Tag Archives: urban planning

Metronauts Event #1

After much planning, discussion, speculating and sweating, the first face to face Metronauts event took place on Saturday at MaRS. In case you weren’t there, you can absorb all of the fascinating content on the wiki page. Based on the spirit of BarCamp, or the Open Space Technology model, Metronauts is an offline/online community that is committed to using the spirit of the community powered unconference to help inform and shape the Regional Transportation Plan that Metrolinx is responsible for producing.

Check out some pictures from the event.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea of Open Space, it’s a cool methodology that simply introduces a question or broad statement to a group of passionate people, and people can volunteer to lead a 1 hour discussion on a topic of their choosing, so each 1 hour time period has a bunch of conversations occurring in parallel. And that’s how the agenda gets set. 

One thing that I found of interest during the planning process with Metrolinx is how they referred to a typical public consultation event as a “formal” consultation and the events that we were proposing as “informal”. However as the day unfolded, I noticed that the jargon seemed to be making a switch to “traditional” vs. “non-traditional”. I like this switch because I personally feel that “informal” seems to connote “less important”, whereas “non-traditional” seems to imply “different” as opposed to better or worse. Hopefully this perceived shift is true, pervasive and sustained.

My hope is that after the community begins to really take off in an online and offline way that there will be additional richness and perspectives offered to the policy makers and planners within Metrolinx and the Regional Transportation Plan will reflect the conversations in some way. Rob MacIsaac, Chair of Metrolinx, made it pretty clear that they won’t be able to integrate every single recommendation.  And of course they can’t. I think the challenge that Metrolinx has is listening to all of the conversations that are occurring and being able to recognize high level themes and trends and being able to shape their plan accordingly.

It seems to have potential for a classic “Wisdom of Crowds” scenario where nobody in the community has the one right answer, but if Metrolinx can pull of the wisdom together and come up with something that is greater than the sum of the conversations, they will have done their job as a (arms length) government agency. (Take a look at “The Scorpion” example in James Surowiecki’s “Wisdom of Crowds“.)

All in all, the effort to engage the citizenry in a “solutions” environment rather than an adversarial dynamic is an important shift in how government engages with people.  Here’s hoping today’s “non-traditional” is tomorrow’s tradition.

Regional Transportation Plan – Muy Importante!

An article in the Toronto Star published today (April 2) suggests that Toronto’s younger commuters are relying less and less on the automobile to commute. A third take transit, 10% walk and 1.5% take a bike. Only 1.5% take a bike? That’s the best way to commute! Cheap, efficient, fast. Way better than walking. And with a bit of trial (and hopefully no error) it’s possible to find quiet routes that lessen your chance of getting drilled by a moving vehicle or a “door prize”. I would think that you’d have to live pretty close to work to walk on a regular basis.

Anyway, the census shows that as people age they are more likely to rely on the car. This is probably due to people getting overweight and creaky as they age as well as the increased  likelihood that they’re living in the suburbs and need a car to get to work. So that’s a snapshot of right now, but what’s the trend?

If the trend is towards the 25-34 year olds staying in the city and raising a family in the city, hopefully the 66% of 25-34 year olds who currently commute will decrease even as kids enter the picture. Living downtown, I often see people cycling around with kiddie trailers.

If the 25-34 year olds still migrate to the ‘burbs, they’ll either have to get a car OR they’ll be relying on public transit because that’s all they’ve known in their working lives. And so this has been my long, circuitous route to saying: JOIN THE METRONAUTS COMMUNITY! There’s a good trend of young people giving up automobiles, but if there isn’t a good regional/provincial infrastructure to support their choices, they’ll be forced into the automobile. That’s not a good thing.

So get involved in the conversation about Metrolinx’s plan, read the green papers, attend a Metronauts event. And tell people about it.

The Launch of Metronauts

I’m proud to spread the word about the launch of Metronauts, a community that will engage and inform in the transportation planning for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Based on the spirit of TransitCamp (itself based on the spirit of BarCamp), Metronauts is a combination of face to face collaboration events and an online space where people from all over the community can help inform the regional transit plan being assembled by Metrolinx, the arms-length government agency.

This initiative is being spearheaded by Mark Kuznicki but he has brought together a bunch of people to help contribute in a variety of ways, myself included. I have a keen interest in urban design and transportation, not to mention collective wisdom, so helping out where I can on this project was a no-brainer.

I’ll have some more posts as the first event shapes up for April 5th, but keep on eye on the Metronauts site for the latest and greatest news. The Toronto Star has already published an article about the upcoming event and hopefully there will be a lot more press in the future!

The Creative Class – In the ‘Burbs

Much has been written about the “Creative Class”, the group of people in a city that Richard Florida (most famously) describes as being economic engines of growth. This “class” of people is often associated with a certain built form, namely downtown areas, reclaimed buildings, lofts, undulating wood floors, etc. Add in thick-framed glasses, a golden retriever and a can’t miss start up and you’ve pretty much got the stereotype down.

Unfortnately, one of the by-products of this regeneration is often the displacement of lower income creative types who can’t afford the higher rents that the gentrification will cause. No hope, right?

I went to see a presentation of a paper from Urban Studies student Michael Noble, working on his Masters at the University of Toronto and he studied the “Creative Class” phenomenon as it manifested in Toronto’s inner suburbs. (As an aside, he defines the Inner Suburbs as homes built outside the downtown core between the years 1946 and 1980, ie. post-war. Some of the areas lack community infrastructure, have lower incomes and are often the first neighbourhoods of newly arrived Canadians.)

Noble found lots of interesting stories and evidence that the philosophy of the Creative Class is alive and well outside of the downtown core and that this activity shouldn’t be ignored by policy makers as part of a larger suburban renewal project.

Some organizations doing some really neat things are:

If you take a look at a map of where these activities are taking place (Noble studied two neighbourhoods in the inner suburbs, Lawrence Heights and Dorset Park in Scarborough), while they’re on the subway line, they’re far from downtown Toronto.

While this research bodes well for future planning initiatives, one point of view expressed by Tim Jones of Artscape (one of Noble’s research advisors) was that people and organizations in creative organizations feed off of each other. Networking and social interactions contribute to an organization’s ability to innovate and be creative. (It’s the whitespace, stupid! See my very first blog post.) Tim argued that it might be better to slowly push the boundaries of the creative clusters rather than encourage disparate installations all over the city so that organizations can expand to less expensive and emerging areas while still maintaining the all-important network of weak ties. A good example of an emerging area that is still close to downtown would be The Junction.

Obviously there has to be room in any official policy for both approaches. Good policy should encourage and support the clustering effect in terms of hard and soft infrastructure. Artscape is doing very cool things in terms of physical space and there has to be good access to not only subways but but routes as well. And there should be programs and networking opportunites on the soft side for the individual organizations to find community, either in their physical neighbourhood or in their field of practice.

Hopefully the city will realize the importance of the outlying areas and work towards bridging the Inner Suburbs with the downtown core.