Archive for August, 2010

Would you pay more for a new home?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Seattle Bubble has an interesting post. It says that many homebuyers in King County are apparently unwilling to

Photo courtesy of
pay more for new construction than for used.  Read about it here and please tell SeattleScape if you think it’s true, and why.

Urban planning Sudan-style

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Southern Sudan plans to rebuild cities in the region in the shapes of animals and fruit, according to this BBC News report. SeattleScape blogger Mark Hinshaw sees potential there. Here’s what he has to say:

The World Institute for Anthropomorphic Town Planning announced last week that Washington State will be the recipient of six grants to counties for free-standing urban development.  Each county would be required

Courtesy of
to select an animal – one that is native to the northwest — and then lay out a new town in its shape. WIATP would provide full funding.

“We are excited about this prospect because we know that many legislators have been wanting get rid of the Growth Management Act,” said Keefer Bakelite, Palouse County Commissioner. “Who could possibly object to towns shaped like animals?”

Says Professor William “Willy” Grant of CWU’s urban planning school, “Few people know it, but animals make the ideal shape for communities. Civic uses fit nicely in the head, industry fits in the stomach, housing in the legs. Waste disposal systems go, um, well… near the tail.”

A number of counties are vying for the grant, having already selected the Bighorn Sheep, the Black Bear, the Salmon, and the Geoduck for their own submissions. Palin T. McHall, Executive Director  of the WIATP remarked, “Other counties will have to be extra creative as some of the best animal shapes are already taken.”  “Insects are also eligible,” he adds.

For their part, Futurewise and the Sierra Club are in a political quandary. “We hate free-standing communities. But we all love animals. It’s a true dilemma,” one close source who chose not be identified said.

Personally, I think it would be swell to have a town in look like a cicindela tranqebarica.

Ruining the view from Aurora Bridge

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

My bus crosses the Aurora Bridge with its wonderful public view of Mount Rainier, the city, the ship canal, the Olympics and Cascades. Since we’re destined to lose our grand aerial view from the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the pending loss of the view from the Aurora Bridge is even more aggravating.

Aurora Bridge lit up. Enhanced photo by Kenji Tachibana

Public viewscapes contribute immeasurably to our civic identity and urban well being. After a long day, the sunset view crossing the bridge is a mental tonic (without the gin!).  The wake up view of sunlight catching fresh snow on the Cascades beats a latte and a vitamin pill as the morning pick-me-up.  Our public viewpoints and corridors contribute to a healthy mental state of mind, as well as aesthetic outlook.  Yet we’re letting WSDOT steal that view, turning the historic structure into a long linear jail cell for the hundreds of thousands of us who use that corridor. How maddening.  Last year I attended the so-called outreach event following a daylong design charette to come up with concepts to suicide proof the bridge.  While the only solution I personally could abide was a simple net structure slung under the bridge, there were other more artful fence concepts presented. Instead we end up with the jail cell look.

So we’re spending $4.6 million, forcing residents of Fremont and Queen Anne to endure months of daytime irritation and sleepless nights while the construction crews drill and rivet and corrupt our bridge so we can possibly deter a small subset of suicide attempts.  But we’re not going to solve the problem of suicide this way and we’re not going to eliminate every hazard to our physical and mental health by such clumsy methods.  If the goal is to spend gas tax dollars to prevent loss of life, there are hundreds of unfunded highway safety projects, railroad grade separations, and drunken driving enforcement actions that would be more effective.

Trying not to be a cynic about the Sheraton facade fix

Friday, August 13th, 2010

As reported in yesterday’s DJC, the Sheraton Hotel is finally going to improve the dreadful blank wall along the western side of 7th Avenue between Pike and Union Streets created by its first and second towers.

While I’m thrilled to hear that this long-awaited improvement scheme has not fallen through the cracks and is scheduled to start next week, it’s taking all my patience not to be cynical about this interesting state of affairs.

As I commented in an opinion piece I wrote on the subject for the DJC on 4/6/09, the big blank wall along 7th Avenue (and parts of both Pike and Union Streets as well) should not have occurred in the first place.  The City’s Downtown zoning code would otherwise require street-level uses and “transparency” (doors and windows that allow both visual and physical access to those activities) along 7th Avenue.  Somehow the Downtown Design Review Board approved a departure from those standards in exchange for wall treatment

Mirrors will be added to the blank wall of the Sheraton to make the streetscape more inviting. Image courtesy of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol.
to create pedestrian interest.

To my mind, there is no more naturally interesting phenomenon as one walks down a city street than interacting – both visually and physically – with a variety of shops, cafés, and other establishments that organically inhabit street-level tenant spaces over the years.

