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Would wider sidewalks induce demand?

One of the debates that is happening in cities all around the world right now is about whether or not it makes sense to redistribute public space in order to help with current social distancing measures. We are all being told to stay at home as much as possible, but as we venture out for food and/or sanity walks, many have started noticing that a lot of our sidewalks are in fact too small if you’re trying to stay 2m away from other humans. So with vehicular traffic way down, the question becomes: Should we start borrowing some of that space for pedestrians?

Here in Toronto the official position is no. Closing down streets and lanes to car traffic is usually referred to as creating an “open street.” And the intent of these open streets is typically to bring people together for public life, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do right now. What this implies, however, is that there’s a belief that additional space for pedestrians would induce demand, similar to what is believed to happen when you add additional lanes on a highway.

Lewis Mumford probably had it best when he allegedly said, “Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” So on the one hand, if you believe that more lanes doesn’t solve traffic congestion, you might also be inclined to believe that more and bigger sidewalks isn’t going to dampen the anxiety we currently feel when other humans get anywhere near us. The additional space would simply get filled with more bodies.

But maybe you could argue that this is a little bit of a different situation. We’re in a global pandemic for God’s sake and most of us have the better sense to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Perhaps in this case, demand would not increase and the greater supply would simply better serve the demand that is already there. Perhaps. I don’t have a strong stance on this, but I’m fairly certain that technology could help with this decision.

What do you think?

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

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Parco de Principi, Sorrento

Italian architect Gio Ponti is one of the most important architects and designers of the 20 century. An early adopter of modernism, he is credited with helping to renew Italian design after the Second World War through his design work, his writing, and his teaching.

As many of us dream of one day traveling again (I am currently devising an elaborate list of adventures), I thought I would share one of his projects — the Parco de Principi Hotel in Sorrento, Italy.

When it was completed in 1962, it represented a new kind of architecture for the town. Sorrento was ancient. The Parco de Principi was not. Ornament had been removed and its rooms consisted of largely two colors: white and blue.

Here is a photo by Rich Stapleton:

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Parco Dei Principi.

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In some ways this feels like a dreadfully obvious approach. Let’s celebrate and frame views of the Bay of Naples, and introduce the color blue while doing that. But the results are clearly anything but dreadful.

Ponti was more than just an architect, he was more broadly a designer. His furniture and industrial designs are also widely celebrated. And this attention to detail at multiple scales can make all the difference in the world.

For more photos of Parco dei Principi, click here.

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A post corona world

There’s a lot of speculation (that’s all you can really do) about what our world is going to look like on the other side of this pandemic.

I think it’s easy to overreach at a time like this and prognosticate dramatic change — such as the demise of cities and urbanity as we know it. But while I do believe that there are bound to be changes, I also know that after 9/11 most of us eventually stopped being afraid of flying and of being in tall buildings. We forgot and moved on.

So, what might change?

Scott Galloway argued on his blog today that “things won’t change as much as they will accelerate.” In other words, this pandemic is simply going to make the future happen faster. And one of those things is going to be a faster shift to online for higher education. It is untenable for education costs to continue increasing at the pace that they have been.

In this recent Intelligencer interview with Chamath Palihapitiya, he puts forward the idea that medical data might start to be used publicly. Meaning that, after this is all done, we might be willing to give up a certain amount of our personal freedom in exchange for knowing whether we’re in a restaurant with someone who is shedding a communicable disease.

And finally, Richard Florida recently published this online talk about how cities can bounce back from COVID-19. In it, he argues that, yes, cities will survive and that it could actually reinforce the “winner-take-all urbanism” that we have already been seeing.

This, of course, is really just the start of the conversation.

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A midrise on top of a warehouse

The Fenix Lofts & Docks in Rotterdam’s Rijnhaven port district is a cool example of adaptive reuse. The base (or podium) is a warehouse that was built in 1922. It has a concrete structure. On top of it, a new 9 storey apartment building (also concrete) is supported using a steel table and frame that goes through the existing warehouse.

Here is a photo from inside the warehouse:

Parking is accommodated above grade within a portion of the existing warehouse. You don’t want to go underground here. This is certainly not the most cost effective way of building new housing, but it is a solution that could work in some situations. If any of you have a site or are looking at a site with an existing building worth preserving, this might be an option to consider.

Architecture by Mei Architects. Photos by Marc Goodwin. For more information, check out Dezeen.

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Jason Statham’s home is on the market for $6.995 million

I keep coming across actor Jason Statham’s homes (or former homes) in design publications. At the beginning of this year, he and model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley sold their Malibu beach house for $18.5 million. It was beautiful. And last month, he listed a home — he seems to have many — near LA’s Sunset Strip for $6.995m. (Pictured above.) A renovation of an existing 1957 house, Statham purchased the house in 2015 for $2.7mm and completed a meticulous renovation with Standard Architecture. Look at that roofline! For those of you in the market, here’s the listing.

Photo: ©Benny Chan | fotoworks

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Mapping spring breakers

The following video was published last week showing the “secondary locations of anonymized mobile devices that were active at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during spring break.” Said differently, the company used anonymized mobile phone data to see where spring breakers went after they left the beach. This was in order to better understand how they may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19. If you can’t see the video below, click here.

