Friday, May 4, 2012

155 Caroline: Building a place to go, not go around

My ongoing dismay about 155 Caroline is not traceable to a single fixable aspect. It is with 155 Caroline failing as a whole to give as much as it takes. On the surface, 155 Caroline is basically a scaled up version of 144 Park. So what makes 155 a problem if 144 was considered acceptable?

Expando ad absurdium

The answer is right in front of us: scale. 144 Park is, on its own, an innocuous (if uninspired) development. It provides some minimal engagement at street level by being lined with townhouses, and it tucks its generous, but not outrageous parking deep inside. It does little to add to a vibrant streetscape but it goes to pains not to be a major detractor. It is being constructed to respect the existing Iron Horse trail, a piece of community heritage and an asset which is threatened by the new plan.

In contrast, the combined 144/155 complex cannot get away with its lack of engagement with the streets it will loom over, because of that enormous scale. Consuming an entire block, near the heart of Uptown, it threatens to exert a deadening influence on the surrounding blocks because it presents nothing to the people around it... except an obstacle.

Luxury Dormitory and Parkade

It goes downhill from there. The expansion more than doubles the parking being built into the edifice, in part because Bauer insists on maintaining its existing overflow parking, but it is an oversupply of parking that is indefensible in the face of its location at the gateway to Uptown and steps from buses and LRT. And where Bauer presents an intriguing and attractive ground floor of restaurants and shops (and is now a destination because of it) 155 has to go to great pains to mask and hide not just a failure, but an abject unwillingness to be a destination as much as it is a luxury dormitory and parking garage.

Sick Building, Healthy Building

A healthy development would attempt to connect with its surroundings. That would probably have to include some street-level commercial use. It would certainly not be a fortress of parking, resident-only facilities and a windy, private terrace that will take on an air of desolation once the residents realize that it will never see the vibrance of public interactions the optimistic renders suggest.

And it wouldn't elbow aside one of our community's prized assets either, let alone turn it into a grand tour of Waterloo's parking garages.

Destruction or creation of “place”

The steps that would bring the scale down to 144's respectful level could also solve the unpleasantness of street-facing parkades, the destruction of heritage and the lack of street engagement. Those steps would involve abandoning the monolithic block construction, adding street retail, and orienting outward to the trail rather than inward forcing people around it like a boulder dropped in a river.

These steps will require going back to the drawing board, recapturing some of the respect of place of 144 and taking it to the next level: creation of place.

The benefit would not be limited to this block or the emerging district of Uptown South. It would be setting a city-wide precedent that we expect more from the developers eager to throw up another tower and cash out. We are not short of developers: we are short of good places.


  1. Bauer has also oriented Vincenzo's the wrong way - instead of its entrance facing towards Allen, so as to attract pedestrians coming from Uptown, it faces its parking lot, forcing pedestrians to walk around the store to get to it.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, Chris. I think you're right on target. While I'm a resident of Park Street, I'm fully in favour of turning Caroline and Park into commercially zoned areas with multi-story buildings. That doesn't mean, however, that (as you say) design and a sense of place don't matter. Building giant fortress-like walls at street level instead of welcoming mixed-use buildings destroys any sense of community or place. No one is going to visit 155 Caroline the way they visit the Bauer buildings or King Street. There won't be anything there for non-residents, so there won't be any non-residents there. That's a sure way to hold back the growing sense of place in the area.

    Thanks for your post, and please keep us posted on updates with this plan.

  3. Maybe residents don't want non-residents to loiter/visit where they don't live. It's called Privacy. Growing sense of place? That's what malls are for - if you want to go and people watch.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Rudy. But do residents have an expectation of privacy outside of their suites, and to a lesser extent, outside of their lobby/facilities?

      The issue is not one of whether residents get a private cinema. The issue is how a block-sized development interacts with the street. We are, after all, talking about a central neighbourhood next to the most walkable, urban part of Waterloo.

      If residents have an expectation of isolation, they should not be looking at a condo building in the middle of a city, but a quiet rural property. In the meantime, to make the best use of our streets, we need developments that present a mix of uses. Bauer Lofts has accomplished this, despite some flaws. This development does not even try, and it is wasted potential.

      This should be of concern to residents of the building, too. They could have had a vibrant, safe streetscape in their neighbourhood. Mixed use would increase their property value, and contribute to the urban style of living they're coming downtown for anyway.

      Sadly, it does nothing of the kind, and that is a real pity.

  4. I just found this insightful post. Great work! It sums up almost all of my feelings toward this development. I don't oppose more density in Uptown - in fact I am practically in full support - but I really wish Mady would reconsider its plans and incorporate some street-level retail. The analogy of a boulder in a river is a great one. As it stands, 155 offers nothing but an obstacle to non-residents, and for a key piece of uptown real estate that's unacceptable. We just need to maintain pressure on the City and Mady and hopefully we'll see some changes.

    Development should not be a one-way street; we, the citizens, should have a say in how our urban landscape is shaped. Ultimately, I believe a compromise can easily be reached that will be lucrative to the developer and beneficial to all citizens. We just need to put in the work and make sure all parties are respected.