The following post is by DJC staff:
There are ways to add some fun to city streets. What if you could play a pickup game of ping-pong or chess on the way home from work?
CEOs for Cities’ blog has a post by Tara Sturm called “Ten Creative Ideas for Energizing Our Streets” that offers lots of ideas and examples: Colored crosswalks, whimsical bus stops, gardens in unexpected places and even graffiti-style art in public places. Here’s a three-story example taken on a recent stroll along the High Line in New York.
Check out Sturm’s post and add your ideas for things Seattle can do to make our streets more lively, energized and entertaining.
On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit's Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit's North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.
The article centered on the station's design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review
This is from the story:
Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.
Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.
“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area."
After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:
"Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up - it's like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it's really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage."
When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city's future through projects and urban development.
Here's what's sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station's design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?
Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.
Also, if you're really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a "few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall."
One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.
My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that
The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.
That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.
Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.
According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).
By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.
I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.
If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?
If you've been paying attention, you know 2010 has been a pivotal year for Seattle's waterfront.
In March, the city awarded a contract for seawall work, worth about $18 million, to a multi-disciplinary team led by TetraTech. At the same time, it sped up the schedule to redesign and redevelop its Central Waterfront Project
Wednesday was the RFQ deadline for central waterfront work. A team is expected to be chosen by the end of September. The budget for design work over the first two years is expected to be about $6 million while the estimated budget for planning and design of the entire project is between $50 and $70 million. It got 30 proposals on the urban design/public space side.
Not to mention the process (or sometimes lack thereof) for the replacement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is crucial to how the city's waterfront will be opened up.
Make no mistake about it, these projects combined will totally reshape our downtown. However, in all the hustle and bustle, it can be really hard to imagine just what that end result will be. Or what it is Seattleites want it to be.
If the city proceeds with the deep bore tunnel option, the goal is for the seawall to be done by the time the bored tunnel is complete, currently scheduled for 2016. Construction on the waterfront work could begin this same year.
The seawall may seem like the smallest of the three but how it is designed and managed will be incredibly important to the foundation of the other two projects. One big push is to create places along the waterfront for the public - for you and I - to interact with the water. Places that aren't separated by physical walls but allow us to connect with water, the cultural backbone of our city.
In June, Bob Chandler, city program manager for the viaduct and seawall replacement, said the city is looking for a seawall that supports the waterfront while providing habitat value and creating space for people to interact with the water. “We have an opportunity,” he said. “We need to come up with an approach here that provides protection in a seismic event but that doesn't necessarily mean this is a 35-foot high straight wall. It doesn't mean that at all.”
My question is - how do you envision this?
What should it look like? How do you want to interact with the water, related to the seawall? Once the seawall is complete, what would your optimal redeveloped waterfront look like? Sustainably, what should its function really be?
I recently spent my honeymoon in Greece and Turkey. In each city I visited on the water, there were vibrant spaces located along its edge. I couldn't help wondering what it would take to create the same kind of energy in our city: a bustling mix of tourists and locals that waxes on until the early hours of the morning every day. In Greece and Turkey, the answer is built on history, combined with making these spaces centers of tourism and city life.
These are a lot of questions, often without answer. Part of the point of the design process is to come up with that answer, and there will be a number of opportunities to participate in the formal process. One will be a meeting with teams shortlisted for the central waterfront design work at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 15 - mark your calendar. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
At the end of 2009, the city of Seattle legalized backyard cottages on Seattle lots over 4,000 square feet. This
Those who attend the event will see all the design challenge entries, meet the designers, participate in the awards ceremony and enjoy food and drink. A jury including David Cutler of the Seattle City Planning Commission, Robert Humble of Hybrid Architecture and Colleen Groll of O'Brien & Co. will judge the entries. Andrea Petzel, Seattle City Planner, will act as advisor to the judges.
There will be five awards given out. Awards will be given for overall best design, honorable mention for best design, most innovative, most sustainable and most adoptable.
The free event will be at 7601 Greenwood Ave. N. and begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Brian Abramson at Method Homes at (206) 790.2852 or Infiniti RED at (206) 235.6925. eva@infinitiRED.com.
