Posts Tagged ‘Portland v. Seattle’

Next bus: 5 minutes

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Way back in 2002, I lived in an apartment in East Portland just off Burnside Street. At first, I thought the proximity to Burnside would be kind of a bummer (the nearby Sandy Hut notwithstanding). But after I few days, I realized that my location meant I would never need a bus schedule again. That’s because I could see the bus stop’s digital display from my apartment hallway. Once it read “4 minutes,” it was time for me to grab my bag and head out the door.

The best bus schedules are those that tell you when the bus will actually be there, and a printed schedule, even if its online, isn’t always a good place to find that information. Does such a thing really matter? Many people who ride the bus are minutes from their stop, and they don’t want to stand out in the rain inhaling gas fumes for five minutes. And seeing a line of people in the rain waiting for their bus and inhaling gas fumes definitely isn’t going to get other people out of their cars.

But if you live in Seattle rather than Portland, and you ride the bus, you do have options. Some of you might already know about My Bus, but I only recently realized it was a real thing and not some mock-up. Choose your bus number and stop location, or search by neighborhood to see when buses are likely to arrive. It also tells you when the last bus left, so you can track your loved ones or, if you’re feeling really wonky, do some calculations on whether the 7:57 is consistently so late that you might as well just stick with the 8:13 and squeeze in some extra minutes of sleep.

The best part: It looks like they actually have more stops listed than on Metro’s site. Sometimes, when you’re taking an unfamiliar route, it’s nice to know where the actual stops will be rather than just guessing based on a route map or having to use the Trip Planner just to find out where the stops are.

They’ve got apps for web-enabled phones and texting options, too. I’m going to start using it and see how it goes. If anyone’s already using mybus, let me know if you’re really spending less time standing in the rain.

A reader also alerts me to the presence of One Bus Away, though I haven’t had much chance to explore that yet.  It has a call-in, SMS and iPhone-special version options.

Oh, and if you plan to stay in Seattle for a few more years, Metro plans to have real-time displays on its five Rapid Ride routes, starting in 2010 from Federal Way to Tukwila. Ballard and West Seattle routes will come online a few years later…

Does Portland’s architecture stink?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger was in the Rose City Nov. 20 for a lecture. But a Willamette Week editorial reports that Goldberger thinks some of Portland’s architecture stinks.

Riding in a van through the city along with some local architects, reporters and academics, Goldberger commented on the beauty of the city’s South Park blocks and called Old Town‘s historic buildings “wonderful,” according to the editorial.

He also raved about the city’s public transit, active streets and urban feel. But he ewwwed at the Wells Fargo Center and called a surface lot at Fourth and Northwest Davis “terrible.”

The WW editorial notes that Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize winner (like the Willamette Week) who writes the New Yorker‘s “Sky Line” column, was impressed with Portland’s neighborhoods and urban planning but had little to say about Portland’s buildings.

In Seattle, we spend a lot of time comparing ourselves unfavorably to our smaller, hipper cousin. Portland’s fast and efficient transit is a big one for many. Fans of adaptive reuse look to the Pearl District for great examples of warehouses-turned-condos.

There are also those beautiful bridges, abundant bike routes, and the walkable waterfronts (even if they do overlook a Superfund site). And then there are the movie theaters where you can drink a pint and watch a movie for under $10.

But, as the WW editorial points out, Portland doesn’t have a space needle. It doesn’t have an EMP, a Smith Tower, or much of a skyline at all. It doesn’t have iconic architecture. Does that matter in a city so-well designed in so many other ways?

