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Distribution of trips by distance across the US

The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics has just published some recent data looking at average trip distances across the country. What it allows you to do is drill down to the county level and see exactly how many trips people take that are less than 1 mile, between 1-3 miles, between 3-5 miles, and so on. This is interesting, in my view, for two reasons.

One, it showcases the fact that most of our trips tend to be short ones (a trip is defined as being away from your home for more than 10 minutes). If you look at the data you’ll immediately see this, which is, of course, a pretty good argument for trying to encourage other forms of mobility besides driving.

And two, it is yet another example of how much data our mobile phones are constantly off-gassing. I mean, how do you determine where someone’s home is so that you know when they’re taking a 10 minute trip away from it? You figure out where their phone spends long periods of time (particularly at night) and you likely have that person’s home.

What would be even more interesting to see is how this data correlates with built form. In other words, to what extent are higher densities inversely correlated with trip distances? This should certainly be the case, but it would be cool to see the data.

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Over 60% of global luxury spending now happens in Asia

The global luxury goods market is somewhere around US$300 billion if you exclude fancy cars. And in just 4 years, global luxury spending has flipped from over 60% of it being in Europe and the Americas, to now over 60% of it being in Asia — with over 40% of it being in mainland China alone. See above chart from the Financial Times.

But I think what really happened is that when global travel shutdown in 2020, Chinese buyers just started spending all of their luxury goods money at home instead of flying to Paris for the week. Because if you look at Chinese luxury goods spending in 2018, somewhere around 1/4 of it was done in mainland China, whereas today it’s close to 100%.

So the Chinese have been moving this market for quite sometime. But now that the consumption has moved entirely home, what does that mean for cities around the world? Hong Kong used to be one of the most important places for luxury consumption in Asia (no sales tax), but that has changed and it probably won’t return. This is for reasons that go far beyond luxury goods.

But I think we’ll see spending in Europe bounce back along with Asian travel. Because buying a luxury good is about much more than just the good itself. It’s about the experience. It’s about how it makes you feel when you buy it. And it’s about signalling to others who you are as an individual. This may sound vacuous, but we all do it, with or without expensive luxury goods.

There are also new opportunities emerging by way of NFTs. I am sure that some brands are already doing this, but if I were in charge, I would issue a unique NFT with each luxury goods purchase that records, among other things, where it was purchased. Is a bag purchased on the Champs-Élysées worth more if there is a record of it that is etched in stone permanently? Maybe.

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Housing starts up 63% in Calgary

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) just published its latest housing supply report for Canada’s 6 largest city regions (downloadable over here).

One figure that stands out is the increase in housing starts in the Calgary CMA — it was up almost 63% last year compared to 2020. This is a positive indicator for that market.

It’s also worth mentioning that Calgary’s supply is more evenly split between low-rise and apartment housing. This is in contrast to markets like Toronto, where 3/4 of all new housing is now “apartment”, and in Montreal, where the percentage is even higher.

My view is that it’s time to get more granular with our reporting of higher density housing. In the above example, we are showing 3 categories for grade-related housing and only 1 for anything outside of that.

This is our national bias toward low-rise housing coming through.

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Sick day

I somehow managed to get food poisoning in Amsterdam. I feel awful and I’m not in the headspace to write anything remotely thoughtful today. So regularly scheduled programming will resume tomorrow — hopefully.

P.S. It looks like Toronto will be getting its first Michelin restaurants guide. Good timing given this recent post.

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Studio Gang in Amsterdam

Slate Asset Management, RAD Marketing, and the top producing brokers for One Delisle were fortunate enough to be able to tour a Studio Gang-designed project in Amsterdam today called the Q Residences. A huge thanks to the developers — Kroonenberg Groep and Neoo — for their time and hospitality this afternoon.

Here are two photos of the exterior:

The building, which is a mixed-income rental apartment, is still under construction, and occupancy is expected sometime this fall. The structure is poured-in-place concrete, but the balconies were all pre-fabricated and installed on site. You can tell this by looking near the top of the above photo.

Here are a few other interesting takeaways from the tour:

– 40% of the complex is social housing (which is housed in an entirely separate but similarly impressive building); this is a mandatory requirement

– The land is owned by the city and is being leased to the developers; the lease rate was discounted to account for the social housing requirement

– The entire building uses in-floor heating and cooling, so there are no ducts or bulkheads in any of the suites (slabs are all about 300mm to accommodate this)

– The balconies all have a rainwater collection system, which is mounted and concealed on the exterior of the building (it rarely goes below freezing here I am told)

– The parking ratio for cars is very roughly about 0.5 per unit and the bicycle parking ratio is very roughly 3 per unit (remember this is the bicycle capital of the world)

– Structural system is mostly shear walls; they also have some post-tensioning in the slabs

– Less reliance on metal wall studs; instead they use a more expensive block-like system that offers more rigidity and better sound attenuation (I will look for the exact specification)

– There is also this odd/interesting requirement that all of the suites have an operable window that can provide both natural ventilation and sound attenuation; in other words, it needs to let air in and block sound at the same time

Here’s what that looks like at Q Residences:

We don’t have a requirement like this in Toronto and so that’s why I used the word odd. We have ventilation and sound requirements, but they don’t need to be solved simultaneously in this same way.

Why I also think this is interesting is because I think it speaks to a greater reliance on natural ventilation over active mechanical systems. In Toronto, the underlying thinking is that if it’s too hot and noisy, it’s just a matter of shutting your windows and turning on the AC.

Of course, we obviously we have to manage around a very different climate, so I don’t mean this as a criticism of Toronto codes. It’s just an observation.

If you aren’t familiar with the Q Residences, or the work of Neoo and Kroonenberg, I would encourage you to search around online. The project is gorgeous and so is the rest of their work.

