Tag Archives: community

St. Thomas Community Recycling Centre – PIC

What is a PIC? A Public Information Centre is a communication tool used to share information with the public, as a group in one place, regarding a specific topic.2015-05-06 17.08.58copy On Wednesday, May 6th, 2015, JMA presented and facilitated a PIC for the City of St. Thomas’ Community Recycling Centre held at the City Hall. The purpose of this PIC was to present the community with the proposed project design and to receive comments and concerns regarding the project. To accomplish the task at hand JMA produced the following:

  • 9 presentation boards to be displayed around the room, highlighting the facility design, operations and specific aspects of the project which were deemed important for design decisions;
  • comment sheets with specific questions for the public’s participation;
  • a presentation of the project’s development and proposed design to date.

Welcome The first section of the PIC was an ‘open house’ for the public to browse the presentation boards and converse with the design team one-on-one. The second section was the presentation, projected large on the wall and presented by the design team (John MacDonald, David Smith and Ashley Jardin). The third and last section was a question and answer period where the public had free range to lead the discussion. Site Design The project was well received and the public turn-out and participation was excellent.

Apparitions – Night/Shift 2014

Earlier this year, following the call for proposals for Night/Shift 2014, JMA and MT Space sat down to discuss a collaborative piece between our architectural practice and their theatrical one. Early on, John suggested we consider doing something that engaged the public space at Kitchener City Hall. We found that both parties were deeply interested in looking at issues of public space in relation to individual identity and community interaction. We wanted to do something provocative, fun and interactive, that would in turn create a dialogue between strangers, and thus Apparitions was born.

We came to the title Apparitions for our piece, with the thought that the installation and its actors were a temporary appearance that offered a reinterpretation of the way that people commonly interact with the public space at City Hall. Our actors were in a sense apparitions themselves; slipping in and out of the actor / audience role.

After months of development and discussion, the form of the physical installation was decided upon. Since there are two mirrored porticos in front of Kitchener City Hall, we decided to create an illuminated veil with a projection screen at each portico. This would enable audiences to see and talk to each other instantly. At each portico, actors from MT Space would invite festival participants to interact and play across the divide of the civic square.

Apparitions - John MacDonald Architect

Apparitions – John MacDonald Architect

Heedless of this year’s first snowfall, on Saturday, November 1st, an enthusiastic team of volunteers along with friends of JMA & MT Space, worked together, to assemble the installation for its one night performance. Several sponsors provided us with the materials needed to put on a great show. Although there were some technical difficulties to work through early in the evening, overall the installation was a great success.

At Night/Shift, people of all ages interacted with each other through the screens of Apparitions, sometimes singing songs, dancing, asking questions to strangers or mimicking actors. It was all great fun and at the same time, reflective of what public space is supposed to do; bring people together.

Apparitions-Screen Shot

Apparitions-Interaction

screen interaction 6

Apparitions-Play

Apparitions-Community

Apparitions-Community

We’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors who made this possible: Canadian Tire, Kitchener Wilmot Hydro, CRS Contractors Rental Supply, Form & Build Supply, City of Kitchener, Christie Digital and Sherwood Systems.

Also to our volunteers, who laboured tirelessly, giving generously of their time and muscle – Thank you for your hard work. This would not have been a success without you.

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. 

 

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.

Are you up for the challenge?

Here was the office challenge: find your favourite building in the K-W-C Region and write about why.

Having had little exposure to architecture, let alone the K-W-C Region, the first place that came to mind when faced with this question was a building recently introduced to me- the Hacienda Sarria in Kitchener. Hidden on the end of a small street between the downtown core and the expressway, this building should top anyone’s list of favourite buildings in the area.

Spanish for the word estate, a hacienda was historically a mark of status, associated with wealth and luxury available only to a small number of wealthy landowners. With large tracts of land, the haciendas were often part of a lucrative business in plantation farming, mining or factory work. Known for their unique design, the buildings traditionally featured apartments opening into an interior courtyard in the centre, much like the courtyard featured in the Hacienda Sarria.

Adapted from the remnants of an old warehouse once located on the site, the Hacienda Sarria in Kitchener features hints of the Brown Steel Works factory it once was. Showcasing local craftsmanship from companies such as the Two Smiths, every aspect of the building is a work of art. Attention to detail is evident throughout the building, featuring architectural detail true to traditional Spanish design, to create an authentic looking Hacienda in the heart of Kitchener. Complete with beautiful gardens, landscaping and ponds, the Hacienda is probably best known as a venue for weddings and local events.

Entering the building is a welcomed departure from the feeling of being in the City, transporting you to a grand courtyard in the Mediterranean Region of Europe. From the cobblestone flooring, to the sunlight streaming through the central skylight, the design features come together to create a cozy and lavish atmosphere that is both inviting and remarkable.

So now that I have found and shared my favourite place in the K-W-C Region the question now becomes are you up for the challenge? Find, photograph, and provide a short description of why you chose the building you did and post it as a comment below. Cant wait to see all the places you discover!