Street life? What street life?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
Seattle's Third Avenue
Sometimes Seattle makes me plain crazy. We profess all sorts of environmentally and socially enlightened values and then we often ignore the obvious. Take our public sidewalks. Active, lively, livable? Maybe sometimes. Often, not so much.
We allow contractors to close off sidewalks while they build towers, despite the fact that most other cities have required protected shelters for decades. Contractors here get to close off block fronts for months while we pedestrians have to negotiate a gauntlet of “Sidewalk Closed” signs. Builders elsewhere have figured out how to stage and service a construction site. Yet we let these private companies usurp our precious public space for their own convenience and cost savings.
Another example: The State Liquor Control Board insists that restaurants serving drinks install expensive and space-consuming “corrals” made of cast iron, steel or wood around outdoor seating areas — ostensibly to protect minors. (And how does that work, actually?) Go east to Idaho and there are no sidewalk corrals. Go south to Oregon, same thing: no fences. Tables and chairs spill out onto the sidewalks like they do all over Europe and the rest of the world. Yet, I’ve never heard that those places have hoards of inebriated minors thronging the streets.
I am reminded that until the late 70s, the Liquor Board had a rule that restaurants serving drinks could not have windows, lest anyone be seen drinking. When they dropped that senseless rule, our restaurant industry began to flourish. Just as they changed that rule, they can certainly eliminate the ridiculous fencing requirement that pens us in.
A Portland vendor at Pioneer Square
But here is the worst example, one that truly prevents our urban sidewalks from being lively and livable. The city/county health department’s rules keep us from enjoying a simple delight that is enjoyed by people in most major American cities: sidewalk food carts. (Seattle’s vending ordinance is also very limiting.)
Portland’s downtown is chockablock with outdoor food sellers. Virtually every block has one or two – operating between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. In addition, numerous small food trucks park in lots and back up their counters to the sidewalks. They are often open late into the evening to serve people leaving theaters and night spots. And these are not just mushy steamed hot dogs. They’re fine, cooked-to-order meals of all cuisines, from French crepes to phad thai and burritos.
A vendor in Queens, NY
None of that here, though. Seems our health department folks insist upon an employee restroom and a three-compartment sink — neither one practical for a tiny cart or truck. I am not aware that folks in Portland have been dying in droves from e-coli or hepatitis-C. And that city has been allowing these little street cafes for many years, ample time for any evidence to appear. Of course, they inspect the premises and even inspect the home-based kitchens. Portland now has sidewalks far more interesting than any we have here.
Portland allows these diminutive enterprises to sell fresh, hand-made food for several reasons. First, they see it as an economic development tool. Small, family-based, and often recent immigrant-owned businesses can start up simply and flourish, perhaps eventually moving into a storefront. Second, the city wants to offer downtown workers the choice of inexpensive lunches. Hence, if the vendors keep their prices low, they charge no permit fee. Finally, they contribute to a dynamic public realm. The little businesses maintain eyes on the street and keep the area tidy.
So simple to do. Such amazing results. Not for us, however.

Read more SeattleScape comments on sidewalks and walking here, here and here.

Boise, Portland make APA 2008 Great Places

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Seattle was absent from the American Planning Association’s 2008 Great Places in America list but Boise and Portland both made a showing. Last year, the Pike Place Market made the Great Neighborhoods list.

Could be a protest, could just be lunch time

This year, Boise’s North End Neighborhood was ranked among the 10 Great Neighborhoods and Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square was ranked among the Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association.

I think it makes sense for Seattle to make the list every year. Still, I’m pleased to see other great Northwest spaces make the cut.

Pioneer Courthouse Square serves at once as Portland’s Grand Central Station and Times Square. It’s sandwiched by Max tracks, hosts public concerts and protests and has built-in chessboards and benches that are popular to the homeless, businesspeople and tourists.

Thirty years ago, it was a parking lot. Portland’s 1972 Downtown Plan proposed the square and in 1982 the group “Friends of Pioneer Square” raised $1.5 million to make the project happen.

Yes, this is Idaho
I’ve spent a lot of time in the square, eating lunch, people watching and waiting for the Max. My one gripe: It could use a few more overhangs for rainy days.

Boise’s North End is a great close-in neighborhood that allows most of its residents a 10 minute walk to downtown Boise and is home to some great old houses.

It has its own little walking district, Hyde Park, that’s peppered with little shops and restaurants. Neighborhoods with strong identities are common in Seattle and Portland, but in Boise, the North End really stands out. In terms of its architecture and walkability, it’s similar to Queen Anne.

Also on the list this year: New York’s Central Park, Wichita’s Old Town, Washington Street in Boston and the Santa Monica Beach.

The way we live

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The New York Times had an interesting story this week on the promise of modern pre-fab.