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Toilet seat heights in Amsterdam

I am in Amsterdam right now for the very first time. And after I took in all the bicycles, the beautifully tilting buildings, and its iconic canals, the first thing that struck me was — get this — the height of its toilet seats.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a reasonably tall guy. So it’s not that the bowl in my hotel room isn’t comfortable or anything like that. It actually feels quite luxurious. I just know that this thing has got to be taller than your average bowl.

A typical toilet seat height can be anywhere from 15 to 19” when measuring from the floor to the top of the seat. But I think 17-19” is the most typical range. So how much taller is my Dutch bowl?

Sadly, I forgot to pack my tape measure on this trip. So I instead used the tallest book I could find in the room as a measuring stick. It happenend to be the above book by Hollywood photographer Matthew Rolston.

Matthew’s book is 36cm tall and so, by using everything I ever learned in architecture school, I am now fairly confident that my seat is currently sitting at around 21-22” off the ground.

Dutch people are tall. And so too are the bowls, it would seem.

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The Eiffel Tower and the awful tower

It was explained to me this week that Paris has two principal towers: The Eiffel Tower and the awful tower. The awful tower is, of course, the Tour Montparnasse. Completed in 1973, the Tour Montparnasse is tall, brown, monolithic, and seemingly out of place with the rest of Paris’ urban context. At the time of its completion it was the tallest building in Paris and it remains the tallest building outside of La Defense (business district).

But the Eiffel Tower is also tall. In fact, it’s taller. So how is it that the Eiffel Tower became such a symbol for Paris and the Tour Montparnasse became the “awful tower?” Both were intended to represent modernity (at their respective times) and both were controversial at the time of their construction.

Today people respond to these two towers very differently. Is it because the Eiffel Tower is set in a beautiful park and more separated from its urban context? Or is it because the Eiffel Tower has had almost another 100 years to settle in. It’s not exactly clear. But we do know that as humans we have a bias toward the status quo. And so I like to think of change in the following way:

– There’s change that people immediately like

– There’s change that people hate and will always hate

– And there’s change that people initially hate but will eventually like

The Eiffel Tower, you could argue, falls into category number three. It was big, modern, and alarmingly different when it was built at the end of the 19th century. But now people seem to like it. I know this based on the number of street vendors selling little replicas. For the record, I have yet to see little replicas of the Tour Montparnasse sitting on blankets on the street. I’m a buyer if I do come across one though.

But is it really right to place Montparnasse into category number two? Could it be that it just needs more time to settle in and then it will ultimately move into number three? Maybe. In 2017, an international design competition was held to find an architect for the redesign of the tower. Studio Gang submitted an entry. But Nouvelle AOM was ultimately selected.

I wasn’t part of the selections committee, but I think a good way to evaluate the success of this project will be whether or not it moves the tower into category three. That is, people start to like it. Then maybe Paris will become known as a city of two towers, as opposed to a city with one nice one and one awful one.

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Les banlieues of Paris

One of the things that I notice about people from Paris is that they’re always very clear on whether they live in Paris or outside of Paris in the banlieues (the suburbs). They’ll say things like, “No I don’t live in Paris. It’s too expensive. I live in such and such a place in the banlieues.”

I suppose this isn’t entirely different than saying you don’t live in New York, you live on Long Island, or you don’t live in Toronto, you live in Burlington. Except that there seems to be a greater sense of division when they say it here in Paris (although it’s entirely possible that it could be my rusty French that is leading me to believe this).

There is a sense that you’re either inside the Boulevard Périphérique, or you’re really not. And this seems like a shame. Cities regions care less about administrative borders and more about the movement of people, ideas, and goods.

And as much as I love Paris (the central part), it is, from what I can tell, far more static than some of its surrounding areas in terms of new people (immigration), new buildings, and probably new ideas.

Paris can sometimes feel like a perfectly curated museum. It’s beautiful and precious and should not be touched — please stand behind the ropes mesdames et messieurs. But perhaps it’s time to equally celebrate les banlieues and recognize what they have to offer.

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1912 Michelin Guide to France

This is a copy of the 1912 edition of the Michelin Guide to France. Most of you have probably heard of Michelin star restaurants, but some of you may not be familiar with how it all started.

First published in 1904, the Michelin Guide is, as you might suspect, a product of French tire company Michelin. And since the beginning, this free guide has had a pretty clear objective: Its goal was to get you to drive more.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were only a few thousand cars on the road in France. This guide tried to change that by giving you places to go, as well as telling you where to stop along the way should you need to change a tire or two.

However, its famous starred ranking system for restaurants was not introduced until 1931, and the criteria for said ranking was not revealed until a few years later:

  • One Star: “A very good restaurant in its category” (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
  • Two Stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
  • Three Stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage)

Curiously enough, Canada has no Michelin star restaurants. I’m not exactly sure why, but I have heard that it’s because we’re not giving money to the right people. Maybe that’s wrong. I don’t know.

I do, however, find it interesting that this celebrated restaurant ranking system started as a marketing tool for motorists. Oftentimes you never know where a new idea might lead you.

P.S. I’m also not sure how the above 1912 copy is the 13th edition when the first Michelin Guide was supposedly published in 1904.

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Shoes follow built form

I have remarked this before, but I’ll say it again anyways: sneakers are very popular in Paris. Everybody seems to be wearing cool and colorful sneakers, regardless of what the rest of their outfit happens to look like.

Full business suit? Why yes, you should be wearing cool sneakers.

But why is that?

Paris is a famously walkable city. At any given time, you’re on average just about 500m from the closest subway station. So my entirely unproven sneaker theory is this: shoes follow built form.

If you build a city around people walking everywhere, one will ultimately choose the most appropriate kind of footwear.

Photo: Rosa Bonheur sur Seine