Archive for May, 2008

Gehry project tightens its belt

Friday, May 30th, 2008

You’re not the only one being asked to recraft that building just a teensy bit smaller.

Architectural Record reported this week that the Atlantic Yards, a controversial $4.3 billion, 8 million-square foot Brooklyn development designed by Frank Gehry, is scaling back its buildings.simpson_frank_gehry_concert_hall.jpg

New renderings were released for the project, showing Gehry’s designs altered to shrink the space of the project’s signature building and accommodate a change in use from residential and office to commercial.

Gehry’s work is distinctive and powerful, but it’s rarely compact.

An interesting function of our shrinking economy, rising fuel costs and fears of global warming might be to see some striking architecture come from doing more with less.

Of course, it’s going to have to get a lot smaller before it really turns heads.

Race and gentrification in Bridgeport

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

It’s not every day you see The New York Times delve into gentrification in Portland.

Today’s NYT story focuses on the conversation that black and white Portlanders are having as more and more young whites move into North and Northeast Portland, strongholds of Portland African Americans since the Columbia River flooded in the late 1940s and took Vanport with it.stjohnsbridge.jpg

The story points out that, for many African American residents of Portland’s northern hoods, the influx of new neighbors isn’t the problem. It’s the onslaught of city dollars–aimed at improving streetscapes and transit service— that concern them. Those improvements aren’t meant for them, they say. Rather, they see investments raising land values and forcing them out, the story says.

You can’t miss all the improvements made in Bridgeport’s northern reaches in the past few years. I’ve marveled at them myself. I was an undergrad at Lewis and Clark College in the late 1990s, lived for a few years in Northeast Portland after school, and regularly go back to visit friends, most of whom are white and living in North or Northeast neighborhoods.

The changes can be seen as improving the quality of life for everyone. Like the yellow max line that now provides safer and more consistent connections for the northern reaches, and the new sidewalks and streetlights that have been incubating small local businesses along North Portland’s streets.

It’s hard to see the changes as only benefitting some of the people who live there. But those streets stood dark and the sidewalks cracked for decades and only now see to be undergoing a rapid spruce up.

Read other local bloggers thoughts here, here and here.

Back to the future of South Lake Union

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

It seems like much of the city’s time is spent working on the future of South Lake Union.

No comment.

From trolleys and targeted up-zones to street redesigns and a new park (dedication shown at right) and trail, proposals for the hood once known as Cascade have kept city officials busy as bees in a hive for the past few years.

But what exactly should come next?

The Seattle City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee will hold a special meeting at noon Thursday to discuss the long-term vision for South Lake Union.

While they’re at it, they’ll bring out the crystal ball on Uptown, too.

The meeting will be held in Council Chambers on the Second Floor of City Hall at 600 Fourth Ave.

Presenters include John Coney and Steven Paget- in charge of the “visioning” process, Craig Hanway of the Queen Anne Community Council, John Savo of the South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors Community Council, Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute and Michael McGinn, director of the Seattle Great City Initiative.

A neighborhood-wide up-zone for South Lake Union is in the works and could come before council later this year.

An unusual landmark

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

No, this has nothing to do with that boarded up building with the unique swooping roofline that you won’t see much longer at the corner of 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street.

Landmarking a living thing?
Still reading? The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board also voted Wednesday to designate the Washington Park Arboretum’s Japanese Garden a Seattle landmark.

Exactly how to preserve a landmark comprised mainly of living plants could get complicated.

Landmark board members said the garden is an obvious landmark candidate because of its historical, cultural and architectural significance.

But they were concerned that the designation be worded in a way that means arboretum staff won’t need their approval every time a rotting tree is removed or new bulbs are planted. Landmark staff said they will work to come up with something.

The 3.5 acre garden is mainly the work of Juki Iida, a Japanese landscape architect who came over and worked with Seattle’s William Yorozu, a Japanese-American general contractor.

It was the first large-scale post WW-II Japanese Garden completed in the U.S.

On the garden’s opening day in 1959, everyone who wore a kimono got in free.

Design Ballard’s new bike rack

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

bike_spiral_big.jpgSDOT and Sustainable Ballard are looking for good designs for new bike racks to adorn the streets of Ballard.

