Category Archives: Grand River

A Jane’s Walk to Remember

logo1_lLooking to get out this weekend? Want to connect with your community? It’s as easy as a walk in the park. Jane’s Walk is happening in our community and around the world this weekend. Jane’s Walks are free walking tours held annually, to celebrate the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs. Now in over 75 cities worldwide, more then 511 walks will take place this weekend and there is one happing near by.

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Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an activist and writer who took a community-based approach to city building and planning. She was not formally trained as a planner, but none the less she introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities should function. Many of her ideas are now seen as “common sense” to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. To honour Jacobs achievements and ideas Jane’s Walk is organized on the first weekend of May to coincide with her birthday.

Jane’s Walks are led by individuals and small groups. Some are focused around historical themes, geographical areas, or even popular hangouts, for instance, some strolls have been built around ideas like the urban forestry, gay and lesbian history, places of relevance to the homeless, teen hangouts, and urgent planning matters facing certain neighbourhoods. The walks offer a more personal take on local culture and issues. They are not a tourist driven initiative but an insider tour of a neighbourhood that helps open up a friendly, engaged discussion amongst interested participants.” (JanesWalk.net)

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This year local architect John MacDonald will host a Jane’s Walk through the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District. The walk will highlight early suburban planning and architectural ideas which formed the neighbourhood today. The walk will include a tour of a newly renovated Victory home. John will explaining the architectural ideas behind updating this home to accommodate for today’s family, while maintaing it’s historic character and significance. The Walk will also be sprinkled with local anecdotes about the neighbourhood’s history and what life was like in this area through development. All are welcome to bring their local stories to share with the group. This Walk starts at 2:30 on Saturday May 4, 2013. More about the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District: Stories & History Walk can be found here: http://janeswalk.net/index.php/walks/canada/kitchener/st-marys-heritage-conservation-district-stories-history/ 

See a booklet on the history St. Mary’s neighbourhood here: St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District- A Walking Tour (Booklet) This booklet was never published, but has great descriptions and photos of the neighbourhood. 

DSC_0017Copy There are lots of Walks happening this weekend throughout Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Details on all Jane’s Walks can be found here: http://www.janeswalk.net/index.php/walks/canada/kitchener/ So get the family together, and enjoy what your neighbourhood has to offer. 

 

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Neighbours Who Come Together Win Together

The Festival of Neighbourhoods is now 20 years old. As the new Festival year begins, we are feeling the pride of having been involved with this initiative since its inception.

The Festival of Neighbourhoods encourages people in Kitchener to come together with their neighbours. It is led by the City of Kitchener, the Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo and us, John MacDonald Architect.

The rules are simple: We ask people to think of their neighbourhood. Is it one or several streets, a few blocks, or a multi-residential building or complex? They must invite everyone within the neighbourhood to participate in community activities such as a potlucks, games, garbage pick-ups, barbecues, book or plant exchanges, weekly walks and anything else they can think of.

We ask the organizers to register their activities with the Festival of Neighbourhoods, and on the Festival Finale in October their neighbourhood could win a $10,000 capital improvement grant. In the past, these grants have been used to upgrade playgrounds, parks and streets. At the Festival Finale, neighbourhoods are also recognized for their efforts and awards are given for activities with values and features that make a stronger community.

John MacDonald and his firm became involved with this initiative when he became interested in the dynamics of healthy communities. As architects, our firm is interested in all aspects of what our cities are made of. This includes not just the roads and buildings, but also the relationships between people and the built environment, and finally, the relationships forged among people as they live in their community. The Festival of Neighbourhoods nourishes this last aspect of our community, encouraging people to get to know those who live around them by introducing fun and creative ways to break the ice and meet the neighbours. Over the past 20 year,  the Festival has shown us that connecting with our community creates a much greater sense of well-being, safety and belonging.

