Hamilton Should Aim Higher - Literally

By Jason Leach
Published August 18, 2011

Recently, I posted a comment on the facebook page of City Square Condos (Thistle Club) stating how I loved the design of their condo, but wished it was 25 or 30 floors tall.

The developer replied by giving me the 'thumbs up' and asked me to email Mayor Bob Bratina and Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr to share my thoughts. Reading between the lines, it would appear as though he too would like to go taller, but I'm sure is being squelched by Hamilton's aversion to tall buildings.

I realize the Durand Neighbourhood Association was formed due to the beautiful mansions being destroyed for what I like to call 'commie blocks' in the 1970s, but we need to be sure that we don't miss grand opportunities to give our city a new look and a modern skyline now in the 21st Century.

The Thistle Club Site represents one of the best sites anywhere for a tall tower that can rise above the blandness of the '70s and help change our image. If we can't build a 30-storey building next to many other highrise buildings, where can we?

Nicolas Kevlahan recently wrote a fabulous overview of the rise of Vancouver as a model urban centre during the past 40 years. Hamilton should be looking to follow their lead as we begin to develop our massive glut of surface parking lots.

There's no reason why our skyline couldn't look like a smaller version of downtown Vancouver or Montreal in 20 years when viewed from the Mountain Brow.

Highrises are not bad. Bad highrises are bad.

This brings me to my next point - Darko Vranich. Unlike many of the comments I've heard recently, my point is simple: Let's ensure that his design is urban, glass and modern (as shown in his renderings) and let's give him permission - or even encourage him him - to go 30 or 40 floors if he were to desire so.

Again, our skyline needs a modern change, and would have massive impacts on our city's image. The Pan Am Games are coming. What better way to show the world that we're current, modern and booming than seeing state-of-the-art condo towers being built here?

Mississuaga is receiving rave reviews from around the world right now because they held an international design competition and ended up with this:

Absolute World Towers, Mississauga (Image Credit: Design Build Network)
Absolute World Towers, Mississauga (Image Credit: Design Build Network)

When the architect finally arrived here to see the location for his winning design, he was perplexed. He had thought he was designing for a mid-sized city trying to shake up its image and inject new life into itself - not a suburb.

Hamilton should be looking for an opportunity to host an international design competition with the goal of seeing a new landmark tower built downtown.

I hate Hamilton's plethora of parking lots as much as the next guy, but I'll hate them even more if we only fill them up with two- and three-storey bland buildings. The land is available along the B-Line route and right downtown for us literally to build a new skyline that will be modern, clean and green in its technology.

I urge our Mayor and Council to please take another look at the restrictive height bylaws in Hamilton. As a famous high-rise architect for Stanford Downey once said, "You'll never get new towers in Hamilton because City Hall won't allow them".

City Square at the Thistle Club may be a place to start. Their second phase could go much taller than planned. Let's get the DNA on board and show them that rejecting towers shouldn't be their goal - rejecting ugly, poorly designed towers should be their goal.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By DesignUrb (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 10:58:44

I agree with the overall premise and would definitely say yes to this on the Federal building or other lands between Bay and Hess. However, the density, street widths, and variety of housing in Durand are not conducive to 30+ story buildings.

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By George (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:00:02

As much as I hate to admit it, that Mississauga tower is very impressive. Hamilton definately needs something like that. Remember the Harry Stinson 100 storey pyramid-like tower proposal?

The current plan for the 28 storey tower is mediocre at best.

Comment edited by George on 2011-08-18 11:14:57

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted August 20, 2011 at 01:46:52 in reply to Comment 68177

I had to look twice...for a second there, I could've sworn that was a washed-out photo of 1970's construction.

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By mike_sak (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:26:46 in reply to Comment 68177

why does the tower portion remind me of every other apartment block within the core.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 13:16:30 in reply to Comment 68182

boy that rendering coming out minutes after I posted this blog sure doesn't help my cause....Wow. Brutal(ist).

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By chimochimo (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:12:09

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:25:21

I think this is a great idea. It's a big property, so having one tall building (20+ stories) on it isn't going to be overwhelming. If they were willing to have an excellent design, 30+ would be fine for me. The people living here are going to have decent disposable income which should boost the stores on James South too.

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By George (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:28:37 in reply to Comment 68181

Agreed completely, especially with having a much more attractive design.

Comment edited by George on 2011-08-18 12:10:26

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:17:25 in reply to Comment 68183

I agree as well. I think this should be encouraged -- making the assumption that anyone willing to do it has performed the feasibility study that supply is met by demand and the area is conducive to dealing with it at capacity. Which any downtown, especially ours, is.

That image of the Cannaught, to me, looks pretty weak. A throwback to the '70s. That said, I'm betting that many of the high-rise condos on near Toronto's waterfront are going to be met with a similar sentiments in 20 years from now.

The buildings that stand the test of time don't seem to be built any more. The devil is in the details -- or lack thereof.

While it would never, ever happen -- the worst case scenario is what Detroit went through. Massive rush to build the biggest, baddest buildings - -much on the public dime - then no demand to occupy them. Hence an over 80% vacancy rate.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:21:22

I'm assuming the Connaught rendering is a way early concept, probably not meant for public consumption yet. The point of my blog here is looking at the design of City Square (facebook link above in the main body) and how great it would look at 30 stories. Personally I love the design.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:28:40 in reply to Comment 68195

It does look good -- personally, I prefer that to the Marilyn Monroe ones in Missy. I gotta feeling they might be seen as pretty gawdy in a handful of years. But, who knows.

And yes, it sure would be nice to see the Hamilton skyline bolstered. I certainly agree that it has a definite impact on people's perception.

