Category Archives: I’d Live There

Blogging Real Estate for BlogTO

While I’ve been slacking over here, I’ve been talking real estate over at the Toronto based blog – BlogTO.  I’ll be back soon, but in the mean time here you are, if you’re interested.

Tudor Style home near the lake

Classic Toronto semi-detached in a trendy neighbourhood

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I’d Live There: Park Slope, Brooklyn

That’s right, its the return of I’d Live There, where Izzy and I talk about real estate we can’t afford, often in places we don’t live.  Real estate has been a frequent topic of conversation with us lately, because she’s looking for a new place, my husband wants to buy a house, and friends are looking in New York.  Naturally its the place in New York that has already sold that appeals to me the most.  It’s in an old clock factory! And those bookshelves along the staircase just kill me.

I also like the Eames chairs.

The images come from Streeteasy.com.

I want to go to there.

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Traffic in Amsterdam

This is a post from my other blog, Snacks and Adventure, about my experience as a cyclist in Amsterdam. Enjoy!

snacks & adventure

I was in Amsterdam for the first time a few weeks ago, and I was seriously blown away by the city.  In addition to the brown cafes, which were everywhere and were so brimming with local character, and the food, which was delicious, the city had all sorts of distinctive characteristics that made it feel unique (when I was in Strasbourg, everything apart from the cathedral felt like “Generic European City.” Amsterdam felt like Amsterdam.)

As an urban planner, the first thing I noticed was the cycling infrastructure, and the people using it. It was on a scale I’d never seen before.  A friend who went to Amsterdam earlier this year complained that, actually, there were so many bikes that people on feet suffered – and I’m inclined to agree.  It was not a walker’s paradise.

The space reserved for cycles was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  There were cycle…

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I’d Work There: Urban Splash

I was cruising the annual Housing Design Awards website recently, where they have beautiful high-def videos of the recent nominees.  I was so impressed that I went through all the archives, and I was amazed by how many of the winning entries were in Manchester, and in the North in general.  The Accordia housing development in Cambridge won a Stirling Prize a few years ago, and as far as I can tell, no one in Cambridge has stopped talking about it since, but in Manchester they’ve been racking them up for years. I’m hopefully taking a tour of the Accordia development this week, and I’m pretty excited about it, but that’s one in a sea of distinctly average housing developments around Cambridge (it is also worth noting that the CBG is one of the only cities in the UK not officially in recession, and there are at least 4 major, prize-free real estate projects underway at the moment, plus a huge volume of smaller-scale development).   Anyway.  I kept noticing all these amazing projects, particularly in Manchester, and I was particularly excited to realise that Urban Splash developed Chimney Pot Park, a project I’d salivated over from the states.  Finally, I realised that the common thread is that most of the projects I liked were the work of a single developer, Urban Splash.  In the intervening weeks, I’ve developed a massive crush on this company: I think all their work is amazing, and I’ve been monitoring their website for jobs even though their offices are all in places I can’t possibly commute to.  You can see a full gallery of their work here, but I’ve included some highlights below.

 

I have to say, I was a little disappointed to realise that many of their projects were former industrial buildings.  I mean, I find a loft space as sexy as the next girl, but lofts have high ceilings and big windows – its kind of low-hanging fruit.  Chimney Pot Park was a neighborhood of derelict tenement terrace houses before it was built, with a whole bunch of attendant challenges.  Terrace houses often have low ceilings, cramped rooms, and a constrained footprint.  Furthermore, terraces compose a third of the UK’s housing supply, and Chimney Pot Park provided a complete re-imagining of this incredibly common vernacular.  I think its a revolutionary project.

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Cabin Porn: You’re Welcome

I just found out about a website called Cabin Porn, a website of user-submitted photos of – you guessed it – cabins. I’ve included a sample below, but there are forty pages, which is enough to waste a lot of time at work and start planning your next trip to Washington state/New Zealand/Switzerland/Norway.  The one below is a hut in the mountains of Chogoria, Kenya

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Vauban, A Planner’s Dream

On a recent trip to Switzerland, I took an overnight trip to Freiburg, where I was able to spend a couple hours wandering around Vauban, a  one-square-mile eco-village built in 2006.  The city has been lauded as the best low-carbon living in Europe; cars are generally excluded from the development altogether (there are garages on the periphery); a tram runs through the middle of the development; and freestanding houses are forbidden.  One hundred of the homes in the development meet Passivhaus energy standards, and, as I walked around, I lost count of the number of green roofs and solar panels within minutes.  They’re everywhere.

Vauban is one square mile.  Houses are four or five stories tall.  The development is mixed-use, with a (delightful) cafe, a grocery store, some small-scale retail, and roughly a bazillion playgrounds, schools and other facilities for children and families (and for me.  Because I climbed all over the playgrounds, and it was awesome). In general, the design quality of all of the buildings is really high, and in proportion and design, it called to mind a very modern Back Bay.  The houses where of uniform proportion and design without being monotonous; the streets were narrow but not claustrophobic; and the whole place felt prosperous and well-heeled.  We wandered around for hours, commenting continuously about how everything should be designed like Vauban.

