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2012 Archive

Credit, Jode Roberts

Nature is the best medicine. A growing body of evidence has shown us that getting out into nature can reduce stress and boost your immunity. And experts say that exercising in natural settings is exercise squared — increasing your energy level and fitness.

While taking time to get out into nature in our busy daily lives is definitely a challenge, it may be simpler than you think.

Green space is as close as your neighbourhood park or backyard garden. Trails, ravines, and community gardens are often not too far from your daily routine. And the birds and the bees (and other critters) are always nearby; you just have to take time to listen.

The David Suzuki Foundation is challenging you to join them in spending at least 30 minutes a day in nature for the next 30 days.

Read the full article and join the challenge here.

VIA Bikes to Work

May 29, 2012
VIA Bikes to Work

by Katherine Idziorek, Urban Planner,VIA Architecture Photo credit: Cyclists on Dexter Avenue, Flickr user Oran Viriyincy

As we near the end of the Bike-to-Work Month Challenge, it seems like an appropriate time to share some of the experiences of VIA Seattle’s team, the BIA-king VIA-kings (that’s right – choosing the team name is half the fun).

This is the first time that I have worked in an office that has formed a team to participate in this event, which is organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club and sponsored by Group Health (among others).  As a relatively recent road bike convert and a new addition to VIA, I was excited to join the team.

Bike-to-Work Month is an event meant to inspire. It presents a challenge and gives us a reason to ride. It’s an opportunity to learn new skills while building cycling confidence and promoting awareness of the potential for Seattle streets to accommodate multiple modes of transportation.

Cascade works hard to make the month of cycling as accessible as possible by providing supportive services and activities such as commuter classes, route recommendations, bike-to-work breakfasts, and online safety and equipment tips. Each individual or team participating in the challenge is able to log in to an online account and record the number of trips made and distance traveled.  A calculator displays individual and team statistics as well as the health and environmental benefits of cycling in the form of calories burned and CO2 offset.

I have long wanted to attempt commuting to work by …

Monday News Roundup

May 21, 2012

Happy Monday! Here’s a little of what last week had to offer:

Roundhouse Plaza Opens (Price Tags) One of Vancouver’s newest (and one of its oldest) public spaces is ready for its unveling.

30 Minutes on Mass Transit in 20 World Cities (The Atlantic Cities) The 20 maps in this article were made by Mapnificent, a new website created by Stefan Wehrmeyer that suck in Google Maps-friendly transit data to show just how much of the city you can cover in however much time you want to spend.

Infographic: The AIA History (Arch Daily) Last week,  over 17,000 architects and designers, contractors and project managers, magazines and bloggers converged on the Capital for the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 144th National Convention, Design Connects. So let’s take a moment to reflect on this Association’s long history, intertwined with our nation’s history, and look at how it’s evolved to become both a vital resource for working/emerging architects and the voice of the architecture profession today.

It’s a Good Week to be a Bicyclist (Sustainable Cities Collective) Biking is a great way to experience great places: it gets us out in the open air, moving at a speed that allows us to appreciate our surroundings. In this artivle, SSC rounded up some events going on around the country last week that gave you a great excuse to get out and bike your city or town!

First Look at NBBJ’s New Amazon Complex in Seattle (A | N Blog) The largest development proposed …

From Living Future With Love

by Dan Bertolet, Urban Planner, VIA Architecture (Original article posted on Stark and 11th in downtown Portland; photo by Dan Bertolet (Credit:

The 2012 Living Future Conference was held in the bike mecca of Portland, so how could I not bring along the Cannondale beater, which Amtrak stashed onto the baggage car for an extra five dollars. The train from Seattle to Portland is a magical ride, slicing through hidden back alleys, skirting the spectacular edge of Commencement Bay, and finally crossing the Columbia before rolling into cozy Northwest Portland. Luggage on my back, I pedaled out into the drizzly shiny night, careful to keep my tires out of the street car slots, while the quick, mellow ride to my hotel near Powell’s Books reminded me once again how amazingly comfortable and convenient downtown Portland is without a car.

