A good way to measure “walk appeal” could help in the quest to inspire a new generation of flaneurs

We have a number of formal and informal ways to think about what makes a good walkable community. I’ve written before about the popsicle test (can a child comfortably walk to buy a popsicle and walk back home?), the Halloween test (does the neighborhood attract kids walking door-to-door on Halloween?), and the 20-minute neighborhood (can you meet most all of your daily needs within a 20-minute walk or transit ride?).

My friend Steve Mouzon adds the tourist test (is the town or place good enough that people will want to vacation there?); Scott Doyon, not entirely in jest, likes the “pub shed” (how many drinking establishments are within walking distance?). For those who like numbers, the increasingly sophisticated Walk Score calculates the number and types of typical destinations within comfortable walking distance of any given location and assigns a rating based on the outcome.

Steve has now added another, very interesting idea to the mix: he posits that, in fact, “comfortable walking distance” is not a constant but a variable, and that the distances we are willing to travel on foot to do something depends on the quality of the environment along the way. Steve calls his concept “walk appeal.” Streets and neighborhoods that entice us to walk farther have greater walk appeal… (Continue Reading: Can We Quantify a Good Walk? – Design – The Atlantic Cities)


Street trees on Timon Street in Buffalo NY's Masten District.

Green Infrastructure = CPTED?

We know urban trees are multi-purpose infrastructure; reducing the urban heat-island effect, absorbing stormwater and providing habitat for birds and other critters who make their home among us. But can trees also fight crime?

A new study suggests a strong correlation between urban tree cover and reduced crime, especially on public lands. “The relationship between tree canopy and crime rates across an urban–rural gradient in the greater Baltimore region,” published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning by researchers from the University of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, looked at the relationship between tree cover based on aerial photography and crime rates in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Maryland.

After controlling for population density and socioeconomic factors, the authors found that, on average, a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a 12% decrease in crime, with the relationship most pronounced on public lands such as city parks. In a few isolated patches, the relationship was reversed, especially in an area of Baltimore between industrial and residential properties where, according to the study, the plant life may be attributed to abandoned, overgrown lots rather than maintained trees. The researchers suggest that tree planting could be prioritized as a public safety matter, as the presence of trees can suggest a neighborhood is well cared for and criminal behavior is more likely to be noticed. (From: Urban Trees Curb Shady Behavior – BuildingGreen.com)


Seattle’s abundant overhead foliage has earned it the nickname “a city among the trees.”

But between 1972 and 2007, The Emerald City’s tree canopy declined from 40 percent to below 20 percent.

Join us at our next Brownbag Lunch to learn about the Urban Forest Management Plan: a 30-year plan that recommends steps that the City of Seattle should take to preserve our beloved urban-arboretum character.

Led by the Urban Forest Interdepartmental Team, the city is in the process of updating three important areas of city-wide policy and regulation. Join us on Thursday, August 9 to learn more.


Happy Friday! It’s been a long week. Here’s something thought-provoking for you; in the easy-to-digest format of video. Enjoy!

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Today, Atlantic Cities featured a Gen/Connect interview with Dr. Rohit T. Aggarwala, special adviser to the C40 chair, in which Dr. Aggarwala breaks down why city dwellers are the most efficient users of environmental resources. He also explains how “the triple bottom line” definition of sustainability works perfectly in cities, where improvements to public health, environment and quality of life go hand in hand.

“Climate change is the common denominator,” to the biggest challenges facing cities says Dr. Aggarwala; these major issues include quality, water quality, and public health, sanitation, and solid waste – particularly in developing countries.

“The average New Yorker has a carbon footprint one-third the size of the average American,” says Dr. Aggarwala.

To learn how urban dwellers can increase their energy efficiency even more, watch the full interview here: C40 Cities: Climate Leadership Group: VIDEO: C40s Dr. Rohit Aggarwala on “Why Urbanites Make the Best Use of Environmental Resources”


Citytank on the debate over the Living Building Pilot Program: its a “case study in progressive divisiveness.”

The first question to ask about the current debate over Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program is, why is there a debate at all? It’s just plain embarrassing that in a City that talks so loud and proud about sustainability, once again we have such hand wringing over a modest piece of legislation that is so obviously the right thing to do.

