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Which Canadian big city has the best flag?

The meeting earlier this year of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Big City Mayors’ Caucus, and subsequent media coverage, had me wondering about the designs of municipal flags. In many cases they are the result of local, modern design competitions; in others they are simply the municipality’s coat of arms plastered on a coloured banner.

So, out of the municipalities represented at the FCM’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus, which has the best-designed flag? Here is my ranking, based purely upon my own design opinion:

1. Quebec City
The simplicity of the design really works here. I might have selected a different symbol to represent a city with so much history, but the ship is well-designed and simple enough to be recognized from a distance.

2. Regina
Again, simplicity works wonders for a flag. A crown is the perfect symbol for this city, and the colour combination is great.

3. Halifax
I had this at the top of my list originally– I really like the flag, but the arrows do not belong here. I love the bold-looking kingfish as the centrepiece, and something about the muted colour combination really works.

4. Calgary
CalgaryInstantly recognizable as Calgary. Some might find it a bit hokey, but I think Calgarians are reasonably proud of this one.

5. Hamilton
The dimensions of the flag are the same as the Canadian flag. Designed by Bishop Ralph Spence, who is apparently Canada’s leading expert in Vexillology (the science of flags). It’s certainly better than steel-plant smokestacks, which is what I think of every time I think of Hamilton.

6. Surrey
Anything with a beaver is cool in my books. This is a well-executed flag, for one that includes smaller symbols.

7. Vancouver
I was going to rank this higher, but the symbols on the shield feel incomplete and not nearly bold enough. An axe and a paddle are neat symbols of the city’s past (and present, for that matter) and they should be more prominent.

8. Toronto
Something about this flag design has always bothered me. I’m not sure if it would be better if the bottom of the “T” and the maple leaf were centered. As much as I like the idea of using Toronto’s city hall to make a “T”, I feel that Toronto has a lot more symbols that could have been used instead.

9. Montreal
I think this is an example of one that actually looks better on a flagpole. I appreciate the symbology of the various plants, however they are poorly rendered which muddles an otherwise good flag.

10. Ottawa
Really just a corporate logo placed on a flag (placed well, but still). It’s a decent logo, but I would prefer something more representative of Ottawa’s long history and Capital status.

11. London
A pretty typical rule suggests that good flags don’t have text on them. I agree with this, but I like London’s city logo so much that I had to push this further up the list, despite the text. Wouldn’t the tree look good along with green bars on each side?

The rest of this list comprises flags that desperately need a re-design, in my opinion.

12. Windsor
The so-called “City of Roses” wants you to use that nickname so badly they have two roses on their flag. The Windsor has some pretty cool symbols– plenty to extract from there. (The stylized “W” or the crest’s rose would be a good place to start).

13. Mississauga
Lose the text and it’s OK– but still not great for the country’s 6th-largest city, and one with such a dynamic economy.

14. Edmonton
Luckily Edmonton has a great coat of arms. It’s history as a trading post should be celebrated.

15. Saskatoon
What is with the weird stenciled graphics? Also why is the coat of arms so small? You’d have to be right in front of the flag to know what is symbolized.

16. Winnipeg
Meh. Just nothing inspiring about this.

17. St. John’s
So much to celebrate and symbolize in St. John’s. Hell, put a silhouette of Signal Hill on a white background and it would be better than this.

18. Brampton
Like Mississauga, I’m actually shocked this is Brampton’s flag. How many farms do you think are left in Brampton? Granted, nothing comes to mind to distinguish Brampton from its other bland, suburban neighbours, so maybe this is all they’ve got.

19. Laval
I love the 70’s rec-room vibe of this– I sort of want to go play Tetris now. As a flag though? No.

20. Kitchener
This Ontario city tore down its historic city hall, but saved the clock tower, and now use it as a corporate symbol. The flag sucks. Surely we are far enough away from the world wars (when the city changed its name from Berlin to Kitchener) that we could use some German-related symbology (black, red, and gold perhaps?)

