Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018 with Ian Anderson & Jethro Tull at Ste. Michelle Winery.

    I won't be celebrating Father's Day with my daughters today. But not because they dislike me as much as some of the people on the Vancouver is Falling Facebook Group. We celebrated Father's Day last Sunday with a trip to the Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary concert at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery outside of Seattle.
     This trip also included an overnight stay at a most interesting hotel in Bothell called McMenamins Anderson School. I'll write about it later.
     My first introduction to Jethro Tull was in 1968 when I moved to Manchester England after 3 years of architecture school. I was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, where my mother's family moved during WW2 thinking it would be less likely bombed than Hull or other industrialized places.
     Those who have visited Blackpool often think that it's a pity it wasn't bombed!
    In subsequent years, Jethro Tull, and in particular, Ian Anderson, its zany flute-playing creator became my favourite musicians, along with the Beatles and Moody Blues. (What I didn't realize until last week was that Ian Anderson also lived in Blackpool for many years.)
     Jethro Tull's 50th Anniversary Tour has an astounding international schedule but does include stops in Toronto Ottawa and Montreal in early July. My daughters arranged tickets for the Seattle area stop since it was closest to Vancouver.
    The Ste. Michelle Winery holds regular concerts throughout the summer,
but you wouldn't know this from last Sunday's experience. Many patrons, (ourselves included) were left standing in the rain trying to get in until well after the concert started.
     We subsequently learned this was due to new and heightened security arrangements. But what was unforgivable is that no one from the venue came down the line to explain what was happening, nor apologize. Moreover, we subsequently learned there was a second entrance that was barely used.
    Once inside, this can be an attractive experience. You can go into the winery and buy a bottle of wine and enjoy it at the concert. The sound was good and the stage and seating arrangements are ok.
    To the management of Ste. Michelle Winery I say you really need to give your head a shake and do a better job in future, especially when it's raining.
     So here are a few images of the 70 year old Ian Anderson (like me, he's lost most of his hair) and the group. If you are in Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal, while Anderson's voice is not what it used to be, I highly recommend the show.
     Thanks Georgia and Claire for a most memorable Father's Day present and experience.
The show includes video messages from former members of the group
ps, The show ends with a performance of Aqualung, the group's most memorable song. It's about a homeless man, and seems as relevant today as it was almost fifty years ago when it was written. For those of you who don't know all the lyrics....

Sitting on a park bench
Eying little girls with bad intent
Snots running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, hey, Aqualung
Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run, hey, Aqualung
Feeling like a dead duck
Spitting out pieces of his broken luck, oh, Aqualung
Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely
Taking time, the only way he knows
Leg hurting bad as he bends to pick a dog end
He goes down to a bog and warms his feet
Feeling alone, the army's up the road
Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea
Aqualung, my friend, don't you start away uneasy
You poor old sod, you see it's only me
Do you still remember
December's foggy freeze
When the ice that clings on to your beard
It was screaming agony
Hey and
Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely
Taking time, the only way he knows
Leg hurting bad as he bends to pick a dog end
He goes down to a bog and warms his feet
Feeling alone, the army's up the road
Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea
Aqualung my friend don't you start away uneasy
You poor old sod, you see it's only me
Oh Aqualung
Songwriters: Ian Anderson
Aqualung lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Opinion: Cities need to be designed for pedestrians, transit, bikes… not just cars. Vancouver Courier June 7, 2018

     Do you hate city planners? If so, you’re not alone.
    “Who Hates Planners and Why?” was one of the workshops at the Planning Institute of British Columbia’s annual conference in Victoria last week. Attended by more than 450 delegates, the event marked the institute’s 60th anniversary.
     Founded by eight members in 1958, PIBC now has 1,600 members throughout B.C. and the Yukon. While the founding members were all men, today women outnumber the men.