Over the years of involvement with the Festival, we have heard countless stories from participants who feel more welcome and involved within the community, enjoy seeing familiar faces on the street and watching their kids play together. This all seems small and ordinary, and yet these are huge success stories. These participants seek to create a better life for those who live in their community, and they do this themselves, right in their neighbourhood. A great example of a community gathering is Soupstock hosted by the Dekay St. neighbourhood. Watch this fun video here.

To learn more about the Festival of Neighbourhoods, go to www.kitchener.ca/fon, or even better, invite all your neighbours to do something together, and tell us all about it. Your story will undoubtedly inspire others to do the same.

10 Inexpensive Things to do in Kitchener this Summer

You can feel it in the air: a full season of barbequing, cottaging, camping, and of course patio-ing are upon us. Yes, SUMMER is here, and we have the May long weekend to kick off all the summer fun. But what other activates besides the usual can you do to take full advantage of this much anticipated season with little or no cost. Here is a list of things that any avid summer goer should be sure conquer this year.

1. Fly a Kite. Seriously! When was the last time you actually flew a kite? Think about it. It has probably been a long time. So get your family and friends together, dust off that old dragon kite that’s been hiding in the garage, and head down to the park for a great afternoon of free wholesome fun. To make it really special, stop for ice cream on the way home.

 2. Attend a Community Festival or Event. There are many to choose from and something for everyone. Check out your local Recreation & Activity guide or visit the City’s website for a full list of events, dates and times. If you live in the Kitchener area check out www.kitchener.ca//en/livinginkitchener/EventsAndFestivals.asp

 3.  Visit your local library. If you haven’t been in a long time you should re-discover it. It’s probably not the old, stuffy place that you remember. Today’s libraries offer new-release DVDs of your favourite blockbusters and TV shows, CDs and magazines, internet access, free downloads to your portable device, fun events and programs, and, oh yeah, books too. Find out when your library releases all the new stuff. It is the best day to visit and explore. And it’s all free!

4.  Become a Photographer. Grab your camera (any one will do) and get out to your favourite places and spaces. Find something that inspires you and capture it from many different angles. Select your best shots to use as gifts, or for a do-it-yourself wall art project.

 5.  Attend a local Sports Team game. Local sports are a low-cost alternative to driving to Toronto to see a big league team. Tickets usually run for about $10 and kids are often free. Kitchener has several teams to choose from, from baseball to lacrosse, and even Roller Derby. Support your local sports community and athletes and enjoy the game!

6.  Go for a Swim. Outdoor community pools will be opening in June, offering classes and programs such as swimming lessons, water polo, synchronized swimming, or simply a break from the summer heat. We suggest visiting Harry Class Pool, newly renovated and re-designed by John MacDonald Architect.

Harry Class Pool

7.  Take an Art Class. The city offers tons of art and culture classes. All you have to do is select the one that interests you. Bring a friend to share the fun, and by the end of the class your results may surprise you.

8.  Take a Tour of the City. Self-guided walking tours are offered on the City’s website at www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/SelfGuidedTours.asp. Five tour options are available with a printable map with landmark descriptions. Learn about your community and get some exercise at the same time. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant that you have never visited before, for a fresh take on your community.

 9.  Volunteer.  It’s an awesome way to give back to the community. It’s fun and can be very rewarding. Find an organization that you can support, decide how much time you can give, and then simply contact them. Volunteering allows you to help out a good cause, have fun, and meet new people. Don’t forget you can include these hours on your resume, making it a win, win for everyone. For a list of Kitchener/Waterloo volunteer opportunities visit http://volunteerkw.ca

 10.  Have a Garage Sale. Getting rid of your junk and freeing up space can be very therapeutic. And getting cash for that unwanted stuff is even better. It’s also a great way to meet your neighbours; maybe you even want to organize a street sale making it a community event. For help on how to organize a community event visit http://www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/FestivalOfNeighbourhoods.asp

Get out this summer. Be active and enjoy everything your community has to offer. Trying new things and sharing new experiences is a fantastic way to spend your summer. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money; you just have to have fun!