Not your father’s green architecture conference, Living Future prides itself on drawing people outside of their boxes and making them uncomfortable—in a good way. Case in point, in his plenary talk, Living Future Institute CEO Jason McLennan described how twice in past years the conference organically adopted a four letter word as the conference theme, and proceeded to provoke audience members to shout them out—picture a huge conference ballroom packed with 800 people erupting with shouts of “sh*%!” and then “f%*#!”

Not to be outdone, McLennan proposed a new four letter theme word for this year’s conference: love.

Continue reading the full article here.

Monday News Roundup

May 14, 2012

It looks like summer is almost here! Happy sunny Monday– here’s a look at the highlights of last week’s interesting articles:

Dubai to Build Underwater Hotel (Architizer Blog) From the vacuous iconicity of the Burj Khalifa to the ludicrous ambition of “the World”, Dubai’s tolerance for an asinine and radically depoliticized architecture has yet to be exceeded. See the latest conceptual project, Deep Ocean Technology’s proposed Water Discus Underwater Hotel.

Bike as Paintbrush, City as Canvas (The Atlantic Cities) How a bike ride can honor the legacy of the late animal-wrestling Australian television host is a mix of powerful and pocket-sized technology, satellites, and one very creative man who uses his bike rides to paint city-sized digital pictures on the streets of Baltimore.

Tell us what you think! Urban Intervention Finalist Presentations (Arch Daily) Urban Intervention challenged designers to conceive a fresh vision of environmental, social and economic opportunities on and beyond a nine-acre site at the heart of Seattle Center. 107 multidisciplinary teams from 24 countries entered designs. Each proposal harnessed Seattle’s history of innovation and civic engagement to inspire the next generation of great public spaces.

What Can the Bay Area Learn From the First Crop of Sustainable Communities Strategies? (SPUR) In recent months, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego all passed their first Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) in response to SB 375, the 2008 bill requiring a coordinated land use and transportation plan to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions from driving in California. Those in the …

DVA Forum: Amenity Equation Notes – Design Matters

By Graham McGarva, Founding Principal VIA Architecture

Amenity started life as a qualitative indicator. In the Downtown Vancouver Association Forum Series our intention has been to foster mutual understanding of the personal values that shape our expectations of amenity in the city’s core.

There are two tracks that have woven in and out of this dialogue. One is urban growth, the accommodation and direction of growth, the “ask” of public benefit that is at the heart of granting of permission to develop new buildings.  The second is that of those already living and working within existing built infrastructure, and concerned about the conditions necessary for a healthy quality of life.

We have heard the importance of the amenity of being “just around the corner”, which is walkable and transit access to services that support daily life.  It is about dog walking as well as about commuting to and from work.  Increasingly it is about child-care, school, our social and arts cultures, and avoiding the hassle of using a car in the inner city.  Street benches are thereby essential building blocks for downtown amenity.

However the amenity equation has also been interpreted as a quantitative equation – specifically the equation that sits in the middle of the new development pro-forma.  So lots of comments zoom in on the “community amenity contribution”, both in dollar amounts and process.  In that equation the stubborn villain is the variable of land cost, and whether, when, and how, land price can be reduced.

The trouble is that we need to succeed …

Monday News Roundup

May 07, 2012

Happy sunny Monday! Here’s a taste of last week’s interesting articles, images, and headlines:

Can Inactive Landfills Become Assets? (The Atlantic Cities)More than 6,000 landfills across the country are currently sitting inactive; as this recent article from Places shows, simply leaving these landfills to rot quietly out of our sight ignores the potential they carry – both on top and within.

Temporary Cities: The newest Urban Planning trend? (Sustainable Cities Collective)Temporary Cities are intended to be impermanent solutions for permanent features of urban life. Some interesting examples of this trend include the m-hotel in London, and the weekend long mall that appeared in Cambridge, MA.