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By MSTJEAN (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:34:55

I agree 100% with this article. We need to start acting like a real city. We need good urban planning and state of the art buildings.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 13:34:52

Could someone post the actual site of the proposed condo. I do not recognize the project name.


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By jason (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 13:37:54

it's in the first sentence of the blog. Click on the 'facebook page' link.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 14:41:51

I'm generally against blanket height restrictions and in favour of performance based design codes and assessing individual projects on their own merit. However I believe the City Square project is being done the proper way. It is high enough to give the developers a good return for their square footage but still low enough to fit in.

Remember there are going to be two more towers if and when sales permit. If this was a highrise building, it would be awfully hard to sell out two more towers worth, let alone get the first one off the ground. And what else would go on the block?

I'm all for density and wouldn't mind seeing a few more stories on these towers. In fact they already had to get a variance for the top floor which is set back from the rest. I would just rather see it concentrated in the downtown core where we are so lacking in height. I hate seeing our skyline dominated by the highrises on the edges of downtown, and it's been that way for decades.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 18, 2011 at 14:44:08

I'm sorry, but in this neighbourhood?


No thanks.

I'm for all kinds of notions of increased density, but not 30 floors and not there.

With all the available space in the actual downtown, putting something that huge there makes me cringe.

(And no, it's not because I remember the actual Thistle Club...of which I have a nice photo...but have no way of sharing. Aside from direct emailing...)

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 15:38:55 in reply to Comment 68212

I'm for all kinds of notions of increased density, but not 30 floors and not there.

I'm not sure I understand why. I agree that all the downtown lots should be filled, but Durand still has some unused parcels of land. It looks like there are more 20+ storey buildings there already than anywhere else in town.
I think a new design, highlighting the new Hamilton would be a great fit in the midst of the 70's towers.

Vancouver just went through this whole discussion a few years ago. They realized they were running out of land and it was time to get rid of the height restrictions. They are now seeing their tallest ever towers built as a result.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 18, 2011 at 16:21:17 in reply to Comment 68219


For the very reasons I pointed out: there are innumerable plots of land north of Main between Caroline and Wellington that would be perfect locations for such a development as what you're suggesting. In aesthetic terms alone. (In fact, I'd be in favour of multiple such projects in these environs.)

The proposed development seems far more befitting the neighbourhood.

(Damn, but it took a long time from the demolition of the Thistle Club to actually having something unfold.)

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-18 16:22:11

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 18, 2011 at 19:58:46

By far the two nicest apartment buildings in the area (on Bay at Herkimer and Charlton) are low-rise and take up most of their footprint providing ornate streetwalls. Most of the ugliest buildings in the area are high-rises with huge setbacks and empty first floors. I don't blame people for being hesitant to see skyscrapers in their backyard.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 20:19:57

A caveat about constructing tall buildings in Hamilton. It is also important to respect the “natural architecture” of a city and plan the buildings accordingly.

One of the greatest "natural architectural" charms Hamilton possesses is the view of the bay and the lake from the escarpment. Unlike the urban mountains in Vancouver and Montreal, the Hamilton escarpment is only about 100 metres high (330 feet). The construction of a multitude of buildings higher than 100 metres would eventually obstruct parts of the wonderful panoramic view of the bay and the lake from the escarpment shared now by all Hamiltonians and visitors to the city. Once this unique city view is lost, it can never be replaced. This would be infinitely worse than losing the Royal Connaught Hotel building or any of the other historically significant buildings in our city.

Also unlike Vancouver and Montreal, there is plenty of available and relatively inexpensive land in downtown Hamilton to construct high-rise buildings without the necessity of surpassing the escarpment's 100 meter natural aesthetic threshold.

While it is agreed that a well designed signature tower would add excitement to downtown Hamilton, it is hoped that great care is taken in the planning and construction of future high-rise buildings to ensure that Hamilton's "natural architectural" features are not diminished.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-08-18 20:22:20

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 18, 2011 at 20:25:45 in reply to Comment 68240

Also unlike Vancouver and Montreal, there is plenty of available and relatively inexpensive land in downtown Hamilton to construct high-rise buildings without the necessity of surpassing the escarpment's 100 meter natural aesthetic threshold. While it is agreed that a well designed signature tower would add excitement to downtown Hamilton, it is hoped that great care is taken in the planning and construction of future high-rise buildings to ensure that Hamilton's "natural architectural" features are not diminished.

Thank you.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 18, 2011 at 21:13:45

Considering we would only ever have really tall buildings right downtown (not in the east end or central city) I don't think obscuring the view from say, Sam Lawrence Park, needs to be a concern.
From Mt Royal one looks through a plethora of towers to see portions of the riverfront in Montreal. Lake Ontario and Hamilton Harbour will always be easily viewed from our escarpment.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted August 19, 2011 at 01:36:34

I think Hamilton should not take its cue from Vancouver, toronto or NewYork. It should follow the Paris model. How many 30 story buildings have they built in the last decade? And what is their density?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2011 at 10:44:23 in reply to Comment 68269

Thank you.

I just can't shake the fear that we're going to see another Effort Square. They've got a hotel, office space, residential and an indoor ground-floor mall. Shouldn't this have been the catalyst which launched downtown's revitalization?

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 12:05:41 in reply to Comment 68298

Effort Square also had a grocery store on the lower level.