Launched in December 2009, the Living Building Pilot Program (LBPP) is designed to incentivize the development of buildings that operate on one quarter of the energy and water consumed by a typical building. If a new building can achieve those highly demanding specs, and also capture and use half of the rainwater that hits its site, and also meet 60 percent of the “imperatives” of the rigorous Living Building Challenge, then it becomes eligible for a range of departures from standard code requirements, subject to City approval. Departures are offered as a way to enable innovative design solutions and help compensate for the added costs associated with meeting the stringent performance targets.

The value of the long-term public benefit derived from buildings that qualify for the LBPP cannot be understated, particularly regarding energy. We all know about climate change and the harsh realities of an increasingly resource-constrained planet, right? Achieving anything even close to carbon neutrality in Seattle is going to require huge reductions in building energy use, and we need to get on it now because new buildings will be on the ground for decades… (Continue Reading: Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program: a case study in progressive divisiveness)


There’s mobility, then there’s social mobility. Or, maybe the two are really one…

Social mobility in the context of Smarter Transport systems is the ability to move people and resources in an informed way that achieves positive social outcomes. It relies on the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate the organisation and optimisation of connections between goods, services and human capital. In short, it can enable communities to work together to achieve their goals.

The real challenge for such systems is how to measure the value of their social, environmental and economic impact. Today, we measure value in monetary terms. But that’s very much a point-in-time measure; and there’s an argument that the full cost of goods and services are not identified and included in their financial price – particularly the social and environmental costs. It’s possible that such costs could be quantified by measures such as standard of living or the “happiness index” that has been suggested by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, amongst others… (Continue Reading: Are Smarter Cities the Key to Social Mobility? | Sustainable Cities Collective)


With suburbs continuing to gobble up farmland as they grow and develop, sprawling ever further across the Puget Sound region, growing local food increasingly means creative land use. In some cases food is more local than ever, as we learned at our brownbag last month on UpGarden, the nation’s first public rooftop P-Patch and the first public garden in Seattle’s Uptown  neighborhood.

Bay Area locavores and caterpillars rejoice: An edible urban jungle is poised to sprout in San Francisco.

City supervisors approved legislation Tuesday that will help grassroots farming groups replace barren concrete and forests of weeds on vacant land and rooftops with veggie gardens, chicken coops, and honeybee hives. And the move cements San Francisco’s role as a national leader in urban food production.

“[San Franciscans] are thought of as foodies, and environmentalists,” said Laura Tam, a policy director at the nonprofit San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped push the new rules forward. “This is a marrying of our sustainability objectives with the reputation that we have in the world…” (Continue Reading: New San Francisco legislation will jump-start urban farming | Grist)


Publicola, in case you hadn’t heard, is back. The indispensable source of local politics, policy and public-sector gossip lives on as a part of Seattle Met. Today, Erica C. Barnett posted a summary of some of the tasks before proponents of the arena that could bring the Sonics back to Seattle:

More details (than you probably ever wanted to know) emerged from today’s arena council briefing, which we mentioned in Fizz this morning, on the transportation and land use impacts of the proposed arena.

Council members, of course, have declared themselves universally “agnostic” on the arena (even Richard Conlin told PubliCola that he isn’t opposed opposed to the project, he just has lots of questions). But their questions for staffers definitely trended more skeptical than supportive.

Here’s some of what they learned:

• Although the plan calls for a new pedestrian plaza connecting Safeco Field and the new arena along what is now Occidental Way, the area around the stadiums in general is zoned specifically to discourage hotels, housing, and street-level retail uses—the kind of stuff that draws pedestrians to an area… (Continue Reading Arena Land Use and Transportation Challenges | PubliCola)


Growing up offers advantages over growing out (AKA sprawl). But recent and proposed developments in the Pike/Pine neighborhood highlight issues at hand when a community grapples with growth in character-rich neighborhoods while seeking to retain the diverse, dynamic vibrancy that makes them so attractive to incoming residents, investment and development.

