Archive for November, 2009

Forbes: Cal Anderson Park one of America’s best

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Cal Anderson Park
Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park is among the nation’s “Top 12” urban parks, according to Forbes online. Other parks making the list were Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Chicago’s Grant Park.

Cal Anderson got the nod because of its lemonade-from-lemons appeal, rising from a former reservoir. It’s one of six such parks in Seattle. The Berger Partnership was landscape architect.

Read the story here, or just skip to the slideshow.

Macy’s garage makes silk purse into sow’s ear

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Well OK, the old Bon Marche (now Macy’s) parking garage was never exactly a silk purse. But it was an example of a form of “moderne” architecture of which we in Seattle have precious few.

The structure’s spare, horizontal lines, curved corner, and exposed spiral ramp were simple, straightforward reflections of its principal function. The ground floor diner and flower shop were also a reminder of an earlier era of needed services that were often tucked into odd nooks of downtown buildings.

© Courtney Shannon Strand
But with the renovation, what we see resembles a suburban shopping mall – albeit in the “lifestyle center” mode. (Personally, I’ve never quite known what the heck that term is supposed to mean. Sounds like a word made-up by real estate brokers to aggrandize what is still a strip mall.)

Columbia Sportswear is clad in silly, knotty, horizontal wood siding that is obviously tacked on like faux wood paneling in a basement rec room. The overhanging “beams” are a waste of good steel, since they do nothing but stick out from the building and vaguely suggest they are doing something that is structural. The multiple video screens in the display windows effectively block views of the merchandise and merely add to the already frenetic atmosphere of the street in that location. This whole composition could sit nicely as a “storefront” within Alderwood Mall.

The white, translucent plastic sheeting that seems to have been stapled over portions of the façade looks cheap and flimsy. In places it is warped and buckled, adding to the paper-thin shallowness of this facelift gone awry.

But the most egregious aspect of this unfortunate morphing is the absence of a shelter for bus riders. Buildings elsewhere in downtown – even in the next block south — have recently been retrofitted with generous and elegant steel and glass canopies. These provide needed protection from the rain during inclement periods while admitting desired sunlight at other times. This project could have made a similar gesture to the streetscape. It seems as if the people involved deliberately thumbed their noses at the bus patrons who use that corner.

The supreme irony is that leaning rails were actually provided. But none of them are located where the buses actually stop. Talk about adding insult to injury.

It would be difficult to find an example of recent development in the commercial core that has been so socially rude and visually clumsy as this architectural remake. One can only hope that a future, more enlightened owner will strip it all away.

And, perhaps, give us a nice place to wait for the bus.

Gingerbread design story irks laid-off architects

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

A story in the Seattle Times today on the gingerbread village under construction at the Seattle Sheraton rubbed some Seattle architects the wrong way.

It wasn’t really the story that bothered them, just that local architects decorating with candy are getting ink in the Times while major layoffs at local architecture firms aren’t.

“There’s a lot going on in the architecture industry that isn’t so “heartwarming” and has escaped the attention of the press,” writes one commenter who identifies himself as Seattle chump. “If Microsoft lays off 17 employees, it makes the paper, but if a Seattle based architecture firm lays off 200+ employees, there is no mention of it. If being laid off makes me a “Scrooge,” then so be it.”

Help our new mayor with his homework

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
Note: I’ve edited this post to include a more direct route to the mayor-elect’s ear. Thanks, Brice!

Want to help Mayor-elect Michael McGinn get off on the right foot? Have some ideas for him on what he should do first, who should help him do it, and how he can build the public trust? Tell him.

McGinn wants help getting his homework done before he moves into city hall at the end of the month. He’s asked community leaders to help gather public responses to three key questions.

Here are McGinn’s questions:

  • How do we build the strongest possible team to achieve the policy objectives and values set forth during Mike’s campaign?
  • How do we build public trust in the new administration?
  • What do you view as the incoming administration and the city’s greatest challenge – what should we do first out of the gate?

