Sudbury's current spatial figure is visually and experientially dominated by the downtown location and the sprawling footprints of its active railways and train yards, simultaneously operating as urban impediments and dramatic reminders of the city's industrial past. The presence of these infrastructures pose hard, sclerotic limits on the future livability of the city: not only do they spatially constrain the growing downtown business district and limit available and convenient land for housing and new public functions, but they also segment the city fabric and preclude the establishment of vital connections between residential neighborhoods, industrial areas, commercial zones, and the public spaces needed to make growth sustainable and urban life desirable (Panel A). This project argues that addressing Sudbury's urban future cannot be reduced to a singular architectural vision for the downtown core, nor can it be reduced to a site-less, replication of prototypical elements. Instead, the project assumes a series of multi-scalar operations ranging from broad zoning and street grid re-formulations to incentivize new, dense and programmatically hybridized spatial fabrics; to specific and surgical design changes to key junctures of the spatial fabric. Taken together, the multi-disciplinary design strategies add up to a projected vision for 2050 which is but one of a range of potential outcomes. Implemented through six phases (Panel C), each of which combine large-scale policy and infrastructural changes with more localized fabric manipulations, the project aims to build towards its goals successively, with each step building on the gains of the prior whilst embracing the flexibility inherent to the urban condition. The specific vision illustrated here is therefore one potential extrapolation of the proposed design and planning operations.
Inherent to the proposal is a focus on linking together formerly disparate fragments of the city through the promotion of human-scaled infrastructures and building fabrics. The metaphor of the synapse invoked by the title suggests a framework for understanding this drive for urban connectivity as a networked condition, one in which mixed-use building fabrics and multi-modal transit infrastructures work in tandem. In the scheme, a network of trails and paths intended for pedestrians, cyclists, and others such as skiers during the winter months, is crafted through the agglomeration of existing trails, street-side bicycle lanes, and the careful threading of paths through the re-purposed rail-yards at the center of the city. Although these trails conveniently converge on a newly articulated "Downtown Junction," replete with a new train station and public amenities such as a new open food market and esplanade, the broader implication is that this exercise in nodal, programmed place-making is situated as a knot within a larger system of connectivity: a system which could even extend beyond the city itself and to link to other cities, infrastructures, and existing rural trails. Not only does such an armature provide a wealth of new public space for outdoor recreating, connecting to nature, and social gathering, it also functions as an arterial commuter connection for sustainable non-motorized traffic.
To facilitate such a broad campaign of networked connectivity, the city of Sudbury would greatly benefit from productive engagement with the Canadian Pacific Railroad to re-locate the active rail-yards to a location farther from the city center. While this is undoubtedly a difficult position to take from a political standpoint, the spatial and programmatic benefits are immense. This project proposes that the rail yards, if made inactive, could be retrofitted into a unique and vibrant landscape park, even as it abuts an active rail line which is to be maintained for freight and passenger use. Spatially and aesthetically taking cues from a landscape urbanist lineage of industrial landscape regeneration, the design would not seek to paper over the former industrial land with a rosy green paintbrush, but instead re-purpose the old rails as edges of pathways and guidelines for groundcover and planting decisions (Panels B, C, D). Old rail cars, additionally, could be converted for temporary, tactical uses such as galleries, particularly to showcase local and indigenous artists, or as market stalls for local farmers to sell their produce during farm market days in the adjoining festival plaza (Panel D). Furthermore, structures such as the engine house and the locomotive turntable could be re-purposed as urban features: the former as a cafe and brewery along its Western frontage, and as a facility for crop harvest and community farm tool storage along its Eastern frontage, and the latter as a central water feature for a new public plaza. Re-locating the yards, while keeping the railway line active, would not only open up a broad swath of land in the middle of the city to new public spaces for social gathering and recreation, but would also make track crossings far easier to integrate into the current city fabric. This increased connectivity would thereby encourage high density and programmatically hybridized districts of new housing, commerce, and industry to develop on both sides of the yard not in spatial isolation, but in productive conversation with one another.
