Category Archives: Urban Issues

Celebrate the World Premiere of Gary Hustwit's New Design Documentary

On September 9th, we will be celebrating the world premiere of Urbanized as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Gary Hustwit (Helvetica/Objectified) returns with the final documentary in his design film trilogy.  Urbanized focuses on the design of cities and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, and thinkers, including Sir Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Jan Gehl, Oscar Niemeyer, Amanda Burden, Enrique Peñalosa, Alejandro Aravena, Eduardo Paes, Rahul Mehrotra, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Ricky Burdett, James Corner, Michael Sorkin, Bruce Katz, Candy Chang, Edgar Pieterse, and many more, including extraordinary citizens who have affected change in their cities.

Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? And how does the design of our cities affect our lives? By exploring a diverse range of urban design projects in dozens of cities around the world, from massive infrastructure initiatives to temporary interventions, Urbanized frames a global discussion on the future of cities.

Check out the TIFF schedule here!

The Greenberg Revolution: City Building in the 21st Century

Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder

? 2011: Ken Greenberg

Ken Greenberg has worked in an enviable number of cities around the world – Amsterdam, New York, St. Paul, Montreal, Boston, San Juan, Toronto … we could keep going – and in his new book Walking Home he brings this experience and knowledge to a discussion of city building. Eschewing the negative outlook of many urban writings, Greenberg’s book is filled with positive, constructive dialogue about how we can improve the conditions in our cities, from building better public spaces, to increasing density in smart and sensitive ways, to connecting cities back to their waterfronts.

For Greenberg, city building is best done incrementally, inserting density and contemporary buildings into the existing fabric of the city, building upon what is already there as opposed to starting with a blank canvas. In this way we can create more dynamic and organic spaces, allowing our cities to evolve over time. He calls this an open-platform kind of city building; the role of the urban designer is to create flexible spaces that can adapted to different uses over time.

For Toronto, this book is both timely and important. It should be a wake-up call to those at City Hall: a reminder that city building takes work, courage and collaboration, but that the potential for vibrant places to live is worth it.

Walking Home enjoyed its official launch on Wednesday 25 May, and Swipe Design was thrilled to be partnering with 401 Richmond’s Urbanspace Gallery to perform the honours. Oh yes, and Greenberg was wielding his authorly pen on the night. (2011: Random House Canada; ISBN 9780307358141)


Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg: Twenty Years of Breaking Ground

Grounded: The Work of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

? 2010: Julian Smith, Ken Greenberg, Bruce Kuwabara, Doug Paterson, Jacqueline Hucker, Eduard Koegel & Kelty McKinnon; forward by Michael Van Valkenburgh

With a book called Grounded, it’s hardly surprising that the founding partners of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg are so, well, down to earth. We had the pleasure of meeting the Smallenberg and Farevaag components of the PFS team at a recent Toronto gathering, celebrating the launch of the Vancouver firm’s impressive monograph.

Showcasing PFS’s planning, urban design and landscape architecture works, Grounded is also an intriguing walk through time and place, featuring seven commissioned essays by some of today’s most influential architects, planners and historians. Jacqueline Hucker discusses commemorative architecture, including the Canadian memorial in Vimy Ridge, France, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa; Bruce Kuwabara explores landscape architecture’s civic role; and Ken Greenberg, Douglas Paterson, Julian Smith, Eduard Koegel and Kelty McKinnon offer a range of PFS-oriented perspectives.

All of this is wrapped up in the lush, clean design of Argentinian-born Canadian Pablo Mandel. Oh, and that cover? It may look like a Legoland paradise, but it’s all real. Check it out next time you’re hovering over the Washington Mutual Centre’s Roof Garden in Seattle. (2010: Blue Imprint; ISBN 9781897476208)


Jan Gehl's Cities for People

If urban planning and design has a folk hero, it’s 74 year-old Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. Gehl has, since the 1971 publication of his book Life Between Buildings, been the go-to brains for figuring out how best to plan and design cities for people, which, as it happens, is the title of his new book: Cities for People.


Cities for People
? 2010: Jan Gehl

Gehl is one of the founding partners of Gehl Architects – Urban Quality Consultants. An aptly named firm considering its focus on creating more livable, sustainable and lively urban places with the pedestrian and cyclist in mind. Though based in Copenhagen, Gehl has travelled the world with his cities-for-people message, with a recent stop in New York City. There he was hired by New York’s Department of Transportation, the results of which were some big changes to the Big Apple: miles of bike lanes and, most impressively, the pedestrianization of Times Square.

On October 7th 2010, Gehl spoke at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design to a packed auditorium and a similarly packed overflow room. With his unassuming and friendly manner, he provided a brief but thorough critique of modernist planning, from the highway mania of the Robert Moses era to Le Corbusier’s obsession with his towers in a park (or, as Gehl quipped, towers in a parking lot). With the requisite nod to the down-to-earth planning style advocated by Jane Jacobs in her 1961 book Death and Life of Great American Cities, Gehl next turned to the ideas that make up Cities for People.

So what are cities for people? With chapters in his book given such titles as “the human dimension,” “the city at eye level” and “life, space, buildings – in that order,” it’s not hard to see where Gehl’s preoccupation lies. Cities for people are those that focus on the view citizens have of their city as they walk or cycle around. Cities for people are those that incorporate “complete streets” – those providing for pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation, as well as for cars. In Gehl’s world, cities are not parks of monumental architecture, but are designed and planned for the people that live, work and play at ground level.

Filled with photographs and explanatory diagrams, Cities for People is an accessible and intelligent look at how much better our cities could be and how we can get there. (2010: Island Press; ISBN 9781597265737)



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