Thursday, February 28, 2013

Apartment building taking shape

I don't understand city planning. This apartment building is going up right next to a plaza with two banks, one credit union, a drugstore, a couple of restaurants, a fitness centre and a number of other commercial businesses. Why not put some of that commercial on the first floor of this large building, place some offices possibly on the second floor and then stack apartments on top?

As it is, this apartment is situated outside of the residential area and next to the commercial. It sits immediately beside a major east/west traffic artery. When I was a boy apartment buildings were nestled tightly into residential neighbourhoods. The apartments blocks were not quite so tall but they were still big compared to the nearby housing.

I like the idea of apartment living but I rarely like the way it is delivered. There are reasons many of us opt for a single family dwelling.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From the back new houses can look identical

Keeping construction costs down is important. Drive along a new suburban street and the homes often look similar in size but they seem to differ in design, but looks can be deceiving. Get a view of the back and sometimes the similarities are striking. In some cases, it appears one design has been repeated again and again with only the front facade changing from home to home.

Is this bad? Actually, no. Building a row of similar homes in the past was not uncommon. It kept construction costs in check back then and it keeps them in check today. My guess is that this approach to controlling costs results in fine quality homes at a competitive price.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On walking to the restaurant or bank or drug store

I believe the new Dolcetto is a locally owned business. The Italian diner is very handy to my suburban home. As can be seen from this picture, beside the Docetto there is a TD Canada Trust branch and next to that there is a Shoppers Drug Mart.

The common criticism of suburbia is that there are no businesses one can walk to. But there often are, as you can see from my pictures. But, do many folk walk to this shopping center. I'd bet the answer is no. Whether the folk live right across the street or some blocks away, I'd bet most residents of the neighbourhood take a car to the little, outdoor mall.

Is this all that much different from downtown? I doubt it. When I took my wife out for dinner recently, we went to one of our favourite downtown places. Of course, we drove, and I'll bet everyone in the diner that night drove.

When I was a kid we walked. I walked, my mother walked, the neighbours walked. Was this because the stores were even closer to our older, traditional neighbourhood? No. It was because back then lots of folk didn't have a car readily available for a quick, short trip to the store. Walking wasn't done by choice, life demanded one walk and walk and walk some more.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sort of a snowman

Making a snowman is a winter must if you're a kid in London, Ontario. This winter has not been great for rolling the giant balls of snow suitable for making a large snowman. There have not been a lot of days offering good packing snow.

Today we could get the snow to stick and pack but it wouldn't roll along picking up layers of snow. The snowman had to been build one mitten of snow at a time. A carrot for the nose, some olives for the eyes  and some olives and bird seed for the mouth and we were almost done. A couple of windshield ice scrapers for arms and Pinky Pie was done.

I didn't name her. And yes, our snowman is a girl according to Fiona.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Downtown almost dead; Suburbia dull

At first I wanted to title this post "Downtown dead; Suburbia deadly dull." It had a good sound but it wouldn't have been true.

The downtown in London, Ontario, is sad but there are glimmers are good stuff to be found in the aging core: some fine restaurants, the central library design is brilliant and the arena/entertainment centre is one of the best in North America in a city the size of London.

And suburbia is often neat, clean, safe and handy. Saying suburbia is dull parrots an all-too-common description but it isn't really true. This little commercial strip sits beside my bank. I can get a ring re-sized, have my eyes checked, go for physio treatments, attend a Weight Watchers meeting or do a lot of other important stuff all in this one little shopping centre. To call this little commercial centre dull is somewhat true but it is hardly a full and accurate description.

As I have said before, what puzzles me is that we build stores without using the space above. We sprawl out and fail to expand up. A hundred years ago, stores like these would have had apartments above them. When I was a boy I worked at the neighbourhood drugstore and the one counter lady lived in an apartment above some stores. It was a nice little place full of lovely wood trim and real wood doors. It was small but it had style and class and it was affordable.