21. Gatineau
Boring. Just boring.

22. Longueuil
Hard to call this a flag, really. Maybe they just decided anglophones had such a hard time remembering how to spell it, it would be good to have a handy reminder.

That’s my list– what do you think? Are there any other really good Canadian municipal flags?


Can the current condo boom create quality neighbourhoods?

From today’s online Globe and Mail:

“The problem,” he says, “is that the downtown core, where a lot of tall buildings are being constructed, is not an area I would want to live in. It is not an issue of height and density, but of neighbourhood quality.”

This quote is from Peter Clewes, superstar residential condominium architect in Toronto. The fact that he is discouraged from living in one of his own projects speaks volumes.

The condominium design market is ever-evolving in Toronto, and five years ago the podium + tower design (a.k.a. the “Vancouver Model”) was embraced almost to the point of exclusivity. Planners, developers and architects are still realizing that there is more to the design of a tower than just the form:

“People don’t really look up and take notice of tall buildings,” said Mr. Witt. That’s why he and Mr. Clewes told the panel that it’s usually the first 50 feet of a tower that really matter. Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB Architects, whose recent projects include the TIFF Bell Lightbox, concurred. “It’s not about height, but how you organize tall buildings vertically,” he said.

So the podium is still crucial to the street-level perception of a tower, but it is now about subtle design cues and populating the podium with a good mix of uses:

The solution lies partly architectural designs that complement pre-existing structures, Mr. Clewes added.

If developers are building a tower in a commercial neighbourhood such as Bloor Street east of St. George, he suggested designing a building that fits into the continuous street wall. On the other hand, Charles Street, which is on a more residential zone, requires different treatment with landscaped lawns, he said.

Some interesting discussion points contained within the article. Read it here.

Sheppard East: No subway, but lots of speculating

Leafing through the Toronto Star on the weekend, I couldn’t help but note the number of new residential condominium projects being proposed for Sheppard Avenue East. While this is not particularly out of the ordinary for condominium boomtown Toronto, it is noteworthy because these projects are all happening east of the existing subway network– that is, on areas of Sheppard that would have been served by the Sheppard LRT.

Whatever you think of the great LRT vs. Subway debate– I happen to think it’s completely overblown– it might be fair to say that developers (and buyers) are speculating based on future transit plans. With Rob Ford still promising to build a subway with private money, and TTC Commissioner Karen Stintz vowing to use federal money to extend the subway to Victoria Park, perhaps developers are smart to build here.

Should they be? Are they speculating on future LRT or Subway? Are there other factors at work here? Sheppard is a major transportation corridor even without higher-order transit, as the first major arterial road north of the 401. Because of this, every resident along Sheppard has easy access to the most important highway in Ontario and perhaps the country. The fact that the highway struggles to bring anyone to their destination in a timely manner is of little importance. It is the concept of the amenity, not the quality of the amenity itself. That said, there are other amenities on Sheppard Avenue East, including nearby Fairview Mall and the existing Sheppard subway.

Here are the condominium projects that I know of at this point:

  • Monarch Group’s Heron’s Hill site (2 towers)
  • Tridel’s Alto at Atria (2 phases)
  • Remington’s 8 Chichester (affordable housing joint-build)
  • Gemterra’s LOVE Condominiums
As well as a few of those near Sheppard:

  • Tridel’s massive Metrogate
  • Tridel’s Argento (Don Mills/401)
  • ELAD Canada’s Emerald City (Don Mills/Sheppard)

It remains to be seen if all of these residents can be accommodated on the already-congested Sheppard Avenue East. Will new residents create a renewed push for higher-order transit? Will new congestion limit the ability of developers to sell units here?

Whatever the case, Sheppard Avenue East’s under-capitalized lots and great amenities likely means there are more projects to come.

