As I mentioned in a previous post, the City of Toronto recently released GIS data that contains the shape and height of every building within the Toronto city limits. It’s a beautiful dataset with enormous potential.

It recently occurred to me to visualize the data based on building height, and that’s what I’ve done below. The map contains no information other than building footprints coloured by height. Blue buildings are low, and yellow, orange, and red buildings are taller.

Click on the map to see the full-size version!

I’m currently taking a class called “Declining Cities” as part of my Master of Science in Urban Planning. It seems like population is the most commonly used metric for determining whether a city is declining, although my impression is that population was chosen for convenience, rather than because it’s a particularly good indicator. With Earth’s population well beyond the planet’s carrying capacity already (I’m sure you’ve already heard about how many Earths we would need to sustain various lifestyles), population decline will almost certainly become the norm in due course anyway (at least in the aggregate). At that point, maybe we will start using another metric, such as economic performance. Although there might not be much of an economy left at that point, anyway!

I am very familiar with the city of Venice (Italy), so I am planning to look more closely at that city during this class. To help visualize the decline of population there, I plotted some data points that I collected from various sources. Each dot represents a census or other population estimate, and I have linked them together with straight lines as a basic form of visual interpolation. Unsurprisingly, the dots get closer together as time goes on, as the censuses became more regular and consistent, and in the last few years the dots actually represent the daily estimates prepared by the city’s statistical office, which I have been recording for the last year or so.
Some of the dips correspond to significant events in the history of Venice, including plagues and the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. The graph’s most obvious attribute, though, is the unprecedented decline in population from 174,755 people in 1951 to 56,310 people as of today, January 25. In other words, for every ten Venetians 64 years ago, there are only three living there today. Imagine what that means for the provision of services, housing, and amenities. The loss of grocery stores and other basic necessities has been exacerbated by the birth of literally billions of potential new tourists since the 1950s, so it’s no surprise that Venetians are left wondering if they’re expected to subsist by eating papier-mâché Carnival masks. You have to admire the commitment of those who remain.
Toronto has been popping out of the screen a lot recently. First of all, the City of Toronto, through its Open Data Portal, has released new “3D massing” layers that show the approximate 3D shape of every building, house, and structure in the city.

At a basic level, it’s fantastic to have a tidy, up-to-date 2D “building footprint” layer to use: torontomap1 torontomap2
But there’s also the 3D aspect. There are multiple versions, and I’m still trying to figure out how to render them properly using 3D software. For the meantime, this is all I’ve managed to produce, simply by using the “building height” attribute to extrude each building footprint:
There may also be a more detailed 3D file available, but as I said, I’m still working on that. In the meantime, there’s also newly released 3D imagery in Google Earth/Google Maps. To see it in your browser, go here. It has some pretty neat details:

U of T
The imagery seems to have been captured in spring or summer 2014, and it reflects a very specific version of the city. Above, the convocation tent at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus is half-erected. And below, you can see the beautifully landscaped Corktown Common park surrounded by the construction site where the Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village will be located:

There are some interesting artifacts from vehicles in motion, too. For example, the streetcars and other vehicles on Spadina Avenue appear as desaturated and blurry (but three-dimensional) ghosts:

In a pinch, you could use this imagery as a stand-in for true aerial photography. Google Earth even offers a “photorealistic atmosphere rendering” option that really makes it look like you’re in a plane:
Sounds like Rob Ford’s been spotted out of rehab in the Muskokas. It’s definite – Toronto needs a new mayor, and I know just who should fill that vacant chair!

More seriously, that photo was taken on the first night of the Global Cities Summit, when we were given a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of City Hall. The Summit itself provided a very interesting overview of city indicators, data collection techniques, smart city innovations, and different practices from around the world.

I also entered my gondola poster (co-created with Matt Kelling) into the Summit’s student competition, where it captured first place. All in all, a very successful end of the week.

Last weekend, Ori and I and some friends decided we would walk the entire 25 kilometers of the Humber River Trail, from the shores of Lake Ontario to the northern border of the City of Toronto at Steeles Avenue. It’s springtime, which is our traditional time to go walking (e.g., Camino in April 2011, Bruce Trail in April 2013).

Before we started, I plotted out the route using GIS (start at the bottom):

Unfortunately, there was a 10k run along Yonge Street, which brought all of the TTC’s surface routes to a grinding halt. We ended up walking four kilometers west along Queen Street, hoping to catch a streetcar that never came. We couldn’t even get a taxi, so we eventually took the bus and subway to Old Mill, where we began our walk. This meant that we skipped the first four kilometers of the Humber hike, but I guess we made up for it along Queen Street. Anyway, we’ll do that last segment (from the lake shore to Bloor Street) at some point later in the summer.

It was nevertheless satisfying to have walked all the way to the northern city limits. The walk was very pleasant; the trail is paved most of the way, and it was never rocky or muddy. You could easily bike the whole thing. It grew a bit monotonous after a while, and there were very few amenities (e.g., bathrooms, water fountains, or even decent restaurants near to the trail).

Below: Starting our hike at Old Mill subway station.

Below: The Humber River as seen from the Old Mill Bridge.

Below: Starting out at Old Mill. It was the most beautiful day, and the trees were just starting to get leaves on them.

Below: Anglers under Old Mill Bridge.

Below: One of the many weirs along the lower part of the River. Mike, a stormwater-engineer-turned-planner, was full of interesting trivia about the weirs.

Below: Passing under Dundas Street.

Below: One of many “forest friends” we saw along the way. We saw all kinds of birds, snakes, and rodents – quite the colourful menagerie compared to downtown’s mangy squirrels, raccoons, and pigeons.

Below: This was what the view from the trail looked like most of the time.

Below: Crossing the river.

Below: Mike and Kaylen with the remnants of damage caused by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Below: Crossing beneath Highway 401.

Below: Tim celebrates completing the trail.

Below: Sighted from our bus along Steeles Avenue as we took the TTC home. We walked out of Toronto!