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  1. City planners take new look at urban vistas Frances Bula, Special to the Globe and Mail, March 30th, 2009 --------------------- Vancouver’s famous view corridors have prompted more anguished howls from architects than almost anything else I can think of over the years. Now, the city is looking at re-examining them. (And, as the sharp-eyed people at skyscraper.com have noted, the posting for people to run the public consultation went up on city website Friday. You can see their comments on the whole debate here.) You can get a flavour of the arguments from my story in the Globe today, which I’ve reproduced below. --------------------- Vancouver is legendary as a city that has fought to prevent buildings from intruding on its spectacular mountain backdrop and ocean setting. Unlike Calgary, which lost its chance to preserve views of the Rockies 25 years ago, or Toronto, which has allowed a highway plus a wall of condo towers to go up between the city and its lake, Vancouver set an aggressive policy almost two decades ago to protect more than two dozen designated view corridors. But now the city is entertaining re-examining that controversial policy, one that has its fierce defenders and its equally fierce critics, especially the architects who have had to slice off or squish parts of buildings to make them fit around the corridors. And the city’s head planner is signalling that he’s definitely open to change. “I’ve got a serious appetite for shifting those view corridors,” says Brent Toderian, a former Calgary planner hired two years ago, who has been working hard to set new directions in a city famous for its urban planning. “The view corridors have been one of the most monumental city-shaping tools in Vancouver’s history but they need to be looked at again. We have a mountain line and we have a building line where that line is inherently subjective.” The issue isn’t just about preserving views versus giving architects free rein. Vancouver has used height and density bonuses to developers with increasing frequency in return for all kinds of community benefits, including daycares, parks, theatres and social housing. A height limit means less to trade for those amenities. Mr. Toderian, who thinks the city also needs to establish some new view corridors along with adjusting or eliminating others, says a public hearing on the issue won’t happen until the fall, but he is already kicking off the discussion quietly in the hope that it will turn into a wide-ranging debate. “The input for the last few years has been one-sided, from the people who think the view corridors should be abolished,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks. Most people who would support them don’t even think about them. They think the views we have are by accident.” The view-corridor policy, formally adopted in 1989, was the result of public complaints over some tall buildings going up, including Harbour Centre, which is now, with its tower and revolving restaurant, seen as a defining part of the Vancouver skyline. But then, it helped spur a public consultation process and policy development that many say confused the goal of preserving views with a mathematical set of rules that often didn’t make sense. One of those critics is prominent architect Richard Henriquez, who said the corridors don’t protect the views that people have consistently said they value most from the city’s many beaches and along streets that terminate at the water. Instead, he says many of the view corridors are arbitrarily chosen points that preserve a shard of view for commuters coming into town. That has resulted in the city losing billions of dollars of potential development “for someone driving along so they can get a glimpse of something for a second.” And, Mr. Henriquez argues, city residents have a wealth of exposure to the city’s mountains throughout the region. “Downtown Vancouver is a speck of urbanity in a sea of views,” said Mr. Henriquez, who is feeling the problem acutely these days while he works on a development project downtown where the owners are trying to preserve a historic residential hotel, the Murray, while building an economically feasible tower on the smaller piece of land next to it. The view corridor means the building has to be shorter and broader and is potentially undoable. His project is one in a long list of projects that have been abandoned or altered because of view corridor rules in Vancouver. The Shangri-La Hotel, currently the tallest building in the city at 650 feet, is sliced diagonally along one side to prevent it from straying into the view corridor. At the Woodward’s project, which redeveloped the city’s historic department store, one tower had to be shortened and the other raised to fit the corridor. And architect Bing Thom’s plan for a crystal spire on top of a development next to the Hotel Georgia was eventually dropped because city officials refused to budge on allowing the needle-like top to protrude. But one person wary about the city tinkering with the policy is former city councillor Gordon Price. “When people talk about revisiting, it just means one thing: eroding,” said Mr. Price, still a vocal advocate on urban issues. “People may only get this fragment of a view but it’s very precious. And those fragments will become scarcer as the city grows. The longer they remain intact, the more valuable they become.” It’s a debate that’s unique to Vancouver. Mr. Toderian said that when he was in Calgary, there was no discussion about trying to preserve views from the downtown to the Rockies in the distance. --------------------- cet article n'est pas tres recent, mais je sais pas s'il avait deja ete poste sur ce forum. meme s'il y a des differences, a mon avis beaucoup de ces arguments pourraient s'appliquer aussi pour Montreal. est-ce qu'on devra attendre une autre vague de demande bousillee pour relancer le debat ?