The Hillborn House

My favourite building in the Region of Waterloo can be found hidden away on a quiet street, sitting atop a steeply sloping site, surrounded by trees, overlooking the Grand River in Preston. It is neither a vaulted hall of academic learning, nor a time capsule for our artistic heritage. It is not burdened with the task of resurrecting our downtown cores, nor with convincing taxpayers that their money was well spent. My favourite building serves a much humbler, but no less important purpose: as a house and home.

Designed by acclaimed Canadian Architect Arthur Erickson is 1974, Hillborn House is an example of a modern architecture that is sensitive to place and that takes its cues from the surrounding landscape. Where the threshold between interior and exterior space, between the built environment and the natural is blurred.

The Design of the house is simple in its conception: a series of monolithic masonry walls, set parallel to one another following the contours of the land. They seem to hold back the earth to create space and organize the programme into a series of terraces that step down towards the river. The space between the monoliths is filled with glass, framing views up and downstream to the river. The entrance and main circulation stair cut through the masonry walls, down the centre of the plan, with rooms and spaces organized to either side. As the stairs step down, the ceiling seems to heighten, amplifying the feeling of space as you move through the house. The masonry walls protrude up through the roof – the interior design articulated on the exterior – creating and enclosing exterior patios and gardens up on the roof. The material palette of stained wood and clay brick is of the land, reinforcing a connection to the site. When the sunlight hits these surfaces it fills the home with a warm, soft light.

The house is by no means a modest one, boasting an interior swimming pool and sauna, a space designed to house a baby grand piano, and an amazing soaker tub in the master ensuite. The tub is sunken into the bathroom floor so that you are looking out level with the forest floor. An incredible place to let one’s mind drift, lost in daydreams.

I was fortunate enough to have visited the house once, nearly11 years ago, when the Owner invited my first year architecture classmates and I over for a tour. So, maybe I am remembering the house though a nostalgic lense. Or perhaps it is more important that it has made such a lasting impression, or that I could see myself living there. I would love to see it again!

Guest Blogger Matthew Muller

A New Year of Tax Fraud

 

Municipalities will be ringing in the New Year by ringing the cash registers, once again collecting their revenue from one slice of citizens, and using it to subsidize another. Their New Year’s resolution should be to stop this fraudulent practice, and bring tax fairness to forms of urban development that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

This practice was highlighted at a recent conference held in Toronto, called “Retrofitting and Planning Sustainable Suburbs”. Although the conference was short on answers, a presentation by Peter Katz (Director of Smart Growth for Sarasota Florida) on long-term fiscal stability for communities was most revealing. In it, Katz compared tax revenue to urban density, with surprising results.

Both our regional and local governments generate their revenue, and incur their expenses, across a specific geography. A local comparison of three different properties in this landscape shows the subsidy from higher density to lower.

The three properties?

1) A 14 storey Downtown Kitchener condo (66 units, .7 acre including its associated street area, located on a street corner used by many of us)

2) a 7 storey historic and well-kept rental property (36 units, .5 acre including its street area, 90 feet of frontage along a street used by many of us)

3) a typical suburban home (1 unit, .12 acre, 45 feet of frontage, along a street used by only its inhabitants)

The typical suburban property is valued at about $200,000, and generates $2,250 of revenue for City and Region (ie., provincial education taxes excluded).The condo property carries $9.9 million of assessment on the municipal rolls, and generates $110,000.The rental building is valued at $2.55 million, but by virtue of its more than double tax rate relative to condo and single family home assessment, that $2.5 million generates $55,000 of revenue for the City and Region.

By comparing the revenue to the area of property and street necessitated by each, we can begin to see the enormous disparity, and the size of the suburban subsidy. The suburban home sends about $14,000 per acre to City Hall. Astonishingly, the condo sends $160,000 per acre even when the corner streets are used in the calculation. That’s more than 10 times the revenue of suburban development. The rental units cough up $115,000 per acre, taken in large part from citizens with little or no savings or net worth.

Multiply these numbers over and over, and you get the picture. Katz, in his presentation of numbers for his community, shows a similar effect on the commercial side. Strip malls and local suburban malls, with their massive parking and wasteful use of adjoining streets, generate about the same tax revenue per acre for Sarasota as suburban residences. No more.

