2014 has been a very interesting year
2014 has been a very interesting year for Streetscaping and Streetscape Canada enthusiasts.
In Atlantic Canada, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick continues to show its urban design and streetscaping leadership with the premier project on Prince William Street.
This wonderful historic street was Canada’s first nationally recognized heritage streetscape and is central to the Trinity Royal Heritage District. While Prince William’s most important commercial block was streetscaped in the 1970s as part of the overall urban renewal program, two blocks remained to be completed.
All the key elements of streetscaping are present. Most importantly the undergrounding of existing antiquated ugly utility poles and lines as well as the planting of a significant number of trees will compliment the wonderful collection of heritage buildings. As this project is in a historic district, Saint John City Council decided to upgrade the plan and install new granite curbs as well as mixed brick and concrete sidewalks. This project also incurred additional cost as an old heating tunnel had to be removed, and Saint John Energy is creating underground concrete vaults for transmission and telecommunications equipment. While this also adds extra cost, this is the only way to streetscape in a high density urban setting justified by the greater density of rate paying customers. Above all, this demonstrates electric utility Saint John Energy’s commitment and partnership with its single shareholder the City of Saint John. Saint John Energy continues to show vision and leadership as it works with its community to beautify its streets and neighbourhoods and bring greater value and reliability to its grid.
While Saint John continues to be Atlantic Canada’s leading urban design and streetscaping city its next door neighbour Rothesay, New Brunswick continues as Atlantic Canada’s leading streetscaping town.
Rothesay, like Saint John is one of only five communities in all of Atlantic Canada that requires buried utility lines in new construction and has a passionate citizenry dedicated to protecting its stunning tree-lined streets, avenues and leafy lanes. Rothesay’s trees were very hard hit with both the Christmas 2013 ice storm and the recent Tropical Storm Arthur, but the beauty remains as citizens and town staff cleaned up and protected the remaining trees and beauty of Rothesay.
Two streetscapes were rebuilt this year, the lovely and appropriately named Green Road already photographed in a previous article on StreetscapeCanada.com and which is also the title photograph on the StreetscapeCanada Facebook page. Also the Hampton Road central business district was partially streetscaped.
Green road with new sanitary and storm sewers, curbs and sidewalks installed. Notice how the tree canopy was maintained and when in full bloom mask the unsightliness of utility lines.
Concerned citizens kept a close eye on construction and the contractor and town staff worked hard to preserve the trees.
The finished product and the preserved trees are in their autumn glory!
This further proves renowned Urban Designer and U.C. Berkeley Professor Allan Jacob’s excellent point:
“Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees… trees can transform a street more easily than any other physical improvement. Moreover, for many people trees are the most important single characteristic of a good street.”
Allan B. Jacobs, Great Streets
In this case trees did not need to be planted but only preserved and because of this Green Road remains a beautiful green street!
Rothesay’s Hampton Road central business district poses a different challenge. Interestingly Rothesay, first founded as a Loyalist farming community along the Kennebecasis River in the 1780s and then a summer residence community for families from Saint John after the arrival of the European and North American Railway in 1853, really did not develop a substantial “downtown”. The Historic Rothesay Commons was really the first central district which included various churches and some businesses surrounding a wonderful donated green space. But as time progressed and Rothesay amalgamated with three surrounding villages, the central business district migrated to Hampton Road, the former main provincial highway between Saint John, Sussex and Moncton.
Today Hampton Road is a collection of suburban car centric businesses which includes fast food chains, grocery chains, other services and a few restaurant bars. The new vision outlined in the Municipal plan was to significantly increase the trees and landscaping of this rather unattractive streetscape, and to create a new downtown business district with slower moving traffic, broader sidewalks, trees along the boulevard strips and new treed islands in the central left-turning lane. The budget was just over one million dollars to complete the new curbing, sidewalks, storm sewers and to build the new central islands. Town Council inquired about undergrounding utility lines, but NB Power, the Provincial utility which services the town, demanded $1.7 million just to replace their storm vulnerable, aging, leaning and ugly utility poles. This did not include the “civil costs” of trenching, conduit etc. Bell Aliant, on the other hand quoted just $200,000.00. As one Town Councillor noted, kind of shows you what happens with electrical utility monopolies.
