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Fruitful Legibility and the Greater Oliver Concept Plan

by
Brennan Feldman

Smart Growth on Ground (SGOG) says the town of Oliver, British Columbia as it

begins its journey of endurance. This is the concept backing the Greater Oliver Concept

Plan aiming towards a prosperous region. Taking into account many circumstances such

as demographics, environmental ethics, increasing economic concerns, and refined

theories based on growth principles, many modern plans are taking into consideration

those ideas based around sustainability and smart growth. Oliver's being one of them

depicts a conceptual plan cast through community efforts and planning embodiment

which draws its target upon eight guiding principles that encompass the foremost of

the region's essentials. These essentials, combined with many modern day and ironclad

land use premises, give way to a very comprehensive matter that not only explains the

rationales for this plan but sheds light on why this plan was devised and portrayed as it

is.

Giving an overview of this plan would make for a very redundant piece,

therefore this composition will focus on a few aspects of the plan and in turn relating

those findings to key materials oriented towards concepts based around a learning

environment of land use and planning. Beginning with any single concept would be

bordering a shotgun approach, and this said, a short synopsis will start this

presentation. The town of Oliver’s history welcomes those who inquire with a quaint

experience. Being based in the only desert region in Canada, Oliver has made sound

use of its attractive attributes. With a very mild average temperature, residents and

tourists alike can join in appreciating the area’s virtues such as water activities and

sports as well as a common pastime of sightseeing. Not only does Oliver boast its

attractiveness to all who live and visit through activities and good weather, but it is

also fruitful from its background in the wine culture/industry. Having one of the best

rated wines in the world, not only do their residents get to enjoy good feelings around

dinner time but their economy shows great potential from this wonderful industry!
In recognizing this potential, it is important to consider many things;

considerably its town planning. By understanding what economy and population

changes (among many other factors) will bring for the future, you can begin to consider

what to do with land use, regulation, and social/economic conditions. Headlining in

potential is a section of the plan geared towards achieving a successful mixed use

community. Providing great headway for their current economy, the plan provides

sustainment for Oliver’s agricultural proficiency and still allows for a progressive inflow

of various businesses and development. Also accommodated by their agricultural

sustainment is the ecological foundation that not only allows for a beautiful aesthetic in

and around town but aids through transparency with such benefits ranging from public

health, possibilities in economy(sightseeing, conservatories, etc…), as well as species

preservation. In context of embedded values and the deeper meanings of Oliver’s

urban design, the concept of legibility provides great knowhow in devising and

following through with a plan; as well as understanding it from various perspectives.

Inviting the reader into the plan is a set of guiding principles covering all

aspects of development followed by an introduction to the project, the development

and charrette process, and ending with a section for funding/participants; as well as an

action plan timeline. These additives are a very important component to the plan and

its development, but for purposes of this composition, the core of the plan retains the

most importance. Beginning with the concept of mixed use, it should first be stated

that there are so many possibilities in achieving mixed use development, and also very

many situations where it may not work but is used for the idea simply as it is the ‘new’

movement in development (sustainability this, pedestrian accessibility that…) This is

not cynical in argument but apparent in many instances if one examines modern plans

that have aim but no backing or reasoning.

Mixed use, simply stated, is exactly what it sounds like; mixing your land

uses not only allows for proximity benefits but economical and social benefits dually. In

putting your residence above your business you can minimize transportation, allow for

a more human scale scenario and increase density, which in contrary to most beliefs
can make an urban area more safe(especially at night) and allows for more possibilities

of a strong internal market. In the Greater Oliver Concept Plan, mixed use is discussed

in great detail, beginning with the most important; its validity and appropriate

instances for implementation. The plan discusses an urban growth boundary stating,

“In the future, an urban growth boundary is desirable, although a specific boundary

location has not yet been delineated. An urban growth boundary will designate the

areas within which urban land uses (including mixed use developments, residential,

and commercial developments, etc.) are appropriate. Outside the boundary,

agricultural and rural land uses are appropriate.1”

This rationale for maintaining agriculture yet increasing density begins to

characterize the plan’s objectives as aware and knowledgeable of its purpose and use.

