Archive for May, 2006

Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART III

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

[Part three you say? Part THREE? What the hell is going on here? Who has time for this crap? –ed.]

Fact is, we want to know too. We want to know what the relationship between a long discourse on a fantasy design process (a.k.a. a charrette) for excising the Toronto island airport has to do with the call to abolish automobile advertising in all its many guises.

If the reason behind the ALLDERBLOB is to convince our government to ban car advertising, why are we spending all this time writing about a bunch of people who had nothing more pressing than to spend three days talking and drawing an alternative future for some land on the Toronto Harbour?

And, what does Jane Jacobs have to do with anything?

Ay-yah, as they say in Cantonese. This is a complicated matter [Do everyone a favour then. Make a long story short. –ed.].

Here goes:

The Toronto Islands are one of a handful of carfree residential communities in the western, automobilious world

[ the adjective “automobilious,” means “car-sickened.” Not “car-sickness,” that’s the effect the car has on its passengers. “Car-sickened” is the effect cars have on those outside, not those inside the car. It refers to the degradation of society as a whole that the car induces. –ed.].

Elsewhere on this site we present our ideas about the nature of carfree places. Read it if you dare, and consider the following: to be carfree is not necessarily to be without cars. A “thickened” commercial street where by necessity cars just inch along, Danforth Avenue, Toronto, West of Pape Ave, midday, midweek, midwinter. Can you see the three jaywalkers? Sure you can. allowing a pedestrian to cross the street virtually anywhere, can be argued to be “carfree.”

And the same street, now “thinned” and empty of cars, Danforth Avenue, Toronto, East of Pape Ave: same day, same time. No Cars? Watch out, you\'re about to be hit by one! can be the most dangerous place imaginable for a cyclist or pedestrian.

We won’t get into the reasons for this here [please! –ed.]. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s Blobby’s law states “Cars rush to fill up the space available to them.”

Everyone knows this law.

So everyone who considers the future of the Toronto island airport hits their head on the same dull reality: if you build a bridge, cars will rush in.

That’s why the Port Authority wanted to build a bridge: to allow onto the island “urban traffic.”

And that’s why the single resounding point of consensus among members of the public who showed up for the Thursday evening session where we set the parameters for the charrette was “Build no fixed link to the island: keep the islands carfree” [um, that’s two points. –ed.].

We described the Thursday night sessions in part I of this series. We ended part I with the suggestion that a description of the facilitation technique of one Janet Rosenberg was in order. Tantalizing, to be sure, but in part II we got sidetracked. We devoted part II to a discussion of Jane Jacobs’s analysis of the car in urban settings. We called Ms. Jacobs “someone who really spoke truth to power about the dangers automobile dependency presents to urban life.” [My god, does it get any worse? That phrase went out with the Monkees. –ed.]

Okay. Let’s get down to business.

If we accept that the Toronto Island residential community is a place removed from automobilious culture, and we accept the proposition with Lord Acton Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902): \"Absolute power corrupts absolutely\" that “Advertising corrupts; automobile advertising corrupts automobiliously,” we have among the many souls who accept the island residential community as a good thing the possibility of an immunity to, or at least a resistance to, automobile advertising and its gospel message.

That said, we imagined we would find, among the professional designers and members of the public who filled the halls during the charrette, an embrace of the notion of a residential community in a carfree setting. We imagined that the group, which included the likes of Bill Freeman, Barry Lipton, and other Toronto Island residents, would be eager to include others in their warm, carfree embrace. We imagined that the likes of Julie Beddoes, and others who live on or near the harbourfront, dedicated pedestrian advocates who pay homage to the principles of carfree urban life, would be eager to see developed on the island airport site more of the existing residential form of Ward’s and Algonquin Islands.

We could not conceive of anyone looking at the island, especially anyone with the slightest knowledge of its historic battle to prove “People and Parks Belong Together,” not choosing to ensure a residential component to any scheme to replace the airport.

But at our table at the Saturday design charrette, facilitated by Janet Rosenberg, we were in for a surprise.

…TO BE CONTINUED…

[augh! –ed.]

Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART II

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Last week we wrote a lick about our experience with the Toronto Island Airport charrette. This charrette, (French for “design marathon” [goodness, he’s also a sophisticate! –ed.]) was organized by the much-vaunted Office for Urbanism on behalf of the city of Toronto. The island airport site had been put forward by some committee or other as a possible location for the city’s bid for the 2015 World’s Fair, and the charrette’s purpose was to look with “fresh eyes” at the site’s potential.

Facts about the island airport site:

1) it consists of 200 acres of flat real estate complete with acres and acres of super-hardened concrete runways interspersed with quadrangles of chemical-laced grass;
2) its substrate consists of lake-current-carried sand washed there from the Scarborough bluffs, sand that has a propensity to form dunes which must be periodically bulldozed by the airport landlords
3) it lies across a 121-metre shipping channel at the bottom of Bathurst Street;
4) the channel crossing, a five minute ferry-ride (of which some three minutes are spent tying off at either end), will set you back $35 million [sorry. Could you repeat that? –ed.].

Allow us to backtrack a bit.

