Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mandatory parking requirements, or, How to kill your Downtown real fast without even trying, Part 1.

One of the neat things about Moncton is that, unlike a lot of cities, they don’t require parking if you want to build something Downtown. This is something that shocks people when they call to ask about development rules because it seems that a lot of cities still make you put in X amount of parking, even if it’s right in your central business district. Moncton doesn’t do that. The minimum parking ratio for a development in Moncton’s Downtown is zero.

And as a result, Moncton has seen a lot of good urban development in its downtown core over the past five or six years. For instance, this office building extension was built on the existing building's parking lot.

By making parking optional, it allows developments to happen that couldn’t happen in a city that requires X number of parking stalls for every square foot of floor area.

But every now and then, someone comes along and says, “I had trouble finding a free parking space in the middle of the business day! Don’t builders have to put in parking? Why the hell not?” And they’re outraged and they make a lot of noise.

The short answer is, If your goal is to destroy your Downtown, then by all means impose a minimum parking requirement.

Here’s Main Street in Moncton.

It’s very small—really just five or six blocks. It is, by all accounts, a pretty successful place. It’s mostly bars and restaurants at street level, supported by a lot of office space. There’s not much in the way of retail. But it is a very pleasant urban space. It’s not Paris but for a small-town North American Main Street at the end of almost a century of automobile-dominated urban planning, it is doing very well indeed.

Now, Moncton’s Downtown is actually much, much larger than just this stretch of Main Street. It actually occupies almost the the entire area that was built up by about 1920. And once you get off Main Street, Downtown is a mixed bag. There’s a lot of area that’s been bulldozed for parking.

There are some residential areas and some secondary commercial areas. Some of them are really nice.

Some have seen better days, but have "good bones" and a lot of potential:

And some... well, the less said the better:

But in Main Street we have the seed of a proper Downtown—something around which to crystallize. There was a big design charrette for Moncton’s Downtown in 2006, and there were a lot of opinions and lots of discussion but one thing everybody agreed on is, “We want more of this:”

We want more of the kind of thing we already have on Main Street.

Now, you can build more Main Street, as long as you’re willing to accept some tradeoffs. There are obstacles and complications but you can work around them. But one thing you can’t work around is this: the instant you impose a parking requirement, it’s completely doomed. You may get development in your Downtown but it will be Downtown in name only.

In the next post I'll explain why.

A plug

If you're reading this blog (which, judging from the number of visits I'm getting, you're not) you may enjoy my good friend Idle Primate's blog. If I'm the smartest guy in the room then he's often the wisest, and certainly fun to read. At the very least, he reminds us that the digisphere has not been completely colonized by mouth-breathing Palinites, boner-pill hucksters and Nigerian inheritance middlemen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Abandoned box store

I was back in my hometown of Orleans, Ontario last Christmas. It had been years since I lived there, and so I was flabbergasted by two things.

One, the old edge of suburbia--which I remembered as farmland--had been completely gobbled up by suburban development, going (I am told) as far as Navan in one direction and Stittsville in the other. I knew sprawl had continued apace, but I was shocked to see how far it had gone.

Two, some of this suburban development had already been abandoned in favour of slightly-more-favourable (to the chain store owner) locations two or three intersections away.

Such is the case with this hardware store, built in 1992 or 1993 and now abandoned.

The box store below is in Moncton and it isn't abandoned (at least, not as of this post.) But I like the desolation of it. I had a narrow window of opportunity between the time the place closed (so the parking lot would be empty) and the time the sun moved out of the optimal angle.

(Okay, I did Gimp some distracting crap out of the image, but that's okay. This wasn't intended as a pure art photo, but rather as raw material:)

Suburban versus urban land use

This is a pair of land-use maps I did in planning school back in 2003, based on GIS data from McGill University. They illustrate the land-use pattern on an old, pre-WWII urban neighbourhood (the Plateau Mont-Royal, left) and the pattern in post-war suburban development (the West Island, and more specifically the area around the Fairview Mall, where Pointe-Claire and Dollard Des Ormeaux meet.)

Both maps are at the same scale. They really illustrate the finer grain of land uses in old urban neighbourhoods. (It's worth noting that the actual residential density of the residential parts of the Plateau--i.e. the yellow bits on the map on the left) is much higher than in the 'burbs.

One of the results of this is that the Plateau is much more walkable, and much less dependent on cars.

I'm not going to get into theories of urban design and form here; there's a lot of good stuff out there on the topic. I'm just posting this 'cause you might find it illustrative. (Even though I've stated a copyright on the above image, feel free to use it for non-profit purposes e.g. education, advocacy, or otherwise persuading the powers-that-be to quit building suburban sprawl. All I ask is that you credit me and let me know you'vre used the image. I do have an ego that needs stroking from time to time...)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Monkeytown Comix Jam Poster

I did the illustration for this poster way back in July, then promptly forgot about it until Eric Dyck sent me the finished layout yesterday. Unlike me, Eric is a full-on professional illustrator and his stuff blows my mind.

The Monkeytown Comix Jam is a monthly event where people get together and draw comix and, I must say, it has produced some spectacular stuff over the past year and a half.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I can never remember.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Adventures in inking...

I hate inking. It's really hit and miss with me--sometimes it turns out well, but a lot of the time I just end up ruining a perfectly good pencil drawing. This is one of the few times I've been happy with how it turned out.