Short-term suburban thinking

Since I became aware of urban issues and characteristics, I never really liked the suburb next to where I grew up. That suburb is Durham Region, an area east of Toronto. Recently, it has been plagued with politicians who tend to argue against transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, sustainable planning (with one notable exception). I have argued before that Durham Region Transit is the worst transit system in the GTA (they rely heavily on GO Transit buses to form the back bone of their system).

This can be defined generally as short-term thinking. A stunning example of this is the recent report (PDF) by activist group Environmental Defence which s criticizes Durham Region for “completely disregarding the Places To Grow Act.” According to the group, Durham planners have inflated employment numbers for planned development to 25 000 more than what was previously agreed upon by provincial and regional planners. How much of this is political interference? The staunch ideology of some of the politicians makes one wonder.

In a more historical example of short-term thinking in the Region, news came recently that Durham taxpayers may be on the hook for $100M in repairs to plastic water pipes installed three decades ago. Predictably, the pipes have become brittle and are prone to popping leaks, some which have been repaired already. However, the engineering department has come to the realization that total replacement is in order. With other suburban jurisdictions suffering a similar disposition, one cannot help but think that perhaps short-term thinking is par for the course in the suburbs.

Bus sitting

Today, I came to an odd realisation. I was on the bus heading home from campus, and as usual it was packed, so I was standing. As the bus travelled along, people gradually petered out and seats started opening up. We were about halfway home when a couple of seats opened up (my roommate was with me so we just took the two that opened up). However, as soon as I sat down, something felt strange. After contemplating it for a little bit, I realized that I almost always sit on the same side of the bus. That is, the driver’s side. This time I was sitting on the other side and it was just weird.

I’m not sure why this is the case, but I have this feeling that it has something to do with how I enter the bus– facing the driver’s side. Or maybe it’s because I’m right-handed that I have a natural inclination to sit on the right side? Whatever it is, it’s a strange phenomenon. I wonder if anyone else has experienced it? Or if it’s been studied? For such an obscure topic, I doubt it.

Back to school, and new stuff

It’s been a little while since I posted on here. Mostly due to the fact that I am no longer bored at work, but back at school and not bored yet. I, along with four roommates, am subletting a 5ish year old townhouse for four months. It’s a bid of a weird layout– all the bedrooms are in the basement and the living space is on the main floor. Still, it is a “raised” townhouse of sorts– meaning that the basement windows are still sizeable which makes me feel at home.

School has been decent so far. My schedule is pretty lax in that I only have one class in the mornings. Unfortunately, that means lots of night class, but it could be worse. I’m taking four courses, two of which are “double-weighted”, supposedly meaning double the work. That has yet to be seen. In fact, the workload has been pretty light these first two weeks.

My new camera

My new camera

Anyway, I have made my fair share of purchases recently, and I think it’s time I stop before I run out of grocery money. The biggest purchase I made was a new point and shoot camera, because my old Canon SD500 was busted (flash cracked and screen scratched– still good for non-flash photos though.) I purchased a Panasonic DMC-FX50 (see photo) off ebay. I got burned by the duty fees and I knew about the sucky Dollar but I still got a decent deal.

I’m thinking this will suit me until I scrounge up the cash (and the research, and the courage) to dive into the DSLR market. If and when I do that, I want to make sure I can make time to make photography a real hobby (instead of the small one it is now) and I also want to make sure I get the best camera for my money. Right now, for all I know, I can take pretty decent photos with the cameras I’ve had, so I don’t need a DSLR. It would just be sweet to have one and to be able to tinker with all those settings—once I figured them out, that is.

Other purchases this month were groceries (lots of them), ONE textbook(!), and two books: Well Preserved by Mark Fram, on structural heritage preservation methods; and Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden— just eye candy.

Right now, I should be in bed. I’ve got my one and only morning class tomorrow…

Quebec and Simcoe County: twins?

I was doing some mapping work today and I couldn’t help but notice the eerie similarity between the shapes of Simcoe County and Quebec. Am I crazy?