Obviously a community the size of Rothesay could not afford the exorbitant costs quoted by NB Power and the Hampton Road Business district continues to be dominated by the utility lines. Hopefully the new trees will soon obscure the utility line ugliness and the new flowers and landscaping at least draw the eye to a small splash of natural beauty.
This unfortunate situation also demonstrates how we need better federal and provincial political leadership in this regard and how we need a new national Streetscaping program similar to the urban renewal programs of the 1970s and the “Main Street” Program of the 1980s. Streetscaping is the ultimate “shovel ready” geographically dispersed, skill diverse infrastructure program providing good jobs and benefits like filtering pollution, sequestering carbon, cooling cities, improving quality of life and improving utility reliability. This last point will become even more prescient due to increasing storms and storm intensity due to climate change. In 2014 alone, NB Power had 5 significant power outages and has had to spend tens of millions of dollars to repair their downed lines. NB Power has not been supportive of communities wishing to underground utility lines and even reimburses developers when they install above ground utility lines and poles. They do not support developers when they install underground. This must change!
One city not mentioned was Halifax. Despite much talking and planning, Halifax continues to be the largest city in Canada to still allow above ground utility lines in new developments. This outrageous fact remains in a city often hit by high wind storms and many power outages.
Ironically, Halifax did have one small streetscaping and undergrounding project completed in 2014 on one block of Morris Street. This small and rather obscure street just happens to terminate opposite Nova Scotia Power’s newly completed multimillion dollar glass and steel waterfront head office.
One cannot help but observe how ordinary Nova Scotians and Haligonians must live on ugly utility pole lined streets even in very expensive new residential developments while utility company executives get to walk down a lovely streetscaped street to and from their parking lot.
Quebec offers a much brighter picture. Montreal continues as Canada’s leading streetscape city. As far back the 1960s when Montreal underwent its extraordinary redevelopment in time for Expo ’67, wonderful tree lined streets with undergrounded utility lines truly set Montreal as Canada’s artistic, architectural and cultural capital. While most Atlantic Canadian cities like Halifax and Moncton have still not even decided to underground their utility lines, Montreal has moved streetscaping to a whole new level.
Renowned Montreal urban designer and landscape architect Claude Cormier has created TOM. An extraordinary public art installation at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. TOM stands for Traffic Overlay Marker from which this display is created.
The photo above is a second installation by Claude Cornier showing a stunning decorative festival streetscape, Notice the beautiful tree lined street devoid of utility lines. In this case pink plastic balls create a wonderful canopy.
Please see attached link.
While Montreal continues to lead with beautiful, mature tree lined streets and long buried utility lines, Canada’s financial capital is finally recognizing the value of beautiful streetscapes. Toronto is home to not just Canada’s premier streetscape project, but possibly the world’s at Queen’s Quay!
Of course most great cities around the globe like Paris, London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome, New York, Chicago and so many others already have beautiful tree lined streets and buried utility lines, Toronto may finally be starting to join their ranks.
For reasons difficult to imagine the powers-that-be in Toronto allowed Toronto Hydro to dominate its streetscapes with their ugly utility lines even leaving above ground utility lines to service the street lights after millions of dollars were spent streetscaping, undergrounding other utilities or installing subways as in the case of University Avenue and Queen’s Park.
In the 1950s Toronto Hydro even added utility lines to historic “city-beautiful” inspired parkways like Lake Shore Boulevard that had previously buried the new fangled electrical wires when it was originally built at the beginning of the 20th century. As the attached 1925 photograph shows, Lake Shore Boulevard was originally lined with elegant electric street lights serviced underground and interspersed with newly planted trees. Somewhere along the way utility companies were allowed to string new lights and new above ground wires even though Lake Shore Boulevard was clearly designed not to!