  2. Builders face financing squeeze 'We can expect a solid demand for condominiums well into the future' TERRENCE BELFORD From Friday's Globe and Mail September 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDT Remember how A Tale of Two Cities starts? Charles Dickens writes, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Stretch that theme a bit and you might be describing what is about to happen in the Toronto-area condominium market. First, the best of times. According to Urbanation Inc., which tracks condos from the Burlington border to Ajax and Whitby, there were a record 295 projects for sale at the end of June. Of these, 147 were under construction and another 38 new ones were ready to break ground. Behind those projects stood 151 different developers, and for many of them it was their first shot at building a condo. Those first-timers were mainly house builders who could no longer find building lots. Their choice was either to move into condos or fold their tents. So on the plus side, prospective buyers have never had greater choice. Now on to the worst of times. That impressive number of projects may prove to be the Greater Toronto Area's version of a Potemkin Village by the end of the year. Veteran market watchers say that up to a third of them are likely to be pulled from the market. Along with them, up to 50 developers may bite the dust. The reason? They are unlikely to find financing, says Barry Lyon. He is a 40-year veteran of the Toronto area real estate market. His company, N. Barry Lyon Consulting Ltd., provides research, marketing and project management to the condo and commercial sectors. "The U.S. credit crunch means the money to build just is not there," he says. "The tap has run dry." So, what determines who gets the money to build? In large part, GTA condo buyers. Developers need to presell about 60 per cent of the units in any project before lenders will take a look at providing the money to build. Equally important, they have to do it within reasonable time frames. As their marketing and sales teams scurry to sell suites, construction and carrying costs for high-priced land are ticking upwards. Mr. Lyon says he would not be surprised to see some developers pulling projects out of the market because those costs have risen to such an extent that they simply can't make a buck going ahead. "In some cases, even with 60 per cent sold, some developers are still going to have a hard time finding financing," he says. It is not that there is any lack of demand. It remains strong, says Jane Renwick, executive vice-president of Urbanation. But it is nowhere near the levels seen in 2007, which was a banner year for the industry. Thanks to record sales in 2007, 76 per cent of the 66,310 suites on the market at the end of June had already been snapped up. "I think a lot of last year's sales went to first-time buyers," she says. "I also think that most of them have now been absorbed so we are looking at a return to a more stable market — less of a gold-rush mentality." Again on the plus side of demand is the lure the GTA holds for immigrants. Ms. Renwick points out that of the 150,000 people who immigrate to Ontario in any given year, 100,000 of them make their way to the Toronto area. "If that trend continues, if we continue with high employment and if the economy continues to expand, we can expect a solid demand for condominiums well into the future," she says. That demand will continue to be strongest within the old city of Toronto. That is where 70 per cent of today's projects sit, says Mr. Lyon. It is also where prices are highest — an average $461 a square foot, versus $418 a year ago, according to Urbanation. Compare that with $294 in Scarborough, $254 in Pickering, $287 in Ajax and $313 in Aurora. Much of the difference is simply the cost of land to build on. But in that area Mr. Lyon suggests the coming shakeout may bring positive benefits to buyers. He says the loss of about a third of the developers today jockeying for land and bidding against each other to arrange construction crews likely means less competition for available resources. Less competition means lower demand and lower demand usually leads to, if not lower prices, then at least a much slower rise in prices. "It is going to be an interesting year," Mr. Lyon says. "By the end of 2008, the GTA's condo market may be a quite different place." Terrence Belford is a veteran journalist covering the Toronto real estate market.
  3. High tech US firms outsource to Montreal Tue, 2008-11-11 06:03. David Cohen An IT recruitment agency in Montreal says there has been a spike in the number of American companies crossing the border into Canada -- especially Montreal -- to do their software development and to save money. Kovasys Technology cites the unstable economy in the US, and massive layoffs. It says more and more companies are deciding to save money and move their IT operations to a cheaper but not out of the way location, and for many, that means Montreal. Quebec introduced subsidies for high tech companies less than a year ago.