Great City has a handy-dandy form online where you can submit your answers directly.

McGinn said at a CityClub panel in March (before officially announcing his candidacy for mayor) that he thinks the recession provides Seattle with a few years of breathing space, not only to prepare for the next wave of growth, but to make sure the city remains a place people want to live.

“The problem of people wanting to live here is a good one,” he said. “I think we’re smart enough to build smart places, we just need to do it.”

More sidewalks? Depends on who’s paying

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Forget it!
A national survey shows that people strongly favor the development of communities with lots of sidewalks. But ask voters — and especially motorists — to actually pay to make that happen, and you get a very different answer.

Such was the case in Burien where, earlier this month, residents voted on whether vehicle owners should pay an extra $25 car-tab fee to fund the construction of sidewalks and bike lanes. It was the first time a Washington city has voted on taxing cars to pay for such amenities, according to a Seattle Times article.

In a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America, more than 80 percent of respondents favored building more walkable communities. Based on these results, which were published in the January 2008 issue of Realtor magazine, you’d think that Burien voters would have delivered a slam-dunk win for the suburb’s bicyclists and pedestrians.

But you’d be wrong. A whopping 74 percent of voters rejected the proposition.

Members of the City Council could have OK’d a $20 fee without going to the voters, but asked for $25. “We need to know what our community wants to do,” Mayor Joan McGilton told the Times.

City Hall clearly found out.

Marc Stiles covers transportation for the DJC.

SOME things are clear on election night

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

As of 11:50 p.m. election night, most Seattle and King County votes haven’t been counted yet.

But some people don’t know that, and are already proclaiming McGinn over Mallahan. Way too early, guys. Those were the ballots that arrived early. Historically, later ballots trend differently, often in ways hard to predict. Sometimes the later votes are younger or more liberal. In this case, McGinn’s switcharoo on the tunnel might have hurt him, at least according to polling. But the damage would only show for people who voted after the 20th, when his announcement made the papers (ballots have to be mailed out 18 days in advance).

Conversely, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who voted for McGinn specifically because he mellowed out on the tunnel, allowing them to make their vote about other issues, where he had some good ideas in areas like density, sustainability and transit. This might have helped him after the shock wore off. If he wins, I hope he’ll do exactly as he said on his central issue: be a good watchdog, but not get in the way of the tunnel.

Personally I think Mallahan has at least a 50 percent chance right now…purely based on public and newspaper Web site info. My guess is McGinn lost some true believers due to the tunnel switch, without gaining the same number to replace them. More results come out at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the King County voter site.

Constantine vs. Hutchison is a wee bit more clear…she got trounced, currently by 14 points, worse than any poll. It’s an odd trend in this state, with votes frequently going significantly further left than polls suggested, with Rossi and McGavick being other examples. Theories will abound, like R-71 (drawing young voters more than conservatives perhaps?), cell phones (hard to poll and not properly accounted for by pollsters), late ads, etc. Also, the left has a volunteer advantage that helps get voters to vote. Hutchison’s idea of not talking about major aspects of her political beliefs didn’t appear to work, as we voters tend to care about our politicians’ political beliefs. Looking forward, this race has implications for many urban issues, such as Constantine’s greater support for saving bus service and building light rail.

Miraculously, voters seem to be figuring out Tim Eyman. Initiative 1033, designed to employ Tim Eyman, while also gutting state and local government services long-term and hopefully engendering political maneuvering that would continue to employ Tim Eyman, is down almost 11 points right now. At minimum, voters seem to be looking past the apple-pie ballot titles and thinking twice, perhaps remembering past initiatives. Eyman’s initiatives tend to poll well early but tail off as people learn more, and lately they’ve been tailing off into “landslide loss” territory.

And how about the housing levy currently winning by 17 points? Seattle’s housing programs are one of the great prides of this city. Aided by these levies, the Seattle Housing Authority and Seattle’s array of outstanding non-profits build and maintain significant amounts of housing, and manage to improve neighborhoods in the process through attractive, long-life design and construction.