That lady took the bus to and from work. Her apartment, located on a main commercial street, encouraged taking the bus or even just walking.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Despite 17 below temp, I walked to bank

London's growing. When I moved to London, Ontario, I lived near the city core at the forks of the Thames River. There were lots of bank branches within walking distance of my home at that time -- back in the mid '70s. Today most of those banks are closed but I can still walk to a bank. I've moved to the suburbs and that is where the banks are all opening new branches. The building under construction in the background on the right will be the third financial branch to be built at the corner of Col. Talbot and Southdale Road W.

Saying London is growing is true but sad. The city is sprawling out, pavement poisoning farmland. Why can't North American cities encourage stores at street level, locate offices directly above the stores and then put apartments on the top levels? Some folks could actually ride an elevator to work rather than driving or taking the bus. Everyone could ride the elevator to shop. Putting the apartments on top gives all a better view, certainly better than looking straight out at a major roadway, and gets everyone somewhat above the road noise.

I look at the sprawl, shake my head, and walk home.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A winter storm rolls into Southwestern Ontario

A passenger gets a shot of winter driving conditions through a wet windshield.

Traffic moves slowly as vehicles navigate the snowy roads in London, Ontario. Canada may be famous for snow and winter but often Canadians living in the Southwest Region of Ontario are not well prepared for winter snow storms. Many drivers save money by not equipping their vehicles with winter tires. It's foolish but not uncommon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Former country roads often missing sidewalks

Walking to the bank, the grocery store, the drugstore and other assorted places is not a long walk from my suburban home. The above photo was taken with a 28mm wide angle lens. The red light in the distance is clearly not all that far away. The stores are at that corner.

Yet, a lot of folk won't make the walk from my neighbourhood to the new stores that recently opened nearby. Why? Because of the lack of a sidewalk beside the major road which is the only reasonable route by foot to the new stores.

Luckily, there is an option. There is an older shopping area just a little farther away. There are sidewalks all the way to the older shopping disrict.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not a lot of snow but certainly cold enough

I decided to walk to the bank this afternoon. Luckily I brought along a balaclava. It was -17 degrees Centigrade with the wind chill factored into the equation here in London, Ontario. I met no one else walking anywhere. The bank is rather nearby but it was still take-the-car weather.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Walking on water

One of the lights that guide vessels into the harbour can be seen in the distance.
Lake Erie is frozen. The lake is not frozen all the way accross, although this has happened when the winter is much, much colder than this year. On my visit to Port Stanley, forty-five minutes south of London, I found the ice simply hugging the shoreline.

Some years the ice creates massive, sculptural shapes thanks to the wind and the cold, but so far the results this winter are dull. Maybe the spring thaw will break the ice into large blocks to be blown into tall, jagged piles.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Living in the city

Suburban families enjoy the neighbourhood toboggan hill.

I've kept my granddaughter away from 'the hill.' It doesn't frighten her; It attracts her. I see the threat of injury; She sees the promise of fun — excitement. I'm a senior; She's a kid — a three-year-old kid.

'The hill' is a slope behind the houses immediately across from my suburban home. My granddaughter sometimes sees families leaving 'the hill' after an afternoon of sledding. She knows other kids use the long slope and doesn't understand why I won't take her there.

It frightens me. And after chatting with some of the parents, I've learned it frightens some of them, too. One common solution is to take the kids to the half-way point, or maybe a little further down, and let them slide down from there.

Most kids don't argue and I think some are quietly happy not to have to muster up the courage to slide down 'the hill' from the very top. It can be a heck of a ride.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cold and snowy but spring is in the air

It is still quite cold in London, Ontario. The ground is still hidden under a blanket of snow. Yet, to someone who has lived his entire life in Southwestern Ontario, spring is in the air. The sun is strong and warm, it is no longer dark at six in the evening and warm days don't seem like a lucky breaks from winter cold but a sample of the warm spring days to come.