Joining us to look at the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District, discuss how it has influenced development plans and share ideas for enhancing outcomes will be DPD Strategic Advisor Dennis Meier, Dunn & Hobbes Principal Liz Dunn, Architect and Historic Preservationist Patricia Tusa Fels and Weber Thompson Senior Associate and Great City Board Member Jeff Reibman.

Patricia Tusa Fels is an historic preservationist and the founder and principal architect of PTF Architects.

She has been involved in conservation projects in the US, Europe and Asia, including the Lake Union Oral History Project. Her involvement with Lake Union goes back thirty years and includes work with the houseboat community, an inventory of historic buildings in South Lake Union followed by consultation on the first SLU Neighborhood Plan, and the landmarking of Gas Works Park.

Fels is also the former chair of the King County Landmarks Commission.

She contributes frequently to Crosscut.com, and a wide range of other journals and newspapers.

Join us Thursday when we welcome Patricia Tusa Fels to the dais at GGLO’s Space at the Steps!


We often look at the lifestyle, cultural and aesthetic differences  between urban, walkable, mixed-use places on this blog, in contrast to the single-family, auto-oriented, spread-out development pattern that has dominated land use across the U.S. for the past half century. It is well-known that federal tax  policy plays a huge role in incentivizing single-family housing over multifamily housing.

The ability to write off mortgage debt interest often lures those who can afford the down payment (and, during a few frenzied years of the past decade, even those who couldn’t) out of urban apartments and into the world of picket fences and 2.5 car garages.

Turns out that write-off, which has such large ramifications to society as a whole, isn’t as clear a win for the individual as many might think. The author of Seattle Bubble, who works for the Realtor RedFin, can always be counted on for a clear-eyed analysis of the pros and cons of buying a house. He’s been tracking the ups and downs of the real estate market for years and has an interesting set of graphs that compare the performance of home-ownership vs. renting (and investing the rest of the money in other ways) going back to 1999:

In late June’s post where I plotted the long-term trend of inflation-adjusted local home prices, there was some disagreement with my snarky insinuation that zero real appreciation over thirteen years (1999 to 2012) represents a lousy investment.

As one reader correctly pointed out, the stock market’s total non-inflation-adjusted return over the same time period is a paltry 5.1%, which turns into a loss of 26% after you adjust for inflation. Even if you ignore the leverage you get from your down payment and the additional principal you paid into the mortgage over that time period, zero growth in home prices still beats a 26% loss in the stock market, right?

Of course, home ownership is a complex financial commitment, and simple comparisons of purchase and sales prices don’t tell the whole story… (Queue the visual aids! Continue reading: Seattle Bubble • Your (Mortgaged) Home is Not an Investment)


Jeff Reibman

Recent and proposed developments in the Pike/Pine neighborhood highlight issues at hand when a community grapples with growth in character-rich neighborhoods while seeking to retain the diverse, dynamic vibrancy that makes them so attractive to incoming residents, investment and development.

Joining us to look at the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District, discuss how it has influenced development plans and share ideas for enhancing outcomes will be DPD Strategic Advisor Dennis Meier, Dunn & Hobbes Principal Liz Dunn, Architect and Historic Preservationist Patricia Tusa Fels and Weber Thompson Senior Associate and Great City Board Member Jeff Reibman.

Great City Board Member Jeff Reibman AIA, LEED® AP will bring his considerable professional insight to our Thursday Brownbag discussion of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. Jeff is intimately familiar with the policy, having worked on several projects in the neighborhood.

Jeff Reibman AIA, LEED AP, joined Weber Thompson in 2004 and is now a Senior Associate. He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Jeff is Licensed in the state of Washington, and is also certified by the National Council of Architecture Registration Boards.

For the past 16 years Jeff has been working in the Seattle area, with a focus on residential design of every kind. His projects at Weber Thompson have ranged from custom homes to large condominium and apartment projects and senior housing facilities.  In addition to building design, Jeff focuses on project management, firm marketing and operations, including Human Resources and Production Standards.

Jeff is a member of the Green Team, an enthusiastic team of Weber Thompson architects and interior designers who research sustainable design options, consult on green projects running through the office and conduct LEED exam study groups.

