“Where Beverly Hills meets Haiti”

I found a rather interesting and discouraging series of images courtesy of Google Earth on the Skyscraper City forum that show and depict a rather unexpected aerial view of the class separation in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The Morumbi neighbourhood, with it’s giant mansions, green yards and swimming pools literally sits next to the dense slums of Paraisopolis (meaning “Paradise Town”).  It is an amazing contrast in a country that currently has one of the largest class divides in the world.  Check out the Skyscraper City thread below:

“Where Beverly Hills meets Haiti”

The Fall of Niagara Falls, New York


Niagra Falls New York

Niagra Falls Ontario


Business Week recently posted an excellent and extensive article on the fall of Niagara Falls, New York.   For the past four decades, Niagara Falls has continued to plummet into ever increasing decline.  The city today has both a high level of crime and a high level of unemployment.   While similar decline has taken place in a large number of rust belt cities throughout the United States, what is most remarkable about Niagara Falls, New York is that it sits beside of the world’s greatest natural wonders (Niagara Falls).  The city is visited by more than 8 million people per year, a number that would generally keep the city’s economy fairly strong, yet the city continues to plummet despite all of these tourists.

What is also remarkable is the success of Niagara Falls, Ontario on the other side of the border.  While Niagara Falls, Ontario still has it’s share of problems, the city’s tourism industry is booming with dozens of hotels and attractions.  Having visited Niagara Falls, Ontario several times, I can tell you that many parts of the city are buzzing throughout the year.  The article provides some excellent insight into how such an odd situation has occurred with regards to the two Niagara Falls cities and why Niagara Falls, New York has consistently struggled throughout the decades.

What can $300 000 get you in real estate?

With housing prices still deeply depressed throughout the world, I thought i’d take a look and see what $300 000 could afford someone in several of the major cities around the United States (give or take a thousand dollars or so).  Home prices have dropped considerably in some areas (such as Miami) while staying relatively stable (such as Boston).   The difference in quality might just amaze you!  Note that all these listings are in the city proper.  As well, also note that the listings will likely only be up for a few days or weeks.  Therefore, I created a small description of the property along with the link.

Miami: 3 bedroom, 1 bath single level  detached home. with large front yard  1216 square feet – http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/4465-Southwest-13-Terrace_Miami_FL_33134_M51691-35445

Cleveland: 3 bedroom, 3 bath luxury townhome close to the shore of Lake Erie.  2205 square feet – http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/7420-Goodwalt-Ave_Cleveland_OH_44102_M36987-55595

Boston: 1 bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a late 1800′s condo complex.  380 square feet – http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/60-Myrtle-St-Unit-5_Boston_MA_02114_M43540-59341

San Francisco: Studio apartment with large windows  access to a deck.  531 square feet – http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/83-85-Brady-St-Unit-2_San-Francisco_CA_94103_M29615-58768

Chicago: Two bedroom, 2 bath condo in a highrise complex built in the 70′s and including a communal pool. 1300 square feet –http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/1415-North-Dearborn-Street-Unit-11b_Chicago_IL_60610_M87440-01602

Honolulu: 1 bedroom, 1 bath condo in a highrise complex with a view of downtown Honolulu and the ocean.  1000 square feet –http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/1221-Victoria-St-Unit-1803_Honolulu_HI_96822_M70822-90298

Creating New Roads as Easy as Rolling Out a New Carpet?


Photo Courtesy of Inhabit.com

The creation and maintenance of traditional asphalt roads has always been both time consuming and expensive.  Recently, the environmental movement has reinstagated  the idea of creating brick roads.  Brick’s are generally durable and aren’t nearly as susceptible to cracks due to freezing and thawing.  Yet, once again, paving the roads would be extremely time consuming.  However, a new machine may change how roads are built throughout cities.  An article at Inhabit.com recently showcased a brick laying machine that literally lays out a brick road on a sand bottom like a carpet.  Crazily enough, the machine isn’t somehow magic, but actually uses gravity to pack the bricks tightly together. With a little more polish, this machine could truly help save a lot of time and money for a city while also being far better for the environment.  Seems like something we truly invest in.

The Fate of Ontario Place

Most adult Toronto residents view Ontario Place with a true sense of nostalgia.    Over the course of several decades, the inner city theme park delighted visitors with it’s water park, IMAX movies and beautiful lake side views.  However, over the last 5 to 10 years, Ontario Place has begun to lost some of it’s lustre.  Despite decent attendance on the weekends, Ontario Place can often be quite empty throughout the week.   Recently, according to this Toronto Star article, the Provincial Crown corporation has started to look at overhauling the entire Ontario Place complex.  The extremely unfortunate thing is that this may mean that all the buildings currently on the Ontario Place property may be torn down.