Professional planners use their knowledge, skills and experience to help create more livable and sustainable communities and environments. In so doing, they often raise the ire of politicians, citizens, developers, architect and others.While we usually associate planners with municipal land-use, zoning and developments, PIBC members work in many different fields. They include resource and environmental management, heritage conservation, transportation, economic development and law.
     As Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria, noted in her opening remarks, planners are by nature optimistic. They start with what exists today and must plan for an increasingly uncertain future. She urged planners to be courageous, to stand up to politicians and be willing to recommend changes to policies that don’t work.
     In the opening keynote address, internationally renowned planner Gil Penalosa inspired the audience with a presentation on how planners must adapt to a changing world. As life expectancy increases, it is increasingly important to design cities for those who are eight and 80, not just those 30 and athletic.
     In the past, we designed our cities to accommodate cars. However, those under 16 do not drive and many seniors are as afraid of losing their drivers license as getting cancer. We need to design cities for those who don’t have a driver’s license.
     Since streets comprise 25 to 35 per cent of the space occupied by cities, we must design for pedestrians and cyclists as much as cars. Rather than worry only about potholes, we need to worry about broken sidewalks and playgrounds.
     Penalosa argues good sidewalks and cycle paths dignify a community.
For years, he has been promoting the idea of Ciclovias, a Spanish term that means cycleway. They began in his home city of Bogota, Colombia in the 1970s, when the main streets were blocked off to cars for runners, skaters and cyclists each Sunday and public holiday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Today they are happening in Paris and Delhi and dozens of other cities around the world.
Penalosa challenged planners to consider that in 40 years we are going to double the size of cities.   Half of the homes we will require are yet to be built.
     As we plan cities of the future, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past half century when we built primarily low-density neighbourhoods, devoid of commercial areas, linked to downtowns by extensive expressways.
     We also need to focus on preventing pedestrian injuries and deaths. One way to do this is to reduce road speeds to 30 km in all residential areas, an idea gaining currency around the world.
We need to improve public transit, whether it be rapid bus, light rail, or subways. In Penalosa’s opinion, a civilized city isn’t one where the poor have cars, but rather it is one where the rich use public transit. This means designing more comfortable, weather-protected bus-stop shelters.
Penalosa concluded his talk by challenging the audience to plan the city for children. If we want them to walk to school, we must retain and build small neighbourhood schools. We must never forget the perspective at 95 cm — the height of a child.
     Not surprisingly, many of the conference workshops addressed housing affordability and how planners can more effectively work with neighbourhood residents and politicians to achieve buy-in for more housing choices.
     One idea is the creation of “house-plexes,” comprising three, four or six dwellings. In some cases, they may be larger homes that have been subdivided. In others, they will be new structures offering smaller homes for sale or rent on former single-family lots.
     While we may often hate planners, they have an important role to play since one thing all conference delegates agreed upon is the answer to housing affordability is not more taxes.

Looking Back, Looking Forward. Relocatable Modular Housing and Jethro Tull!

Some say you shouldn't look back. Just look forward. I disagree.

In spring 1971, while finishing thesis drawings for a factory-produced relocatable modular housing system, I was listening to Jethro Tull's recently released Aqualung album in the UofT  Architecture School Studio at 230 College Street.

Today, UofT has a new school. Relocatable modular housing is being built around the province and Georgia Geller & Claire Geller are taking me to see Jethro Tull's 50th Anniversary Tour at Ste. Michelle Winery in Washington State. Looking back, looking forward!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Baku Azerbaijan. Yes, they're real!

During my last trip to Russia I tried to arrange a side journey to Azerbaijan since the country has fascinated me since I was a 10-year old stamp collector. Unfortunately, I couldn't obtain my visa in time. However, having just visited Astana, all being well, I hope to visit Baku, the capital city this fall when I travel the Silk Route between Tbilisi and Ashgabat.In case you are wondering why I am so eager to visit, here are some photos!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Redevelopment of West Vancouver's Heritage Rush House underway! North Shore News May 25th, 2018

     I am delighted to report that redevelopment of West Vancouver's heritage Rush House is underway. While I sometimes wonder if these small 4-unit developments are really worth all the effort, hopefully when nearby Vinson House Cottages and Major Rush Mews are finished, I will experience the same satisfaction I enjoyed from the acclaim granted to Hollyburn Mews. However, it sure is difficult getting these projects off the ground-literally. Thanks to Brent Richter, the following story appeared in the North Shore News on Friday. 

      The 1923 Rush House sits raised on blocks Friday morning in preparation of its move to the east side of its lot on the southwest corner of 12th Street at Jefferson Avenue in West Vancouver’s Upper Ambleside neighbourhood.
      In November, council voted unanimously to approve a heritage revitalization agreement for the historic home in exchange for allowing developer Michael Geller to move the structure nine metres (30 feet) to the east and build a laneway cottage and a garden cottage each just under 2,000 square feet on the lot.
      The Craftsman-style home was built by Maj. Frederick Rush, a First World War veteran who developed the lot into a 0.73-hectare farm following the war.
      The home is now legally protected as a heritage building. In addition to the two new dwellings, the developer will be creating a garden suite in the basement of the house, and building accessory garages on the property. The developer is marketing the project as Major Rush Mews.
Prior to lifting and relocating the house, I had to relocate a very old rhododendron tree on the property. While I don't know how old it was, some neighbours thought it was almost as old as the 1923 house. Below are some photos of its relocation. Thanks to Lee Brandt of Lee's Trees for its relocation, and to neighbour and former Vancouver city planner Mike Kemble for the photos. (I should add that Mike is also responsible for introducing me to this property and development opportunity!)
I'm told the tree weighed 15,000 lbs.
When it's all finished next August, all being well, this is how it will look.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Astana Master Plan Competition