Outside the Office Jeff serves as a board member for Great City, a Seattle Think-Do tank dedicated to quality urban growth. He is also the city wide issues chair with Leadership for Great Neighborhoods, a 401C/4 advocacy organization and holds the development representative seat on Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission.


Who better than Dunn & Hobbes Principal Liz Dunn to stimulate a lively discussion on preservation, development and vibrancy in Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor? Join us Thursday, July 12 to meet Liz and our other panelists: DPD Strategic Advisor Dennis Meier, Architect and Historic Preservationist Patricia Tusa Fels and Weber Thompson Senior Associate and Great City Board Member Jeff Reibman. We’ll look at the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District, discuss how it has influenced development plans and share ideas for enhancing outcomes.

Grist Magazine included Liz Dunn in its “Change Gang,” a list of “people who are leading change on the ground toward a more sustainable society and a greener planet.” Grist described Dunn as a “onetime software developer at Microsoft who eventually found the ‘built environment’ more intriguing than worlds constructed out of code.” A short walk around the neighborhood of 12th and Pine illustrates why that is a career change we can all benefit from. Dunn is the founder and principal of Dunn & Hobbes LLC, a developer of mixed-use projects in Seattle that specializes in the adaptive re-use of existing buildings and the construction of small in-fill projects, with a focus on maintaining and creatively embellishing the character and fine urban grain that is at the heart of successful urban village neighborhoods. Liz is also the Consulting Director of the Preservation Green Lab, a Seattle-based research and policy think-tank affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The Green Lab works with selected partner cities around the nation on policy initiatives that incorporate reuse of existing buildings and neighborhood fabric into those cities’ larger sustainability objectives – ranging from environmental performance to economic resiliency and cultural diversity.  Liz is also currently a visiting fellow at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington.

Liz holds a BMath from the University of Waterloo, an MBA from INSEAD, and an MSc in City Design from the London School of Economics. She is on the board of Capitol Hill Housing and is past-president of the board of ARCADE Magazine. Other past and present community involvement includes the City of Seattle’s Technical Advisory Group for Buildings and Energy and the Pike-Pine Urban Neighborhood Coalition. In 2007, Liz was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.

See you Thursday!


This is a guest post by Maggie Humphreys, who works with Skanska on communications and public affairs initiatives and shared this reflection on the June 28 Brownbag about the Living Building Pilot Program. We welcome guest posts on topics relating to the built environment and Smart Growth in Seattle.

There is one major roadblock for deep green building in our cities and it isn’t a lack of interest from developers and design teams. Stonewalled lenders at banks and other financial institutions are wary of investing funds into green buildings for fear that they won’t be price-competitive and financially sustainable.

Last week, Lisa Picard, executive vice president of Skanska’s west coast commercial development unit, shared how Skanska’s Stone34, the first project designed for a market rate tenant in Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, is working to create a new economic structure where both developers and lenders can confidently invest in deep green buildings.



During the presentation, Lisa shared this graph which describes the difficulty in achieving deep green sustainability. Projects pushing the status-quo inevitably garner high levels of criticism – from both lenders and from community members, or quoting Voltaire, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  Moving from the status-quo means changing from the expected and creating a new norm—a process necessary for positive change. Stone34 is looking to prove that deep green designs and technologies can be incorporated into a building that’s affordable for all tenants and patrons at a market-competitive rate; to create a new norm. Further, it will demonstrate to the community how intentional place making and built environment can foster better communities.

Accompanying Lisa at the brownbag were Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks and Jessica Clawson, a local land use attorney working with Skanska on this project. Environmental and land use attorney Chuck Wolfe moderated the panel. Jim noted that as a smaller company, their greatest risk would be to stick with the pack and maintain the status quo. The same stands for land use and development – the greatest risk would be to continue on the path of today’s building practices ignoring the opportunity for addressing our biggest challenges. Stone34 represents a key opportunity to disrupt the status quo and establish deep green building as the new norm.


The shift, clearly, is on. No longer merely a smattering of celebrated case studies, urban infill development (especially apartments) has become one of the hottest sectors of the U.S. construction industry. What does this mean for the neighborhoods accommodating this growth? Can we build upon, rather than displace, existing neighborhood culture as we attract new residents and businesses to close-in neighborhoods? Join us next Thursday to discuss the issue with other advocates of smart and sustainable urbanism, and meet DPD Strategic Advisor Dennis Meier.