Continuing on its mixed use excursion, the plan touches upon it in the budget as far as

area coverage and percentage of budget use, as well as regions of different mixed use

types. Instead of designating one area or set of areas as mixed use zoning, Oliver

grants mixed use residential, mixed use commercial and mixed use industrial. A reader

may cringe upon that last use as they may assume mixed use industrial as a

smokestack factory topping your residence, but in fact there are many different forms

of industrial use. One example the plan gives, shown in figure 2, controls the types and

uses of mixed use industrial as, “Permitted Uses: Studio / shop / flex space at grade,

residential / office above grade. Light Industrial, food processing, manufacturing,

laboratory, research, high-tech. Building Types: Stacked live/work lofts or apartments,

Residential above studio / flex space.2”

1
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (pg. 18) “Urban Growth Management”

2
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (Pg. 35) “Industrial Mixed Use” Figure 2 also from this page
Figure : Shown here is an excerpt from the Greater Oliver Concept Plan giving
an example of a scenario of mixed use industrial being implemented as a studio beside
an industrial space.

This massing would typically follow that similar to buildings around it but still

stray from uniformity. Staying clear from a massive industrial complex connected to a

mass uniform housing structure via a mass transportation system, this option allows

practically a work at home scenario if that resident works there, and social space

conformity with work space in the rear. In many occasions throughout history mixed

use has been the norm, but with the suburban growth and current economic patterns,

it has become near impossible to compete with big box stores as a small time

business.

Along with Industrial mixed use, certainly tags along the obvious commercial

and residential mixed uses. One may think these would be the same thing if they did

not understand that in certain contexts it is appropriate to have form based around

dense living and form based around more open low density situations. Mixed use

residential the plan describes as, “Typical building massing includes mostly

residential uses with some ground floor commercial.3” This would best benefit an area

with medium density as it would require more parking and more permeability for

residences, although parking structures could help this issue if placed in high density

areas. As the plan depicts, its downtown core contains a denser series of buildings as

it nears the riverfront, followed by a public space and then a green space along the

river. Running parallel to the river up through the city there is a series of streets: 93rd

street which is similar to the boardwalk type where there is high density fronting the

public space viewing the river, then there is the lane which is pedestrian and service

3
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (Pg. 28) Mixed Use Residential
friendly allowing much permeability through to both the 93rd and main street.

Following, is more high density buildings bordering both sides of main street and then

a series of medium density all connected vertically by clearly shown pedestrian

pathways reaching from low density development through to the river. Accessibility is

key here, and with all of this permeable space it is easily available for mixed use

implementation. Likewise, as mixed use residential fits here, as does mixed use

commercial which usually is best fit in more dense areas. The more commercial units

that can fit within one building, the more there will be activity and growth. Adding

livability to this scenario is the cherry on top as it will attract higher priced

apartments and a more affluent crowd to spend their money in town.

All of this hype about increased development, a greater population, and this

mixed use stuff, current residents may be a bit weary to this new plan’s decisions.

Along with most planning comes appeasement; and in this scenario as an

agricultural society, it can get interesting. Most farmers either are accepting to

development because they can get out of their business after some rich corporation

buys up their land, or despise it because they are conservative with their current

culture. Realizing this, the plan clearly adds a section aimed towards appeasing this

inquiring crowd. This may have made them sound like the bad guys ruining the

plan, but in context with Oliver’s history it is definitely an important issue to retain

agriculture and green space. In order to keep their current culture, agriculture must

be maintained and most certainly used towards Oliver’s advantage.

In the process of this transformation there is bound to be trouble, whether it

trespassing on agricultural lands or pesticides roaming the air of communities, it is

very difficult to manage a balanced agricultural edge with today’s increasing

residential impedance in rural areas. Discussing this exact issue is a presentation

given to the USDA Policy Advisory Committee on Farmland given by Alvin D.