The video is astonishing for two reasons. One, it shows you the extreme reach of just one beach in South Florida. Imagine if they had analyzed all of the beaches up and down the coast. And two, a lot of you are probably freaked out that this sort of mobile phone data is available to private companies. If you’d like to learn more about how this all works, check out this opinion piece from the New York Times.

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Beer over water and the contributions of John Snow

The work of John Snow is instrumental to the field of epidemiology. In the mid-19th century, during what was the third major outbreak of cholera, he created the following map showing the clusters of cholera cases in London’s Soho neighborhood. Stacked rectangles were used to indicate the number of cholera cases in a particular location. This was a major breakthrough for the fight against cholera because, at the time, it wasn’t clear what was causing it. According to Wikipedia, there were two main competing theories. There was the miasma theory, which posited that cholera was caused by bad particles in the air. And there was the germ theory, which posited that cholera could be passed along through food and/or water.

By mapping the clusters of cases, Snow discovered a concentration of incidents in around the intersection of Broad Street and Cambridge Street (now Lexington Street) where a water pump was located that drew water from the Thames. This led Snow to the conclusion that it was maybe a bad idea to offer up polluted river water as drinking water. And sure enough, when the pump was shut off and residents were directed to other nearby pumps, the incidences of cholera began to decline. The germ theory had proven to be true.

The first time I saw John Snow’s map was in architecture school. Perhaps many of you have seen it as well. It is often used to illustrate the potential of visual representations to not only tell a story, but to teach the creator what that story actually is. In hindsight, it may seem obvious that polluted river water is something that we maybe shouldn’t drink, but it wasn’t at the time. This map helped people understand that. Today, we have far more sophisticated tools available to us, but we still have a lot to learn and we’re doing that every day — particularly during a pandemic.

One other thing worth mentioning is that there are a few exceptions to Snow’s findings. Supposedly, many of the workers in a nearby brewery were able to completely avoid the cholera infection during the outbreak by only drinking their own brew. Some say it is because the brewery had its own water source, whereas others say it is because the brewing process — the water is boiled — kills the cholera bacteria. Either way, I think the moral of this story is pretty clear: when in doubt, choose beer over water.

Map: Wikipedia

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COVID-19 in the developing world

One of the things that Bill Gates mentions in his recent TED talk about the coronavirus is that we need to be aware of what might be coming in developing countries, particularly in the southern hemisphere with winter about to arrive. (There’s some evidence of a relationship with temperature.)

So far, countries like Brazil have been criticized for taking a laid-back approach to fighting the coronavirus. But the same could be said for many, or perhaps most, countries around the world at the outset.

However, in the case of densely populated slums — like Brazil’s favelas — the problem is expected to be more severe. Without the ability to socially isolate and without proper services, it is questionable whether they will be able to “flatten the curve” in the same way that some developed countries have. There’s also a lack of government oversight in these communities.

Incidentally, the Financial Times is reporting that organized crime has started to step in to fill this void — and it is happening over WhatsApp. Here is an excerpt from the above article: “Whoever is caught on the street will learn how to respect the measure. We want the best for the population. If the government is unable to manage, organised crime resolves,” read one message sent to residents of a Rio de Janeiro slum.

One hope is that rich countries will be largely through their outbreaks by the summer and that a vaccine will be well on its way.

(On a related note, here is an excellent slide deck from the London Business School on the economics of this pandemic. It’s very comprehensive and worth a read.)

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Internet traffic is up 36% in Toronto

Most of us are using the internet and our phones a lot more these days. According to Cloudflare — who recently published these stats on how the pandemic has impacted internet usage — traffic is up about 36% in Toronto between early January and late March 2020. Here is a heatmap of the city:

Similar maps are available for other major cities across the world. The red areas are places where internet traffic has declined and the green areas are where internet traffic has increased. Looking at Toronto, you can see that usage in the financial core of the city has, not surprisingly, declined. This makes sense. Most people are now at home using the internet there.

It would be interesting to see some sort of split between residential and commercial usage, because my mind is associating these red areas with businesses. And when you do that, some cities, like Toronto and New York, appear very monocentric; whereas others, like Berlin, appear far more polycentric.

The other thing Cloudfare looked at was internet activity by category (as of March 2020). What is also not surprising is that kids content is way up, and leads by a wide margin. For you real estate folks, you should also note that apartment searches seem to be down and are not far off from air travel. Now would be a suboptimal time to move.

Much of this probably won’t surprise you, but it is revealing nonetheless.

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How to respond to the coronavirus

I just finished watching this TED talk with Bill Gates. For those of you who are up on their TED talks, this is not the one from five years ago where Bill predicted a pandemic and told us all that we were nowhere near ready. (We, of course, didn’t listen.) This is one that was published a few days ago and talks about how we should be responding to the outbreak that we are currently living through. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been committing significant resources toward solving problems exactly like this one. So it’s interesting to hear his thoughts. In case you’re wondering, herd immunity isn’t the answer. We need (1) widespread testing and (2) to be extremely disciplined about our social distancing. In his words: “But money, you know bringing the economy back and doing money, that’s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life.”