Agreed that a standard of well-designed 5-7 storey infill would be more impactful than iconic and troubled pie-in-the-skyrises. We've got the expropriate-and-raze bit down (and the authoritarian regime is coming along nicely), but we're apparently not especially good on erecting high-quality replacement buildings.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted August 20, 2011 at 11:27:14

Montreal would be the most appropriate Canadian template for Hamilton to use in terms of maximum building heights within the context of respecting the natural features of the city. The City of Montreal has a municipal regulation prohibiting the construction of any building exceeding the height of Mount Royal.

Mount Royal has an elevation of 233 metres or 764 feet, over twice the height of Hamilton’s escarpment. The tallest building in Montreal, 1000 de La Gauchetiere, is 51 storeys has a height of 205 metres or 673 feet, which is approximately 88% of the height of Mount Royal.

The City of Hamilton should consider adopting a scalable version of the City of Montreal municipal regulation prohibiting the construction of any building exceeding the height of Mount Royal.

Hamilton’s escarpment has an elevation of about 100 metres or 330 feet. A building 88% of the height of the escarpment would be approximately 290 feet high and would accommodate a building in the range of 23 storeys (12.5 feet per storey) to 29 storeys (10 feet per storey). This would seem to be a reasonable maximum height for the tallest new buildings in downtown Hamilton without compromising the natural aesthetic value of the escarpment.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-08-20 11:37:32

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 20, 2011 at 12:14:45 in reply to Comment 68301

Interesting. According to this we already have two buildings taller than the escarpment (assuming 330ft is the correct escarpment height).

heck, I'd be happy with a cluster of modern buildings, designed well in the 400-450 range to dwarf the Century 21 building and jazz up the skyline. Really, anything over 25-30 floors is going to impact the skyline. Let's hope for some great designs.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2011 at 13:41:08

Naturally, I'm going to be seen as a partial contrarian here, but seeing as my monthly dues were just paid, I've no problem with that...

I want Hamilton to move forward. But at the same time...and I might be lacerated for making this comparison, but hey; my dues for the Laceration Club were just paid, too...

The true definition of 'success' is finding your best place. You know, what you're meant to be. The Festival of Friends began as a gathering in Gage Park and somewhere along the way, someone decided that in order for it to fulfill its destiny (subjectivity in full-force here), it had to move. I'm not saying it shouldn't have, but maybe I'm saying 'We need to be able to recognize what 'success' is.'

I'm wary of Hamilton trying to play 'catch-up' with a place like Taranna. Which, not tapping into the longstanding insecurity this city's always had with That Place Around The End of The Lake, we don't need to. I don't want Hamilton to be a 'little Toronto'. And maybe this is part of how I react when it comes to the notion of 450' behemoths in Hamilton: that in our near-desperation to get out of this funk and be taken seriously, we're going to try to overcompensate.

I get that we need more density. I don't need to be convinced of this reality. But seeing as so much of the lower city is never going to contain the kind of density that large projects provide, why is it necessary to go the behemoth route? I'm no urban planner, so I'll ask those better qualified and equipped: is it not possible to develop all that's currently available to develop in the downtown core and not go this 'super-high' route? Can't we still have the needed density in our core without completely going to a form that I just can't see as being appropriate for a city our size? (Which begs the question 'How do you envision Downtown Hamilton in 25 and 50 years?')

Yours in rabid mystoneycreeking...

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2011 at 17:59:29 in reply to Comment 68303

The irony is that those pushing for urban sustainability are also the ones pushing for High-rise buildings and unsustainable transit solutions.

High-rise are bad. Bad High-rise are worse. An irrational want for high-rise towers for the sake of identity, is a disease that has consumed many cites worldwide.

Manhattan's need for vertical was anchored in: its economy, its bedrock and its limiting geography.

"The island of Manhattan is built on three strata known as Manhattan Schist, Inwood Marble, and Fordham Gneiss. Schist forms the island’s spine from the Henry Hudson Bridge on its north end to the Battery on its southern tip; it dips abruptly several hundred feet below ground at Washington Square, and makes a gradual ascent beginning at Chambers Street. These dips and rises account for the gap between “midtown” and “downtown” in the Manhattan skyline, since tall buildings had to be anchored on solid bedrock, and not on the glacial till that fills the valleys."

What do you think Hamliton's bedrock calls out for?

Some thoughts on Low-Rise High Density:

Urban Density Misconceptions

Successful examples of high density development


Low impact — high density residential development

A pleas for low rise density in Vancouver

An exception:Sweden: High-rise housing for a low-density country

LRT is good. Poorly timed and badly planned LRT is worse. It is important to develop a holistic approach to urban density and transit -- Developing Around Transit: Challenges for Cities and Suburbs

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-20 18:15:52

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2011 at 19:05:26 in reply to Comment 68307

As the Brits are wont to say,

'Cor blimey!'

We definitely need RTH salons. I want to see this stuff live.

: )

P.S. To the person who DOWNVOTED Mahesh: Get in touch; I want to pay you for your absurd behaviour. You're very entertaining on a Saturday night.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-20 20:25:54

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted August 20, 2011 at 15:04:11

Well stated.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 07:24:34

From the Vancouver link in Mahesh's comment:

The environmental and social benefits of higher density development can be achieved through a variety of building forms (townhouses, mid-rise apartments, laneway housing, etc) that don’t drastically change the character of a neighbourhood. Equating density directly with height is a common misconception. Many European cities have densities much higher than downtown Vancouver without having any high-rises at all. Height limits exist for a reason; high-rises done poorly can have very dramatic livability impacts. There are also diminishing returns (in terms of environmental and social benefits) as you go higher. For example, wood-framed construction can now go as high as 6 storeys, avoiding GHG-intensive concrete.