  4. Walk this way Michelle Kay, Yahoo! Canada News - Fri May 28, 4:01 PM The top-five cities -- Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax -- have high population densities, which affect how people interact with space and urban planning, he said. The magazine gathered its information through a number of sources, including StatsCan and individual city statistics and then developed a 12-point questionnaire on topics such as the percentage of people who walk to work, park areas, vehicle use, etc. The information was presented to a panel of judges -- author, broadcaster and director of Jane's Walks, Jane Farrow, Guillermo Penalosa, consultant, planner and executive director of the non-profit 8 ? 80 Cities, and sustainability professional Amanda Mitchell. Up! discovered a city with a higher population density embraced a visitor-centric approach when it came to urban planning. The more walkable a city, the more livable it was for its citizens (and easier for tourists to navigate). It comes as no surprise that Vancouver came out on top (see below for the complete list). The city has a number of factors in its favour, from its population density (about 5,000 people per square kilometre), pleasant climate to expansive parkland. Nearly 40 per cent of downtown residents walk to work and it's easy to see why. Vancouver is packed with attractive streetscapes and a progressive street pattern with many maps that help pedestrians find their bearings, Gierasimczuk said. The city provides ample opportunities for its inhabitants and tourists to be active. "It's got this mystique. It has built a reputation as this walkable, active, car-free paradise," he said. A walkable place means a city respects its inhabitants enough to want to provide a manageable and livable space. "All these factors that make a city walkable means that a city celebrates its citizens," Gierasimczuk said. Walking is also one of the simplest, cheapest and healthiest ways to get around. Not only is walking a great way to shed the pounds, it doesn't cost anything to use our own two feet. More often than not, when you go for a walk you discover something new. You notice things you normally wouldn't see from the vantage point of a car or even a bicycle, since walking is an activity that forces you to slow down, breathe, look around and take things in. Now, who wants to go for a stroll? Canada's Most Walkable Cities 2010 1. Vancouver 2. Victoria 3. Montreal 4. Toronto 5. Halifax 6. Quebec City 7. Ottawa 8. Calgary 9. St. John's 10. Winnipeg http://ca.travel.yahoo.com/guides/Other/891/walk-this-way
  5. Video games: the next generation By Marc Cieslak Reporter, BBC Click The video games industry is obsessed with the phrase "next generation", but what does it actually mean? What can gamers expect from any game given that name? It would be easy to dismiss the next generation gaming experience as simply eye candy. Every single thing in the city can be grabbed, climbed on, jumped from Jade Raymond, Ubisoft producer The latest games all look great but the potential offered by the processing power of consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3 does not end there. They also give developers a wealth of new gameplay possibilities. At Ubisoft's Montreal studio, a team of 300 designers, programmers and artists have spent four years developing Assassin's Creed, a next generation medieval action adventure. "A lot of people have heard the term 'next gen game' thrown around and so far what we've seen as far as next gen games mostly means better quality graphics," said Ubisoft producer Jade Raymond. "So you've seen in fighting games where boxers are up close, you get more detail on the facial animation. Or in car racing games it looks exactly like the car, and you get more shiny cars and the environments are more realistic. "But for me personally, next gen game had to mean new types of gameplay." Assassin's Creed is set during the Crusades and the action takes place in three huge cities. Each is populated with thousands of computer controlled characters. Players can take Altair, the character they control, anywhere in the city. "We made this rule and gave ourselves the challenge to try and make huge cities that are completely interactive, which means that every single thing in the city can be grabbed, climbed on, jumped from," said Ms Raymond. "Which means that we created tools to be able to recognise the 3D models and automatically generate interactive edges on everything." Lego blocks The gaming environment took so long to develop because everything that sticks out of a wall more than two inches can be an anchor point for Altair. Bumping into people affects the direction of the main character "Our challenge was to make it readable for the player as we're using games to see the level design ingredients or the game designer path," said creative director Patrice Desilets. "This time there is no path whatsoever." Vincent Pontbriand, Ubisoft associate producer, said: "In a regular, more linear, game what you would do is create game levels. In our case, since it involved cities in which you could travel anywhere, we quickly realised it was going to be impossible to customise the entire city that way, polygon by polygon. "So what we did was we created a bank of objects, what we call a Lego system, and this allowed us to produce the first templates for the cities quickly by adding and removing blocks. "Then we were able to do the same things with objects and eventually with the characters and the population itself." While larger environments that allow the player more freedom are certainly a bonus, there is still more to be done before a game can earn that next gen title. Background characters Probably one of the biggest challenges facing games is to make computer controlled characters more lifelike. This is where the hardware buried inside the latest consoles proves so useful. "The tendency in technology is to move towards multi-core, multi CPU type of machines," explained AI programmer Matthieu Mazerolles. "What this means is instead of having just one processing unit you literally have several, sometimes up to a dozen all within the same box. More than 200 models were used as the templates for characters "What this allows us to do is to take all of the calculations, which are highly complex, that go into making the AI seem alive, and distribute these across many different processors." Said Ms Raymond: "We worked on this whole kind of physics systems for when you bump into people and push them out of the way, so that tactile thing really felt real. "So bumping into a group of people will make you fall over, running full force into a small woman will knock her over." One of the tools the company has worked on is something which generates crowds of diverse people. "For NPCs we have hundreds and hundreds of different looking characters, that were the templates we used to create our initial models," said Mr Pontbriand. "But then we created our own technology to take those templates, cut them down into pieces and then, with the technology, added the ability to randomise between skin colour, clothes, hair colour. "We ended up with a multiplying factor, so these sketches that became models ended up producing thousands of different variations in game." 'A player's story' Increased production values, emotional involvement, environments that have more bearing on the world - could all of these elements help shift games from what many perceive to be a marginalised ghetto into the mainstream? "As an entertainment medium, games are really just scratching the surface," said Ms Raymond. "I think we are at where we were with film when we made the transition from silent films to films that were telling a story with sound and dialogue. "We are just at the point of discovering what we can do with interactivity and what's an interactive story where you are creating a story for players, but it really has to become the player's story." Said Mr Desilets: "I strongly believe the more we go on with next gen the less we will see video game rules apparent, they will be more and more hidden and the experience will be a lot more immersive because you won't see the video game rules that only gamers really like."