In less than a month Londoners will begin removing their snow tires and the first robins will be bathing in the bird bath which is now quite frozen.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Modern apartment tower cluster in London

After developments like the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis failed in such a spectacular fashion, a myth grew up around vertical neighbourhoods. In the States the failed clusters became known as the projects and the most infamous have now either been demolished or soon will be: Pruitt-Igoe is demolished; Cabrini-Green in Chicago is gone; Brewster-Douglass in Detroit is slated for removal this year.

There are those who believe the death of the American projects sounded the death knell for modern architecture as it applied to housing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, despite the myth, all three of the developments mentioned were good places to live in the early years.

The developments in London are not unique. All over the world highrise neighbourhoods have succeeded. Still, I look at these buildings, so alike, huddled so tightly together, and I cannot help but think -- surely this could have been done so much better.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mid-winter snow storm moves through London

A walk about my London neighbourhood did not find one car stuck in the snow.

It was billed as a big, mid-snow storm storm. So far it has not lived up to its advance billing.

It will be interesting to see how the media reports the storm. For instance, the OPP are reporting a lot of accidents, about 150, but they also add that there was no reason for such a high number. This may be Canada, famous for snow, but lots of Canadians haven't a clue how to drive in the stuff.

It is amazing how many Canadians don't bother with snow tires.

Snow hardly reaches the kid's knees.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No sled? There are still ways to get in a good slide.

Swings and slides are found in numerous neighbourhood parks dotting London, Ontario. One would think that winter would be down-time for the little parkettes. Nope.

While Fiona cleaned the slide with her snow suit, another child, sitting in a sled, was being pulled about the park by her mother and grandmother. It's funny but urban planners never make a big deal of these busy little spots. Places where children meet children and adults meet adults. Neighbourhood friendships are born and nurtured in these little parks.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Braywick Bistro in the urban core

The Braywick Bistro is a pleasant little restaurant on London's main street right in the heart of the downtown core. Taking pictures inside the restaurant at night, unless one uses a flash, is impossible. This is too bad as I would have loved to post pictures of our dinner.

We started by sharing an appetizer of mussels in a saffron sauce with a side order of hot, crispy, fried-to-perfection french fries. It brought back memories of Paris, France, where there is a chain of mussel-serving restaurants called Chez Léon. Other dishes are served but mussels with fries are the big draw. The serving size in Paris is far larger than anyone should ever be given. I found the only way to finish one's dinner in Paris was by washing all down with pints of Belgium beer.

My wife followed the appetizer with duck served with fingerling potatoes and fresh green beans. I had pan fried trout served on a bed of couscous and arugula. My wife had dessert and I finished with a coffee.

We live in the suburbs and like to dine at restaurants in the area where we live. I found it interesting that all the restaurants we frequent in Byron were full, unable to handle even one more reservation.

It takes less than fifteen minutes to drive from my far, southwest suburb into the city core. With a diesel powered Jetta it costs about a buck an half to make the trip. Why folk are always pitting the London suburbs against the old downtown core is a puzzle to me. It really should not be an either or situation.

Cities, at least small cities like London, should be working to stay small, to stop the sprawl and to improve transit. A hundred years ago, I believe, one could have taken a streetcar from my suburb to the downtown. Today, this is impossible; The streetcar service is long gone.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Another approach to dense housing

Clusters of low-rise apartment building in the above style are found in a number of locations in London, Ontario.

I watched some of these going up in North London. I was surprised to see what appeared to be a form of platform construction being used. Platform construction uses 2x4s. It is lumber and not steel that supports these buildings.

I worked at the local newspaper back then and I had a chance to chat with a fireman about the buildings in North London. He expressed misgivings about such large structures, housing so many people, boasting wood framed walls.

The science of building materials is often at odds with our gut feelings. I would not be surprised to learn that these buildings, despite the wood used in the construction, are as safe in a fire as other low-rise apartment buildings.