SHIFTing the discussion about urban density
Katie Park - March 21, 2013
Urban development and planning. Creating a safe space for children and seniors. Seeing your city at its best.
These were some of the ideas discussed at this year School of Planning conference SHIFT Density 2013, a free event exploring the possibilities and limitations of a denser city. Entirely student run and organized for more than 20 years, this year’s conference took place from March 6-9 and focused on the potential and expectations of a denser city, and where these possibilities could take Halifax and other cities in the near future.
The conference kicked off with a PechaKucha event at the Seahorse Tavern with 13 different speakers, followed by the Thursday keynote from Gil Penalosa. He is the executive director of 8-80 Cities, a Toronto-based non-profit organization, and in that role he’s worked in over 130 different cities around the world.
“We need to create cities for eight to 80 year olds,” said Penalosa, whose work focuses on the design and use of parks and streets as public places. “Healthier communities make happier people.”
Penalosa gave a very animated and interesting presentation, with many jokes and funny slides. But his argument was a serious one: that creating a city for the pedestrian is healthier for everyone involved, as it makes cities safer, nicer, more visual and also environmentally sustainable. It “creates a sense of community,” he said.
He cited ways that pedestrian walkways, bikeways and roads could be separated not by paint or sideway, but by physical barriers, ensuring that different transportation modes don’t interfere with one another. He discussed examples from around the world — Melbourne, Copenhagen, Bogotá and more — of development strategies to help pedestrians feel safer and more secure. Some examples included improved crosswalks, illuminated walkways, emergency telephones, and pedestrian zones.
He concluded with his five elements needed to create change in urban planning. They were: a sense of urgency; doers; political will; leadership; and public engagement.
Streets of possibility
The conference kicked into full gear on Friday and Saturday with daytime sessions. Friday began with a discussion about “Open Streets,” a concept briefly touched on in Penalosa’s Thursday presentation, but re-examined in this discussion. “Open Streets” is a concept that allows pedestrians to access the streets during certain parts of the day without cars being in the way. Halifax experimented with a similar program called Switch Open Streets this past summer.
The afternoon consisted of presentations and discussions about structural density, what density means, and how it can be implemented. A panel discussion with Gil Penalosa, Rollin Stanley (general manager of planning, development, & assessment, City of Calgary), Matthew Blackett (publisher, creative director & one of the founders of Spacing Magazine) and Steve Mannell (director, Dalhousie College of Sustainability), touched on the subject of what density is and what it could mean to a community like Halifax.
Saturday saw presentations by Larry Beasley, retired director of planning for the City of Vancouver, and several others about the issue of urban density and what it means to development in urban areas. This discussion was a nice segue to the following which was a luncheon with a presentation about a new project called Construction Site — an online destination for developers, planners and citizens to learn about current development projects in the Halifax Regional Centre.
The final presentations synthesized the ideas form the conference, including a concluding talk from Frank Palermo, professor in the School of Planning at Dalhousie.
In order to find out more about SHIFT Density and the presentations visit planningconference.dal.ca.
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