It's an eclectic skyline, with a mix of contemporary and traditional styles of buildings.
In March, I received the following email:

Dear Mr. Geller 
Municipality of Astana would like to invite you to participate in the International contest for the development of the Master Plan Concept of Astana till 2030 (hereinafter referred to as - the Contest)  as an international expert in the jury of the Contest. Please find attached invitation letter with further information. Please kindly respond to this email and let me know if you have any questions.

Kind regards, Botagoz

Project Coordinator, Research and design institute “Astanagenplan” LLP, 22, A.Mambetov street Astana, Republic of Kazakhstan Z10K5C5

A model of the current Master Plan to be updated. I came back to Vancouver thinking our city really needs a Master Plan too.
At first I wasn't sure if this was a legitimate offer or some form of scam. However, since I had served on two juries in Russia, one for a 1000 acre property owned by Russia's largest bank in Moscow, and another in Kazan, I assumed it was legitimate and responded in the positive. 
I am so glad I did. Last night, I returned home after a week in Astana. While I knew nothing about the city when I first was invited, I now know much more. Astana (which means capital) became the capital city of Kazakhstan 20 years ago. Like Canberra, Brasilia and Chandigarh, this is a master-planned city. The first plan was prepared by Japanese archigtect Kisho Kurokawa.  Since then, it has grown to over 1 million people and needs to expand.

For this reason, the city launched another internatioal competition. It turns out that the other two international judges were Gil Penalosa, a highly regarded international planner originally from Bogata, and Riccardo Marini, who despite his name is really a Scot and who worked for many years as a Director for the Danish Planner Jan Gehl. In addition there were two judges from Moscow and the balance from Astana.
Each of the international judges delivered lectures to students at the local architecture school.
Over 4 days I got to learn about the city; participate in the consultant selection process; deliver a presentation to the Astana Economic Forum which included a most impressive array of speakers ranging from the former French President Holland to Roger Bayley of Vancouver!

I also gave a lecture to local architectural students on lessons in sustainability from Vancouver. I was exceptionally well looked after by the local organizers and think I may have received more than I offered. However, it was a very gratifying experience.

Astana was once labelled by CNN the world's weirdest capital city. Here are some photos. You can decide.
The Radisson Blu hotel where I stayed overlooking the river that bisects the city
Like many Asian cities, the buildings are lit up at night. This is an apartment complex

This and the sunset photo were taken from a revolving restaurant in the Beijing Hotel
While there, I met an individual in construction who spent 10 years in Vancouver. He kindly invited me home for lunch. This is a view taken from his 29th floor sub penthouse. It was as attractive and well-laid out as any high end luxury apartment in Vancouver.
While there are no longer a lot of Jews in the city, there are some and they have built a new synagogue.

Education is a high priority in the city. This university, named after the president, attracts students from around the world.
This delightful lady arrived at my hotel at 2:15 am to ensure that I got to the airport in time for my 4:50 am departure home! Thanks to you and everyone else who took such good care of me during my stay in your most hospitable and delightful city.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Opinion: 'Missing middle' competition offers residential housing solutions Vancouver Sun May 12, 2018

Haeccity Studio Architecture concept of a gentle densisifcation strata-style apartment block, designed to fit without clashing in area of single-family-house zoning. The building showing includes seven unit, three one-bedroom units of 525 sq. ft. each, three two-bedroom units of 740-to-870 sq. ft and a three-bedroom unit of 1350 sq.ft.. Courtesy: Haeccity Studio Architecture [PNG Merlin Archive] Haeccity Studio Architecture / PNG

