Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Making strides on affordability

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Today’s DJC has a good story by Patrick L. Phillips of the ULI about housing affordability, particularly the importance of housing near jobs for people with moderate incomes. This needs to be a priority for Seattle, not because everyone is automatically entitled to live in their favorite neighborhood, but for limiting stress on our transportation system, giving low-wage workers an easier route up the ladder (minus the absurd commute), invigorating neighborhoods, and essentially making the city function for people and as an economic engine.

Terrazza aPodment (rendering courtesy of Kauri Investments)

Thankfully Seattle is doing a lot of things well.

Voters keep approving housing levies.  In 2009 we passed a $145,000,000, seven-year measure, which averages over $20,000,000 per year, most of which goes to rental construction and preservation. This is big reason Seattle always has low-income units under construction. A host of outstanding non-profits, such as LIHI and Plymouth Housing Group,  do an excellent job building and owning housing that both helps people and improves neighborhoods.

Seattle’s reduced/zero parking requirements for new housing are a big reason behind our current housing boom. The economics of 200 one-bedroom homes are much easier with a 0.6 parking ratio vs. a 1.0 or 1.2. The units that get built are cheaper, and more units are getting built, helping keep housing supply/demand in check.

We allow smaller units than most cities. New York and San Francisco have been wringing their hands about allowing 220 square foot units. Seattle already allows much smaller units than that, both with traditional apartments and in rooming houses. These are proliferating on Capitol Hill, in the U District, etc. What a phenomenal idea…the private market providing workforce housing without subsidy! Of course having little or no parking is a necessary precondition for these units.

Most importantly, we’re letting housing get built in sizeable numbers. Our biggest affordability weapon is to avoid undersupply, the bane of the most expensive cities. With decent supply, everyone avoids the worst price war scenario, and the less desirable units tend to be substantially cheaper. This is why the average building from 1920 or 1970 is relatively affordable today. Increasingly, units from 1988 play that role, and someday units from 2013 will as well.

Unfortunately we’re moving backwards in other ways. We’re attaching more bonus fees to taller buildings in some areas. This is counterproductive because it disincentivizes supply, and also makes the units in these building more expensive. (Disclosure: I work for a contractor that builds highrises.) We’re putting the burden on a relatively small number of residents and developers, apparently a politically expedient way to avoid paying it ourselves. It would be better to expand the levy.

And of course we need transit. Seattle is doing moderately ok, but clouds are on the horizon for big cutbacks to Metro.

So, while more needs to be done, we can pat ourselves on the back for doing some good things.

Seattle’s Engaged Design Community

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

One of the things that struck me when I arrived in Seattle over thirty years ago was the engagement of architects in advocating for the quality of the built environment. I wasn’t aware of the fact that we are one of the largest communities of design professionals in the nation, among the top ten in the country in the number of AIA members. That, combined with the activist nature of our urban culture, creates an environment for involvement and advocacy.

Rod Hoekstra for Seattle Architecture Foundation

In the early 1980s two organizations played a key role in creating opportunities for engagement, Blueprint: for Architecture and ARCADE. Blueprint sponsored exhibitions, lectures and competitions, meeting the need in a city hungry for design ideas that stretched the imagination. ARCADE is still going strong, publishing a quarterly magazine that addresses a broad range of multi-disciplinary design issues from architecture to landscape architecture, urban planning, industrial design, graphic design and fine art. Their launch parties bring the design community together to celebrate the publication of each issue and provide an opportunity for dialogue.

AIA Seattle plays a central role in engaging people and design. It gave birth to the Seattle Architecture Foundation, a private, non-profit organization that connects people to the architecture, design and the history of Seattle through workshops, tours, educational seminars and advocacy. SAF’s annual model show puts the latest work of the architectural community on display for everyone to see.

More recently, AIA Seattle helped to found Design in Public, which is dedicated to growing a city that embraces design to create a healthier, more livable community. Their programs include lectures, exhibits, research, and case studies. Their annual Seattle Design Festival is the largest interdisciplinary design event in the Puget Sound region, offering more than 40 events, including tours, films, speakers, installations, and family programs — all aimed at a public audience.

AIA Seattle’s Public Policy Board plays an active role in advocating for the quality of design and the environment in our region. Growing out of the successful campaign to tear down the Viaduct and encourage the development of an accessible waterfront, the Public Policy Board continues to advocate for policies that promote livable cities, from State energy codes to urban design guidelines. To this end, the Board has hosted candidate forums for City Council candidates in Seattle and the State Legislature on the Eastside. Later this year, it will host a candidate forum for Seattle’s mayoral candidates. Stay tuned, this is an important year for an engaged design community to play a role in making sure that our leaders are focused on achieving the City’s potential.

 

How do you make tall buildings liveable?

Friday, February 15th, 2013

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has created a video in which industry leaders talk about how to make tall buildings liveable.
The video is part of an ongoing series by the council addressing big-picture questions about tall buildings.

Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘til it’s Gone

Sunday, February 10th, 2013
Photo by Tim Rice Architectural Photography

One would think that moving to the Bay Area would afford great advantages for a mid-career urban planner/designer. What with all of the cutting edge parking management and parklets, there is so much to learn. After 10 months I’m beginning to understand the ins and outs of planning in California. Though there are things that I miss about Washington besides the rain. The one thing I never thought I would reminisce about; I find myself mentioning in even non-planner company, the Growth Management Act.

That delightful piece of state policy borne of the exponential growth of the 80’s and 90’s (and often blamed on Californians) is the one key legislation that is so obviously non-existent in the Golden State, that I find myself quoting it endlessly. While the recession has stemmed the tide of suburban growth, and California has in many places adopted smart growth policies and embraced new urbanism for what it’s worth.  The fact remains that most California policy and legislation does not have the teeth or the checks and balances of the Washington GMA. Though the State has recently worked to tie Green House Gas emissions to Vehicle Miles Traveled, it’s not strong enough to define a minimum density to limit suburban or exurban growth in a meaningful way. California continues to grapple with its love for the automobile- even while proposing to tear down freeways.  While the ex-urbs continue to expand and demand all of the public transit, freeways and other services that support urban areas. I try restrain myself from asking, “What about your urban growth boundary?”.
For all its idiosyncrasies, the GMA is a valuable tool for the urban planner and I for one, miss it greatly.

LA OKs key financing for downtown streetcar

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Voters in downtown Los Angeles have approved key financing for a $125-million streetcar project, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The streetcar would run mainly along Broadway, and Hill and Figueroa streets, three of downtown’s main arteries, connecting various neighbors, including the old banking district, South Park, Civic Center and the fashion district.

Seattle’s 2.5-mile First Hill streetcar line  is  slated to be complete in the spring of 2014.  It will go  from Pioneer Square to Broadway and Denny on Capitol Hill.

 

10 ways to make cities more walkable

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Seattle has a number of walkable neighborhoods, from Capitol Hill to Belltown. An article in The Atlantic Cities offers 10 tips for making cities more walkable

Ballard is an urban village and a fun place to walk. Photo by Clair Enlow.
. The suggestions come from Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City.

Blue Scholars team with Sound Transit on train safety video

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

“These trains move fast, so don’t play around” is advice offered by the Blue Scholars in a music video titled “Zoomin’ through the Sound,” just released by Sound Transit.

Vocalist MC Geologic is a member of the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars, which teamed with Sound Transit to produce a video promoting safety around Sounder commuter rail train tracks and crossings. Photo courtesy of Sound Transit

The popular Seattle hip-hop group partnered with Sound Transit to deliver train track safety messages.  The Blue Scholars are well known for their love of Seattle and interest in supporting community issues.

The video features MC Geologic (Geo), vocalist for the Blue Scholars, catching Sound Transit’s new Sounder service in Lakewood and riding the train to Tacoma and on to Seattle.

Geo raps about wearing headphones around train tracks (“nah, take ’em off so I can hear the train comin’”), scolds a friend who sends him a text (“you playin’ near the tracks, you playin’ with your life”), and speaks his mind about being smart around train tracks (“don’t be a dummy, and use your head”).

“People don’t realize how quiet the Sounder train is, and how fast it travels,” said Carol Doering, community outreach specialist for Sound Transit.  “We want everyone who lives and works in the Lakewood area, where our new service just started, to pay attention and obey all the signs and signals around train tracks.  We’re very excited to have a group as popular as the Blue Scholars helping us deliver these messages.”

Geo and the second half of the duo, DJ Sabzi, wrote original lyrics and music for Zoomin’ through the Sound.  The video was shot in the Puget Sound area by Seedwell, a digital creative studio based in San Francisco whose founders all hail from Seattle.

Iconic backdrops include Mt. Rainier, the Tacoma Dome and downtown Seattle.  Sound Transit said it enlisted the Blue Scholars involvement because of  their artistic talent and their commitment to important social issues.  The group has performed across the country, opening for and sharing a stage with Kanye West, Slick Rick and De La Soul.

The video is part of a larger campaign called “Be Smart. Be Safe.” launched by Sound Transit in connection with new Sounder commuter train service from Lakewood to Tacoma.

“There are a lot of misperceptions about trains, and we want people to recognize the power of a fast moving train and not put themselves at risk,” said Doering.  “This video helps raise awareness of the great need to behave safely around train tracks.”

Zoomin’ through the Sound can be seen on YouTube at http://youtu.be/yAjs_2LJ3ec, and the song alone is available for download at www.soundcloud.com/bluescholars.  More information about Sound Transit is at www.soundtransit.org, and about the Blue Scholars at www.bluescholars.com.

 

 

 

Challenge your inner pedestrian

Friday, September 21st, 2012

HBB Landscape Architecture has created the Palletable Plants Park, a temporary installation in a parking space in front of the firm’s Seattle office at 215 Westlake Ave. N.