The Provincial Crown corporation is looking for ideas to redevelop the site and are hoping to make a decision by 2011.   I have heard rumours of such developments as a high end condo complex and a hotel to accommodate all the convention goers at Exhibition Place.  However, it seems quite alarming (and disheartening) that the idea of simply improving the amusement park hasn’t been considered.  There are many buildings on the site already that are considered an icon of Toronto and to destroy all these buildings seem like a somewhat ludicrous thing to do.    Thus, it seems to make more sense that if they want to make better use of the space, they simply need to improve what they already have.

Ontario Place is an extremely popular spot for families and provides Toronto with a central amusement park for everyone to enjoy.  It is also a cheaper alternative to the overpriced Canada’s Wonderland outside of Toronto.   And it seems that there is a growing community who want to make sure that site of Ontario Place continues to be a place for everyone to enjoy.  I have already found (and joined) a Facebook group entitled ‘Save Ontario Place‘ and I urge those who don’t want to lose this important piece of Toronto to join.  And while I am intrigued to hear all the different proposals, I truly believe the best one is one that improves what is already there and not one that takes away a true piece of Toronto history.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Canuck with a Camera

Victoria, B.C.:The Anti-Tourist City

Residents of any place have often been notorious for being a bit anti-tourist.  Anyone who has ever lived anywhere for a certain number of years has at one time or another scoffed at tourists taking pictures of the most random sights.  Yet, as much as we hate to admit it, tourists are a big part of a successful city.  Infrastructure, attractions and museums need to be present to support these people. As well, cities may end up with certain characteristics that outsiders may often identify it with.  For better or for worse, Los Angeles is a city of movie stars, London is very proper and full of castles, and Rio de Janeiro is an all day/all night party. Do these characteristics tell the whole story or even a bit of a story?  Not likely but they do often help lure the tourist dollars into the city.

Victoria, British Columbia is a strange case.  Located on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, Victoria has been tagged as a little piece of Britain in Canada.  And I can tell you from being there that the locals hate it.  And even from an outsider’s perspective, I can see why.  It is continuously used as a representation of the city when in fact many of the ‘Britishness’ of the city is for the tourists only.

What’s more is that Victoria has been closing various attractions to the delight of the locals.  Several attractions have closed in the last decade, most prominently, the Crystal Garden, an indoor garden featuring a large number of birds.  More recently, the Royal London Wax Museum has opted to move away from Victoria due to the inability to secure a long term lease on their current address.  And how do the locals feel about all of this?  They are strangely happy about it.  While the wax museum may not be high on class, it does offer a destination for the entire family.  The next attraction under siege in the Undersea Gardens, Victoria’s own aquarium.  Although undersized, it once again provides a welcome attraction for touring families.

Victoria is a beautiful destination with a large number of fantastic sights.  Yet, a city needs to support a variety of tourist needs.  Sometimes, locals of tourist destinations need to understand that tourism and tourists help the city give it another dimension.  So go out there and hug a tourist.  And remember, your city is the world’s to share.   So support whatever wrong notion others may have about your city.

G-20′s Impacts on a City


Well, as the G-20 summit descends upon my current home of Toronto and protests and chaos begin, I wondered  if there are any long term effects on a host city for the G-20.  Typically, an enormous amount of money is spent on such an event and the current price tag for the G-20 summit and the G-8 summit combined (the 2010 G-8 summit is taking place 3 or so hours north of Toronto) is a whopping $1 billion.  One would think that with such an enormous price tag, there would be some kind of long term impacts.I took a look at the Wikipedia entry for the Pittsburgh 2009 summit.  Interestingly, the city was chosen due to it’s economic recovery from it’s depressing post-manufacturing days.  And while the Direct Energy Business greened the city

’s electrical usage during the two days of the summit, there was no information pertaining to the long term effects on the city.
However, one has to believe that such a massive event must have an effect on the future efficiency and effectiveness of the city’s police department for if it can handle something  as chaotic as the protests for the G-20, surely the police force must be better equipped for any possible future protests.  So as Toronto becomes a zoo of protesters over the next couple of days, I hope that the economic and social costs of such an event are outweighed by the future benefits.

What to do with the Seattle Center?

Photo couresty of Flickr user Being Micheal


The Seattle Center is, for many, the heart and soul of Seattle.  It is also a major draw for tourists to the city.  Yet, shockingly, the center will reach it’s 50th birthday in 2012.  Since it’s beginning as the grounds for the worlds fair back in 1962, the Seattle Center has always been a mixed use development with attractions, museums, shops and open green space.  Recently,  the old school amusement park, Fun Forest, has vacated the Center leaving a large parcel left for possible new development.  Unfortunately, since then everything has been a bit of a mess.

Firstly, a museum developed to the famous glass blower Dale Chihuly, who is from the Seattle area, was proposed.  The museum promoted the fact that it draw a large amount of tourists and would be an extremely profitable edition to the center.  However, as soon as the Seattle residents found out about the museum, they began to protest and protest loudly.  Their main argument was the fact that their public land was being turned into yet another private museum.  They certainly have a point, yet the most popular alternative seemed to be more open green space.  Apparently, someone forgot to remind the residents that the Seattle Center isn’t Central Park.