     Back-to-backs, brownstones, bungalow courts, clustered housing, plexes, maisonettes, row-houses, stacked towns and six-packs.
     Throughout the world, these low-density multi-housing forms provide affordable homes for millions of households. However, in British Columbia, most of our housing is either single-family homes or apartments.
     As a result, architects and planners are increasingly referring to these other “gentle density” housing solutions as “the missing middle”.
     Given that much of Metro Vancouver is zoned for increasingly unaffordable single-family housing, there is a growing interest among local architects and planners in exploring how these new housing forms might help address housing affordability in our region.
     One key advantage of “missing middle” housing types is that they do not require large lot assemblies. Individual lots or two neighbouring lots can be redeveloped with higher-density ownership or rental homes without significantly changing the character of the neighbourhood.
While the result may not be low-cost housing, three to seven homes are more likely to be affordable than one larger home on the same lot.
     To encourage local architects and planners to further explore the design opportunities for these housing forms, Vancouver’s Urbanarium Society recently held a Missing Middle competition.
For those not familiar with the Urbanarium Society — — it is a registered non-profit founded by a group of architects, planners and other Vancouver citizens passionate about city planning.
    Recently, through a series of lectures and sold-out public debates, it has been addressing top-of-mind topics.
     Should we open up all neighbourhoods for densification? Should we legislate housing affordability? Should we build fewer towers? Who should plan our neighbourhoods — residents or professionals?
     The Urbanarium organized the Missing Middle design competition to generate ideas for how to make housing affordable in Greater Vancouver – particularly seeking models for increased density in residential areas where planning officials currently allow only single-family houses to be built on a lot.
     The goal was to generate inspiring possibilities for a single-lot landowner or a pair of neighbours to create affordable, higher-density, low-rise housing options that supported socially healthy housing configurations.
     The competition was co-ordinated by architects Catherine Alkenbrack and Bruce Haden. It was open to a broad range of applicants, from children to accredited professionals, who were invited to propose detailed design options for the redevelopment of one or two lots in one of four Metro single-family neighborhoods: Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond and Port Coquitlam.
     The competition was expected to appeal primarily to local firms; however, it attracted a considerable number of creative submissions from around the world.
     While competitors had to respect existing property lines, they were encouraged to explore innovative ideas.
     Could streets be narrower to provide a front yard for homes built near the front property line? Did every home have to have its own parking space or could parking be centralized?
     While existing single-family densities are in the order of 0.6 FSR (this means the area of a building should not exceed 60 per cent of the site area), and typical apartments are anywhere from 1.2 to three FSR, the density range for the competition was in between.
     Since the submissions were to be judged on their affordability innovation, participants were required to submit detailed financial pro formas and analyses.
Proposals were also judged on social innovation. Did the design help create opportunities to reduce social isolation or offer intergenerational living?
     Design innovation was also judged. While this was not a beauty contest, it was recognized that ultimately good design will contribute to greater community acceptance.
     The jury included technical advisors and senior planning officials from Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Surrey.
    Thanks to the co-sponsorship of BC Housing, CMHC and Wesgroup’s Peter Wesik, and a variety of other sponsors, cash prizes were awarded to the top entries, as well as an entry selected by local directors of planning.
     The Missing Middle competition received 34 entries and 12 prizes were awarded. While most of the winning submissions came from local teams, there was one winning team from Toronto, Workshop Architecture, and one from Los Angeles, Goodale Architecture Planning, both representing cities also experiencing an affordability crisis.
     In announcing the winners at Surrey city hall in early March, Richard Henriquez, board chair of the Urbanarium and founding principal of Henriquez Partners Architects, noted that Urbanarium ran this competition to have a meaningful discussion on how middle-density inter-generational housing could contribute to affordable housing in the future.
     Haeccity Studio Architecture, a Vancouver-based practice that focuses on medium-scale housing, was awarded both the first prize selected by the jury and a prize selected independently by the senior planners.
    In their submission, the proponents stated that it is no longer viable to rely on density alone to address the current affordability crisis. We need to explore ways to side step the speculation and sudden increases to land cost that come with rezoning.
     Their winning ‘Micro-Op’ concept hinged on zoning relaxations and incentives for resident-driven single-lot developments based on a shared-ownership model. The goal was widespread opportunities for incremental density increases that preserve the character and social composition of existing neighbourhoods.
     Since winning the competition, Haeccity Studio has been spearheading continued discussions among the winning teams in an effort to explore how their innovative plans can be put into action to deliver affordable housing.
   Some of the other ideas put forward during the competition probed the upper-density limits of walk-ups around courtyards; encouraging live-work along walkways; forgoing personal vehicle requirements in favour of a modest shared fleet of co-op cars; and transferring some of the accrued land gains from higher-density development into a neighbourhood park.
     A full list of the winners and their entries can be found at
     While it is often said that we are running out of land in Vancouver, I believe it is more important to make better use of the land we already have. In future columns, I will explore in more detail other ideas that came forward during the competition and how they might be implemented throughout the region.
Michael Geller is a Vancouver-based architect, planner, developer and educator. He is an adjunct professor at SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and can be reached at