layout

Last weekend I went for a walk east along Dundas, before long I found myself deep in the Regent Park housing development. Although this area is undergoing some major structural improvements, there is still much stigma surrounding Toronto’s oldest and largest community housing project. From what I saw, through innovative design and construction there is a significant effort being put into reversing the degradation and negative atmosphere.

In 2006, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) initiated a $1 billion, 12-year plan to revitalize the 69-acre Regent Park neighbourhood. Originally built in the 1940s, the neighbourhood was planned after the ideals of the British ‘garden city’ urban model. Through which “modern” living conditions were established with low-rise units, meant to reduce the use of vehicular transportation by increasing the population density of a region. In this case, the density was successfully improved but the residents themselves suffered, and Regent Park subsequently became one of Toronto’s most infamous neighbourhoods.

The existing (Left) and proposed (Right) layouts for Regent Park.

Among many factors, the layout and organization of the neighbourhood can be partly to blame for failure of the original urban model. Many residents feel that they are separated from the rest of the city even though in reality they live close to the downtown core. In the adjacent graphic you see how the existing neighbourhood has very few bisecting roads. It is organized into North and South regions, which are only divided by Dundas East, acting as the major artery through the neighbourhood. The proposed plan is to open up the area, by building roads that go through these large North and South “superblocks”. Not only will this allocate more space for community green-space projects, it will also improve the livability of the region by reintegrating it with the surrounding city. Safety, which is currently a problem, will also be improved as the smaller blocks can be easily accessed and monitored from the surrounding streets.

Architectural rendition of the new layout for the Regent Park neighbourhood.

Next week, Part 2…

Discussing the LEED characteristics of the new buildings and systems being introduced to the Regent Park neighbourhood.