However, since then, the public has been allowed to submit alternative proposals.  So far, there has been some very intriguing ideas.  One such idea is a mystery and legends museum.  It certainly sounds like a lot of fun and it’s price tag is much smaller for a visitor than the Dale Chihuly museum.  Another proposal suggest moving one of the local independent music stations to the center.  If the residents were angry about a museum moving in, a radio station would seem like an even more outrageous idea.  A third proposal, as expected, asks for more open space.  Big surprise.

So what do I think?  I think the residents are right, to a degree.  What’s best for the center is public space that can also help contribute to the local economy.  In other words, a museum that charges a high admission fee isn’t the answer.  Neither is open green space.   One possibility is to create a new improved and more modern amusement park.  Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the original amusement park was the fact that people were able to walk around free of charge.  It provided some entertaining people watching and if people felt inclined to actually ride a ride, they could purchase a ride ticket.  Perhaps the reason why the Fun Forest closed was not that an amusement park wasn’t economically viable in the Seattle Center location, but rather that the park was simply too outdated.  Another suggestion is an old style arcade (like the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco) where residents and tourists alike are allowed to go inside, but must pay a quarter or two to actually play or use any of the machines.  Finally, a  Chihuly museum with a far cheaper admission price tag may be able to sway over some of the current protest against it.

In the end, the debate over the Seattle Center continues.  And while the different groups can’t agree on what the right proposal is, it is still very good news to hear that after almost 50 years, the Seattle Center is still very important to Seattle residents.

Housing + Transportation Index

The Chicago based Center for Neighbourhood Technology is changing the way we look at housing affordability in American cities.  Traditionally, one would base the affordability of housing in a neighbourhood on the percent a family spends on their housing.  A neighbourhood in which the average family spends 30% or less was deemed affordable.    However, the Center for Neighbourhood Technology is redefining how we look at affordability.   The new measure of affordability takes both housing and transportation into consideration.   With the new measurement of affordability, a neighbourhood in which the average family spends 45% or less on housing and transportation is considered affordable.  While one might expect that roughly the same number of American neighbourhoods would be considered affordable under both scales of affordability, the rather alarming part is these numbers are not even close.

Under the old measurement, 69% of U.S. communities are considered affordable.  However, shockingly, by factoring in both housing and transportation, that number shrinks to 40%.  Does anyone else find this down right scary?  Less than half of American neighbourhoods are considered affordable.

One might automatically blame the high transportation costs for such a decrease in affordability.  But it seems to be more complex than that.  For instance, traditionally, the farther one travels from the center of the city, the cheaper the housing costs.  Yet, moving away from the center of a city means that the transportation costs increase, perhaps more rapidly than the housing prices decrease causing an imbalance.

However, this blog post suggests that there is good news to all of this:

The good news is that many federal policymakers understand the impact of transportation on land use, housing, environment and affordability.  First, a new partnership between USDOT, EPA and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate and invest in sustainable development is included in President Obama’s 2011 budget.   Second, Senator Dodd (D-CT) and Representative Cohen (D-TN) have both introduced livability bills that would establish offices of sustainability in HUD and DOT that would provide competitive grants for transit-oriented development projects throughout the country.  Third, the next federal transportation bill could provide even more funding and incentives to increase transportation choices and greater proximity between housing, transit and jobs.

To learn more about the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, you can check out their site: Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

6th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey:2010

Demographia International recently posted their 6th annual housing affordability survey which compares the median household income to the median housing prices in various metropolitan areas throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.  The survey splits the cities into three different categories (the numbers represent the ratio between the median housing price and the median household income):

  • Affordable (< 3.0)
  • Moderately Unaffordable (3.1 – 4.0)
  • Seriously Unaffordable (4.1 – 5.0)
  • Severely Unaffordable (> 5.0)

The most affordable cities were generally those that have high crime rates and a high degree of vacancies.  These include such places as Detroit (1.6), Indianapolis (2.2), and Cleveland (2.4).   However, some less devastated regions throughout United States and Canada still fit into the affordable category including Atlanta (2.1), Houston (2.9) and Dallas (2.7).

On the opposite side of the scale, Vancouver ranked as the most unaffordable metropolitan area at a whopping 9.3 ratio.  Sydney was second at a 9.1 and the Sunshine Coast down in Australia rounded out the top 3 at a 9.0.  Interestingly, while New York City and San Francisco may have the highest cost of living, their higher income levels somewhat make up for this giving them a ratio of 7.0.

A lot of this isn’t anything new, however it does provide an exceptional and entertaining reference for anyone looking to move sometime in the near future.  You can find the full pdf on the Demographia International site.