Sokolow from the University at California, Davis. He states in his presentation

outline, “To minimalize edge conflicts, adjustments are required on both sides of the

agricultural-urban edge—in both farm practices and in the lifestyles and tolerance
of urban neighbors.4” and in stating that the answer lies in planning and land use

policies, “this means emphasizing compact and high density development in place

of scattered and inefficient growth, farm-sensitive design of residential subdivisions,

and using landscaping and other techniques to buffer urban development from

farms.” In terms of coherence, a place should always be easy to understand and

flow from one region to another not abruptly but legibly in order to keep not only

planners happy but to make it easier for inhabitants to find their way. In terms of

legibility, Kevin Lynch in his book “The Image of the City” states, “Just as this

printed page, if it is legible, can be visually grasped as a related pattern of

recognizable symbols, so a legible city would be one whose districts or landmarks

or pathways are easily identifiable and are easily grouped into an overall pattern.5”

This said, legibility stands for many things, whether it the alignment of the

street angles focusing your view on a centerpiece landmark or an edge effect

separating but not alienating two distinct regions to benefit both. Using techniques

such as enhanced landscaping on the urban side of the edge or signs re-iterating

the importance of moral boundary when it comes to the agricultural lands, safety

and piece-of-mind may be achieved in both circumstances. But as always, the

unfortunate things usually come with a positive side. In Sokolow’s presentation, he

wraps up his section on incompatible land uses and begins with a section on

economic opportunities by stating, “The negative effects of farming in an urbanizing

environment can be offset for some operators by the economic advantages of close

proximity to urban populations. With such proximity comes the potential for direct

marketing of certain commodities and the possibilities of agri-tourism. Certainly

there is added value for both farmers and urban neighbors in reducing the distance

between producers and consumers.6” Turning profit from this type of situation is

4
Alvin D. Sokolow, Presentation to USDA Policy Advisory Committee on Farmland (Section 2 of
outline – second paragraph)

5
Kevin Lynch, “The Image of the City” Legibility - Top of Pg. 3.

6
typically difficult for farmers to do alone; therefore it would be wise of a plan to

include incentives for these types of things. Not only would this help out the

agricultural economy but it would provide Oliver with increased tourism and home-

grown markets for residents to benefit from.

Realizing that there is a fresh slate for development is paramount in Oliver’s

success. Since open space has no determined use so far, the possibilities are

endless in a town like this. New initiatives and little to no fixed requirements provide

a framework that can be legible and beneficial. Extending the reaches of both urban

and rural contexts into one another is also key in providing Oliver with a positive

future. In discussing the protection of agricultural land, the plan calls for a strong

edge and also states that it must, “Create gateways to Greater Oliver’s agricultural

areas.7” Much like the problems in the City of Buffalo, Oliver is not exempt from this

dilemma if planning is not done accordingly. With transportation cutting up our

viable walking grounds, it is becoming ever so clear that pedestrian friendliness is

an attribute that is such a substantial component to happiness and well-being. If a

section of town is not easily accessible (Buffalo’s waterfront) by walking, it is bad

design; and if it is an important section of town it is a huge misfortune, dragging

down all aspects of prosperity. For Oliver, these gateways will reach from the river in

the downtown section all the way through to the rural areas, allowing a very legible

city to emerge and flower into a fruitful, wine drinking, agri-tourism paradise.

Alright, maybe it won’t be a paradise, but it might compete with Toronto in a couple

decades!

On the subject of gateways, a similar topic of the region’s success is ecology

and green space. These types of gateways, or ‘corridors’ can be seen throughout

most places, some more sporadically than others, linking one green space or

Alvin D. Sokolow, Presentation to USDA Policy Advisory Committee on Farmland (Section 3 of
outline – first paragraph)

7
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (Pg. 71) Non-Urban Oliver: Emphasizing and Protecting the Rural
and Agricultural Landscape
sensitive area to another allowing for many different types of species to survive;

especially the herpetofauna which so heavily rely on the edge effect of different

environments. Connecting the patches of the landscape, these corridors should not

be halted by the urban/agricultural edges. There should be a flowing green space

along the river, extending out into the desert areas. And in preserving the

ecosystem, preserving the view-shed is also called for. In the section: Non-Urban

Oliver: Viewshed Management, the plan states, “Encourage native plantings as

much as possible. Mimic naturally occurring vegetation patterns, such as the cluster

of pine forest and grassland shrubs, rather than formal arrangements. 8” In

achieving this optimal viewshed, a nice aesthetic will grace the area’s inhabitants

and allow for a more sustainable local ecology as they will take better to native

plants.