The City’s current zoning bylaw allows them to get community amenities (parks, schools, community centres, etc) partially funded by development through the rezoning process and through density bonusing. This is an important funding source that would be lost if all restrictions were lifted. The City’s EcoDensity program and land use policies do advocate for increased densities and a lot has been done already. All single family zoned areas, for example, can now legally include basement suites or separate laneway housing for rent.

Being strategic about where we target higher densities is also important (around rapid transit stations, near high concentrations of jobs, etc.). Putting a bunch of highrises out in the middle of nowhere won’t have any environmental benefits since their residents will still end up driving everywhere.

Ensuring a mix of housing types and tenures in all neighbourhoods, with a focus on higher-density affordable housing and rental suites should be the focus, not just opening the flood gates on high-rise construction.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-21 07:25:01

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 09:19:55

From the Vancouver link in Mahesh's comment:

Sounds great in principle....meanwhile, Vancouver continues to win the top livable city in the World award year after year and has housing values that far outpace the rest of the country...all this while they've gone crazy on highrise construction and have recently raised their height limit and are now seeing new tallest towers. So much for the 'dramatic livability impacts'.

The European model is great, for any city starting with a blank slate. I'm certain that given the choice most Hamiltonians would prefer increasing our density via a cluster of tall towers on downtown's empty parking lots and lower/mid-rise infill along the rest of our main corridors, as opposed to wiping out ever single family home from Westdale to Stoney Creek so we can build the Paris model.

This has nothing to do with 'Taranna' as evidenced by the number of cities worldwide building new towers in their downtown cores. Hamilton seemingly has a lot of empty land downtown, but if construction ever hits a decent pace they will be gone forever. We need to increase our density enough in the meantime to support 24-7 grocers, LRT lines, pedestrian-only districts and vibrant street business life. A handful of 6 storey buildings won't cut it.

Comment edited by jason on 2011-08-21 09:20:56

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 15:19:43 in reply to Comment 68315


It's fascinating how deeply entrenched the heritage mindset ('intellectual bulwark') is here on RTH.

Let me ask this question: what kind of actual qualifications do any of The Big RTH Three (Ryan, Adrian and Jason) actually possess in regards to this very complicated topic? (One that I would never lay any claim to having even the slimmest grasp of.)

What worries me a lot of the time is that actual discussion isn't being encouraged, but rather endless instances are created where those searching for some kind of 'non-mainstream' ideology are proffered essay after essay, article after article...mostly from one intractable, immutable, obdurate headspace...where anything contrary is either ignored or voted down...or due to their unbridled frustration, the purveyor is regarded as a 'troll'.

They say the real test of a great society is how the weakest are treated. Well to me, the real test of a great activism web-site...especially one with the mission/mandate that this one how dynamic it is, how it receives 'alternative' or even 'disparate' ideas, concepts or philosophies, how enthusiastic it is to adapt, to grow, to stretch and excel...

...but even moreso, how receptive it is...and I mean genuinely receptive, not merely offering up lip-service gestures that can easily end up being utterly condescending in the eminently-qualified voices at their disposal. (Yes. I am referring to Mahesh Butani specifically.)

Which is why I recently proposed to Ryan the notion of taking what RTH does and pulling it out of the 'endless-loop, echo-chamber' that its extant design almost requires (well, maybe that its editors require), and into the real world by way of actual discussions, by way of in-person salons and informative and engaging seminars with experts and leaders and mentors, etc.

Because after a while...RTH's static construct begins to remind me of serial monologues. Or worse. (Sexual connotation withheld.)

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-21 15:21:53

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 15:34:11 in reply to Comment 68320

I'm not sure why the conversation had to take this turn. I'm wide open to various ideas on this topic and how we can best intensify Hamilton given our current framework. My last post above is simply offering my views on why we can't build Paris here. Believe me, I wish we could. If someone can convince me that adding 6 storey buildings on our remaining downtown parking lots will be enough to create a 24-7 city full of vibrancy and life I'd love to hear it.

I don't think it's necessary to get off topic and into some subjective discussion about how Ryan runs his 'blogsite' (that term will never get old. lol) simply because I don't buy the fearmongering about Vancouver heading down the wrong path. Surely, everyone who buys condos there and everyone who ranks the best cities in the world can't ALL be wrong.

If you don't like modern towers for no other reason than you simply don't like them, just come out and say that. Please don't try to tell us why Manhattan and Vancouver (2 of the most successful urban areas on the continent) don't work.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 16:04:38 in reply to Comment 68321

Just as a quick rejoinder...

a) I don't think anyone said anything about building anywhere, here. In fact, I pointed out that I don't want Hamilton to be a Mini-Toronto. What I want is open-minded consideration of options that aren't grounded in the kind of wishlist-type stuff you're talking about. Mostly because I would hate the version of Hamilton that you seem to be longing for. (And applying your 'you're gonna need this and this and this to make it work, otherwise don't bother!' sidebars just make me cringe all the more.

b) I find it fascinating that Portland is so often dragged out for consideration...and yet when examples presented by a professional voice suggest something about Vancouver...something that doesn't quite fall in line with your slant...then the 'Eject' button is pushed.

c) Who said anything about 'fearmongering'? Did you take a look at the photograph in the document 'A Plea For Low-rise Density in Vancouver? Is that what you want? I don't. Not anywhere near the Thistle Club location...and if we're going to be having them put up downtown on some of those available lots, then there's a lot of dialogue to be had.

Town halls, here we come.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 17:14:48 in reply to Comment 68322

I appreciate this response. Well reasoned and explained. I've yet to be convinced by anyone that highrises are bad. When I'm standing at the Terraces on King it might as well be 50 floors instead of 11. In fact, I'm working on a piece with some historic context that shows Hamilton was actually headed towards the type of urban development we now see in Vancouver long before Vancouver was.

