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Qantas pilots new 20 hour ultra long haul flight from New York to Sydney

Over the weekend, Qantas Airways set a new record with a nonstop ultra long haul flight from New York to Sydney. At a distance of 16,200 kilometers and a duration of 19 and a half hours, this is now the world’s longest flight. Though, this was still a test voyage. It remains to be seen whether this will be a commercially viable route. The company also plans to offer a similar ultra long haul from London.

It’s fascinating to think about the logistics that go into a flight like this. The flight took off with its fuel tanks maxed out at 101 tons. But according to Wired, the loss factor on each additional ton of fuel is about 60% simply because of the additional weight. In other words, most of the incremental fuel to get all the way to Sydney just gets cannibalized by the heavier load. Wow. That doesn’t feel all that sustainable.

Similarly, every ten passengers roughly equates to one ton (200 pounds per person). So there’s a balancing act between reducing weight (optimizing fuel consumption) and maximizing revenue (adding lots of people). There’s also a question of how best to price discriminate across economy, premium economy, and first class.

Initially these ultra long haul flights were imagined to be flying hotels, where people could sleep, workout, and do all sorts of other things while they traveled halfway around the world. But the economics didn’t work. Too much wasted space on non-revenue generating items.

The other interesting thing about these ultra long haul flights is how much work goes into passenger comfort, specifically around our body’s natural rhythms. Angus Whitley of Bloomberg was onboard this maiden voyage and he talks about how the food they served — spiced with things like chili and lime — was designed to fire up your clock when you shouldn’t be sleeping.

And this isn’t new a feature of ultra long hauls. Qantas already employs things like hot chocolate laced with tryptophan in order to help people sleep onboard. I’m not great at sleeping on planes, generally because I don’t fit in the seats very well. But maybe it’s because I’ve been passing on the hot chocolate.

Image: Qantas via Bloomberg

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Ground breaking at Junction House

This morning was the official ground breaking ceremony at Junction House. It was a beautiful sunny day and our FOREVER mural proved to be the perfect — albeit ironic — backdrop for our photos. Photos from the event will be released next week.

Junction House is a project that we have been working on since 2016. Development doesn’t happen overnight. So it’s important to celebrate these milestones — both for the team and for future residents of Junction House.

A big thank you to everyone who came out. We’re all looking forward to the next phase of the project: construction.

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A 17.6 square meter apartment in Taipei

Dezeen recently announced its 2019 interior award winners and this 17.6 square meter (~190 square foot) flat in Taipei was selected for “small interior of the year.” Designed by the Taiwanese studio A Little Design, the space features a 3.4m ceiling height and a queen-size sleeping loft. The design is very well done.

But as I was looking through the photos, I couldn’t help but think, “This is about the size of a parking spot in Toronto.” Typically, the minimum dimensions for a parking space are 2.6m wide by 5.6m long. If either side is obstructed or the drive aisle is substandard, these dimensions need to be increased.

So we’re not far off.

Some of you will interpret this to mean that the apartment is too small; whereas some of you will interpret this to mean that the spaces we dedicate to cars are too big. It’s a matter of perspective. But what is clear is that there is a market for small urban spaces. Here are some other examples from São Paulo, Beirut, and Moscow.

Photo: Hey! Cheese

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Rules for location data

The CEO of Foursquare — Jeff Glueck — published an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today, calling on Congress to regulate the location data industry. Currently, there are no formal rules in place.

In case you’re not aware, Foursquare is one of the largest independent companies operating in this space. I have written about them many times before on the blog.

Here’s an excerpt from Jeff’s op-ed explaining why this matters:

But location data can also be abused. Bounty hunters were able to buy the current location of a cellphone for $300, Vice reported, because telecom companies sold the real-time location of phones to shady companies. And apps that track location data may turn around and sell that data, revealing someone’s every movement — whether it is to a retail store, an abortion clinic or a gay bar. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported on a company with thousands of cameras selling car locations to debt collectors and others; there is no “opt-in” involved, and it’s illegal in all states to cover your license plate.

I am writing about this today because I think it’s relevant to city building. Location data is inherently spatial. It is how we exist in cities. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you that this is valuable information — hence why it is being abused.

Here we have a company advocating for more, not less, regulation. They, of course, want it to be sensible. But I still think it says things about the current location data environment. To learn about the specifics of what Jeff is proposing, click here.

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A small site solution: Inverse Density

My recent post about minimum project sizes triggered some great follow-up discussions over email. Today, I learned about a Master Plan that was recently completed for Little Havana, Miami by the urban design and planning firm Plusurbia.

In it, they try to address some of the problems that I described in my post through something they call “Inverse Density.” Given the tendencies toward larger projects, they are proposing to incentivize the development of smaller and underused lots with more density.

The idea being that if you can encourage more smaller scale development, you can actually help to protect the character of a place. In 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the neighborhood a national treasure.

Here’s a screenshot from the plan:

What you are seeing here is existing vs. proposed policies. The proposed scenarios both result in higher densities, even though the lots are smaller. Alongside this, they are proposing to get rid of parking minimums for lots less than 7,500 sf.

It’s an intriguing idea and I’m glad they shared it with me. If you’d like to download a copy of the full Little Havana Master Plan, click here.

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New mural coming to Yonge + St. Clair

A new mural is underway at Yonge + St. Clair by the Toronto-based street artist birdO (aka Jerry Rugg). He started over the weekend and should be finished by next week, depending on the weather. Here is what it looks like so far:

If you’d like to take a look in person, head on over to 1 St. Clair Avenue East. It’s the building at the southeast corner of the intersection. And if you’d like to learn more about birdO, here’s a short film about some of his work in Detroit. It’s really well done.

