Vancouver’s Open City Initiative

Vancouver’s announcement earlier this summer that the city would open its data created quite a buzz on blogs and podcasts around the world.

Photo from Vancouver Transit Camp by Jason Vanderhill on Flickr

Photo from Vancouver Transit Camp by Jason Vanderhill on Flickr

What is involved in opening a municipality’s data to the public? The motion passed by Vancouver city council this May includes three simple components:

  • open data
  • Any data that the city collects, from current zoning applications to the library catalogue, should be made publicly accessible unless it impacts individual privacy.

  • open standards
  • While plenty of public documents and data have long been publicly available, open standards will improve its accessibility and usefulness.

  • open source
  • City-made software will be licensed … Continue Reading

    Public Transit Advertising and Portland Streetcar Envy

    Having long envied its streetcar system from afar, I was delighted this summer to make my first visit to Portland and ride its famous streetcars. Vancouver BC, where I make my home, is often compared to Portland but its once-extensive streetcar system was scrapped in favour of trolley busses in the 1950s.

    A handsome new streetcar in Portland, Oregon. Photo by author.

    A handsome new streetcar in Portland, Oregon. Photo by author.

    One thing I had not expected to see when riding Portland’s famed streetcars was the presence of advertisements in non-traditional places. Tourist information booklets displayed inside each streetcar present maps of the route and promote businesses located near the tracks.

    As a transit planning nerd, I actually felt warmly towards the businesses that spent advertising money in support of … Continue Reading

    Sink or Swim Round 2: Northeast Division

    Well, thus far, it looks as though New York and Los Angeles have the best planning websites of the first round.  Toronto isn’t too far behind and polling will remain open through November.  Admittedly, the sample size is pretty small – but we move forward…

    Our second group of cities ranges from the glorious to the notorious, perhaps with websites to match.  Take a glance and let us know what you think of these planning sites from the Northeast.

    Remember, the rating scale is as follows:

    • born with gills (best)
    • making waves
    • treading water
    • strictly kiddie pool
    • floats like a brick (worst)

    Do these sites give you a window into planning in their respective cities, or would things be clearer if they tried to explain in Esperanto?
    Round 2: Northeast Division

    Does Philadelphia’s website … Continue Reading

    Quantifying the value of walking

    CEOs for Cities just released a study showing that homes located close to shops, schools, churches, offices, libraries, parks, and restaurants are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods.

    The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets. Cortright found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, correlated to higher home values.

    This image from Walk Score shows the difference between how far you can walk in a compact neighborhood versus a sprawling one

    Continue Reading

    Urban Omnibus and the New Spirit of Urban Photography

    The venerable Architectural League of New York has fostered interdisciplinary approaches to urbanism since the late 19th century, opening membership to painters and sculptors as well as to architects and other design professionals. Launched earlier this year, its online project Urban Omnibus further expands the organization’s scope by tapping into participatory media culture. It solicits and displays photography in ways that have only became possible in the last few years, and that reflect democratization of the means of producing and disseminating images of the city.

    The most interesting photo in the Urban Omnibus Flickr Pool, as selected by Flickr's interestingness feature. Thanks to Pabo76 for licencing this great image of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant using Creative Commons.

    Alongside commissioned articles, Urban Omnibus displays photos of New York that … Continue Reading

    Can Walmart Anchor Transit-Oriented Development?

    Amity Gardens Shopping Center, 2007 via Groceteria

    Amity Gardens Shopping Center, 2007 via Groceteria

    Amity Gardens Shopping Center was a popular shopping center in Charlotte, NC, during the 1950s. Now, the blighted strip mall is slated to be bulldozed and replaced with a Walmart with the hopes of revitalizing the area.

    According to Groceteria:
    The Winn-Dixie at Charlotte’s Amity Gardens Shopping Center opened in November of 1958, right in the middle of the most thriving retail strip in the city. The center also included Woolworth’s and a Barclay Cafeteria. By 1961, it also included Charlotte’s first (and only) branch of Clark’s, an early “supercenter” with both general merchandise and groceries.

    Winn-Dixie, 3830 East Independence Boulevard, Charlotte. Photo courtesy Pat Richardson via Groceteria

    Continue Reading

    Snapshot: Sidewalk Patios


    A cold beverage and urban people-watching on a summer’s day – this is the beauty of sidewalk patios. The “eyes on the street” that they bring can make for a safer and more interesting pedestrian environment. Sidewalk patios thrive in pedestrian priority streets like Copenhagen’s Strædet. The Project for Public Spaces even commends their presence overlooking children’s play areas so that parents can drink coffee and socialize while keeping an eye on their charges.

    From a regulatory perspective, however, sidewalk patios can be tricky because they not only blur public and private space, but do so in a context where alcohol is served.  When patio space extends onto city property, restaurant owners must apply for a license, typically demonstrating that a proposed patio leaves sufficient … Continue Reading

    Snapshot: Farmers Markets

    Farmers Market Comparison_Canvas Size

    Once central to urban  life, most North American public markets closed in the mid-twentieth century. Refrigeration, motordom, processed food and the rise of supermarkets all played a role in their decline.

    With increasing public interest in local eating, recent years have seen a reversal of fortune for public markets. According to the American nonprofit organization Project for Public Spaces, the number of farmers markets in the United States more than doubled from 1,755 to over 3,700 in the ten years between 1994 and 2004!

    Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmers Market was founded 25 years ago and is still going strong. Unusual among farmers’ markets, it operates Saturdays year-round in a permanent home, a large heritage building which was once a trolley depot.  Goods … Continue Reading

    Sink or Swim


    In keeping with our theme here at Planning Pool, we’re proud to present the first annual Sink or Swim Series, honoring cities that make good use of new media to involve the public in planning.  The point of this exercise is to identify what works well and what doesn’t when city websites communicate plans. We’re all about inclusiveness, so we won’t be making the calls ourselves, but will instead be relying upon your input.  Every week, a few cities will be presented for your critique.

    Now, we know not everyone enjoys reading the nitty-gritty of planning documents, so please remember: you are not judging whether a city’s plans are “good”, but whether its website makes planning more accessible. Everyone will come at this from a different … Continue Reading

    Home, is where I want to be…

    …lift me up and turn me round. So sang David Byrne in the Talking Heads. Here’s a fantastic little film created by Jason Owen for a housing policy class at SCARP on “the meaning of home”.

    Home…is where I want to be from Planning Pool on Vimeo.

    Shot using a fancy Digital SLR rig and carefully put together in editing, this stop-motion film fits so well with Naive Melody that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the Talking Heads had Vancouver’s West End in mind when writing this little ditty.

    Kudos to Jason for doing such a killer job on this. Watching it makes me warm, fuzzy and well…homey!

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