That Athens photo is just stupid. I'm talking about allowing 25-30 storey buildings in a district filled with 25-30 storey buildings, not at King and Paisley.

I made this clear above, but I'm also only talking about right downtown, although I fail to see a problem with high-rise buildings on major arterials in other parts of the city.
For example, I haven't seen any detailed drawings yet, but I like the preliminary concept for these buildings on Upper James and Stonechurch:

No shadow impacts on anyone, ground floor retail, set at the sidewalk with parking in behind, modern design etc.... Main St and segments of King, Bay, Cannon, Hunter etc..... could use similar type of developments. As could the Thistle Club site IMO.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say with the Portland v. Vancouver example. Portland has had several new condo towers built in the past 5-10 years downtown and along the waterfront. I think we should do the same, and design the surrounding main streets to feel like King, James or Locke - businesses oriented to the street.

Ryan and I have never seen eye to eye on this issue by the way, and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think his opinion slightly shifted after a visit to Manhattan.
At the end of the day - towers are not oppressive. Blank, crappy streetwalls like we see in many of Toronto's towers are oppressive. A 9 storey building with a blank streetwall is far more damaging to the city than a 50 storey building with a great streetwall.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 17:06:30

Jason, respectfully - you will agree that the premise: Hamilton needs to aim higher "literally" is entirely based on loose subjective thinking.

In the spirit of healthy discussions, when substantive information is presented here to help readers get a better grasp of "density" in relation to height of buildings - your response is simply to ignore that totally, and get back to your original subjective thinking which is based on superficial comparisons of cities based on personal likes or dislikes.

Did Vancouver look to Toronto for becoming Vancouver? Did Paris look to London or New York for becoming Paris?

You will appreciate that many people in Hamilton look to alternative news sources to get information on city building issues. When such sources fail to discuss all sides of an issue - patently fallacious impressions are left in readers minds.

This gets more complicated when such loose thinking turns into a mob which lashes out by irrational down/low voting of anyone presenting different views - which then begins to morph into lobbying groups to swarm councillors & city staff to impact city policies.

I would like to see you take a moment and present your views more directly on: Urban Density Misconceptions - only one among many documents that speaks logically on the same issue - which is that there are many ways to acheive density, and that high-rise is just one of them.

In light of this would you still be inclined to put things loosely like: "...heck... lets...jazz up the skyline..." -- Is this what you truly think Hamilton's real problems are? Does this kind of thinking in anyway factor in the geographical and economic realities of Hamilton? or even the economics of the development industry?

I realize that in face of deeper scrutiny of issues - the normal reaction here is to react or say things like: "but this just a blog and not an academic or technical forum for developing real ideas and policies for Hamilton's future" -- and I totally respect that if that is so -- but then why go through the pains of posturing that this forum is some logic driven, evidence based exercise in community building -- when YouTube has been far more successful without such pretenses, and which is after all the ultimate in 'stream of consciousness' thinking. YouTube allows loose and in-depth thinking to coexist - which is why it is far more powerful in affecting social change thru its Meme generating ability than any socially oriented blogs have ever been.

I think the issue of 'density' is one of the most critical issues facing Hamilton. Our city's growth and economy is dependent on how smartly we are able to render the concept of density into meaningful built-form. This is by no means a topic that can be handled in a cavalier manner by reducing it to issues of likes, dislikes or fashion statements. To make use of a pulpit at ones disposal to propagate such dubious thinking is just not right.

Continuing to compare Hamilton to Vancouver is one of the most mindless exercises undertaken, for it just add more confusion in the minds of readers who look up to this forum for tempered insights.

"I just discovered what Hamilton's real problem is: It is me!"

T-shirts with this line, worn by all in our city for a few months may help us acknowledge Hamilton's 'real' problem... and hopefully open up our minds to developing more qualified solutions.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 17:19:49

Mahesh, I appreciate your response, and info on density etc.... again though I don't see why you've felt the need to bring up this strawman known as the 'RTH community' as Mystoneycreek did. A quick look at the voting on this discussion has us all sitting nicely at zero. lol. equal votes up and down. Again though, I don't really pay attention to the voting system. I prefer to keep the discussions civil and with reasoned ideas...and the odd bit of peppery humour. lol

Some of us like to compare Hamilton to Vancouver because we see what could have been and what still could be. Vancouver isn't perfect. No city is. But they are ranked a heck of a lot higher than us year after year. Clearly there is something to learn. Just as there is something to learn from Paris, Montreal, Portland as well as Buffalo, Detroit and Flint. I'm happy with low rise projects like UrbanWest being built right now on Aberdeen and with 30 storey condo tower proposals in empty lots next to the Connaught. Some people don't like tall buildings. I'm not one of them.

I think our skyline will be impacted over the next 10-15 years with the next wave of development coming. I want it to look good. I love Hamilton, but I'm kind of done with the monument to 1970 we see when we stand atop Sam Lawrence Park. A good city should have architecture and public art from every era. It's one of the reasons I love city hall and didn't want to see it demolished. I've been to Montreal, NY, Vancouver and Seattle and experienced the vibrancy of their downtowns with mega tall buildings and narrow, historic retail streets. The mix can, and does work. I'd love to see us develop it here.