If you can’t see the video above, click here.

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Paris and Vancouver population densities compared

In this January 2018 report from the Fraser Institute, they pegged the average population density of Paris to be about 21,067 inhabitants per square kilometer (2014 population year). It is the second densest city in their report after Hong Kong, but the densest in Europe. By comparison, Vancouver sits at around 5,493 inhabitants per square kilometer (2016 population year).

Now, these are of course city averages. Some neighborhoods will be higher and some will be lower. According to a January 2018 study by Alasdair Rae — who is a works in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield — these are the most densely populated square kilometers across Europe (or at least within the 39 countries that he looked at).

Paris, once again, comes in near the top with a peak density somewhere around 52,218 inhabitants per 1km square. The square in question is in the neighborhood of Goutte D’Or. And the only square within the study to come in denser is one from the L’Hospitalet de Llobegrat in Greater Barcelona (53,119 inhabitants per square kilometer).

Now let’s take a look at how these sorts of densities actually manifest themselves. Below is an aerial capture from Google Maps showing a section of Goutte D’Or in Paris. The buildings are all pretty much 7 storeys (mid-rise), but the blocks are mostly filled in. Lots of interior courtyard apartments. This is one way to get to over 50,000 people per square kilometer.

Returning to Vancouver as a point of comparison, below is an aerial capture from downtown Vancouver at exactly the same scale as the Paris capture. I couldn’t find a density map of downtown, but it’s probably safe to assume that it’s greater than 5,493 and a lot less than 52,218 residents per square kilometer.

What you see here is typical Vancouverism. Lots of slender point towers, careful tower positioning and spacing, and generally low podiums. It is a perfect demonstration that height and density do not necessarily correlate. It is possible to have low buildings and high density, which is something that Europe obviously does very well.

But here’s the important question: In which of these two examples would you rather live? Please leave a comment below.

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Minimum project size — how small is too small?

Many, or perhaps most, developers I know have a minimum project size that they will work on. That’s why you’ll hear people say, “No, that project is too small. I need at least X square feet or Y number of units.” Given that smaller scale development such as laneway housing and “the missing middle” are so in vogue today, I thought I would discuss some of the reasons why scale matters.

But first, it’s worth mentioning that “laneway suites,” as we have structured them here in Toronto, are intended to be built by individual homeowners and not by developers. The lots can’t be severed and most lots will yield less than 1,000 square feet. So this is a bit of a unique circumstance. As most of you know, I am a big supporter of this initiative.

When you get into larger developer-led projects, it’s a different ball game. For one, it’s hard to even find sites. And good luck if you need to deal with multiple owners as part of an assembly. Most landowners have pricing expectations that do not even remotely align with “missing middle” level densities.

But assuming you’ve been able to find land at a reasonable price, you still have to contend with the fact that projects have a lot of fixed costs, as well as diseconomies of scale. In other words, there are schedule, cost, and resourcing considerations that won’t change no matter how big or small you go. It’s still going to take this long and cost this much, and you’re still going to need a set of humans to manage it through.

This can then create a situation where there’s not enough margin for error. The project is simply too small to absorb any shocks, such as an unforeseen delay or an unforeseen groundwater concern that is now adding millions to your project budget. There’s a lot of risk with development and it’s prudent to have contingency room. That’s harder to do with smaller projects.

The other problem developers run into with smaller projects is that the construction subtrades also tend to think of them as smaller projects. They have their own set of fixed costs and margins to worry about. So unless you happen to catch them with an opening in their schedule, you run the risk of them telling you they’re too busy or them giving you a stinky price, which is just another way of them saying they don’t want the job.

On top of all this, there’s minimum project size inflation. If capital is not a constraint, there’s a tendency to want to do bigger projects (see above). And because the cost of everything keeps going up, it’s simultaneously getting harder and harder to make smaller projects pencil; unless you, maybe, go ultra luxury and ultra exclusive. But that’s kind of the opposite goal of this whole “missing middle” movement, is it not?

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

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Look what fits in a parking lot

Brent Toderian likes to start Twitter hashtags that revolve around city building. One of his most recent is #LookWhatFitsInAParkingLot. For this one, he asked the Twittersphere to consider the things we love in cities that might fit inside a parking lot.

Here is one of the best responses — Dodger Stadium edition:

Venice, Amsterdam, and Shibuya (Tokyo) were all overlaid — at the same scale — on the surface parking surrounding Dodger Stadium. There are about 16,000 parking spaces, which actually take up more land than the stadium itself.

To be fair, I bet if you overlaid parts of Los Angeles on this same parking, it would look similarly astounding. But that shouldn’t change what you take away from this post: parking is very land consumptive.

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What you do is who you are

I very much enjoyed Ben Horowitz’s last book called, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In fact, five years later, I still find myself going back to it in my mind, particularly the bits about high quality decision making.

So I am looking forward to his latest book about how to create and sustain the kind of business culture that you want. It’s called, What You Do Is Who You Are, and that should give you a sense of where this is going.

Here’s an excerpt from Ben:

Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day.

It’s how they behave when no one is looking. If you don’t methodically set your culture, then two-thirds of it will end up being accidental and the rest will be a mistake.

Your culture is who you are. Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say at an all-hands. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe.

It’s what you do. What you do is who you are. My new book aims to help you do the things you need to do so you can be who you want to be.

If you’d like to pre-order a copy, you can do that here. 100% of the proceeds will go to anti-recidivism and to Haiti.