The design should be tailored to one of these spots: along Ballard Avenue near the Farmer’s Market, next to the Ballard Public Library, on Market Street between 22nd and 24th Avenue Northwest, at The Locks, or next to Bergen Place.

The design must meet SDOT guidelines. Check out the contest rules and the contest Web site for more information. The deadline is July 15.

Backtracking on Ballard Denny’s decision?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Key Seattle landmark staff are advising the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board against preserving the former Denny’s on the corner of 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street.

The recently boarded-up landmark

The board voted in February that the building’s prominence for the Ballard neighborhood makes it a historic landmark worth protecting. But what that actually means for the building and plans to build a multi-use development on the site has been up in the air.

Over the past several weeks, board staff and site owner the Benaroya Co. have been negotiating over controls and incentives for the building. That will establish what the owners and developers can and can’t do with the site.

The board meets at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Seattle Municipal Tower in Room 4060 at 700 Fifth Ave. to go public with their decision.

As first reported on Crosscut, Historic Preservation Officer Karen Gordon and Landmarks Coordinator Beth Chave say in the memo that they can envision no scenario that preserves the building’s “character defining features” while allowing the developer “to realize a reasonable return on their investment.”

The Seattle Monorail Project bought the one-acre site for $7.5 million in 2005, before voters rejected the monorail plan. Benaroya paid $12.5 million for the site in 2006 and said the price reflects the high-density development planned there.

Just six months ago, Denny’s was still operating in the building. But Benaroya said in February that the building is not up to code and Denny’s does not pay enough rent to justify using the space as a restaurant. Denny’s paid $5,295 a month for rent in 2007 and covered the site’s $26,485 property tax bill.

The building was designed by San Francisco Architect Clarence Mayhew in 1964 for the Manning brothers in the flamboyant roadside “googie” style. The original oversized sign and glazing are gone. Denny’s remodeled the interior to add modern mechanical equipment when it took up the lease in 1984.

Board members said in February that the building still conveys its architectural significance through its unique roofline, and is a visual marker for Ballard.

Grace Architects' vision for adaptive reuse of the building

Some still argue the building can be kept without depriving the developer.

Above is a rendering Grace Architects submitted to the landmarks board that envisions denser development while keeping the 1964 building on the site.

“The only way that a reasonable financial return can be realized at this site is by embracing a creative
approach to the site, allowing additional density on the remaining site area to compensate for the
lower retained height at the landmarked structure,” writes Ralph Allen of Grace Architects in a May 19 letter to the board.

Is Seattle overdoing it with density plans?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Seattle is already zoned to allow three times the density expected over the next 14 years, according to a report released last week by Livable Seattle.

The report culls numbers from the 2007 King County Buildable Lands Report. It makes the case that the city’s zoning capacity already outpaces projected growth three-fold, so more up-zoning is not needed.

Is Seattle overzoned?

“Seattle’s city government should not make radical changes in our established zoning and neighborhood plans with the idea that such changes are needed to accomodate future growth,” reads the report.

You probably haven’t heard of the group. David Miller, one of Livable Seattle’s members and president of the Maple Leaf Community Council, told me at a council meeting in March that the group had formed in response to concerns over all of the zoning changes council will review this year.

Miller said the group’s goal is to provide data to help people make informed decisions.

According to the report, “overzoning” has serious negative implications, including artificial increases in land and housing costs, and contributing to urban sprawl as families are priced out of the city.

Council will review an overhaul of the multifamily code later this year. Last month, it gave the nod to raising the threshold on how many units a development needs to trigger a review of its environmental impact. But council amended the proposal so the lighter restrictions would apply only to developments in urban centers and alongside the planned light rail.

Read another blogger’s take on the report here.

Keeping Seattle weird/affordable

Monday, May 12th, 2008

The Seattle Times had an interesting story today about artsy Seattleites being priced out of the city core and into edge neighborhoods like South Park.

It describes a progression taken from Belltown and Capitol Hill, once the meccas of alternative culture, to Georgetown and then to South Park.

Would Gertrude still live here?

They can’t go any further, so the fear and reality is they’ll move to the effortlessly affordable and funky Portland.

Portland, of course, has its own saga: The once edgy, industrial Pearl District is now home to hordes of Seattle refugees and its former residents are already getting priced out of the Alberta Arts District in Northeast Portland. Of course, “priced out” in Portland is when you can no longer buy for $300,000. Seattleites have it a little steeper.