Look at Locke St. It's come a long way and continues to evolve. I, however, believe that it will only go so far without further residential density. I'm hopeful that the Allenby Phase 2 pans out and the proposed 8 storey condo with streetfront retail at the old Asian Mart site moves ahead. The street still needs more residents living there to become a place that is animated and busy into the evening. Would I want a 50 storey tower in the middle of Locke? Probably not. Around the corner on Main and King? Sure. I think our main streets should look like our main streets with our secondary streets having the level of density necessary to sustain small business 7 days a week, mid-winter and mid-summer vacation season.
I would love to see these sorts of projects on James St, Ottawa, Parkdale, Westdale etc:

And these on our empty parking lots downtown:

Comment edited by jason on 2011-08-21 17:38:27

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2011 at 08:50:21 in reply to Comment 68325

. I'm hopeful that the Allenby Phase 2 pans out and the proposed 8 storey condo with streetfront retail at the old Asian Mart site moves ahead. The street still needs more residents living there to become a place that is animated and busy into the evening.

I lived in the area in the late '80s and early '90s...and I'm there quite often these days.

Very little has changed. Very little. The business profile has, to be sure. (When I was a 'regular' at West Town, it was the original restaurant, just the one side.) Through the years I've seen the street-mix change to what it is today, and it's encouraging. However...

However, one of my favourite quotes goes something like this: 'Every situation's potential has a ceiling.' Meaning that unless you change something fundamental, that ceiling will remain. Forever.

Locke Street's profile south of the railway the main...isn't going to change. It almost can't. Because of its heritage, in order to see some 'development' come in, you'd have to have massive disruption...and we both know that's not going to happen. So really, the project you're talking about is about the only real opportunity for an influx. (And I have to say that I've been out of the loop, that I wasn't aware of what you've referred to, because just last week I said to my father that this is a dream location for something big.)

The problem as I see it is that no matter how sizeable a project goes in there...and I hope to God that your wish for a 450' tower isn't indulged; that location needs something that fits the area, the widely-considered area, which does not include 40-story buildings, thank the's not going to somehow elevate the neighbourhood to what you (apparently) envision.

And I won't lose a minute of sleep over it. Because it's quite clear to me, someone who's lived in many different spaces, who's worked in retail for decades, that we're approaching that ceiling on Locke Street. (Just as others have. For example, downtown Dundas, Westdale and downtown Collingwood to name just three.)

To me, this isn't something that should be mourned, it's something that should be celebrated: potential fulfilled.

(I do have to add that one of the main issues restricting the buoyancy, the vibrancy, the potential to max-out Locke Street's thrivability is the fact that we have a thoroughfare at Main. Were this a two-way street, were Main from Dundurn to Queen given the change to actually be a neighbourhood along this route -and King to the north, for that matter- then you've have a far greater organic catchment area. The sad thing is that it wouldn't take that much to accomplish. Far less than 'developing' the area.)

What's bothered me about what you've put forth in this thread...and I'm heartened by the way it's played-out, with so many good points being considered and that you (again, seemingly) have this need to wrap your arms around a vision of Hamilton that I believe is not only misguided, but wrong-headed. I don't believe Hamilton can or even should be 'massively more dense' in the lower city from Wellington to Dundurn, the Escarpment to, say, Barton. While I'm not an aesthetics guru, it's quite clear to me that what Hamilton should be has limits on so many levels...and when I read your thoughts, I'm seeing these limits grossly exceeded. (From Caroline to Bay, Main to the bayfront, I have no problem seeing 'intense density'...but still find that we differ on just how 'big' the upward development should be.)

Several weeks ago, I made a suggestion on Lawrence's article about what Hamilton wants to be when it grows up that people actually imagine what they can see Hamilton being. I mean, on paper. And I'm going to issue that challenge again, if only to get us away from the stultifying exercises of reading about the Federal Building, the BOE building, etc:

Let's hear how you would 'redesign' the area I've noted, from Caroline to Bay, Main to the bayfront. (And when I say 'you', I'm not just referring to you, Jason. I mean everyone.) After all, how can we reasonably react to plans that are announced if we don't have any personal reference points? Against criticisms, there must be some kind of constructive contribution, don't you think?

Perhaps this can become an ongoing article, where people offer up suggestions...and maybe someone here has the know-how to incorporate all these ideas into something graphical?

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-24 09:00:55

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 19:05:21 in reply to Comment 68325

Thank you Jason, and my apologies for bringing in the strawman!

Sometimes in life it is necessary to pull out strawmen from the closets, not just to air them out a bit as they do get musty! - but also in order to nudge conversations forward. :)

I still look forward to your views on this document: Urban Density Misconceptions. For, I think in analyzing this document you may get the directions you are seeking in: "I've yet to be convinced by anyone that highrises are bad."

No doubt we all are in sync on the need for Hamilton to get vibrant, however, how we get there - is what needs fair, honest and open conversations. In this, one does tend to lean to other cities for examples, or build vignettes of favorite spots from other cities - which is only fair and expected. But to bring authority to such comparisons is what creates unnecessary debates and conflicts.

Cities grow the way they do because of their economy. In order to get the vibrancy seen in other cities - we need to focus on our economy and realignment of our geographic patterns, and not on our built-form. Putting a city's built-form before its economy is like putting the cart before the horse. Emulating the 'Bilbao effect' deeply hurt many cities financially.

Our economy is not going to be pumping from our University, its innovation park or the medical complex. These are close-looped constructs which will continue to create jobs as long as the government continues to finance it. No new capital is being generated from such constructs outside of its own operations. The few enterprises that manage to leave its orbit are hardly sufficient to impact the built-form of this city.

Where are the highrises coming from here?

The price of condos in highrises that you visualize are always going to be in conflict with the price of a detached home with a backyard (primarily because of the differential in cost of constructing high-rise viz low-rise) - and as long as that happens, the kind of condo boom you visualize in downtown is going to remain only in our minds. Hence the fits-n-starts of many announced condo projects in downtown - not because the developers are evil people. Bad designs notwithstanding - which comes from bad designers.