What do our local condo owner or renters get for their tax bill? Garbage and recycling pickup, like the suburban homeowner? No. They pay extra for that, on top of their tax bill. Given that about 50% of municipal expenses are dependent on response times and density (25% of Kitchener’s costs are related to fire coverage alone over its network of streets), the tax bill could be seen as a fraud perpetrated upon sustainable development by suburban voters. Worse, the 36 unit rental property requires snow plowing, police drive-by, asphalt repairs and replacement, for only 90 feet of street. Its equivalent in the suburbs, on a dollar for dollar revenue basis, requires 1200 feet. Worse, that thirteen times length of infrastructure, paid for with utility rates common to all electricity, water and gas users, is maintained by all users equally. In addition to that subsidy, the renters must maintain their private pipes common to the units within the building, through their rent.

We’ve known for a long time that municipal property taxes transfer money from those without the means to pay to suburban voters with net worth, and the Ontario Government has directed municipalities years ago to end this practice. This directive has for the most part been ignored. Now, to grind salt into the wound, let’s add the subsidy: from sustainable, walkable, transit-friendly existing or new development to unsustainable existing and the suburbs-to-come, paid year after year. Properties generating $100,000 or more per acre are paying for municipal services for other areas of the city that incur the costs, yet generate only about $14,000 per acre. In business terms, it makes no sense whatsoever.

And what is the attitude of suburban voters to this largesse? On transit investment to support densification, or quality downtown urban infrastructure? Don’t do it. On taxes? We need relief. On municipal services? We don’t get our fair share. On change to allow density and a greater variety of uses? Don’t touch us!

Given that “Smart Growth” apparently means 40% residential development within built-up areas, and 60% outside it, and given that commercial and employment development can go where it wishes to chew more farmland, our municipal leadership will continue to massively subsidize low density development with capital and operating dollars, while talking a good game.

For this New Year, let’s resolve to end this fraud. It’s not enough to promote sustainable development. We’ve got to stop penalizing it.

Working with Waterfront

Brantford has approved a Waterfront Master Plan. Hopefully it’s a strategic plan more than a master plan. Master plans envision futures that never appear. First phases of master plans do get pursued, however, so let’s hope the first phases are strategic and beneficial, and provide flexibility for inevitable change.

Brantford’s Waterfront Master Plan

The goals (from the Report introduction):

“The Grand River and its tributaries are the lifeblood and a defining image of the City of Brantford. The Grand River valley has a great diversity of natural features and is enriched with an extraordinary historic legacy, evident of the aboriginal and european cultures that have settled this land for over 11,000 years. The Waterfront Master Plan will respect and reinforce this legacy and will define bold new directions that build on the tremendous successes of the City and its partners, who together have established 70 km of trails and hundreds of acres of public space.

  • The waterfront Master Plan will set forth a framework to protect the Grand River and its tributaries as a fundamental public resource for the residents of Brantford.
  • Natural features will be protected and enhanced and the cultural heritage will be interpreted so that all can understand and appreciate this area’s rich history.
  • The trails will be easily identified and accessed, and the network will become a widely recognized destination.
  • A diversity of places to access the water will be offered, providing for a variety of educational, recreational and leisurely activities that celebrate the Grand River and that will engage residents and visitors alike.
  • Appropriate development on adjacent lands will recognize the significance of these locations; be rooted in best practices in city building; strive for design excellence; and contribute positively to the waterfront and Brantford’s image.

And finally, the Waterfront Master Plan will inspire all residents to embrace this vision for sustainability and become stewards of this vital environment.”

Are all communities along the Grand working as hard to build upon this central and defining feature of our region?

Kitchener is working on a park master plan, available here but I’m not sure that the Grand River is properly viewed in the context of a parks plan. The river itself is obviously more central to Brantford and Galt, as the Speed is to Guelph, but the Grand River has the potential to unite us as a significant region in Southern Ontario.