More time lingering in Portofino


Look carefully at these buildings. The floor inside is actually all one level, with an internal corridor like any hotel or apartment building. But the colours, varied rooflines, and different window treatments give the people outside the joy of a traditional Italian streetscape. I see no reason why buildings cannot be built here, using these techniques, but not necessarily the faux-Italian stucco.


After six or eight “houses” (hotel rooms) the building row takes a shift, with an inset portion that fosters the 3D effect. These exteriors do not seem expensive to construct, but pay huge dividends in civilization.


the Portofino property probably has as many Vespas and Italian bikes as Joe Cotroneo has bounded within his car museum. Note the peg that bolts the bike to its parking spot.

Below: outdoor courtyard:



Below: indoor courtyard / corridor:




The property did not cheap out on details. Real shutters, real operating hardware and detailing in many places:





This interior lobby space carried out the theme:



The “front” of the hotel faced the motor court and the lagoon [Portofino Bay]. The back faced a Italian-garden style pool complex (it is a resort hotel, after all):




PS:  I enjoyed my stay at Portofino, but it certainly looked expensive. Maybe sometime I will find a room there on Hotwire. But after an afternoon exploring the grounds and the piazzas, it was time to find the rental car [cunningly stashed in the bus parking lot, absolutely no car parking allowed, to avoid the $18 guest parking fee] and return my $35/night hotel, after a quick stop at Publix to pick up some supper.

PS2:  (alternatively, there was a unmonitored employee parking lot on the north side, off a separate highway from the Portofino main entrance where one might be able to stash the vehicle)

ps3: shown below is an absolutely crackjack building exterior that our design review committee considers superlative for its variety and friendly streetscape appearance on little ole’ dead end Norman Street:

97 norman, elevation, fall 2013

Notice the tremendous variety of brick colours and textures that slash the facade making it look just like …. townhouses. Or so they say. At recent council meeting on this project, I thought too much time was spent by certain councillor gushing with Taggarts about the wonders of golf at Montebello, the ambience of the hotel’s exterior, its lobby, and the food … perhaps we could crowdfund a ticket for them to see some more popular architecture?



Portofino is eye pleasing

My architect and planner acquaintenances snort in derrision at the “nostalgia” element in new urbanism. I think some of it is jealousy, because they rarely can come up with anything as popular with the public.

I made a point of dropping in on Portofino during the past winter. The one in Florida. Near Universal Studios. Its a resort inspired by / derived from / copied from / a faux version of Portofino, Italy.

The drive in is a masterpiece of view manipulation, compression and release, and successfuly separates the outside Florida from the inside event.





Like all most really good urban places, it was basically car free, once you got to the main entrance, past all the parking lots on the periphery: the cars “illegally” parked around the fountain (just like in Italy !) are bolted to the pavement, just there to add that bit of Roman Holiday romance:



The main portico directs one either into the hotel complex or to the staircase overlooking the piazza and “harbour” below:




Look closely at the “row” of buildings in the photo above, and in the other photos: the row is actually a single building with different façades “drawn onto” the surface. The window patterns vary in size and give the illusion the building floors vary in height [this is something local architects cannot ever seem to do right even when they boast about having varied façades to add interest to the local street they are overwhelming].

There is some three dimensional setbacks in the building front walls, but not much. Mostly, variety  is achieved by paint and texture and window pattern.

IMG_0037IMG_0036The square or piazza has some organizing elements embedded in the pavers:


but the actual amount of landscaping in the village itself was surprisingly restrained. Mostly hardscaping. But very well done.


Several cafes and eateries faced the piazza. Alcohol was [self]served but like elsewhere in Florida, no big fences separate the imbibers from contaminating the public.


The Starbucks (slightly disguised with an Italian flavoured name) offered these small bottles of wine and nice wine glasses to enjoy on the front patio. To the left are single-serve glasses of wine ready to take out. Help yourself.


more tomorrow….


For want of a patch, the road was lost …

There are numerous proverbs that go along the line of “for want of a nail, the [something] was lost …”, or, the sweater unravelled, or whatever the exemplar might be. The gist is the same: a small, timely action can forego a larger problem later. Conversely, large problems with expensive solutions devolve out of small beginnings.

For many months now, I’ve had to swerve my bike to go around the catchbasin-in-a-moat when leaving Loblaws on Richmond Road right at Kirkwood.  A few times I’ve had to run right into it, with bone jarring results. Another time [or two] I’ve ended up swerving onto the sidewalk to avoid it.

What began as a small crevice beside the catch basin grew steadily larger. Surely there were work crews on their way at this very moment to smooth out my ride home? No? Well why didn’t someone report it?

Two weeks ago the hole beside the catchbasin had grown from a scarey pit into a full fledged moat. The grate seems to move around a bit; sometimes there is a much bigger crack on the road side (left) edge.


No matter where one “hits” this catchbasin, its trying to wreck your bike [or eat your car].

And as of last week, the entire frame that holds the catch basin in place has now fractured, so the asphalt hot patch is now becoming a dig up up the road and replace the whole top of the catch basin assembly.