The five minute ferry ride was posited in the beginning of this century [nicely put! –ed.] as the reason the airport loses so much money for its operators (they said no one wanted to take the ferry when they could instead drive to the city’s Pearson International Airport). They claimed the five minute ferry ride had to be replaced by a bridge in order to build back to the level of activity the airport enjoyed in the late 1980s. In 1988, for example, when we found ourselves disembarking from a noisy little machine that had flown us up from New York’s LaGuardia airport, the island airport served some 800,000 passengers yearly. Since then its ridership has plummetted: today it serves just 80,000 passengers per year. All because of the missing bridge? That’s what they want us to believe.

Question: how come 800,000 passengers crossed by ferry per year in the late 80s? Why wasn’t a bridge necessary then?

It’s possible there’s another explanation.

It’s possible no one wants to travel on the crappy, noisy little planes the island airport has to use to fulfill its terms of contract (there’s no room for jets to land).

It’s possible Air Canada, which controlled commercial flights from the island airport until quite recently, and which went through such financial turmoil in the 1990s, pulled strings to make the airport falter.

It’s possible that building a bridge to the island airport had nothing to do with plans to make the airport fly, but instead were about nascent dreams of car-dependent urban development over there.

It’s possible that together with the proposed “Gardiner Expressway Extension” [don’t you mean the Front Street Extension? –ed.], which would dump its hourly load of sprawl-fed car commuters at the foot of the proposed bridge, the pressure for a “harbourfrontal lobotomy” of the island airport site would be too great to bear.

But all of this is besides the point. In 2003, plans for a bridge were quashed when the current mayor, David Miller, was elected. It’s clear that he separated himself from his also-ran opponents with his oppostition to the bridge. Toronto voters responded to his stance. The bridge, which was to have cost $22 million, was cancelled. In a mysterious transaction, the Port Authority received $35 million cash, instead.

That’s the $35 million we were speaking of [um, thanks, I guess. –ed.].

To recap:

We stumbled into a Situation on the weekend.

Known in the business as a charrette, a group of about thirty earnest souls, some professional designers of one stripe or other, some just gadabouts with a couple days free and the connections to put themselves in the right place at the right time, converged on the Toronto waterfront to take aim at the future of the Island Airport.

Two days later, Jane Jacobs died.

Coincidence? We don’t think so.

For who was Jane Jacobs, and what is the Island Airport? Answers to these questions will point to a much deeper mystery, an enigma, a conundrum: nay, some may even call it a conspiracy.

Among the many examples of lipservice paid to Jane Jacobs and the principles for which she stood, there have appeared one or two examples of people speaking their true, dark thoughts about her. We give you the New York Times, for example (to read it you need to sign up for the (free) registration). Its sickening “critic’s notebook” of this past Sunday, called “Outgrowing Jane Jacobs,” has since been reprinted in a number of places, including the Toronto Star. In it Nicolai Ouroussoff writes:

But the problems of the 20th-century city were vast and complicated. Ms. Jacobs had few answers for suburban sprawl or the nation’s dependence on cars, which remains critical to the development of American cities. She could not see that the same freeway that isolated her beloved, working-class North End from downtown Boston also protected it from gentrification. And she never understood cities like Los Angeles, whose beauty stems from the heroic scale of its freeways and its strange interweaving of man-made and natural environments.

Really, Mr. Ouroussoff? What do you know of what Jane Jacobs thought? We suspect she would contest your contention that cars “remain critical to the development of American cities.” We suspect she would see your claim for what it is, “the gospel of the car ad.” We suspect she was capable of seeing this “beauty” you speak of for what it is also, and was aware of the seeming contradictions you imply in her observations on the nature of traffic. We recall in Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) her writing

Sidewalks 30 or 35 feet wide can accommodate virtually any demand of incidental play put upon them—along with trees to shade the activities, and sufficient space for pedestrian circulation and adult public sidewalk life and loitering. Few sidewalks of this luxurious width can be found. Sidewalk width is invariably sacrificed for vehicular width, partly because city sidewalks are conventionally considered to be purely space for pedestrian travel and access to buildings, and go unrecognized and unrespected as the uniquely vital and irreplaceable organs of city safety, public life and child rearing that they are.

“Sidewalk width is invariably sacrificed for vehicular width.” How telling. But nowhere is Jane Jacobs “anti-car” in her writing. She is simply realistic about cars: their danger, the disruption they promise, and the sick addiction the modern world has come to have for them. With James Howard Kunstler, who contends: “Nobody, it seems, can imagine an American life not centered on cars,” Jacobs would have agreed.
With Enrique Penalosa, who has famously said “You can build cities for the car or you can build cities for human beings,” Jane Jacobs simply advocated on behalf of the latter.

It’s no surprise though that newspaper pundits, dependent on the automobile for the advertising that fills their centrefolds [my god, are you getting to the point at last? –ed.], would get all meally-mouthed about someone who really spoke truth to power about the dangers automobile dependency presents to urban life.

And now she’s dead, while we conduct design charrettes where folks throw her name about as if they have a clue what she really thought.

…TO BE CONTINUED…