Guest blogger Cailin Radcliffe

More information on the Hacienda can be found on their website http://www.haciendasarriakw.com/Hacienda_Sarria_Introduction.php

Photos by Taylor Jackson Photography

Healthy Skepticism

Ontario’s rookie municipal politicians have a new sandbox to play in.

Its size?

Four years long by whatever latitude municipal staff and re-elected incumbents will allow them. New councillors and mayors will receive orientation and training, and will be schooled in the reasoning and dictates of policies and procedures: in short, why things are the way they are.

A few new faces will have attained election victory because incumbents have either bowed out or chased larger ambitions (as mayors, as regional councillors, or as regional chairs).

Fresh in from the campaign trail, they may feel that they have arrived at City Hall with a mandate for change. Never fear. They will be joining very, very stable organizations that have successfully assimilated newcomers before.

Make no mistake. No re-elected incumbent or upwardly mobile city staffer believes that past decisions adopted around the municipal horseshoe, or the methods used to attain them, are in need of change. Their loyalty to the status quo is quite natural and logical, unless they have been living the last four years as outsiders, shunned by the organization they are elected to lead.

Returning incumbents rightly see their election as endorsement of past behaviour, equally as valid as any newcomer’s mandate for change.

We need only look south of the border to see how difficult change in government actions can be, even where leadership at the very top is backed by massive initial support.

Jane Jacobs attempts to explain why this is so, in her 1992 book Systems of Survival. It’s subtitled “A dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics”, and the work is an exploration of the two very different systems of these worlds (or “syndromes” as she calls them). She concludes that within the realm of government, military, religious and large corporate organizations, with their necessary “guardian” syndrome, there are a number of effective moral precepts that contrast with their equivalents in commerce and trade. Jacobs does not judge these precepts as necessarily good or bad, but believes that they are effective.

Distinctive guardian syndrome precepts include: using deception for the sake of achieving results (the end justifies the means) rather than overt dissent or objection; exerting prowess (pulling rank or citing reputation or qualifications) rather than engaging in competition; and being disciplined and obedient rather than efficient. Jacobs finds the guardian morality in man’s transition from hunter/gatherer and nomad to rooted settler, where territory and the division of tasks must be overseen, managed, and organized. It is this necessary management (the standard operating procedures) that she believes reinforces the values of loyalty over collaboration, respect for hierarchy over initiative, honour over honesty, and tradition over innovation.

New councillors and mayors will be initiated into this world, a world to which few citizens feel connected and fewer still might understand. Citizens and small enterprises live in the world of commerce, of trade. According to Jacobs trade is conducted using moral precepts that often contrast with those needed to administer territories and run hierarchical corporate bodies.

Calgary’s new mayor Naheed Nenshi describes city hall bureaucracy in blunt terms, as a “horrible soul-destroying system” with a “risk-averse culture.” While he’s been elected on a wave of optimism, and Calgary’s government may be worse than some, even there his “12 Better Ideas” will need to be implemented as effective change to a longstanding system of government, and that will be neither easy nor welcomed.

A prime example of this reality is the framing of debate regarding light rail transit in Waterloo Region. Consultants, the development industry, lobbyists, and those who benefit from the status quo have much to lose if real change is implemented. Investments have been made on the basis of present arrangements, and much is riding on the assumption of continuity. Although there is much talk of Smart Growth, and the changes it will bring for our communities, this is policy only, and policy can sometimes be far from the reality of specific decisions. The time-honoured administrative conveyor that turns farmland into subdivisions and lanes of congested traffic will continue unabated, in the name of “housing choice for consumers”.

Never presented as a threat to car-based development and patterns of living, public transit is touted as an added benefit that will complement traditional growth. Its expense cannot be compared to the $300 to $400 million that will be spent moving Highway 7 (from Guelph to Kitchener-Waterloo) into farmland and wetland, estimated by its project consultants to save about 5 minutes of a 20 minute commute. That expense is quietly seen as necessary, but it’s only nominally for transportation. Its real task, as with most road and sewer infrastructure, is to open up land for development. Although its proponents will never admit such a thing publicly, the road will succumb to the inevitable pressures and arguments that created the Woodlawn Road and Victoria Street “gasoline alleys” it is meant to replace. A first, then a second, then more big box developments will be approved by township councils eager for assessment dollars, and less-than-smart-growth will be perpetuated.

Similar logic for rapid transit, that it will spur development, albeit in existing built up areas, falls on deaf ears. The debate over Highway 7 has been framed as one of transportation, of freedom and consumer choice, which plays to a taxpayer’s understanding of the public realm as nothing but support for his private movements. Evidence is glossed over, of how the highway’s further lanes will quickly become as congested as ever. The project’s real purpose: land development, growth, and the profits that flow from it; lies in the background. Light rail transit cannot be sold in similar terms. It is a system of infrastructure that requires an overt shift in where development profit is harvested. The development industry will always prefer greenfield subdivision, with its control of “lifestyle” sales message, over the messy dictates of urbanism. That is the devil it knows, and the mechanism that our civic bureaucracy is designed to support.

