Newton New Town

February 22, 2010

Recently Surrey, BC has organized an urban planning competition Townsift mounted by Trevor Boddy. Several area was brought for consideration by contestant, but lets take a look at the one supposed to integrate a transit centre: Newton.

Most master planned communities are a failure in the sense they are unable to be anything else than bedroom communities: they can be considered nice and desirable  suburbs like Columbia MD, or Irvine, CA, but they are not by any measure vibrant cities you can think as a destination…In that matter Richmond is more successful than the previously  mentioned suburbs.

At the exhibition presentation, the question of “why all the master planned communities fails to be nothing more than bedroom communities?” has been raised. the panel composed of Lisa Rochon and Bing Thom eventually had some opinion, mostly related on the architecture design.

Capitalizing on Bing Thom “living organism” parabola for our living place, we think that the transportation network, road and transit, are the blood of the city, when architects/designer see them more often than not  as a constraint not much different than a sewage system: so if there is no blood, there is no life, and it is what happen to most of the “master planned communities“.

More often than not, the “master planned community” has road surrounding a “village” organized around a “pedestrian plaza“: it can eventually work in a resort where people have nothing much else to do than hang around and sipping coffee at the “pedestrian plaza“, but in the real life people  eventually work, and have little reason to go especially to a place just to “hang around sipping a coffee“…

How the contestants fare against this idea

Preliminary: None of the contestants have brought into consideration a “vertical” integration of the transit centre, it is unclear if it was due to an unfortunate  constraint of the contest or to the own choice of the contestants.

Newton 73

The good idea:

the water element

The major flaws

  • they have designed a nice pedestrian Plaza, but why people would go there? what is the point?  The plaza is not visible of the outside, and there is no natural straightforward way to invite people from outside to experiment it
  • You are in suburbs, natural traffic pedestrian flow will be from and to the “transit station”: the walkway is carefully avoiding it…the whole concept is turning his back to connectors (blood bringing life), and this concept is typical of master plan communities.
  • The pedestrian alley seems to be grade separated of other traffic: a bad idea in itself for such location: Not only geography, but also because pedestrian and motor traffic level couldn’t justify this grade separation[1].
  • Worst, the car oriented strip mall is well recognized and reinforced, by furthering the disconnection of it with the rest of the pedestrian oriented place.
  • The lack of grid readability with rather weird road turns is prejudicial to the urban quality of the environment. At the end, the 70s’ish curved building form is not really convincing.

Newton 30

the good idea
The green corridor

The major flaws

  • The corridor is not visible of King George Boulevard and in fact the whole block design turn its back to this boulevard
  • The retail space is seen as an extension of the strip mall  neither connecting to the Transit mall neither open to the major thoroughfare.
  • The green corridor doesn’t connect to the park nearby, neither to the civic area, especially the library.
  • The transit hub looks like to be a constraint more than the center of the project.

Newton 110

the good idea
the orchard and community gardens: the civic space designed as a peaceful, intimate one is well though, the connection to a more active space via a cenotaph transition is a brilliant idea.

The major flaw

  • The pedestrian Public space (square) is insulated, sterilized, neither connecting to major street or transit.
  • The scale and building from on the South West are inappropriate to compliment an urban King George Boulevard.
  • Transit Hub is ignored, he is surrounded by ground oriented residential!

Newton 77

The good idea(s)

The transit hub is the focal point: It is the only proposal capitalizing on it, and recognizing that in a successful transit oriented environment, this will be the main public place, with its esplanade.

The penetration of the nearby park into the block (the green link concept).
The slightly grade separated sport field.

The building form contribute to give an interesting urban feeling to the 72th avenue and contribute also positively to the King Georges Boulevard streetscape.

The major flaw

The location of the esplanade not opened  to a major thoroughfare is not inviting enough, in such a sort as non transit user could totally ignore its existence:

  • It could generate some safety issue feeling late at night (lack of “eyes” on the Esplanade)
  • it could be also not well located in the event of a streetcar on King Georges. Overall the contribution to  King Gorge Blvd could be improved
  • Retail street location are hardly identifiable on this design (“Main street”)?, and it looks they could be hardly noticeable from outside the block.

In despite of still significant major flaws in term of space utilization, It  seems pretty clear that the proposal 77 is dominating the competition.  Thought it brings some improvement to the urban space organization  compared to the concept brought to public consideration by the city of Surrey, it doesn’t bring any major breakthrough thinkings.

whether the transit centre had been replaced by a dump field, other contestant’s proposal couldn’t have been different , but there is  some interesting idea to pick up here and there to improve the current concept of the Surrey department planning which is far to be free of flaw itself in term of space organization, since it also tend to ignore the block contribution to King Georges, and “sterilize” ex -nihilo purposeless public plaza.

[1] A good urban plan should make the pedestrian feel safe, and at night car traffic provide this feeling… the contestant proposes here the “walk in a park at night” experience for their pedestrian experience… the master planned city Cergy Pontoise in France was offering it, that has proven to be a dramatic failure.