Along with the viewshed comes the issue of the watershed and erosion

prevention. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any plan since it

ties into so many different elements of consideration. Anything from maintaining

the right pH to keep the river species alive to preventing a mudslide that topples a

neighborhood, water can greatly benefit a region or dismantle it all together. As

shown in the plan, most of the studied region is highly susceptible to aquifer

containment/damage. After announcing that many of Oliver’s residents depend on

local wells for their water supply, the plan states, “It is generally recommended that

in highly vulnerable areas, a targeted site specific investigation be conducted prior

to development planning. Highly vulnerable areas may also be a priority for

monitoring and possibly identified as protected areas.9” The riparian ecosystem and

the residents’ wells will be grateful for any and all investigations completed.

8
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (Pg. 86) Non-Urban Oliver: Viewshed Management

9
Greater Oliver Concept Plan (Pg. 89) Non-Urban Oliver: Protecting and Restoring Environmentally Sensitive
Areas (last paragraph)
Along with all of the ideas brought forth in this composition, one underlying

message should be understood. Coherency, vitality, and identity are great tools for

building a viable region and community. Utilizing such mechanisms as sewers and

highways as growth shapers, Floor Area Ratio regulations for consistency,

thematized development and agri-tourism for Local Identity, mixed use

development for most zoning, sustainable corridors, and a well rounded /

community involved discussion based charrette, a plan could conceivably spark the

return of one of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden cities smack-dab in the desert of British

Columbia. Quite a feat wouldn’t it be? But with all things considered, is that really

what is in Oliver’s best interest? Maybe, but this plan seems to be on target with a

little more accuracy behind its aim. One thing must be remembered; each region,

each community is specific to itself and all of the planning must reside around that

important concept. A comprehensive subway system addition may benefit Buffalo,

but would that aid Oliver’s future transportation? Maybe in the far future, but not in

this plan.

Every aspect and rationale of this plan has a very appropriate mannerism and

approach for its issue. Although, a few things may have aided this plan’s legibility:

More specific details such as describing every street’s layout and maybe even each

different agricultural region and how they aid Oliver as a whole. Also, it may have

helped to expand more on tourism opportunities and over development strategies

for businesses to come, as well as incentives it may offer to spark economic

movement. Other than that, this plan’s rationales and key concepts really hit the

head of the nail when it comes to providing reasoning behind its approach. What

shall the future bring for the Town of Oliver? If it is anything like a Garden City, they

should be in good shape locally, but it will most likely want to extend its reach past

internal commerce. Hopefully this plan can assimilate its urban villagers, its

agriculture society and even its agri-tourists for a totally legible and fruitful future

development. That is if they can relieve their red wine headaches before the next

charrette.
(This picture taken from The Greater Oliver Concept Plan front page)

• Books.Google.com (search: Image of the City) The first option will be Kevin

Lynch’s

• http://64.233.169.132/search?q=cache:ZOm1CYVVWVYJ:aic.ucdavis.edu/researc

h1/USDA%2520ls%25207-21-
00.pdf+agricultural+edge&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=6&gl=us (Sokolow’s

Presentation)

• http://www.sgog.bc.ca/content.asp?contentID=156 (Greater Oliver Concept

Plan)

• Note: Many instances and terms of class discussions were brought up through

this essay, but there was no copy-pasting of the slides’ text. Therefore, it is

necessary to mention that terms such as Legibility, herpatofauna, permeability,

FAR, corridors, etc. have been taken from notes and used in this composition.

Key concepts have been understood and reformed to fit this work.