Low turnouts at municipal elections are not to be wondered at. While it may be true that a municipality’s services and programs, its policies and procedures, and its way of doing things have greater effect on our lives than any other level of government, it is also true that few citizens believe City Hall can truly change, regardless of how it may affect their children’s future. The apathy does not spring from the issues. It is a view of how our guardians conduct themselves, and their lack of healthy skepticism. Where politicians cite the mantra “On election day the voters have their say, and they are always right” they should add “And on election day, those who do not vote have also spoken loudly: that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

JM, October 22, 2010, as originally for the Business Times

We Are What We Measure

The media runs a business story every so often about how the growth in consumption of oil or some other commodity was down some enormous percentage. Yeegads! It has a graph and everything, so it must be true. It takes a while to extract some facts from the dour headline, storyline, graph, and article itself. Underlying it all is that world consumption of the item had risen once again. It just hasn’t risen as quickly as it had the year before. No mention as to whether the previous year was a historical anomaly, or what the continued growth in consumption might mean. But the tone in these articles is always glum. The news? That growth has taken a nose-dive through one statistical unit measure, one year-over-year. Why exactly would we present a story about one of our planet’s more pressing matters (consumption and resources) in this way?

The old adage: “You get what you measure!” might well apply to these “rate of change” statistics. Might the media be debasing our sense of real value, our connection to real issues? No longer content with its moniker as “dismal science”; or even to measuring a real and even-handed relation between real people, their needs and their means; economic reporting and statistics are now rife with sophisticated “moving averages” and tracks of trends. The up and down of it all no longer seems to matter. It’s whether the up is more upper! It’s not the getting from here to there, or even the speed at which we’re moving. It’s about the trend, the acceleration! Our economic attention span has shifted from planning the quality of our future to planning for speculation. The year-over-year is becoming the thing itself, because the only decision is whether to buy or sell.

There are very few places in a mature and stable system (whether an eco-system, an economy or a community) where a focus on acceleration, where a perception that moving is standing still, is a good thing. A start-up company, an emerging market, a child’s learning; sure, we can understand that zoomier is better.

But once up to speed, is it logical or even safe to continue this focus not just on growth, but on rate of growth?

When forecasts predict fewer cars on the road, That’s a “negative growth” in yesterday’s terms, and a practical free-fall on the year-over-year growth chart, if we use our handy “change in growth” graph. But do all of these statistical trends, no longer climbing so optimistically, really spell doom for our quality of life?

Grow or die!! Growth is inevitable! No growth means no jobs for our children, no increase in tax revenue. These are the mantras of planning, chanted religiously at shareholders’ and council meetings alike. But perhaps, just perhaps, these are the chants of the speculators rather than the true stakeholders.

Those who focus on year-over-year statistics; changes in car sales, housing starts, or increases in tax revenue to name a few; have an overriding interest in acceleration rather than the quality of the thing itself.

We’d all love a little 7% return on our investments. It’s a modest year-over-year increase that will keep pace with inflation and leave a little something to increase our spending power through the “magic of compounding” with which our mutual funds have made us so familiar.

Consider this rate of growth in a community context, however, and it may not seem quite so modest. 7% per year growth means roughly a doubling each 10 years. Regional population 500,000 to a million by 2015. Two million by 2025, four by 2035. Bigger certainly, but better? Shall we double our water consumption each ten years, double the footprint of the cities on our landscape? Double the services or pollution needed to support a quality of life just to the level we enjoy today? Every ten years? Our Region faces the possibility that water consumption will hit a supply wall. Ditto for converting rural to sprawl (although not anytime soon, and over quite a few dead bodies). Setting aside the question of whether we should, is it even possible?

And yet in spite of it all, growth is still our great sacred cow.

Do we make our plans for balance, stability, or maturity?

No, we worship quantifiable, compounded growth, using an ROI-al mentality. We measure it and report it and graph it ad nauseam. By doing so we embed in our decision-making a conventional belief in the power of numerical acceleration to change our lives for the better, to increase the quality of our lives.

The factual evidence for this belief, some would argue, is really quite scarce. Eben Fodor, in his 1999 American study “Better Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community”, takes issue with whether the urban growth machine really lowers taxes for individuals, makes more or better jobs and housing available to them, or creates a better quality of life. The logical extension of the “Bigger is Better” argument is that more of things makes for better things. Where we measure some items but ignore others, the statistics are used to prop up the conventional wisdom of growth. Yes growth has impact (so the explanation goes), but to others! To us, the benefits! The costs will fall elsewhere.

This is the illusion of economics, where the “externalities” are never measured, and the qualitative ignored where it cannot fit.

In a world of finite resources, in a regional landscape of finite size needing careful balance, as we increasingly turn to issues of quality over quantity, the growth in statistics of growth will hopefully take a downturn. We will no longer be persuaded by “intensity reductions” that plan for increased pollution at, wait for it…, a slower rate each year per unit produced. We will finally start to ask “Is it better?” rather than “Is it bigger?”