The development was originally Nazi army barracks that were occupied by the French.  Some of the buildings were turned into student housing for the University of Freiburg; some were retrofitted and turned into apartment buildings.  Many were leveled to make room for new housing and mixed-use buildings on the one-square mile site.  There were no streets in the barracks, so the site already had a human-scale development pattern that the urban planners maintained and improved upon.

The whole place felt pretty amazing.  Freiburg was recently named one of the best places to live in Germany, and we were there on a day that was pretty much perfect. There were children all over the place, and the development was quiet (no cars) but full of life.  The thing that struck me the most is how green it was.  There were green roofs, trees, shrubs, allotment gardens – it felt like a place that had been tended for generations rather than a place called forth from the minds of urban planners less than a decade ago.  I was also struck by how successful the car-free streets were.  The last car-free city I was in, Louvain La Neuve (in Belgium, in February) felt creepy and out of scale – a little like the empty cities in Inception.  Not so with the Vauban.

All rhapsodizing aside, though, I have a few major critiques of the development. The first is a question of density – 6500 people live in the square mile.  That’s not that many. Cambridge, MA has an average density of 7,350ish.  Cambridge, UK has 7600ish.  And Shorewood, WI – my hometown – has a population density of 8600ish.  You’d think that eliminating all those streets would give the developers plenty of space for more people than a streetcar suburb in the American Midwest, and that such density, in the absence of cars, would be desirable.  I found the number to be disappointing.

The other thing that I found really jarring was the tramline/Main Street down the middle of the development.  The tramline was built in concert with the development (good!) and the tracks are covered with grass, a design detail that I admired throughout Germany and Switzerland.  But the street was huge, treeless, and lacking in any activating features (most of the houses turned away from the street).  Furthermore, since most of the houses are carless, there was hardly any traffic on the massive central road.  The tramline/main street was as divisive as a river, and substantially less scenic.

Finally, while there was certainly plenty of mixed-use development, there didn’t seem to be any commercial center per se, or any Main Street (at least that I found).  We found a few businesses, and we stopped at the grocery store on the edge of the development and bought goo-gobs of Ritter Sport chocolate, but the cafe where we ate lunch was on an edge of development and was set far back from the walking path.  It had a lovely terrace and some pretty old trees, but very little adjacent commercial space.  It was the only commercial development that we saw on that side of the tramline/main street, and seemed like pretty slim pickings for 6500 people to share.

Despite my reservations, though, I would be thrilled to live in a place like that, and I fervently hope it inspires copycats (and that they read my blog and eliminate the enormous main street).

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I’d Live There

On a early spring run a few weeks ago, I took a turn down a street I’d been near many times, but never been down. Secluded down a ravine, with easy access to the Don Valley Recreation Trail, these modern houses caught my eye.  Not my usual style of architecture, but they were so appealing in the warm spring air.

 

***This is part of a weekly Friday posting of places we’d love to live, eat, and play***

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I’d Live There: Neko Case’s Vermont Farm

I’m not usually one for country living (though I guess my last couple of posts in this series don’t suggest that).  But how can you not want to live on a farm in Vermont after looking at these pictures. Exposed beams, breakfast nooks, vegetable plots…. Oh, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Neko Case just oozes “cool.”

Check out some of my favourite pictures from Country Living’s article below, or click HERE to see the whole set.

Deborah Bowness's photo-realistic wallpaper, plus a few actual bookshelves, turns the upstairs hallway into a de facto library.  Read more: Neko Case Vermont Farmhouse - Neko Case House Tour - Country Living With the exception of the late-1700s beams, Case started from scratch in the kitchen — transforming the space with custom cabinetry, counters of locally quarried Danby marble, and a refurbished 1950s stove. The floor tile is by Daltile; the stools came from Restoration Hardware.  Read more: Neko Case Vermont Farmhouse - Neko Case House Tour - Country Living

*This is part of  a weekly series entitled “I’d Live There” detailing places we’d love to live, eat, and play.

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I’d Live There: Small town Ontario

OK.  So the title is kind of a lie.  In reality, I probably never would live in small town Ontario, or any small town to be honest.  A summer living in Monticello, Utah (population 1900) cemented my status as an urbanite.  That being said, in travels across  southern Ontario for work and play, I fall in love over and over again with the gothic revival farmhouses from the 1800s that dot the landscape.

Last weekend took me to the small town of Beaverton, Ontario while shooting a music video with my band The Strumbellas.  The town of 2,500 is chock full of beautiful historic homes that I wish I’d snapped a few pictures of.  I’ve scoured the pages of realtor.ca looking for the perfect home to share, but have come up short.

If you’re interested, though, check out the Gothic Revival page at OntarioArchitecture.com.

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I would live the crap out of this place

A friend sent me this link with the message “behold dreamhouse”

He is spot-on.  This house is perfect.  If I had 1.5 million pounds, I’d be snapping it up right now instead of blogging about it.  If YOU have the money and buy the house, can I be your friend & come hang out in it?

 

It’s worth clicking the link and looking at the ten photos they have displayed.  Happy Friday!

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