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)

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

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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)

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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).

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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.

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