Over at HugeAssCity on Publicola, Dan Bertolet has a great overview of Vancouver, B.C.'s transportation experience during the Olympics, then connects that to Seattle's current replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct debacle. It's an interesting overview, though I have to say the post's comments are possibly even more interesting....
Last week, I attended a Town Hall lecture by David Owen, a columnist at the New Yorker and author of the book 'Green Metropolis.'
Owen spoke about his own experience of living in both Manhattan and in the countryside, and about which is greener (cities because people have everything they need at their fingertips).
But he also said something striking: that big, tall buildings in cities are actually the greenest projects we
For example, Owen discussed Sprint's (now Sprint Nextel) headquarters outside of Kansas City, Mo. The corporate campus, he said, consists of 15,000 employees spread among a 50 building low-rise campus. The space also has 15 parking lots and an underground parking garage, providing one parking space per worker because everyone has to drive to the headquarters in the middle of nowhere. Though the campus was planned before LEED came out, one of the buildings at the site ended up receiving LEED certification. The space also preserves 200 acres of property as open space. How is this a greener situation, he asked, then simply letting the farmland be that had previously existed?
He argued that setting up a business in a location that requires car travel is not green, even if the buildings are certified as such.
Should buildings in the middle of nowhere receive LEED certification? And should organizations that are about sustainability - like the Rocky Mountain Institute and its headquarters in Snowmass, Colo. - be held to a higher level of accountability and locate in a dense area? Or is there value to having great environmentally friendly buildings in the wilderness?
I suppose it comes down to what you prioritize and what you think the future of cities and urban planning is.
In this economy as well, it's worth noting that cities across the nation have vacant high-rise buildings that currently are not at capacity, and are likely wasting large amounts of energy.
What do you think? Is Owen right on or way off base? If Owen is right - and the greenest project is in a city be it LEED certified or not is a high-rise - than should LEED reflect this in its rating system and how so?
Incidentally, his book also argues that New York City is the greenest city in the world. That seemed to touch an interesting nerve at Portland's The Environmental Blog here.
In the last couple of weeks, I wrote two different articles in the DJC that looked at making public city space more pleasant for the pedestrian. Though one is an ice skating rink and one is a "park boulevard," they are essentially riffs on the same theme.
Both projects are looking at new ways of creating friendly, inviting open space in a dense, urban area. I'm wondering if this is the future of open space in Seattle?
Let's start with the park boulevard. The idea for the park boulevard seems very Scandinavian. If approved by city council, the Seattle Department of Parks andgo here.
The ice rink would go in Occidental Square Park, in Pioneer Square. Though the area is already a park, it's also a center for homeless people to hang out and doesn't alwaysPI, click here. For comments in the Stranger, click here.
I spoke with Donald Harris, property and acquisition services manager at the parks department for the Bell Street story, and he said one of the reasons the park boulevard makes sense is that land is simply too expensive to buy in downtown Seattle to turn into parks. In addition, the department has also had trouble with some of the parks that are there such as Regrade Park, another magnet for homeless people and drug dealing.
One could say that the same potential will exist on Bell Street, once it's a park. I'm guessing the argument against that is because it's not enclosed, people will be continuously moving along it. Also, once it's a park, park rangers will be allowed to patrol it.
Do you think this is the future of our parks and open space? To take existing rights of way, and to re-imagine them as public space, or to reconfigure existing parks to bring more people to them? If you had limitless power, what public area would you reconfigure into a park? How would you re-invent the city?
It seems like we might be seeing more of these ideas. According to City Council Resolution 31073, relating to the Parks and Green Spaces Levy,
"In an increasingly dense urban environment, such projects present an opportunity for the city to improve the quality of life for its residents without having to incur the significant expense of property acquisition and major park development."
Are you one of those people who is dismayed by the elevation of the pedestrian over the car or is this where the city should be heading? I, for one, will be curious to see how Bell Street turns out.
But what really strikes me, is that the reason parks decided to do this project now is Seattle City Light is replacing utilities along Bell Street from Second to Fifth Avenues, and someone made the connection between that work and reinventing the street as a park. What if that person never made the mental connection? How many other opportunities are we, as a city, missing?
P.S. If you read this today - Thursday - parks will be discussing the boulevard at a meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Woodland Park Zoo Activity Center. If you're reading this Friday, city council's Parks and Seattle Center Committee will hear a preview of the project at 9:30 a.m.