Getting priced out is a tragedy that is almost taken for granted here, and one that sometimes distresses and other times annoys me. I’m concerned about the edgy people moving to the edges or away because I am concerned about losing Seattle’s essential weirdness. That’s a cultural concern and an economic concern. I think both are very valid and I wish more people did.

But I also see some exciting changes in the city. There’s gentrification but then there’s neighborhood building. There are invested homeowners, diverse neighborhoods and thriving small businesses selling quirky, local stuff in the corners of our city. Many people actually choose to live in the “edge neighborhoods” and don’t ever wish they could live in Belltown instead.

The Times article paints a picture of being priced out as a painful progression. But at the story’s end, it’s revealed that its protagonist is not only able to afford to live in South Park, he owns his home, AND the home next door, which he rents out to make money.

It’s a thought-provoking piece that gives nuance to the “priced-out” tale.

Rypkema says Seattle is losing its “grittiness”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Donovan Rypkema, the historic preservation and economic development expert, was here this week from Washington, D.C. for a lecture sponsored by Historic Seattle.rypkema.jpg

I went to his lecture Thursday and spoke to him Friday morning. He had been out with his camera, wandering First Hill and downtown and snapping photos of older blocks and newer developments. He said Seattle has really changed in the 20 years he’s been watching it.

“I’ve loved (Seattle) because of its grittiness and that’s rapidly disappearing,” he said.

He said he was also surprised we don’t have more historic districts in our great, historic town. Rypkema believes historic preservation is key to economic development but has a special affinity for historic districts. Unlike one historic building, where preservation can be seen as an economic burden on a building owner, he said, a district sees all its values rise.

He said rehabbing a historic building is the greenest construction there is and said there is no function in today’s world that couldn’t happily be housed in yesterday’s building. He said churches, universities and hospitals are the worst at claiming they need to raze historic buildings to suit their modern needs.

“Developers are often painted as the villains in neighborhoods but the biggest villains in neighborhoods are churches hospitals and universities,” he said Friday. “They screw up more neighborhoods than anyone else in the country.”

At the Thursday lecture at Wallingford’s lovely Good Shepherd Center, Rypkema said historic districts also: have stabler prices and are better equipped to ride out economic downturns, and draw better tourists and do a better job overall at supporting the local economy than new construction (because more money goes to workers than materials, and then the workers spend that cash locally).

Seattle has seven historic districts: Ballard Avenue, Columbia City, Fort Lawton, Harvard-Belmont, the International District, Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. For comparison, Portland has 13 historic districts and seven conservation districts.

Read the entire text of Rypkema’s lecture for yourself, and read his own blog about his recent trips to Seattle and Portland.

The politics of siting Seattle’s jail

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

City officials will soon have to break the news to some Seattle businesses and organizations that they will be neighbor to a city jail in 2012.

The ultimate NIMBY

It’s not a fun job, but some would say that’s why they’re making the big bucks.

It’s not really their fault though. The number of people in jail on a Seattle misdemeanor has actually gone down 38 percent from 1996 through last year, thanks in part to alternative sentencing and monitoring programs.

But the county, which has been housing misdemeanor offenders for cities including Seattle, is running out of room and plans to discontinue the practice in 2012.

That doesn’t give the city much time to drag its heels over the site.

They fired a warning shot this week, announcing four potential candidates, picked from an initial list of 35. The city said they needed at least seven acres, easy access to arterials and had to be outside residential areas.

They also looked at other factors including access to public transportation, environmental conditions and geotechnical conditions. I’m sure it’s no coincidence the sites are spread across the city.

City officials said sites could be cut or added after a series of public meetings next month. They need to have a site set by early next year in order to make tight design and construction timelines to get the jail built by 2012.

Which do you think they’ll pick?

• 11762 Aurora Ave. N., on land that is now a Puetz Golf driving range and shop

• 1600 W. Armory Way in Interbay, site of the former Northwest Center for the Retarded that was acquired for the monorail

• A site at the corner of Highland Park Way Southwest and West Marginal Way that is jointly owned by the city, the state and private industry

• 9501 Myers Way South, on a vacant lot owned by the city.