I’m curious to find out how bad the hole might become before it eats a Westboro Volvo.



the larger moral of the story, of course, is that repairs should be done. But our city has encouraged too much low density growth to support the amount of infrastructure required to service that same low density sprawl (and yes, the area of Westboro around the Superstore is 1940′s sprawl, except being old it’s now cute). We need both less infrastructure and more people to pay for it. Intensification is merely one solution, the one this city has chosen to grasp. It has some ugly side affects, though, which we are discovering: high rises, unaffordable homes and businesses, stagnation …


Meantime, watch the hole.


Bike Path, Walkway, Bus Stop: all together now

The City of Ottawa claims it cannot possibly design the new section of Booth Street running north from Albert, serving Pimisi Station and the LeBreton Flats area, to include motorists, buses, transit, and bikes. The cyclists just don’t fit. So they are being thrown under the bus. As for their partner in crime, the NCC’s vision for their new urban downtown showpiece doesn’t seem to include complete streets or cyclists.

Dusk a few weeks ago, I noticed this lovely bike path – walkway – bus stop combo in Montreal, on the side of Park Lafontaine.

Everyone approaching the place gets ample visual clues that something special is about to happen. The pillars / gateposts signal a special place, and entry point. Textured pavement crosses the paths, giving clues underfoot. The footpath, which is a bit lower than the bike path, transitions to the same level, facilitating barrier-free movement. Over on the right, along the street, is the bus stop, with the generous passenger waiting area separated from the cyclists and thru-walkers by manicured planters:



In the photo below, it is clearer that the area is step free, The quality plantings are obvious. The bus stop has ped-scale lighting fixtures. The red bar on the right is the tail light of a passing cyclist. There is a cyclist waiting at the bus stop too (but wasn’t riding on the sidewalk).




All this is very nice, but it is merely a bus stop. Unfortunately, Ottawa cannot figure out how to achieve something similar at an important transit station. It makes me nervous about how cheap or well planned our Confederation line stations will be. That there isn’t a user advisory group for the stations is downright scary. Input is required at the planning stages, not just after all the decisions are made and its too expensive or too late to make things better.

Somebody does it better

Grocery stores, the holy grail of urban planning, marker of a high walk score and even higher real estate values, seem somewhat elusive in Ottawa. Developers tell me their floor plate requirements are fundamentally at odds with the pillars, etc that are required to hold up the condo tower above. I do look forward to see the Promised Sobbey’s in Claridge’s downtown towers on Lisgar … someday.

But recently in Montreal I noticed that they managed to fit a largish grocery store under just two and three floors of apartments. Just what most residents claim to want: non-high rise urban  development. What Ottawa claims is uneconomic, Montreal managed to do on more expensive land. Here’s some pic:



The store was a whole city block on Mont Royal in the Plateau district. The view up the side street, above, shows the loading docks that cross (and block) the sidewalks. The “front” of the building had a less interrupted streetscape. Note the picnic tables (streetlife !) and nostalgia light fixtures. And the low-ish speed limit:


Here’s the residential part of the building, nicely expressed in modern materials (brick, corrugated tin siding, and coloured glass balcony panels):


Bike parking, conveniently near the front door, sheltered from rain and snow by an overhang, and real windows, transparent even, so passersby can look in the windows and shoppers look out. What will they think of next?



The exterior balconies were buffered from the hot afternoon sun by exterior shutters that provide shade, reduce air conditioning costs, and look good too:


further down the side street, the next buildings were of similar style but higher, with no retail:



The coloured glass balconies really caught the eye. There were also matching very-thin vertical glass panels inset into the brick walls to offer flashes of light. Has anyone seen coloured glass railings in Ottawa yet?  Here’s a pic from Vancouver, where several colours were used, which is very appropriate for a wet-weather climate, and will offset the dreary wet concrete walls elsewhere on the building:



Safe Routes to School

Of course, all routes to school should be safe.

And schools should be located on collector streets in real neighbourhoods and not in isolated locations outside of built-up areas.

Whilst in Montreal, I noticed intersections marked as shown in the picture below, presumably identifying intersections with a higher number of school kids using the crossing. Of course, I suspect the well-frequented intersections enjoy “safety in numbers” and the real risk lies in less-used intersections, which are less likely to get marked.

Which is yet another reason we should have lower speed limits, and roads designed to restrict speeds to safe speeds.



I do not know if they also use the traditional pentagonal school zone signs, which tend to be located mid-block just before the school.

Mind, I always trained my kids that is generally safer to cross the street between intersections (no turning vehicles, fewer distractions for motorists) and continue to do so myself. Note that in Montreal, there is no right turn on red. Nor in NYC.

An advanced pedestrian green signal recently appeared at Preston-Somerset, an intersection I use daily.  I notice how many vehicles make “false starts” when the ped signal turns green.  There must be a PHD paper in this somewhere … why do motorists watch the ped signal instead of the vehicle signal? What will happen when the ped signal gives the advance green for cyclists? Are countdown signals more dangerous because they encourage motorists to speed up to catch the dying green light?