Archive for July, 2011

Please save Metro

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Do we want to save Metro Transit service, or allow a 17% reduction?

It’s amazing that it’s even a question. This city — riders, car commuters, our economy, sustainability — relies on transit. Yes there’s a cost, $20 per year per vehicle, but bus riders subsidize everyone. Of course we should save Metro.

How do bus riders subsidize everyone? By letting us avoid the astronomical cost of new highway capacity, and reducing traffic so drivers get places faster. By not requiring parking, which when “free” is paid for by all, not just by drivers. By letting businesses congregate in urban districts in ways that wouldn’t function if a larger percentage of people drove, particularly in central Seattle, Downtown Bellevue, etc., where transit usage is heavy. By giving low-wage workers a way to get to work, avoiding a host of social problems and their costs, starting with unemployment, and by giving higher-wage workers a way to live more sustainably.

Even for those able to drive instead of riding Metro, a reduction would generally require them to spend a larger percentage of their incomes on transportation. Much of this would come from discretionary spending, savings, and/or debt, all of which would weigh down the regional economy.

Even people who still ride metro, a reduction might mean longer commute times, with all the disruption that can entail.

Basically, a cut would be the anti-stimulus. For want of $20, an almost imperceptible change in our tax load, we’d hit this city and most of our residents with a flurry of sucker punches.

For those who think oil prices will keep rising, the stakes get even higher. Cities that have decent transit will weather high gas prices much better than cities that don’t.

I hope the County Council will pass the measure with a vote of six. That would save a lot of uncertainty and the cost of a ballot measure. With five from the Council, at least the public would get to vote. The measure would have a good chance — this is a patriotic metro, willing to pay for things that benefit the region and all of us.

Council, please lead!

Trees and vines are taking over the ghost tower

Monday, July 18th, 2011
Image courtesy of
Just fourteen years ago, the Sathorn Unique skyscraper in Bangkok, Thailand was being built as one of the city’s fanciest residential addresses,  according to, which chronicles abandoned buildings. Never completed, it is yet another “ghost tower,” notes the site, which says trees and vines are beginning to take over the  four story archways and romanesque feature columns. It was built during the mid nineties, when the Thai economy was booming. In 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis changed all that. Developers stricken with debt were unable to finish many projects, the site notes. In the case of Sathorn Unique, the main concrete structure made it all the way to the top. The apartment fit-outs had begun in earnest, with wooden floor boards installed and polished. Connected bathtubs, wardrobes, and electrics show just how close this one was to completion. At ground floor, two escalators have been installed, climbing to nowhere in particular, the remnants of protective plastic still clinging onto their stainless steel sides.  With an amazing location close to the Chao Praya river that snakes its way through the center of Bangkok, it’s easy to see how this abandoned building would have been luxury living at its finest, the website says.

Steven Holl pushes edge of design in China

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011


A New York Times article looks at a new design in China by Bremerton-born architect Steven Holl. The Vanke Center on the edge of the city of Shenzhen is a surreal hybrid — part building, part landscape, part infrastructure, according to the Times, which notes that in China Holl has the freedom and means to bring to life some of his most potent urban ideas.  The Vanke Center shows what can happen when talented architects are allowed to practice their craft uninhibited by creative restrictions (or, to be fair, by the high labor costs of most developed societies), the Times notes. Steven Holl Architects, with offices in New York City and Beijing, has been recognized with some of architecture’s most prestigious awards and prizes. In July 2001, Time Magazine named Holl as America’s Best Architect, for ‘buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye.’ Locally, Holl, a University of Washington graduate, designed the Chapel of St. Ignatius for Seattle University.

Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China. Photo by Iwan Baan.