Hear directly from Crosscut Contributor, Historic Preservationist and Architect Patricia Tusa Fels at our upcoming July 12 Brownbag, also featuring Liz Dunn, Dennis Meier of DPD and Great City Board Member and Architect Jeff Reibman. We’ll be taking a look at Development activity in Seattle’s Pike/Pine neighborhood and strategies to retain the dynamic and diverse culture that makes it such a hotspot to live, work, play, and build.

Nearly all talk of the environment in and around Seattle is about the mountains and the sound, rivers and hiking trails. Yet most of us spend a big portion of our time in the urban environment, which has an effect on all of us: our wellbeing, our outlook, our family life, and prospects for our work and leisure. There is a serious disconnect between our collective reverence for the outward “environment,” and our willingness to let the city’s own environment be shaped by developers.

It is especially ironic that Seattle, situated amidst glorious and gloriously complicated ecosystems, leaves the guidance and stewardship of its experiential environment to private developers and their tendencies towards monoculture. It is naïve and irresponsible that we assume their focus is on the overall vitality of the streets and neighborhoods in which their buildings sit.

Instead, the city should be looking creatively and deeply at the land use rules on the books, with an eye towards eliminating or modifying those that don’t foster the complexity of the place. Diversity by design is the key to creating a city that can be seen, experienced, worked and lived in by more of its citizens and visitors… (Continue Reading: Why Seattle needs a new urban environmentalism | Crosscut.com)


Just how green can a green building get? Come join us at noon today to find out, and learn how you can play a role in advancing the changes that, if approved by City Council, could make our green building dreams come true.

You may have seen some of our earlier posts on the topic… today we are thrilled to be convening a group of green building leaders to talk about a proposed project in Fremont and some proposed legislative changes that could make it possible for more Seattle buildings to go easy on the grid.



Looking North/Northwest for more thoughts on compulsory helmet laws: A few interesting snippets recently appeared on the blog of former Vancouver, BC City Councillor (and too many other civic contributions to list) Gordon Price:

Liberal policy chair differs with his government.

From The Province:

The mandatory helmet law is even being questioned by those close to the  premier.

Ted Dixon, the BC Liberal Party Policy Chair, told The Province Monday  he is speaking out personally about the mandatory helmet law, adding he thinks  it could be a topic of debate for the next election.

“We need to bring the responsibility back to the individual who is riding the  bike,” he said. “My personal view is the individual is best able to assess the  risk.”

Dixon said he hopes the law is reviewed and ultimately changed, noting that  in Australia a mandatory bike-helmet law resulted in people shying away from  bikes.



The position of the B.C. Cycling Coalition:

Helmet Education – Encouraging the use of helmets through evidence-based education that accurately reflects the risk of cycling in different circumstances. Helmet marketing campaigns that exaggerate the risk of cycling and thus discourage people from cycling should be avoided.

Helmet Choice – As many jurisdictions which have implemented comprehensive crash reduction measures have cycling fatality rates dramatically lower than BC and also very low rates of helmet usage, we recommend allowing adults choice regarding helmet use by eliminating the mandatory helmet requirement for adult cyclists. This will enable enforcement resources to be focused on collision reduction and facilitate the successful introduction of bike share systems.



From Alaska Dispatch:

More than 20 years ago, G.B. Rodgers examined 8 million cases of injury or death to cyclists in the U.S over 15 years and concluded there was no evidence that helmets reduced head injury or fatalities. That injury survey remains the largest ever done.

Not only did it lead Rodgers to conclude helmets don’t work, according to the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, it also led him to conclude “that helmeted riders were more likely to be killed.” The foundation is not some anti-helmet crazed, personal-liberty organization. The foundation’s website sets out good arguments both for and against helmets. The foundation claims to have been “established to provide a resource of best-available factual information and to challenge evidence and policies that do not stand up to scrutiny.” …

What Anchorage ought to be doing, if it cares about its children, is encouraging them to get out and ride. What Anchorage ought to be doing, if it cares about its children, is designing safe routes to schools, playgrounds, ball fields and other activity areas. And what Anchorage ought to be doing, if it cares about its children, is dumping a do-gooder law that discourages kids from riding a bike.


…More: The Helmet Debate – 2 « Price Tags.