  6. (Courtesy of the Financial Post) Reason I put it in culture, it seems more of a Quebec culture to be more laid back and no really care about material wealth, but that is my own point of view.
  7. Source: http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21611086-why-building-worlds-most-popular-city-so-difficult-and-expensive-bodies-bombs-and London’s costly construction Bodies, bombs and bureaucracy Why building in the world’s most popular city is so difficult and expensive Aug 9th 2014 | From the print edition CROSSRAIL, a new underground railway line, is the main engineering marvel near Tottenham Court Road station in London. Few passers-by realise that another immensely complex construction project is under way nearby. At Rathbone Place, an old postal sorting office is being demolished to make way for a new block of offices and apartments. The entire building must be removed through one narrow exit onto busy Oxford Street. Beneath the site lies a disused underground railway once run by Royal Mail, which must not be disturbed. Even as your correspondent visits, the developer, Great Portland Estates, discovers an ancient electricity cable buried under the foundations. Much of central London is being knocked down and rebuilt. Some 7m square feet of office space is due to be added this year—the most since 2003. Relative to the existing stock, more offices are going up in the capital than in any western European or North American city. Yet building offices (and homes) near the middle of the capital is shockingly expensive. Even before the cost of land is considered, it costs roughly a fifth more than erecting similar stuff in New York or Hong Kong, according to Turner and Townsend, a consultancy firm. The challenges at Rathbone Place help to explain why. London’s history throws up many problems. Unexploded bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe still turn up surprisingly often, as do interesting medieval bodies. The opening of Bloomberg’s new headquarters in the City was held up by the discovery of thousands of Roman artefacts, including a rare phallic good-luck charm. London’s underground networks—including the Tube, but also sewers, various government tunnels and oddities such as the Royal Mail railway—must be negotiated. The city’s medieval street pattern means that buildings cannot always have straightforward 90-degree corners. Narrow streets make moving vehicles and machinery around construction sites far more expensive than in other cities. Typically, construction begins with a small crane, which lifts in vehicles and in turn erects a bigger tower crane. These cranes cannot operate from roads or overhang existing buildings, which explains why so many of the ones in London are elaborate, multi-jointed things. Sometimes they must be custom-built. The planning system then adds all sorts of expensive complexities. In Westminster more than 75% of land is covered by 56 conservation areas protecting the historic appearances of streets, right down to the colour of paint on doors. At another Oxford Street site, Great Portland Estates must lift up an old façade and scoop out the rest of the building from behind it. During this process, neighbouring buildings must be protected—not only structurally but also from noise and dust. Taller buildings are trickier still. They must not block designated views of various landmarks, which explains why some of the skyscrapers in the City of London are oddly shaped. The curious wedge-shaped Leadenhall Building, known as “the cheesegrater”, is intended to protect a view of St Paul’s Cathedral from a pub in Fleet Street. The design also means that the building cannot have a central concrete core, as in most skyscrapers. Instead, the floors are held up by an innovative steel exoskeleton. This makes for a thrilling journey up the building’s glass lifts. But it does add somewhat to the cost. Developers have adapted to these constraints as best they can. Construction is modelled by computers long before the first crane is installed. Each day’s work is planned almost to the minute and materials delivered when they are needed, much like the “just-in-time” methods long used in car factories. Many parts are brought in ready made: fully 85% of the Leadenhall Building was manufactured in the Midlands and Northern Ireland. But the sheer complexity of building in the capital makes for a small, specialised industry with high barriers to entry. Outsiders who try to negotiate London’s planning system often get in trouble, notes Toby Courtauld, Great Portland’s boss. Getting projects approved requires more than mugging up on planning regulations: plenty of rules are unwritten, while political objections can be unpredictable. Incumbent developers know the vagaries of the system. Newcomers do not. All this raises costs, which are passed on to business tenants. And the slowness of building in the capital means that offices are often finished at the wrong time, at the low point in an economic cycle: a slump in construction starts three years ago means supply will crash next year. Putting up buildings is far quicker and easier in other cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester, and also in London suburbs such as Croydon. But developers persist with inner London anyway. Office rents and land values are high enough to support even some outrageously complicated projects. Leasing office space in the West End is twice as expensive as in Madison Avenue in New York. For all that the city’s skyline is dominated by cranes, were developers given free rein much more of central London would be being rebuilt. For firms struggling with high rents, that is frustrating. For Londoners who live and work next to construction sites, it may come as some consolation. From the print edition: Britain