My last post was an overview of Clarence Perry’s neighbourhood unit concept and how modern planners were adapting his ideas to current problems. In this post, I will look at some of Perry and Duany Plater Zyberk’s (DPZ) ideas on the neighbourhood unit and how they relate to my neighbourhood, Hillsdale, in South Regina. Hillsdale has certain characteristics that make it good for comparison to the theoretical neighbourhood unit. It has close to the right population, 5795 people and one elementary school. One of the major difference is a larger area of 209 hectares (about 516 acres) according to the 2001 City of Regina neighbourhood profile ( http://www.regina.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=325 ). Hillsdale’s official boundaries follow the Wascana Parkway to the East, Albert St. north of Parliament Avenue and 23rd Avenue to the north. Retail is found along 23rd Avenue at the Lakeshore strip mall with a grocery store and another strip mall, Kramer Corner, down Kramer Boulevard which includes restaurants and a postal outlet. The retail sections are designed with automobile access in mind, each have large frontages for parking.
The base map above comes from the City of Regina interactive map online (previous link has been retired. New link to Regina Parks map here: http://www.Regina.ca/ParksMap) where the neighbourhood border and various categories can be selected for display. The buffers and their 500 meter radii are approximations I have done with MS Paint and the measurement tool on Google Earth. The legend is also a creation in MS Paint. Basically, the map was created to see what Perry’s ideas would look like in my neighbourhood with schools here today and those now gone.
The map has four 500 meter buffer zones around two current (Massey and McVeety) and two former (Elsie Dorsey and McNiven) public elementary schools. There are three other schools I do not look at in Hillsdale: Regina Christian School on 23rd and Albert, Ecole Monseigneur de Laval on Cowen Crescent and LeBoldus high school. These were not included because they serve larger areas than Hillsdale.
First impressions from the map, along the eastern part of the neighbourhood there is a fair amount of overlap in school areas. By contrast, parts of the western fringe, south of LeBoldus high school, have no coverage. Massey school’s buffer radius encompasses the southern area between MacPherson Avenue and Hillsdale St. and in my experience children in this area are likely to go to Massey. MacPherson Avenue is a collector street but seems to act as a border road in my experience. In a similar way the McNiven buffer radius is interesting because the area it encompasses has many characteristics inline with Perry’s original thoughts. There are clear road boundaries, with avenues (2-3 lanes in both directions and a median) surrounding three sides and Wascana Parkway to the east. One interesting example of this area’s autonomy, when McNiven closed, McVeety, who received many of the kids, recognized the distances those children would have to walk were too great and began a supervised lunch program. Before the merger McVeety children had to walk home for lunch.
In my mind the reason for the two closures is as follows: what occurs in every neighbourhood, demographic transition struck in the 1980’s and 90’s along with a general slow down of population. The Hillsdale neighbourhood dates from the 1950’s, a time of North American population and housing expansion. By the 1970s and 80s original owners were likely becoming empty nesters with fewer young families to take up housing.
At the same time a baby bust cycle in Canada meant less children than the 1950’s or 60’s with baby boomers just starting families. Then, during the baby boom echo family sizes decreased with baby boomers having fewer children than their parents.
Reflecting on this map what this exercise has demonstrated for me is the density Perry must have been working in. Hillsdale is much less dense than inner city neighbourhoods like Heritage, Al Ritchie or Cathedral but it is not, in my mind, sprawling. There are large amounts of apartments (2-3 stories) particularly at the south edge between Kramer Boulevard and the boundary with Whitmore Park along Castle Road. Surely Perry must have been thinking of larger cities to expect such density. Hillsdale’s low density also represents the different expectation of residential space after the Second World War. Today, as DPZ’s neighbourhood unit shows, reworking the walking distance to 10 minutes, roughly twice a 500 meter radius, would allow for a larger area (Farr, D. Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc 2007. Pg 128).
Density aside, other concerns like separating living spaces and traffic corridors and providing green space and recreation are largely accomplished in the design. Fortunately, Elsie Dorsey’s green space has been retained, as is the city land open stubble field beside Selo Gardens.
This mapping exercise is too basic to derive any real conclusions, but the map does suggest that the 500 meter barrier may have been appropriate once but settlement patterns after the war and demographics have changed the equation some. There is a larger question of course and that is where will a Hillsdale neighbourhood be in the medium future? Certainly as the above infill suggests losing these institutional uses can provide an opportunity to increase density (Evan’s Court is another example) . But with a car orientated suburb, designed in another era can some of the centralizing changes, especially with DPZ’s local retail focus, be accomplished? Currently the uses in the neighbourhood are excellent but the access is car oriented and strip malls divided. Whatever the future has in store, Clarence Perry’s neighbourhood unit can provide an interesting perspective to examine my neighbourhood as it changes.