Don't get me wrong on the high-rise form. I too love them for its purely inspirational qualities when able to see them from a distance - especially at nights. Romance is born from such images. It is what happens when you are in them and around them that needs a more dispassionate look.

Given your family structure presently, if there was a trade offered to you at par, with the moving costs paid for -- would you give up your new home to take your spouse & children into the 45th floor one-bedroom condo in downtown Hamilton, with a gorgeous view of Flamborough? I say 'one-bedroom' because that is what at par will barely get you on the 45th floor of a swanky, silvery, glass enclosed, concierge served, underground parking extra condo.

And if you don't accept this as fair trade, why would you want to impose such an offer on others.

Here in lies our economic reality - and the limits it sets on our imagination.

Affordability will continue to be an integral part of sustainability in the coming decades. If there is someone who can design affordable high-rise condos in our times, s/he may well deserve a Nobel price for such efforts. Failing which, our built-form will continue to reflect our economy in more manageable and more sustainable low-rise.

The fact that with some deft planning (as shown above) we can achieve the same urban texture and even larger density than highrises can - is an opportunity for Hamilton to lose, if it does get prematurely swayed by talks of sexy skyscrapers.

High-rise buildings operate well only in a context. That context is the economy. We need to focus on our economy and let the built-form be generated from there. Without this approach, we will become a broken-teeth like vertical bedroom community - which will not sustain the retail street-fronts in our disjointed high-rise canyons. Our skyline would tell this story so well in the scattered clusters of high-rises across the backdrop of an even more confused escarpment.

Borneo Sporenburg - One of the most celebrated contemporary examples of dense urban housing within a Western European context.

Louis Sauer - "Architects today are obsessed with expressing their personal form. But this won't solve the problem of how to give people a home and make our cities eco-sustainable."

Tall Buildings and Sustainability - When an economy is ready to churn out tall buildings, these are the kind of concerns a city will need to address besides aesthetics or form based planning, to derive the maximum benefit of tall structures.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-21 20:30:40

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 05:19:50 in reply to Comment 68326

Here is a must read on high-rise structures:

More low-down on tall buildings by Michael Mehaffy"Growing research paints a decidedly mixed picture on their benefits, with significant implications for responsible best practice."

And also connecting to my earlier thoughts on rhizomes and cities, (On Doing Cities) - here is a most fascinating essay by Mehaffy — The New Modernity, The Architecture of Complexity and The Technology of Life.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 21:24:06 in reply to Comment 68326

I'm not going to get to everything here, but I'll address a couple points. First, your urban density myths link isn't working.

Bilbao Effect - I realize some other cities have gotten it wrong in trying to emulate that, but for Bilbao itself it radically changed that city, it's economy and perception.

My family moving to the 45th floor - 5 of us would be a bit crammed in a one-bedroom unit. I'm aware of people who love that lifestyle and would be willing to pay for it. Heck, I see 1 and 2 bedroom lofts/condos in buildings like Allenby and Core Lofts selling for as much as my new 3 bed, 2 bath home in Strathcona. Once the kids have moved out? I could see us doing the condo lifestyle.

I know you and I agree wholeheartedly on planning and design guidelines.
I would shudder to see blocks of downtown Hamilton turn into what Toronto has done too much of - blank streetwall with a glass tower above. It's why I like the Portland, Vancouver and Manhattan model. The built form must come to the street, have retail/dining units, patio space and have a continuous streetwall full of business, life and amenities. Whether the buildings top out at 25 floors in Portlands Pearl District or 50+ floors in Manhattan is less important than how they look, feel and function on the street. I've seen 3 storey buildings that are disgusting at the street level and I've seen 70 storey buildings that are wonderful, inviting and human in their scale at the street. Considering our city is rather small, I think it makes sense to add some floors to our height bylaws and increase the downtown density while we can. Downtown Hamilton is very small compared with Manhattan or Vancouver. We don't have the luxury, as I said earlier, of doing the Paris model. It works great if you have dozens of square km to fill with nothing but 6 storey buildings. We have a handful of parking lot blocks along King, Main, King William, Hunter, Bay and Queen to add our most dense properties.

Let's design them well and ensure that they are buildings we can be proud of on the sidewalk patio and from the skyline lookout at the Mountain Brow.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 21:55:22 in reply to Comment 68328

Jason: Sorry about that. Here is the link to the document "Urban Density Misconceptions":

If it does not connect, do a Google search with: (Urban Density Misconceptions, Paul Keogh), it should be the first link in the search result.

PS: (I check all links after posting, and all worked fine earlier. On checking now all three links on diff. comments here, to this document are corrupted, and there is no way for me to fix this, so maybe the ed. could help in correcting this - thx)

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-21 21:57:33

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By George (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 20:17:05

THIS is a great discussion, jason, mystoneycreek and Mr Butani!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2011 at 22:50:34

Wow, things are getting heated...only one point to add to the above - if memory serves, Portland is known for fairly strict height restrictions, getting stricter as you move away from the core. Many anti-smart growth folks blame it for restricting density.

I'm not against skyscrapers, but I'm quite hesitant about them for a number of reasons.

First of all, there's the use-of-space issue. Not all high-rises fall into this trap, but most do - leaving large setbacks before the tower begins. What this means is that on the very same lot, a low-rise building can often house just as many people or units. So we don't need to demolish any more single family homes than we would otherwise.