Impressive urban developments seem to be springing up all over the world, many of them designed by U.S. architects. But while American architects and planners increasingly embrace walkability, the fine grain urbanity that makes cities vibrant places is almost completely absent in newer projects abroad. In short, they may look like Manhattan from a jetliner but function like Phoenix on the ground. Julie V. Iovine, executive editor of the Architect’s Newspaper, calls on professionals to fight for what works.

…Recently, for the Korean developer aptly named Dreamhub, Daniel Libeskind created a master plan for 34 million square feet based on the concept of islands in a sea of green, called Archipelago 21. That’s for the 21 or so renowned architects—many American—each doing their own thing in the splendid isolation of their own “island” see a few of them on page 8. Even as the plan invokes sustainability, high-speed rail and green spaces, it barely addresses the street-level experience of people trying to get from, say, Murphy Jahn’s 1,050 foot double-tower with its four-story skyparks and solar shading to REXs high-performance, “mega-braced” frameless facade for a short term residence or to SOM’s 64-story diagonal tower with monumental lobby braced by what appear to be the very legs of Ozymandius… (Continue reading: Editorial> Walk the Walk – The Architects Newspaper)


The growing preference to rent (rather than buy) has meant the return of construction cranes to Seattle’s skyline. But the rising rents that make construction “pencil” also makes homeownership more attractive, says MSNBC in this post quoting several industry thought leaders.

Do you agree? Do rising rents make homeownership look more attractive to you?

Falling home prices and record-low mortgage rates have failed to do much to entice a fresh flock of buyers, keeping the housing market largely dormant. Although home sales and prices rose in April and the market appears to have bottomed in many areas, foreclosures and underwater homes appear likely to keep activity depressed for years to come.

To the rescue, perhaps: an invigorated national rental market. As the housing market has tanked, young adults increasingly have turned to the rental market. Last year alone the number of renter households grew by 1 million — the largest such boost since the early 1980s. That has caused rents to edge higher across the country, says an analysis released today by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“I would think that with rents rising, this would be an incentive (to purchase a house) for those renters who have been holding off but who eventually planned to buy,” said Dan McCue, research manager at the Joint Center for Housing Studies… (Continue reading: Rental revival could spur sluggish housing market – Economy Watch)


The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Kaid Benfield takes a closer look at the recent survey and wonders whether respondents really understood the “planning” they were supporting en masse:

Last week, the American Planning Association released the findings of a major public opinion poll showing that “two-thirds of Americans believe their community needs more planning to promote economic recovery,” to lift a phrase from APA’s press release. That’s good news for those of us who believe a more thoughtful and forward-looking approach is needed to guide issues such as land use, education and economic development to secure a more sustainable future for our cities and towns.

But, in a world where almost two-thirds of Republicans and two-fifths of all voters told pollsters “the governments should stay out of Medicare,” what do survey results mean, exactly? In a poll where community planning was defined as “a process that seeks to engage all members of a community to create more prosperous, convenient, equitable, healthy and attractive places for present and future generations,” it is almost inconceivable that anyone would be opposed. So, is two-thirds a strong number or a weak one? What if planning had been defined more neutrally as “a process where local government works with citizens to chart future directions for the community’s land use, economic development, and services”?

Americans like the idea of planning, even if they are far from clear about the goals that planning should serve.

I like to think that planning still would have claimed a majority of those who expressed an opinion. In the actual poll, 66 percent said that their communities need planning as defined above; 17 percent said they didn’t know; and only 17 percent actually opposed engaging citizens in the process of creating more prosperous, convenient, equitable, healthy and attractive places. Discounting the “I don’t know” respondents, four-fifths of those who expressed an opinion came out in favor of community process for a better future.  I suspect that, with the adjectives removed from the definition, the portion of “don’t know” respondents would go up, as might the “process is not needed” group. But I still think most Americans really do believe in community planning and probably wish their community had benefited from more of it in recent decades. (Continue Reading: Do Americans Really Want More Planning? – Politics – The Atlantic Cities).


TIME’s EcoCentric blog has a cool profile on the astonishingly green Bullitt Center. The building was the first project to apply as part of Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program.

How can a six-story, 50,000-sq.-ft. office building in downtown Seattle function completely off the grid? The answer involves solar panels for energy, geothermal wells for heat, a giant rain cistern for water and composting toilets for keeping sewage out of everything else. The toilets were just installed at the Bullitt Center, which is set to be completed this fall. “You have to remember to flush before and after,” says Bullitt Foundation president and Earth Day founder Denis Hayes. “But that may be the single largest lifestyle change.”

