Q+A: Can the creation of urban destinations transform or hinder a city’s development?

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Q+A

Four individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week. Can the creation of urban destinations transform or hinder a city’s development? Think about places that try to replicate the vibrant atmosphere of New York’s Times Square, such as Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square or Le Quartier des Spectacles in Montréal. Are these great attempts at city-building or do they risk becoming generic?

 

Brandon Donnelly is a real estate developer, internet entrepreneur and blogger based in Toronto. His passions are cities, design, real estate and technology, which he writes about daily at Architect This City:

 

The best line I’ve ever heard about public spaces and urban destinations was from Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB Architects. He said that the outside of buildings need to be thought of as the inside walls of the public realm. And I think that’s a really great way of framing this discussion. We often think of buildings inwardly and as self contained objects, but by virtue of their existence we’re creating and framing many other spaces.
 
With that in mind, I absolutely believe that beautiful and well designed urban destinations–whether public or private–can transform a city and its development patterns. A perfect, but perhaps overused, example of this is the High Line in New York. Not only has it become a destination (“Have you been to the High Line yet?”), it has become an unbelievable city building catalyst. All of a sudden development is happening in, on and around the High Line, where as before developers would have tried to completely ignore it. And so today, the High Line, as an urban destination, is almost being continually reinvented by new development.
 
To talk specifically about Toronto, I think that downtown needed a “public” space like Dundas Square. The design could have been less unidirectional (towards the Eaton Centre) and the building to the north is repulsive, but it provided a forum along Toronto’s main street in the heart of downtown. I also believe that good urban destinations give areas a sense of identity, which is why I’m somewhat bothered by the loss of the square at Yonge & Eglinton. Sure it was bad, but we could have made it better. It is the heart of midtown in my mind.
 
So not only do urban destinations have the ability to transform, I would argue that they are essential to any great global city. Whether it’s the High Line in New York, the Spanish Steps in Rome, the old Love Park in Philadelphia, or Trafalgar Square in London, these spaces are integral to those city’s brands and identities. What do ours say about Toronto?

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Craig Rushton is a licensed Realtor with Century 21 Bamber Realty Ltd in Calgary, Alberta. Focused and passionate about urban condominium sales, marketing and condo culture www.RushtonProperties.ca:

 

Awesome question and a constant debate in the Real Estate community. I have two thoughts here:  

1.Developers and City planners have always been of the mindset that if you build it they will come: I am not sold on this concept. From a Real Estate perspective you are essentially telling people where to live, play and hang out which seems a bit arrogant to me. Any city in Canada where I have ever lived, worked in or visited I am drawn more to established neighbourhoods such as Old Montreal, Lower Mount Royal in Calgary or Vancouver’s West End. When the first buildings, houses and landmarks were built here there was no master plan but over decades these became areas of town where locals naturally congregate and visitors can’t miss.

2. I think the question may actually be a bit premature: evolution doesn’t happen overnight. We are building master planned communities and urban villages today that in 10, 20, 30 years could very easily be the new downtown and can’t miss destinations in any given City. Take Calgary’s East Village: Fantastic location along the Bow River, walking distance to CBD and Downtown and the best Community Plan I have ever seen. However, if you talk to born and raised Calgarians they grimace at the mention of the East Village because in their lifetime the neighborhood has been synonymous with the drop-in shelter, drugs and crime. Hopefully the East Village will attract owner-occupants, fabulous restaurants, boutique shopping and become another center of activity and excitement in Calgary but it is up to current and future Calgary residents and business owners to decide this, not City planners.

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A blogger since 2007, Cindi, a published writer, author and journalist, writes about her life in words and photos at My Life In Focus

 

Times Square in New York City was never a neighbourhood. During the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and into the early 90’s Times Square had become a den of thieves. Walking along it’s blocks, you literally took your life into your own hands. The area was infested with prostitutes, sex trafficing, porn shops, robbers, rapists, burglars, thieves and whatever other human trash could slither in.
For years, Disney wanted to reclaim Times Square and bring it back to its Vaudeville glory years. Disney had to bide their time, however, until a progressive Mayoral candidate was elected. In 1994, that person was Mayor Rudy Giuliani who’s vision for Times Square matched that of Disney. Slowly, Disney bought the Amsterdam Theater, renovated it and brought the first live performance of ‘The Lion King’ that an entire family could attend without fear of being killed or robbed. In the interim, Giuliani worked tirelessly to rid Times Square of its decadence. He reclaimed the streets, put in security and transformed Times Square into a mecca anyone in the world could safely enjoy. 

 

Many more theatrical companies followed Disney’s lead. They bought and renovated the remaining forgotten theaters. Today Times Square hosts a never ending supply of fine musicals, dramas, comedies and entertainment choices, as well as restaurants, shops and museums to every age group. Times Square has brought jobs, prosperity, music, laughter and a place for children and adults to enjoy artistic performances together and in peace. This never would have been possible if it weren’t for the patient and timeless vision of both Walt Disney Enterprises and the world’s favorite Mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

Disney and Mayor Giuliani were instrumental in making Times Square the new entertainment capital of the world. 

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James S. Russell is an architecture critic, journalist, and consultant based in New York. He strives to explain architecture’s place in our culture and how it builds communities. His insights can be read frequently at jamessrussell.net :
 
 
“Urban destinations” can be strategic or accidental. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry intended to be a destination and icon for the city and succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of its proponents. The same can be said for the Sydney Opera House (Jorn Utzon), Oslo’s Opera House (Snohetta — why opera houses?), Seattle’s Public Library (OMA)  and the High Line Park (James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio & Renfro), which are great successes of the genre. Of course there are no guarantees. The American Center in Paris was quite successful as a magnet for culture, but once moved to a remote location into a Frank Gehry building it has not done well. (I’ve been told the location is the main problem.) 
 
 
Cities can deploy urban destinations strategically, if they take great care. The clear intention of the Queen Elizabeth Park, on London’s 2012 Olympics site (Hargreaves and Field Operations), was to transform an industrial wasteland into a magnetic park on the order of Central Park. It was aided with new commercial, residential and infrastructure investments — a very big bet. The jury’s out, and won’t be in for years, but this “legacy” was planned years ago and was intrinsic to the entire Olympic bid. If it succeeds, it may save the Olympics movement since Sochi, Beijing and possibly Rio are seen as white elephants.
 
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So what do you think?

Can the creation of urban destinations transform or hinder a city’s development?

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