Second, there's the economics involved. Condominiums just aren't affordable for most people. It isn't just that you're paying a mortgage which could buy you a much larger house - once you include the "condo fees", you may be paying enough to buy that house and rent a similar-sized apartment. There's a lot of social tensions that come along with these sorts of developments, as well as the inevitable issues with unsavoury condo "developers" (Vancouver's a great example of both).

Third, there's the community - or lack thereof. Jane Jacobs touches on this in Death and Life in her discussions about "turf". These buildings are unwelcoming and sterile by their design and nature. They don't generate the kind of cross-traffic that a dense grid-pattern of streets does, and don't often see the same kind of community vitality, even in the same communities. Even when they provide grass, barbecues and playgrounds, they're rarely used. The buildings are private property, and nobody has much business being on a floor unless they're a resident or guest - so aside from the elevators, lobbies and parking lot, there's barely any interaction.

Finally there's the question of "why?". What do tall buildings and an "interesting skyline" really add to a city in tangible terms?

Not all tall buildings follow these patterns. Putting 30 storeys on an old Tim Hortons lot is one thing, putting the same building on an acre of land and then surrounding it with parking lots and grass is another. It can be done well, but it certainly isn't always.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2011 at 22:53:38 in reply to Comment 68330

some great points here....and FWIW I'm not sensing anything getting 'heated'. I'm enjoying a good, troll-free discussion. Wonder how long that'll last.....

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By George (registered) | Posted August 22, 2011 at 08:42:31

Very interesting...

Prof. Salingaros on skyscrapers:

Carbon benefits of urban density level off at 4 to 6 storey building envelope

Found at 6:44 of the video

There ae several branches of new urbanism found today

All of them are far better than zoned car-development sprawl, or skyscrapers in the park - a monstrous idea.


Comment edited by George on 2011-08-22 08:59:21

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 18:00:44

As wholesome discussions gets buried under the 'breaking-news syndrome' -- if anyone is still interested in following thru on the unfinished conversation on skyscrapers, and its connections on how cites can be re-formed amidst the high-pitched doom & gloom of 'Peaking everything' -- here is an remarkably relevant article by Nikos Salingaros titled:

"Remarks on a city's composition"

..."What needs to be done to fix inhuman urban form? There is a growing realization that we don't really understand how to build a living environment."

Seeking real solutions to our peaking problems is obviously far less sexy than regurgitating already known problems.

If someone else's 'Hubble' is trained on earth right now -- they surely must be having a hearty laugh :)

They may also spot a little book called: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by veteran journalist Chris Hedges, who talks about how - "dumbed-down “news” and consumer messaging form an impenetrable veil of manipulated reality."

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-22 18:20:10

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By George (registered) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 08:39:13 in reply to Comment 68341

From Nikos Salingaros' conclusion

A clear picture emerges, of a city whose complexity is based on many more short-range connections than long-range connections. Cities need to re-establish a vast number of nearest-neighbor couplings, as well as a sizable number at various intermediate lengths. A living city's central characteristic, moreover, is that it is constantly readjusting all of its links. Any planning effort must therefore help rather than hinder this natural process of reconnection.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 25, 2011 at 14:01:32 in reply to Comment 68420

Any planning effort must therefore help rather than hinder this natural process of reconnection.

This strikes me as rather 'organic'.

You know, the way villages and towns used to sprout up out of seeming 'nowhere' and grow and change and morph according to need...and I mean authentic need, not some kind of modern 'developer-and-politician-wrought' need that has less to do with anything to do with actual integrity (of place, not of behaviour) than it does with ka-ching...the way most other creatures in Nature build their environs.

It really isn't all that complicated, is it?

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-25 14:08:49

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 18:16:05

Third, there's the community - or lack thereof. Jane Jacobs touches on this in Death and Life in her discussions about "turf". These buildings are unwelcoming and sterile by their design and nature. They don't generate the kind of cross-traffic that a dense grid-pattern of streets does, and don't often see the same kind of community vitality, even in the same communities. Even when they provide grass, barbecues and playgrounds, they're rarely used. The buildings are private property, and nobody has much business being on a floor unless they're a resident or guest - so aside from the elevators, lobbies and parking lot, there's barely any interaction.

I'd be curious to know how many people here have lived in apartment buildings. It's a whole different world. And...

Though many might not want to hear this, hi-rise apartment living (not 'condos') is to houses as buses are to cars; you live in one because you have to. I'd never live in one again, if I had my way; I've spent about twenty years of my life in them.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 21:55:43

So many good links to sift through. This thread could well spawn a bathroom reader.

On the subject of energy it's important to note that tall buildings don't need to be built with concrete. In Yemen buildings with ten or more stories have been built with mud for millenia. With the aid of new techniques like Cross Laminated Timber panels, one can go up to fifteen (a nine-story building was recently put up in London). Not quite "high rise", but well beyond four stories.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 23, 2011 at 06:31:28 in reply to Comment 68350

This thread could well spawn a bathroom reader.

Or a salon.

Where there's an actual chance of protracted exchanges, count-and-counterpoint that results in on-the-spot intellectual processes...that promote something suggested in your tagline:

"We shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas." — Noam Chomsky

(Although I do have to say that those who are engaging in such a manner (and follow through with action) while not being 'heroic', are surely to be admired.)

Looking forward to this week's 'salon'; can't wait for that Moroccan tea...

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2011 at 06:25:27

Don't these two articles point up the very core of what we're discussing?

It really is a shame that protracted dialogue can't result from the format this site is handcuffed by;digging deeper into these issues is paramount to actually creating genuine discussion, substantive planning that reflects what the neighbourhoods, the communities, what the residents want. It shouldn't come down to letters to The Spec, and the discourse should represent more than just those being affected.

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