Yesterday, a story of mine ran in the DJC about a project in Greenwood called Piper Village that is installing a "woonerf" street. The stranger's blog, the Slog, picked up the story here and it has 23 comments so far! They're entertaining and I would suggest reading them, if you are at all interested in woonerfs.
The project, next to the Top Ten Toys in Greenwood, will have a woonerf street running from First Avenue Northwest to Palatine Avenue North, and will eventually extend to Greenwood Avenue. The first phase of the project has 46 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail. For more information, read the story here.
If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, a woonerf is a street designed to slow car travel so pedestrians can take precedence over vehicles.
I lived in the Netherlands for a while, and the streets (I don't know if any of the ones I frequented were woonerfs... I doubt it) definitely felt different. They seemed less like a space purely for cars, and more like a vehicle (no pun intended) for other modes of transportation, like bikes.
Before working at the DJC, I had no idea that the reasons I felt differently about the street I lived on in The Netherlands and say, Lake City Way, were at least partially psychological.
It turns out long parallel streets that seem to stretch on forever encourage us mentally to drive faster. But when there are distractions, like trees or green partitions between lanes of traffic, we slow down. Don't believe me? Which do you find yourself speeding on more, Aurora Avenue North or your neighborhood winding road?
In 2007, I wrote a story here about John Moffatt's ideas on engineering streets to slow drivers. Moffatt is regional administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In that story, he said, “If you build a wide open freeway and call it a city street, people are going to go 70 or 80 miles per hour. People drive the speed the
Moffatt said "road dieting," or rechanneling streets to slow drivers down and change their perception of the road is one answer. Refuge islands or space in between arterials for pedestrians to walk is another way to make pedestrians safer.
There's been a lot of talk about how Seattle should design its streets in the past two years... from the city's Complete Streets Ordinance to its Pedestrian Master Plan. To read more on these topics, check out these DJC articles: article on keeping the elderly walking, article on national parking day, article on complete streets, article on pedestrian safety.
In October, I also wrote this article on tips from Copenhagen to make Seattle bikers and pedestrians feel safer. I covered the topic on the blog: to read the post, click the tag below for Denmark.
Should Seattle be focusing more on these kinds of street improvements that take street-space back for pedestrians, or at least slow cars like woonerfs and road-dieting? Or do we just need to accept the fact that Seattle is a city based on the car? What do you think?
For more information on Woonerfs, check out this New York Observer article: http://www.observer.com/2008/real-estate/woonerf-deficit or this wiki on streets.
Now that the very last remnants of 'snowpocalypse' are gone, I thought it would be a good time for the DJC Green Building Blog to ask "just what did we learn?"
As a city there weren't many surprises: we learned Seattle doesn't really know how to deal with snow and local drivers understand how it works even less.
But as individuals did we connect to our immediate environments a little bit more? I did. I live in a very walkable neighborhood with a market, restaurants and a coffee shop all across the street. A little further away there's a retail district and a movie theatre. I walk to these places constantly and use them frequently.
But here's the thing: beind snowed in forced me to think about my local amenities differently. No longer did I have the choice to drive to the movie theatre. If I wanted to go, I had to walk. And if I wanted other entertainment not across the street, well I had to reconsider just how much I wanted that too. Was I willing to walk for it?
Cutting out the choices shifted my perspective. If city planners ever hope to make the car a defunct item, that's the kind of space they're going to need to create.
Apparently I wasn't the only one who was thinking differently: all of my local restaurants were packed whenever I passed by them (even sushi.) People I know who never take the bus were doing it. Or walking to places they had never considered walking to.
The Seattle Times reported on local retailers seeing big foot trafffic. Looking back on the week and a half, it was annoying, yes. But having Mother Nature limit my choices for me was also kind of nice.
Green building is about creating a structure that gives back to its community a little bit more than the standard product. But a green building in the middle of nowhere only does so much good. Sustainable living, on the other hand, is about creating a community that doesn't just take but gives back. In a way, the snow made me give back more to my community because it forced me to interract even more with it.
There's a kind of momentum there, if a city could only capture it. But how is it possible to capture a forced locality, if you will, and turn it into better urban planning? It seems like there's a great opportunity there, if only someone would step up and find a way to take it.