I commend Gustafson Guthrie Nichol for their bold, innovative and, yes, probably very engaging “garden walk.”  In my article, I made a rather glib reference to such an applied treatment being akin to lipstick on a certain porcine animal.  And, as with any maquillage, I fear it will require an inordinate amount of maintenance and continual primping to remain the engaging and interesting street-side phenomenon that they intend.

As for the intended reflection of the Eagles Temple across 7th Avenue, this is an interesting homage to that landmark.  It reminds me of the storied reflection of Trinity Church in the adjacent Hancock Tower’s wall of glass in Boston’s Back Bay. There’s something playful and creative about this approach to a response to the

The western side of Seventh Avenue between Pike and Union streets consists of one uninterrupted, blank concrete facade. Photo by DJC staff.
historic landmark.  Yet I also fear for the long-term viability of the mirrors.

Again, actual street-level tenant space, with doors and windows, could last the lifetime of the building with a changing array of establishments naturally responding to their street-level location with appropriate displays and accessibility.  Yet the placement of mirrors seems so impermanent.  Does the Sheraton Hotel management really intend to maintain and likely replace those mirrors essentially ad perpetuum?

Not to be ever the naysayer, I am anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the 7th Avenue “garden walk” next Spring as it will be a vast improvement over the existing pitiful situation.  And the Gustafson Guthrie Nichol group do marvelous work, so it will be a pleasure, yet again, to interact with their work in our cityscape.

Sustainable communities are feet-friendly

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Chris Persons, executive director of Capitol Hill Housing, has some interesting things to say about what makes communities nice, in part based on a vacation his family took touring some of Washington’s cool places. Here is what he had to say in the Capitol Hill Housing newsletter:

We are late getting out the CHH monthly newsletter because I just got back from vacation.  My family travelled for the first time to the North Cascades and Eastern Washington and we took our friend Marcia along for the adventure.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves and we all soaked up plenty of sunshine.   We toured Diablo lake by boat, explored Dry Falls, dug for fossils in Republic, crossed the Columbia River on Washington’s only free ferry, ate a Billie Burger in Wilbur, drove through the Palouse and drank a responsible amount of red wine in Walla Walla.  (The boys stuck with juice.)  I didn’t think about work at all.  I did think

Walla Walla's Pioneer Park. Photo courtesy of Walla Walla Visitors Bureau.
about what makes some communities so nice to be in.

As I have mentioned previously, the Community Development Collaborative has adopted Five Principles of Sustainable Communities:
• Equitable growth without displacement
• Affordable housing for all
• Transportation equity
• Economic opportunity and viable business districts
• Supportive and diverse environments.

A viable business district is an important element of most sustainable communities.  I tend to think of business districts in the urban village context because that is where I live and work. Columbia City and Broadway in Seattle, and Andersonville in Chicago, are all great examples of vibrant business districts.  But so is downtown Walla Walla.  There are other urban Seattle commercial districts that are not so successful.  How do these urban districts compare with Republic, Winthrop and Wilbur?  What lessons can we learn not just from thriving urban districts but from thriving (and not so thriving) rural ones?

Here are three lessons I came up with. I would be interested in hearing your ideas, too.
1) There has to be a reason for people to come.  Whether it’s Old West charm, fossils, crop circles or wine, you’ve gotta get people there.
2) There has to be a reason for the people who live there to come.   Main Street, U.S.A. attracts many tourists to Disneyland, but it doesn’t build community.  Amenities and services that support day-to-day living are important to sustainability.  If they are provided by locally-owned businesses even better.  I stood in a long line with locals and tourists at the Wilbur Billie Burger.
3) Feet-friendly streets create a comfortable scale for people.  Trees.  Wide sidewalks.  Narrow streets.  Unobstructed windows.  Benches for people to sit on.  Friendly merchants.  This works as well on South Rainier as it does in Walla Walla.

Of course a glass of Washington State merlot doesn’t hurt.  Cheers!

Check out DPD’s construction permit stats

Monday, August 9th, 2010
Courtesy of
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development has an interesting chart that looks at construction permit turnaround data. The data is updated monthly and can be viewed here.

High-rise fix requires jacking it up

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Downtown Seattle has its  McGuire apartments, 25-story building the owner plans to demolish because it says construction defects are too expensive to fix — a contention the contractor disagrees with.

Sarasota, Fla. has its 15-story Dolphin Tower condo complex, which engineers plan to jack up to fix severe design and construction flaws that have caused a key concrete support to fail, according to a Sarasota Herald Tribune story. Read it here.