via City Walker by Lydia Heard

While the digital city building continues, it’s good to take a break and get to the real bricks and mortar city – bricks, in particular. There are still bricks under many Seattle streets, fire-hardened road bricks that last forever and are sometimes briefly uncovered during road resurfacing projects. They are abraded by the asphalt removal machines, and fragmented by every utility project that trenches through and is filled with concrete afterwards, leaving a patchwork of brick and other paving surfaces. The brick is a wonderful material from a slower time, and is still the pavement on Pike Place and the Pike and First intersection, making a washboard sound when vehicles drive over them, letting drivers know that this place is not the typical engineered-for-autos route and encouraging them to slow down. It’s a sad sight when progress finally catches up to the old brick and it is torn out entirely for a new concrete roadway, which handles heavy bus traffic and weathering better than pothole-prone asphalt.

Sometimes the brick wins out. During a resurfacing project on McKinney Avenue in Dallas, Texas, not only were the remnant areas of the old bricks uncovered, but also the original streetcar rails down the center of the street. This led to bringing back the old streetcar line with vintage cars, redesigning the street as the slow-paced streetcar commuter corridor it once was, and revitalizing the ailing neighborhoods that were once the premiere streetcar suburbs for the city. The street was resurfaced with new brick, and the remaining old bricks were used for crosswalks, intersections, transit stops and sidewalk accents. It was quite an amazing and effective transformation.

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A few weeks ago David Neiman (of Neiman Architects and the Congress of Residential Architects) gave an excellent presentation about townhome design in the NW.  If you’ve ever wondered why Seattle has so many identical four and six pack townhomes or what the alternatives are, check out the presentation:

CORA NW Townhome Design

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(Originally posted on CHS)

Streetcar in Geneva by Henry Volt

Streetcar in Geneva by Henry Volt

Last year Seattle area voters approved adding 36 new miles of track to the soon-to-be operational light rail system, a huge step towards sustainability. While a light rail station was already planned for our humble neighborhood, the new package came with a small but transformational inclusion for the hill: a new streetcar from the International District to Broadway.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of controversy over this new mobility improvement. Some suggest constructing it sooner. Some don’t want it built at all. Some want it put down Broadway. Others say 12th would be better. Well, while I may not be a transit guru the likes of STB , I would like to present a case for why a streetcar down 12th Ave would be the best use of our money by not just adding a form of transportation but helping an entire community blossom.

First of all, why a streetcar? Why not, as Councilmember Tom Rasmussen suggested, just use the money for more metro buses instead? Admittedly it’s a non-issue because voters specifically approved this money for a streetcar not buses, but it’s worth discussing anyway. The pro-bus side likes to point out that buses tend to be cheaper and easier to implement. In addition they can be rerouted according to demand. The pro-streetcar people point to statistically higher ridership numbers for streetcars as well as the “green” power of electricity over diesel engines. Plus, a streetcar obviously looks much prettier!

The reason that I prefer a streetcar comes down to one thing: permanence. Perhaps this is from studying religion in college, but from a theoretical standpoint a streetcar can act as an axis mundi for a neighborhood. Because the streetcar is a connection between the neighborhood and the broader city, the metal tracks embedded in the street definitively identify the space where interactions will be the most intense and diverse (nearer the tracks) and where they will be more restrained and controlled (farther out). By creating this central point of reference people are able to more easily organize the neighborhood in their minds, and in turn, they feel more at ease moving about it.

Similarly, because of this permanence, a streetcar becomes something much more than just a form of transportation, it becomes an integral piece of the neighbor just like an ivy-covered brick building, or an old, weather-worn chestnut tree. While it may not be alive in the standard sense, it does in fact take on the qualities of a living member of the community. For instance, we call a streetcar shelter a barn, instead of a garage. Similarly, the South Lake Union streetcar garnered a nickname in a matter of days. Do any metro buses have such a loving cognomen? The reassurance afforded by a streetcar’s permanent fixture allows people to establish a deeper relationship with it and soon the simlpe sight of the little trolley gliding down the street conjures up feelings of security, comfort, and warmth.

But for a streetcar to function as a tool for community enhancement it must be placed where it too can benefit from people around it. Jane Jacobs said it best: “life attracts life” and if the streetcar is to become an organic piece of the urban fabric it must be placed where it can interact with a lively street life. Broadway, south of Madison, is utterly dead. Sure there are a number of institutions that border the street (SU and a few medical centers) but none of them engage the street at all. It is like the backdoor to First Hill and the Central District with numerous parking garages and blank walls. A streetcar down Broadway would solely be a form of transportation. And if this is its function, it will fail.

On the other hand, 12th Ave, while it may not be Pike/Pine or Ballard Ave, certainly has its merits. It has a host of small, interesting spaces and there are plans for a number of Seattle University improvements as well as a few Capitol Hill Housing projects (see this post for more). With the addition of a streetcar the surrounding community will really have a central area to gather around, enhancing the feeling of security and comfort. The area is like a flower just beginning to sprout but it needs a little more sunlight to help it grow. The streetcar could be that sunlight.

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In March of ’09 luxury condo residents in the tony west end of the Uptown Urban Center noticed that their neighborhood park had become very popular with non-neighborhood people. Kinnear Park is a fragment of that Olmstead Legacy of view-rich, forested open spaces in Seattle’s well-to-do neighborhoods.