NEW SPATIAL FABRICS
While the potential re-purposing of the rail-yards as an urban landscape is rendered here with great detail and specificity, the surrounding building fabrics, which inevitably will be driven by compromise between public regulation and subsidy and private development, are treated here with a more systemic lens. Above the plan (Panel B), a range of new hybrid-program building typologies are introduced to help guide the development of two new urban neighborhoods which flank the new railway park: identified here as "North Yards" and "South Yards." Both neighborhoods are intended to serve a mix of occupational uses (North Yards skewing more towards light industry and loft type spaces and South Yards more toward ground level retail, office, and dining), as well as a diverse range of residents through the provision of urban housing types of different physical scales and presumed price points. These typologies are intended not as proposed prototype architectural solutions, but instead as visual illustrations of potential massing and programmatic strategies to guide the gradual development of these new building fabrics. While any individual building might differ in its specific architectural articulation (with a scheme of this scale, the project argues that such decisions are best left open to individual interpretation by each building's eventual designer), such ideal footprints, massings, programmatic combinations, and levels of visual porosity can be effectively and flexibly written into a form-based code governing new development in these districts.
01 | Under-Utilized Land + Fragmented City Fabric
The city's vast rail yards and surrounding low-density industrial zone chokes off needed connectivity between key urban features, current civic revitalization and housing initiatives, and limits the growth potential and livability of downtown.
02 | Segmented Zoning Plan Limits Growth + Vitality
The current single-use districts are isolated from one another and dominated by the spatial figure of the rail yards. This condition limits the potential for new centrally-located affordable housing, and works against the project's goals of walkability, livability, and sustainability.
03 | Gaps in Street Grid and Over-scaled Blocks
In addition to the macro-scale urban discontinuity generated by the rail yards, Sudbury's urban fabric also features many smaller disconnections. The street grid, even near the downtown core, contains a mélange of truncated streets and cul-de-sacs. A broader campaign to address these breaks in the street grid should not only aim to fill in missing teeth, but also to create new finer-grained complete streets, including alleyways. Proposed new city fabrics around the former rail yards can be easily organized around the connection end extension of existing adjacent streets, and further articulated by the introduction of mid-block streets and alleys to reduce the auto-centric scale of the former city fabric.
04 | Re-purpose Old Ground as New Urban Fabric
Keeping the railway in operation while re-locating the yards farther from the city center would allow the formerly private and fenced off land to be re-purposed as public recreational and social space. With better pedestrian access across the railway, the currently under-developed blocks North of the Northern yard could develop into a higher-density industrial mix-use extension of downtown. South of the yard, land previously occupied by light industry, small strip retail, and surface parking could be re-articulated as porous perimeter blocks of housing and street level commercial space along Brady Street. The junction between the two former rail yards would be re-imagined as a multi-functional civic, social, and transit hub.
05 | Hybrid Overlay Districts and Form-Based Zoning
The formerly single-use districts flanking the rail yards can be more resiliently re-imagined as denser hybrid zones which flexibly integrate industrial, commercial, and residential demands. North of the rail yards, light industry can be retained and densely integrated with new commercial demand from Downtown. South of the rail yards, where the city fabric is largely single-family residential, a new mixed-use fabric containing street-level retail and a variety of housing types such as garden apartments, row-homes, and apartment blocks, can be sensitively articulated with a careful, yet pliable form-based zoning approach. Such an approach would help articulate and codify desired building massings, orientations, and building heights while refraining from prescribing architectural style or materiality.
06 | Multi-Modal Corridor + Public Space Network
A new series of public gathering and recreation spaces replacing the former rail yards could serve as the central synapse within a city-wide network of green corridors and trails. These multi-modal trails, intended for a diversity of sustainable transit options such as walking, cycling, roller-blading, and skiing, could be used not only for recreation, health, and access to nature and neighboring towns, but also (given Sudbury's compact size), for local commuting.
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