Meier has worked on some of Seattle’s highest-profile zoning initiatives, including the downtown incentive zoning policy that resulted in a surge of new property tax revenues, eyes on the street, retail activity, and support for social programs. He’ll join us to present the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District and participate in our panel discussion with Liz Dunn, Patricia Tusa Fels and Jeff Reibman.

Dennis Meier is a Strategic Advisor with the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development.  His undergraduate degree is in Environmental Design-Architecture from North Carolina State University School of Design, and he attended graduate school in Urban Planning at the University of Washington, specializing in Urban Design.  In addition to positions with the City Of Raleigh Planning Department and Odell Associates, Architecture in Charlotte, North Carolina, he has over 25 years experience with the City of Seattle working at all levels of land use and urban design planning and policy development.  His work experience has a strong focus on Downtown Seattle, including work on various zoning incentive programs.



We’ve been taking a look at bikeshare systems and issues with their implementation. Here in Seattle, helmet laws might be a hurdle but we are hearing some rumbles of possible low-cost helmet vending machines at rental stations as a solution. What with all the hills in Seattle, pricing might also be structured to give users an incentive to ride uphill to return a bike.

But first, a look at China, home to the biggest bikeshare system in the world:

The Beijing Municipal Government recently launched a new public bike rental program, though this is not Beijing’s first foray into bike sharing. There are 39 public bike schemes in China—dwarfing all other nations. As more Chinese cities introduce public bike systems, we need to think carefully about their design and operations under a broader sustainable transport framework.

There has been a boom of shared and public bikes in cities around the world. From Paris to Washington D.C., from Barcelona to Boston, shared bicycle fleets have been branded and introduced in modern cities as a “new” member of mass transit. China, once called the “Kingdom of Bicycles,” is also sparing no efforts in promoting public bikes.

The attention for pubic bikes in China is partially related to the success of the Hangzhou public bike program. Currently, Hangzhou runs the largest bikeshare program in the world with 250,000 trips a day with more than 60,000 bikes and 2,177 stations. This system, which is funded entirely by the municipal government, was planned and built within only three years  The red bicycles have been so well-received by the public that it inspired many other Chinese cities, including Beijing, to replicate the Hangzhou model.  On June 16, the Beijing municipal government launched its public bike program. The first batch of 2,000 bikes have been stationed in 63 places with high-traffic flow in Beijing’s Dongcheng and Chaoyang districts. According to the plan, 50,000 bikes will be in use in 1,000 designated service places by 2015 to cover major districts, transportation hubs and streets… (Continue Reading China Transportation Briefing: Booming Public Bikes | TheCityFix)


King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien to hold joint town hall meeting on NBA & NHL arena proposal

Come meet with County and City representatives and ask questions about proposed arena.

Tuesday, July 10

7:00 – 8:00 p.m.

North Seattle Community College

Cafeteria, College Center Building

9600 College Way North

Seattle, WA

Under the proposed memorandum of understanding negotiated between County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and private investor Christopher Hansen, up to $200 million for the arena would be financed through public bonds that would be paid back from rents and tax revenues generated by the facility. You can learn more about the proposal at the Seattle City Council’s arena proposal page.

“The proposed arena is an important issue currently before the county and city councils. This meeting will give community members the opportunity to ask questions, express their thoughts, and know their voices are being heard,” said Ferguson. “As an elected official, I believe it is important to meet with and hear directly from the public and the people I represent.”

“As both City and County Councils are digging into the details of the arena proposal and beginning to understand the potential benefits and risks to the region, it is critical we are also hearing from the public,” said O’Brien. “We are receiving thousands of emails on the topic, but there is nothing like getting out in the neighborhood and engaging directly with the people we represent.”

The King County Council and Seattle City Council are currently reviewing a proposal for development of an approximately $500 million multi-purpose arena. Under the proposed memorandum of understanding negotiated between County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor McGinn, and private investor Christopher Hansen, up to $200 million for the arena would be financed through public bonds that would be paid back from rents and tax revenues generated by the facility.

More details about the town hall meeting are available here


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