Photo courtesy of HBB Landscape Architecture

The “park” highlights edible and ornamental plants while showing what can be done with little more than an open parking space, recycled materials and versatile plants. It also has furnishings constructed from recycled pallets.

The installation is part of PARK(ing) Day, an annual one-day-a-year worldwide event designed to show what cities would look like if more public space was allocated for parks, recreation and social interaction rather than for cars.

Locally the event is sponsored this year by the Seattle Department of Transportation. A total of 14 parking spaces, almost all downtown, have been temporarily converted by groups and firms into everything from a photo booth to a Bocce ball court to a place where you can challenge your inner pedestrian by getting a Transportation Tarot Reading.

As part of Park(ing) Day, a number of local organizations, including Feet First, are sponsoring an event in Pioneer Square, which turns Occidental Park, Nord Alley and  parking spots on Main Street into a summer lawn party. It ends at 2 p.m. today.

 

 

China to dominate tall building development

Friday, August 31st, 2012

 

Nine of the 20 tallest buildings under construction in the world are located in China, which is now leading the way in the development of supertall buildings, according to the latest research study by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Bellevue-based MulvannyG2 Architecture designed the Wuxi Chong’an development, which aims to be one of the tallest buildings in Wuxi, China when complete in 2013. It is 755 feet high and has two hotel and residential towers above a retail podium.Rendering Courtesy of MulvannyG2 Architecture

There are 239 buildings taller than 200 meters in advanced stages of development in China, far more than any other country. In 2011 alone China completed 23 buildings taller than 200 meters, which was also the top in the world, CTBUH’s research found.

At the end of 2011, there were only 61 buildings taller than 300 meters in the world; by 2017 China alone will have more than 60.

China’s ascendancy represents a fundamental shift in the construction of supertall buildings. In 1970, 92 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings were located in North America. By the end of 2012 only 29 of the top 100 will be in North America.

“China is dealing with the issues and challenges of developing urban environments on a massive scale,” said Timothy Johnson, chairman of the CTBUH and a partner in NBBJ, in a press release.

The surge in tall building developments in China has drawn criticism recently, with some charging that the buildings are too big and too expensive. A recent newspaper editorial referred to skyscrapers as “white elephants.”

The volume and height of tall building development in China is unprecedented. In 1990 there were five buildings taller than 200 meters in China; by the end of 2012 there will be 249.

The list of towers under development includes the 660-meter Ping An Finance Center, which will be the second tallest building in the world when it is completed, most likely in 2015, and the 632-meter Shanghai Tower.

Seattle University hosts national happiness conference

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

What organizers are calling the first comprehensive conference on national happiness will be held Friday and Saturday at Seattle University.

The event brings together more than 150 professionals and activists from as far away as South Africa, and from more than a dozen U.S. states for discussions that range from economic and policy decisions affecting happiness to personal change.

Organizers see this as a way to begin to implement the United Nations’ call to refocus national policies on happiness, they said in a press release.

They said that in July of 2011, a United Nations declaration urged member nations to concentrate on “the pursuit of happiness” rather than unsustainable economic growth and to seek ways to measure their success.  A UN conference in April of this year urged a “new economic paradigm based on sustainable happiness and well-being.”

Topics at the conference include Spreading the Happiness Initiative (www.happycounts.org) in other communities and on campuses; planning for Pursuit of Happiness Day 2013 (former President Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13); and developing better surveys and metrics to measure well-being.

The keynote speaker  is Eric Weiner, former NPR reporter and author of the best-seller, The Geography of Bliss, a story of his search for the world’s happiest countries.

Other speakers include Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life; local author Cecile Andrews; Tom Barefoot, director of the Vermont-based organization, Gross National Happiness USA; Rita Hibbard, director of the Compassionate Action Network; ecological economist Robert Costanza; Laura Musikanski, director of the Happiness Initiative; and psychologist Ryan Howell, creator of the Happiness Initiative national survey.

John de Graaf, director of Take Back Your Time and co-author of a new book, What’s the Economy for, Anyway? Why it’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness, said “There are those who think of the word “happiness” as something flakey, or a luxury in hard times.  But it’s really central to our identity as a country.  Thomas Jefferson was the first to use the language ‘pursuit of happiness’ and he declared that happiness ought to be the first goal of government.  In those days it was pretty hard to measure happiness.  But now we have a whole science of happiness and well-being that can tell us how well we are doing in meeting Jefferson’s goal.  We’ll be explaining how it works at the conference.”

Conference sponsors include The Happiness Initiative, Take Back Your Time, the Compassion Action Network, Sustainable Seattle, and the communications department of Seattle University.

Registration is at www.timeday.org/happiness2012.   Tickets may be purchased at the door, and the keynote address will be open to the general public without charge, based on seating availability, thanks to support from Humanities Washington. A conference program is at  http://tiny.cc/32hejw/.