Hayes’s Seattle-based sustainability-advocacy group is bankrolling the largest multistory project that is trying to meet the superstringent requirements of the Living Building Challenge LBC. Created in 2006 by the Portland, Ore.,-based International Living Futures Institute, LBC calls for buildings to not only have net-zero energy and water systems, but to use half the energy required to get LEED platinum certification which is administered by a fellow nonprofit. LBC won’t certify a building as “living” until it has proven it meets the group’s goals for a full year after people move in. So far LBC has certified only three buildings worldwide, all of them in the U.S. and all exponentially smaller than the Bullitt Center. Another 140 projects in eight countries are vying for the designation.

What makes the Bullitt Center so impressive is its height — or, more accurately, its relatively small rooftop — and its location. While it’s pretty easy in cloudy Seattle to harvest rainwater and treat it via an onsite biofiltration system, getting enough sunlight to power the building required rethinking every aspect of the project, big and small. The builders had to get a variance from the city to let its rooftop solar panels hang out over the sidewalk. But the solar panels won’t do all the work. The building’s design and its tenants have important roles too. To help cut energy consumption to 23 percent the amount of a traditional building its size, natural light will account for 82 percent of all lighting, thanks to oversized windows and higher ceilings that help get light farther inside. And so will air, as the building’s electronic “brain” automatically opens and  shuts the windows based on temperature needs, eliminating the need for air-conditioning units… (Continue Reading Seattles Bullitt Center Will Be the Greenest and Most Sustainable Commercial Building in the World | Ecocentric | TIME.com)

Join us on June 28 to hear about the first project for commercial, market-rate tenants to participate in the pilot program, Stone34. Our expert panel including Brooks Sports CEO Jim Weber–who is moving his company’s headquarters to Seattle to occupy that building–will share an update on efforts to improve regulatory conditions to encourage more such ultra-green buildings in Seattle.


No bikes

Excitement has been building for years around the idea of a potential Seattle Bikeshare system, with many pointing to our strong tourism sector, moderate weather and ranking as a top-10 U.S. cycle-commuting city. But one key question persists: Can a bikeshare system be implemented in our city, which has mandatory helmet laws? Helmet-sharing? That seems ludicrous, of course, but so does the odds that the kind of person who might rent a bike for a couple hours might just have a helmet tucked away in that purse, fanny-pack or man-bag.

Cyclists in Washington, D.C. who use Capital Bikeshare for their daily commutes are much less likely to wear helmets than commuters on their own bikes. That is the finding from an observational study conducted by Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) researchers that compares the rate of helmet use of casual and commuting Bikeshare riders with private cyclists. The research was published June 14 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Bike sharing is a popular option for transportation in the interest of personal fitness and environmental protection. Washington, D.C. is home to one of the largest bicycle sharing programs in the United States, Capital Bikeshare, and the concept has rapidly expanded to other cities, such as New York City and Chicago.

“Cycling is a healthy activity which both improves heart health and reduces air pollution, and we want to encourage it, but we also want to be sure riders are as protected as possible should they be in a crash,” explains John Kraemer, JD, MPH, assistant professor of health systems administration at NHS and the study’s lead author. “While Capital Bikeshare bicycles are designed to lower the risk of a crash occurring, with a lower center of gravity, heavier frame, lights, and reflective paint, helmets are essential for preventing serious injury in the event of a crash.” (Continue Reading: Seven of ten commuters using Capital Bikeshare forgo helmet use)

Via Transportation Nation


Growing up–urban “infill” development–offers numerous lifestyle, economic and environmental advantages over growing out, or, sprawl. But one planned redevelopment of the Capitol Hill block home to Bauhaus and other local favorites highlights the issues at play as our community grapples with the challenge of accommodating growth in character-rich neighborhoods while retaining the diverse, dynamic vibrancy that makes them so attractive to investment and development.

Check out this recent commentary from an architect-historic preservationist and artist-activist and join us Thursday, July 12 as we look at the City of Seattle’s Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District and hear from those most familiar with what the policy does and doesn’t mean for the future look and feel of Downtown’s lifeline to Capitol Hill culture.

Bauhaus coffee, a landmark Capitol Hill coffee shop, will have to relocate for the proposed development.