One can only hope the tide is turning as Toronto continues its extraordinary reconstruction of its lake front Queen’s Quay. As the attached link provides, Toronto has embraced the beauty of streetscaping with fabulous rows of trees planted in new “Silva cells”, custom designed granite walkways, bike paths and wonderful wooden wave decks and boardwalks. All this is happening in conjunction with the arrival of their sleek new street cars with its new wiring and most importantly of all, undergrounded utility lines!
Toronto officials are even comparing Queen’s Quay to Paris’ Champs Elysees or Barcelona’s La Rambla. At least Toronto officials are finally starting to recognize the importance of streetscaping. We await the finished project at Queen’s Quay and suggest you start planning to streetscape and underground Queen Street. This historic and cultural landmark street cries out to be streetscaped. Attached photo show the unbelievable ugliness of this important street and hopefully this will be next on the list.
Toronto has a long way to go, but finally the precious public spaces we call streets are getting the attention they deserve!
Our Prairie Cities continue to host the most “City Beautiful” influenced streetscapes in Canada.
The American “City Beautiful Movement” debuted at the 1893 Chicago Exhibition. Championed by architect Daniel Burnham and deeply influenced by the mid 1800 American Park and Boulevard Movement of Frederick Law Olmstead, who was in turn influenced by the parks of London and the tree lined boulevards of Baron Georges Eugene Haussman’s Paris, the City Beautiful Movement became the first comprehensive planning movement in North America.
While the City Beautiful Movement had many components, not just streetscaping, it also had many critics. Its architectural preference was Neo Classical and its buildings were often ” over monumental”. While some criticisms were warranted, the concept of tree lined streets and burying the “overhead wires” profoundly influenced city building throughout North America. None more so than the newly established Prairie cities.
City Beautiful Plans for Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary influenced other plans throughout the region. Today the legacy is some of the most stunning, green, luscious streetscapes in Canada.
Finally our little cross Canada tour lands in Vancouver. This spectacular city brings the three elements of urban beauty; natural beauty, architectural beauty and streetscape beauty together like no other.
Natural beauty abounds in this stunning setting. Overlooked by mountains, surrounded with water and anchored on glorious Stanley Park, Vancouver has built harmoniously with its unparalleled landscape. Waterfront development has been defined by Vancouver’s wonderful mixed use, “walkable” developments and Vancouver’s Architectural Beauty has been enhanced by its own world changing innovation of high density, glazed, slender towers on podium bases. This “Vancouverism” is changing architecture around the world and no more so than in Toronto. Toronto is starting to look a lot like this photo of Vancourver’s False Creek.
Streetscape Beauty has also been created again by influences of both the American City Beautiful Movement and Britain’s Garden City Movement. In many cases utility lines were buried or placed along the back lot lines and wonderful trees were planted along the streets. While there were many examples of bland, grey, concrete streetscapes in some commercial districts, recent streetscaping and tree planting have vastly improved Vancouver.
The big streetscape news in Vancouver is the planned redesign of Granville Street Bridge and converting the center lanes of a car centric bridge into a green lush public space.
The spectacular Vancouver House development will be anchoring the new bridge greenway and converting ugly wasted bridge approaches and the under-bridge into a truly world beating innovation. Please see attached links to this amazing development.
For more details please see attached link.
Sadly Vancouver has overlooked its dark places and most notoriously its profoundly ugly utility line corridors which interlace this world leading metropolis. Because Vancouver did not require undergrounding of utility lines but allowed rear lot utility corridors, these terrible neglected spaces have become havens of crime and suffering. Streetscape Canada appeals to Vancouver to begin the salvation of these spaces. With some of the most expensive real estate in Canada, surely slender towers of mixed use, mixed income residences can reduce homelessness, crime and suffering. Replace garbage dumpsters with Scandinavian underground vacuum tubing. While digging the trenches bury the hideous utility lines and create new, green paths for cyclists, new homes for the homeless, and finish the extraordinary work you have begun.
2014 has been a pretty good year. Can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring!