WHY THE FUSED GRID STREET PATTERN? – “In the early 2000s, entirely new priorities, along with old ones, were being staked at every corner of the planning universe. A tangled web of interacting variables emerged from these demands; a truly formidable, complex puzzle,” stated Fanis Grammenos, author of Remaking the City Grid, and an urban sustainability thinker
Note to Reader:
Waterbucket eNews shares the stories of those who embrace “design with nature” approaches to reconnect people, land and water in altered landscapes. We celebrate the commitment, hard work and perseverance of individuals and groups who lead by example to make a difference for the common good.
Periodically, we feature individuals outside British Columbia. In this edition, we shine the spotlight on Fanis Grammenos, author and creator of the Fused Grid street network pattern. Ottawa-based, Fanis has long since retired from his day job as a Senior Researcher at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), but his urban sustainability mission continues.
Just turned 80, Fanis Grammenos exemplifies how one can continue to make a contribution as an “elder in action”. His story of innovation, the agony and the ecstasy, needs to be shared.
“I met Fanis Grammenos almost two decades ago when I was in Ottawa for meetings. Because CMHC was an early supporter and funder of Partnership initiatives, in particular the Water Balance Model, Fanis reached out to me. We met, we clicked, we collaborated on integrating two sustainability visions – street patterns and water sustainability,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.
“Fanis Grammenos is the lead author of Remaking the City Street Grid: A Model for Urban and Suburban Development, published in 2015. Drawing lessons from historic and current development, the book proposes a new pattern more fitting for modern culture, addressing such issues as walkability, mobility, health, safety, security, cost and greenhouse gas emissions. The Fused Grid model has been the subject of Master’s and PhD theses.”
“Context is everything. 1987 is the year that the Brundtland Commission released its report with the modern definition of sustainable development. The ripple effects continue to this day. In the 1990s, it turned out, Fanis Grammenos and I were working on parallel paths to figure out what sustainability could look like in the built environment. In the early 2000s, our paths intersected.”
“An exacting attention to natural patterns was a core innovation of both our approaches,” says Fanis. An outcome of our collaboration, A Plan for Rainy Days – Water Runoff and Site Planning, was published as part of the CMHC Research Highlight series.”
“Fanis continues to do research on urban evolution and advocate for effective use of land and for building healthy communities. “My book was born from the multitude of disparate articles, papers, presentations, discussions and readings crying to become a coherent whole. I will talk to any and all who are willing to understand the tricks and benefits of the Fused Grid,” Fanis says. He was invited to China to share his experience and an Indian city (new Capital) advertised its use.”
QUOTABLE QUOTE – Fanis Grammenos, March 2021
A Plan for Rainy Days: “In the early 2000s, entirely new priorities, along with old ones, were being staked at every corner of the planning universe. City planners, traffic engineers, environmental advocates, community leaders, interest groups, future residents and, importantly, developers plied their own imperatives, singular among them rainwater management. A tangled web of interacting variables emerged from these demands; a truly formidable, complex puzzle: How to lay out a large subdivision that optimizes outcomes for each proponent’s priorities. Enter the Water Balance and the Fused Grid models.”
TO LEARN MORE, DOWNLOAD THE CHMC RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT: https://www.waterbucket.ca/gi/sites/wbcgi/documents/media/193.pdf
A Fused Grid district with four quadrants and a mixed use zone.
The cul-de-sac pattern presents a dilemma for the designer
After he retired from government, Fanis founded Urban Patterns Associates to carry on his mission as an urban sustainability thinker and researcher. He is a regular columnist for the Canadian Homebuilder magazine, a contributor to books and to planning journals, periodicals and web sites.
For More Fused Grid Images:
The Agony and Ecstasy of Innovation
“During the 1990s, being tasked to understand, define and communicate the essential attributes of a sustainable neighbourhood, and by extension a town or city, I drove unknowingly down separate conceptual cul-de-sacs of perfection – and merciless division, as I found out,” recalls Fanis Grammenos.
“There were Visionaries, Villains and Victims in each, no matter which cul-de-sac I ended up at while exploring, but with one stark difference among them: the same renowned city-planning thinkers framed as icons in one, mugshots in another. As for the ordinary denizens who might have been affected by their respective plans, they appeared as glowing beneficiaries in one picture or sad victims in the next. I was mystified. How could that be?”
“Mutual adversarial criticisms between these bulbus truth-fortresses were often visceral and sometimes vitriolic: ‘The Professor’s thesis, regrettably, is utterly wrong and, clearly, biased’ an introductory sentence read. Or, from the audience to the speaker: ‘Sir, you are presenting the past, we are well beyond that into the future’.”
“Enemies of the ‘good’ deserved the unwavering contempt they got because they inhibited ‘progress’. Zero tolerance ruled. But whose progress was it anyway? The visionary’s, the villain’s or the victim’s? To my bafflement, all adversaries had the same answer: Humanity’s! Lights started flashing.”
Charming old city and its organic, non-repetitive, utterly confusing street network (Fez)
“In each altar of rectitude there were objects of unquestionable adoration, pristine beauty, goodness and benefaction: One was the rectilinear Grid, resting on ancient texts; a second, the venerable ‘Old City’ as it appears on tourist postcards. (Practically every center of most great European cities and virtually all ancient Mediterranean cities). The grid sparkled as altogether good because it is simple, repeatable and ‘legible’ – anyone could draw or navigate a grid; ‘no prior planning experience required’.”
“Old cities, on the other hand, were good because they were compact, charming, surprising at every corner, that is, unpredictable and non-repetitive. Surprisingly, their street pattern was not a pattern at all – it was organic growth: local, incidental, idiosyncratic and entirely unfathomable, irreproducible. This pair of precepts, obviously, had irreconcilable differences. Lights started flashing again.”
“The sacred image in another altar was nature, not the abstract subject of a botanist, but the presence and experience of it. Nature was good because it felt good, always had – the reasons why barely out of medical labs. The more private or common nature a plan included the higher its market value. Neighbourhood plans that excluded nature either by intent or default failed the preference grade and sold at factory outlet discounts or, in cases, as boutique products.”
“Plans that included substantial areas of natural features, were swiftly disparaged as ‘picturesque’, ‘bucolic’; highly irregular, confusing aberrations, enemies of the city, drawn by villains seeking profit at the expense of the ‘common good’. ‘Wasteful use of land’ was the main indictment. Their occupants were derided as elitist, bigoted, unconcerned and, implicitly, unethical. That shook me because I was one of them – millions.”
“Was I a victim and a villain? Had I fallen prey to a scam? And since these plans normally featured cul-de-sacs, these became the face and presumed instrument of destruction, and consequently, the object of vilification. Why such a lowly element in the scheme of things bore such overwhelming burden? Because, the argument went, they were not connected! The light went on one more and final time: WELL THEN, CONNECT THEM! – and connect them we did (in 1998).”
Nine distinct 16 hectare neighbourhoods with diverse networks (left) and a perspective view of one down the park axis. All have connected cul-de-sacs or loops.
“Such was the jubilant end of a trip to the extreme ends of rectitude – and the start of a new one. There it was: A pattern that has the regularity and replicability of a grid without its endless repetitiveness when seen from a hilltop and the charm of surprise at every corner, as views and vistas constantly change from one neighbourhood to the next when experienced on foot – A Hybrid that embodies the Old City organic character and the need for rational organization: It anticipated and solved a persistent conundrum: ‘The cul-de-sac pattern presents a dilemma for the designer committed to a more structured and conceptually clear design like the geometric grid’.” (quote by Michael Southworth)
“Shortly the pressure started to build up. Innovations siting in lab benefit no one. The Fused Grid model had to be tested conceptually and in practice. The conceptual test proved easy given that the idea stood on previous research on its components. Contemporaneous research was also happening on distinct aspects of it such as traffic flow, traffic safety, infrastructure costs, active transportation, sociability and so on. Master’s and PhD theses based on the Fused Grid grew in number steadily.”
“The real urgent task was to convince a Municipality or a developer that this combination of known components worked well and that it produced desirable outcomes. Developers listened to the evidence with one ear while holding the other close to their clients – Sold! But they hesitated, being anxious that the City would not approve such plans; Cities, big and small, had just issued policy reports declaring: “cul-de-sacs are no longer allowed in this city because they are disconnected”.
“The break came faster than anticipated. First, Stratford, Ontario approved a Secondary Plan for newly annexed lands and then, in quick succession, Calgary approved the Saddlestone Development Plan.”
“In the meantime, national and international retrofits of city street networks all pointed in the same direction: The grid or the haphazard cul-de-sac arrangements by themselves were inadequate to deal with the functional demands of contemporary cities and the aspirations of their citizens. Their fusion could,” concludes Fanis Grammenos.
City of Vancouver: Two instances of grid modification. A forced turn and a traffic circle. Such changes are now common in most cities – evidence of dysfunctionality.
Two neighbourhoods of the Stratford Secondary Plan laid out following the Fused Grid model.
Saddleton Community, Calgary