Photo by Roger Valdez

Having just returned from working away from Seattle, it feels good to be back. One of the pleasures of extended stays abroad is experiencing our home city with fresh eyes. But reentry this time was marred by news that the Bauhaus Block on Capitol Hill is to be developed, with only the building’s façade to be left.

This bit of news raises a larger question about the city’s role in development. Does the city of Seattle have a responsibility to protect small businesses, popular culture, and the vitality of its street life? Or should it only be responsible for upholding the ‘rights’ of developers?

For decades here in Seattle, through mayor after mayor, the litany has been the same — if ‘we’ don’t give developers what they want, they’ll go elsewhere. It’s quite difficult to know whether this dictum is true, since the opposite strategy has so rarely been tried here, but looking around the city it’s easy to see what this trend has cost Seattle: Its vaunted quality of life, its standing as a ‘green’ city, and its general appearance… (continue reading: If it ain’t broke, don’t tear it down and build condos | Crosscut.com).

Downtown Seattle

via You Look Fab

Surprise, surprise; new research points to an inverse correlation between density/vibrancy and traffic:

Congratulations to this year’s high school, college and university graduates! The current crop includes our son, who was recruited by a major corporation. The location of his new job will affect his travel patterns and therefore the transportation costs he bears and imposes for the next few years: until now he could get around fine by walking, cycling and public transport, but his new worksite is outside the city center, difficult to access except by automobile. As a result he will spend a significant portion of his new income to purchase and operate a car, and contribute to traffic congestion, parking costs and pollution. This is an example of how land use decisions, such as where corporations locate their offices, affects regional transport patterns and costs. It illustrates research showing that where people work and shop has as much impact on their travel habits as where they live.

Other recent research offers additional insights. A report titled Land Use and Traffic Congestion, published by the Arizona Department of Transportation, is changing the way we think about congestion and solutions. It found that residents of higher-density neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona drive substantially less than otherwise similar residents located in lower-density, automobile-dependent suburban neighborhoods. For example, the average work trip was a little longer than seven miles for higher-density neighborhoods compared with almost 11 miles in more suburban neighborhoods, and the average shopping trip was less than three miles compared with over four miles in suburban areas. These differences result in urban dwellers driving about a third fewer daily miles than their suburban counterparts.

That is unsurprising. There is plenty of evidence that land use factors such as density, mix and road connectivity affect the amount people travel. However, the study made an important additional discovery. It found that roadways in more compact, mixed, multi-modal communities tend to be less congested. This results from the lower vehicle trip generation, particularly for local errands, more walking and public transit travel, and because the more connected street networks offer more route options so traffic is less concentrated on a few urban arterials. This contradicts our earlier assumptions… (Continue Reading: New Understanding of Traffic Congestion | Planetizen).


Roger Valdez, who directs housing programs at a local non-profit, proposes a novel solution to the Pike/Pine push/pull at the heart of the goals of the City’s Conservation Overlay District

Urban infill development can bring precisely the kind of fuel small businesses need: more people living above and around the neighborhood’s commercial district. But some have expressed concern for existing businesses that may lie in the path of future development…

How can the the Green Bay Packers represent a model for communities who wish to control their own destiny while respecting ownership rights? As you might have guessed, it has to do more with organizing than the offensive line. Read on for more, and join us at GGLO’s Space at the Steps for our July 12 Brownbag. We will look at the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District with the help of those most familiar with what the policy does and doesn’t mean for the future look and feel of Capitol Hill’s lifeline to Downtown commerce.

Density's delights: bookstores, sidewalk cafes, getting around by foot or bike.

The possible redevelopment of the Bauhaus block on Capitol Hill has generated some fruitful discussion about land use, preservation, and the basis of our economic system, capitalism. Many people have asked: Is that all there is, price tags and profits? Don’t culturally important buildings have an intrinsic and financial value?

The answer is that historic buildings often do have special values, and we can preserve and profit at the same time if we focus on solutions, and avoiding the blame game.

People can get understandably upset when an owner decides to change how a property is going to be used, even though ownership is a basic principle we all understand. When we buy something we’re taking what we’ve worked for and acquiring something of value and making it ours. Sharing is also a basic principle, and we expect commercial space to have some public component… (Continue reading: “Bauhaus solutions: Preservation isn’t free” by Roger Valdez at Crosscut.com.)


For any visitor to the Big Apple who hasn’t been there in a while, the transformation is nothing short of astonishing. Grist and Transportation Nation take a look at the bicycle boom in NYC over the past few years.