Reviewing MOMA’s “Home Delivery” exhibition, Allison Arief laments that the show lauds designs that are never actually built, ignoring those designers who bring pre-fab fantasies to life (see some local examples here, here, here and here.)

A pre-fab apartment might not look as appealing behind glass as Archigram’s living pods or Instant City airships, but people actually rest their heads there at night.

Archigram's Instant City Airships, c. 1969

Speaking of the way we live, the Oregonian reported Tuesday on Portlanders tearing up their lawns for gardens. The article cites a chain-reaction that occurs where one lawn goes garden and neighbors break out spades to follow suit.

The article asks the question: Do we keep our lawns just to keep up appearances? In Seattle, a lot of us let grass go brown in summer. But when one lawn goes gleaming green, neighbors quickly follow suit with sprinkler and fertilizer.

(The article also said lawn mower fumes make up one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in certain urban areas, though the source was not clear. Yikes!)

With people growing gardens street-side, going green on top isn’t much of a stretch. The Portland Tribune reports on the Rose City’s coming green roof grants.

How do we live in the Northwest? How should we live?

If you find yourself spending too much time ruminating on these questions, consider attending the coming Design for Livability Conference, Thursday’s Envisioning the Future of Architecture, or touring Friday’s local Park(ing) Day sites. In addition to the parking spots listed there, AIA Seattle and Site Workshop are transforming a spot in front of AIA Seattle at 1911 First Ave., and Owen Richards Architects and HyBrid Architects are rethinking a spot in front of their shared office at 12th and East Pike in First Hill.

Still thirsty? Check out my colleague, Katie Zemtseff’s blog for more upcoming events.

They love you, Portland, they really do

Friday, August 15th, 2008
Portland, you make it look so easy
Portland’s historic Heathman Hotel already knew a thing or two about sustainability.

As I rode the elevator up to my room there last year, the doorman noticed me admiring the Brazilian rosewood paneling. “We have to be careful with it,” he said. “It’s endangered so we can’t replace it.”

So how does the historic luxury hotel in downtown Portland keep its cache in the midst of a changing world? It goes green, of course. Green Building Elements has a story today on the undertaking.

USA Today also got smitten with the Rose City. A story in today’s paper marvels at how carefree and car-free you can be in our compact little cousin.

Portland rocks, and many of us here have long known it. But an even better descriptor found in the piece: “studiously hip.” So true.

Rypkema says Seattle is losing its “grittiness”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Donovan Rypkema, the historic preservation and economic development expert, was here this week from Washington, D.C. for a lecture sponsored by Historic Seattle.rypkema.jpg

I went to his lecture Thursday and spoke to him Friday morning. He had been out with his camera, wandering First Hill and downtown and snapping photos of older blocks and newer developments. He said Seattle has really changed in the 20 years he’s been watching it.

“I’ve loved (Seattle) because of its grittiness and that’s rapidly disappearing,” he said.

He said he was also surprised we don’t have more historic districts in our great, historic town. Rypkema believes historic preservation is key to economic development but has a special affinity for historic districts. Unlike one historic building, where preservation can be seen as an economic burden on a building owner, he said, a district sees all its values rise.

He said rehabbing a historic building is the greenest construction there is and said there is no function in today’s world that couldn’t happily be housed in yesterday’s building. He said churches, universities and hospitals are the worst at claiming they need to raze historic buildings to suit their modern needs.

“Developers are often painted as the villains in neighborhoods but the biggest villains in neighborhoods are churches hospitals and universities,” he said Friday. “They screw up more neighborhoods than anyone else in the country.”

At the Thursday lecture at Wallingford’s lovely Good Shepherd Center, Rypkema said historic districts also: have stabler prices and are better equipped to ride out economic downturns, and draw better tourists and do a better job overall at supporting the local economy than new construction (because more money goes to workers than materials, and then the workers spend that cash locally).

Seattle has seven historic districts: Ballard Avenue, Columbia City, Fort Lawton, Harvard-Belmont, the International District, Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. For comparison, Portland has 13 historic districts and seven conservation districts.

Read the entire text of Rypkema’s lecture for yourself, and read his own blog about his recent trips to Seattle and Portland.