Cars and pick-ups parked and double parked on classy Olympic Place. Drivers and passengers rushed in an out of the steep, wooded park. Some were wearing construction worker clothing and hard hats. There are no major construction sites near Kinnear Park.

Known drug dealers added to the packed out crowds on Elliott Avenue Metro buses, exiting through rear doors at the shuttered City Team hostel on the south border of the park.

The hostel had attracted a mini tent city on a seasonal basis for some years. Murders and knife fights became part of underground life in the tangled lower reaches of Kinnear Park with its disused tennis court and steep trails.

Early this year the floating Seattle drug retail market moved in with a new ingredient: Honduran dealers with sub-par crack cocaine to sell. Uptown people shunned the park and crowds of drug buyers and sellers grew. Open air prostitution followed, leaving a snow storm of used condoms on the ground.

Neighborhood groups lead by the Uptown Alliance launched a barrage of complaints at City Hall and the Seattle Police Department. The City’s Department of Neighborhoods lead by Stella Chao went into high gear to marshal bicycle and undercover SPD officers, King County Transit Police, Park/Rec. cleanup crews, and to bring together Uptowners to begin a positive approach to remodel the lower part of the park.

At a meeting in the Bayview Manor conference facility more than a hundred friends and neighbors of the venerable hillside open space began a planning process to create a new master plan for Lower Kinnear Park.

Speaking to the Uptown Alliance April meeting – in the wake of a massive anti-drug dealing campaign in Kinnear – narcotics specialist Officer Tom Burns outlined the results. 36 arrests were made in the park in a short time period: 14 were known drug dealing leaders. Honduran new arrivals aside, those arrested had 719 previous arrests of which 88 were felony arrests. 12 had criminal records in other states.

Those arrested who fall into the “usual suspects” category are part of Seattle’s floating drug market that has orbited around Downtown, Belltown, First Hill, Aurora Ave., and Capital Hill for the past decade. Officer Burns pointed out that there is a swiftly revolving door in and out of the criminal courts and jail systems for drug-related crimes. Currently tax revenue shortfalls are dictating more early releases for drug selling pros all around Puget Sound.

Metro Transit Police under the King County Sheriff are in very short supply, largely operating out of patrol cars rather than riding the busses.

Burns pointed out the sad fact that drug dealing clusters around certain informal encampments, human services facilities, and especially needle exchanges. After the law enforcement blitz in Kinnear, the drug market shifted back to Belltown where many arrests were made, yet again, in mid-April.

Can things look up for Kinnear Park, or is it an outmoded public facility in an urban world the Olmstead brothers never dreamed of?

Kinnear neighborhood folks in Uptown are pushing forward with a master plan process to re-purpose and re-landscape the lower reaches of the park. The Department of Neighborhoods will help to pull together a planning grant application. This one missed the boat on the new Parks Levy. Crime does not coordinate well with levy bond issues and their strictures.

Ideas for a rehabbed Kinnear Park run from the venerable dog park proposals to a new trail that would connect access points to the nearby waterfront parks south of Elliott Avenue.

There’s a crying need for some lighting. And there’s that tennis court. Tennis anyone?

by D. John Coney

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(via Streetsblog) Since 1982 Idaho has made it legal for bikers to roll through stop signs, essentially treating them as yield signs. Well, so far so good and now Oregon thinks its time that their state, being the bike mecca that it is, ought to allow bikers this privilege as well. This nice animation by Spencer Boomhower makes a compelling argument for why this is such a good idea.


Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

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Hi P-Patchers,

This looks like an interesting source of funding that might be relevant to the sorts of community building activities you engage in….tsf_buildingresilience_rfp_r301

Attached is a Request For Proposal from the Seattle Foundation for an
interesting approach to helping the community during the difficult
economic times. They are looking for proposals for “grants ranging from
$5,000 to $20,000 to start or continue social networks that help people
support each other in coping with the difficult effects of the
recession.”

The definition of social network is pretty loose, and can include groups
of neighbors, families, or people with other connections coming together
to help each other in tough times. Groups can be formal or informal, but
must have nonprofit status or be sponsored by a nonprofit.

Feel free to share this with others who are interested. Applications are
due 5/15.  tsf_buildingresilience_rfp_r301

Yun Pitre
Southeast Neighborhood District Coordinator City of Seattle Department
of Neighborhoods
Office: (206) 386-1924
Cell: (206)730-0364
Fax: (206) 386-1917

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I was fortunate to travel in Italy a few weeks ago, and I was really impressed with how well pedestrians, bicycles, buses, and cars all managed to share the road.

In the historic center of Florence, many streets were so narrow, pedestrians just hopped off the sidewalk and took over the street until a bus, van or car absolutely had to get through.

In many medieval towns, cars were banned from the city centers (which is extremely fortunate because I think they would have gotten stuck on the narrow streets). 

And of course in Venice, the canals serve as arterials and there are no cars at all.

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posted on behalf of Sarel Rowe, Advocacy Chair, Friends of The Seattle Public Library.

In these hard times people are turning to our neighborhood libraries for necessities and personal budget relief. Library use is rapidly increasing. Online access is up across the board, but so are actual visits as people pack computers and ask librarians how to find critical resources. See Friends of the Library blog for more information. Please consider emailing councilmembers asking them to protect library funding as they deliberate on City budget reductions.

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