Let’s go back in time to December 2010. The city’s tabloid editorial pages are just beginning to sink their teeth into the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, for — among other things — her avid support of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. In Brooklyn, well-connected residents are preparing to sue to remove a bike lane.

On Dec. 9, 2010, New York’s city council holds a standing-room-only, overflow-room-inducing, five hour-plus hearing on bikes and bike lanes in New York City. Bronx council member James Vacca, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, kicks things off first by warning the crowd to be polite, then sets the stage by pointing out “few issues today prompt more heated discussion than bike policy in New York City.”

In the hours that followed, he was proven correct: Sadik-Khan was grilled, interrupted, and accused of ignoring the will of the public, prevaricating, and acting by fiat… (Continue reading: NYC learns to heart bicycles | Grist).


via Hot Hardware

You know that desperate youthful yearning you had for a driver’s licence? Chances are your kids don’t, and it turns out their international pen pals probably don’t either.


In April our Richard Florida reported a trend away from automobile use among young Americans. The news holds particular significance for the United States — where for decades cars have been “a symbol of freedom of independence,” as Florida writes — but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly unique. On the contrary, new research suggests that the real story here isn’t about one country’s changing tastes but rather a more global generational shift.

In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, a research team led by Tobias Kuhnimhof of the Institute for Mobility Research, in Munich, found a strikingly similar trend away from automobile use among 18- to 29-year-old Germans. The researchers identified two key factors shaping this change: increasing use of public transportation (even among those who own cars), and decreasing driving habits of young men in particular.

To reach their conclusions, Kuhnimhof and colleagues analyzed a handful of travel and economic surveys dating back to the mid-1970s. Consistent with U.S. trends, car use in Germany was on the rise at that time, and remained so into the late 1990s. From 1976 to 1997, across all age groups, the number of cars per thousand Germans rose from roughly 300 to 500, and the share of car trips rose from 45 to 60 percent…  (Continue reading: Young Americans Aren’t the Only Ones Driving Much Less Than Their Parents – Commute – The Atlantic Cities).


Join us TODAY at GGLO’s Space at the Steps at noon as we take a look at “UpGarden,” America’s first public roof-top P-Patch!

“UpGarden” Brownbag: Garage-Top P-Patch
WHEN: Thursday, June 14 at 12pm
WHERE: GGLO’s, Space at the Steps (about 1/4 of the way down Harbor Steps at First and University)

In an increasingly urbanizing Seattle, where can a greenthumb sow some seeds? Introducing UpGarden, the nation’s only public community garden on a roof.

Meet and hear from Department of Neighborhoods’ Laura Raymond, Seattle Center’s Layne Cubell, and Nicole Kistler and Eric Higbee of landscape architecture firm Kistler & Higbee Cahoot about the unique design they developed for this true community project.
Bigger than 6 basketball courts, the UpGarden includes 100 individual plots totalling roughly 30,000 square feet, and, perhaps coolest of all, an airstream trailer as a shed.  It is a partnership between neighborhood volunteers, local businesses, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and Seattle Center. Many of the 200+ volunteers are from Uptown/Lower Queen Anne.
Crops from the Uptown neighborhood’s first-ever community P-Patch will be harvested this season.
The $150,000 project was part of the 2008 Parks and Green Space Levy which provided funding for gardens in underserved neighborhoods.

To learn more: 




UpGarden P-Patch | Bringing P-Patches to New Heights.


Private rooftop garden in Manhattan. Source: Inhabitat

They wrote the book on place-making. Now, there’s a new textbook on them:

“Public Places – Urban Spaces” — a recently updated textbook on urban design and planning — includes a review of six place-making frameworks by the likes of Kevin Lynch, Nan Ellin and the Congress for a New Urbanism. The frameworks range from criteria to manifestos, at scales from the region to the home. While each has a different orientation, in sum they offer a mix of touchstones, principles, characteristics, goals and approaches linked with “good” urban design. They’re useful in developing standards for comparative evaluation, which can be applied adaptively toward creating healthy, democratic and attractive public space in cities.

Matthew Carmona, Tim Heath, Taner Oc and Steve Tiesdell structured “Public Places – Urban Spaces” around dimensions (morphological, perceptual, social, visual, functional, temporal) and processes (development, control, communication) for consideration in adopting a “holistic” urban design process… (Continue Reading: Urban Design for the Public Realm | Sustainable Cities Collective.)


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