One World Trade Center, Now New York’s Tallest Skyscraper (Architizer Blog)Last week, One World Trade Center passed the Empire State Building as New York’s tallest skyscraper, reclaiming the city’s skyline and reviving the race for height that originated in Manhattan but which was resolved with the building of the World Trade Center over 40 years ago.

A Bathroom Situated Atop a 15-Story Elevator Shaft (Colossal)Guadalajara-based architects Hernandez Silva Arquitectos recently designed the interior of a new penthouse situated on top of a 1970s Mexican colonial building in Guadalajara, México. A notable feature of the home is a powder room situated atop an unused 15-story elevator shaft.

Give Me Space! 24 Compact Innovations For More Elbow Room (Web Urbanist)As the urban landscape expands upward and outward, and space becomes an increasingly pricey commodity, stylistic compromises have to be made… or do …

Monday News Roundup

Apr 30, 2012

Good morning and happy Monday! Here’s just a few of last week’s interesting news items:

Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds by Monstrum (Colossal)Danish firm Monstrum, founded by Ole B. Nielsen and Christian Jensen, are responsible for some of the most brilliant playscapes ever seen. From life-size blue whales, giant serpents, and wobbly castles, any one of these would have been my dream come true as a child.

America’s Best Cities for Transit, According to Walk Score (The Atlantic Cities)The team behind Walk Score has just released a new study ranking the 25 best American cities for public transit, based on a new index they’ve dubbed Transit Score. Transit Score measures how well a location is served by public transportation using open data released by local public transit agencies. (Come on, Seattle- we can do better than # 7!)

Ten Ideas from #citytalk for Boosting Cycling in Cities (Sustainable Cities Collective)The fourth edition of #citytalk entitled “Cycling and Cities” took place last week and was a great success, reaching close to 30,000 people. Sustainable Cities Collective was joined by the European Cyclist’s Federation and Iván De la Lanza from Ecobici, as well as the teams at Urban Times and Philips Livable Cities to try to unpack some of the barriers that are preventing bicycles from becoming a mainstream mode of transport in many cities.

May is National Bike Month (League of American Bicyclists)National Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many …

San Francisco Parklets – New Places for People

by Kate Howe, Urban Planner, VIA Architecture Photo: Inner Sunset’s Arizmendi Bakery parklet

San Francisco’s parklet phenomenon is rippling out from the City’s tourist and downtown core. Last Friday, I attended a parklet ribbon-cutting on Mission Street in the Excelsior, the first of its kind in this South San Francisco neighborhood where access  to parks and open space is limited. Now, instead of two metered parking spaces along their busy commercial strip, there are benches, gardens, and art. The construction Excelsior’s parklet can be credited to a support from the SF Mayor’s Office of  Economics and Workforce Development. A grant went to two local non-profit groups, Excelsior Action Group (EAG) and Out of Sight (OOS) which used the grant money to engage 50 high school students as part of an after school program in the parklet’s initial concept design, and community outreach. The designs were then realized by Craig Hollow with Sagan Piechota Architecture who planned and supervised students in parklet construction over a series of weekends and their very rainy spring break. The result on the street is a demonstration of how tenacity and commitment can affect positive change.

Later that weekend, I also joined a San Francisco Bike Coalition tour that further explored parklets as a community-driven, quick method for neighborhood improvement. In the Inner Sunset, our group heard from a community activist who rallied his neighborhood and raised funds to place a parklet in front of a popular bakery (Arizmendi at 19th and Irving). He noted that few are now …

Back to School: Retirement in a College Town

By Wolf Saar, Director of Practice, VIA Architecture Photo: Cannon River, Northfield, MN

Retirement in a college town is a growing trend among seniors. As AP journalist Carole Feldman writes in her article More Retirees Head Back To College Towns“College is not just for the young. With many people seeking a retirement that is culturally active and intellectually stimulating, colleges and universities are working to bring retirees to their campuses and towns, offering them free or reduced-rate classes, artistic performances or lectures.”  This is an enticing prospect to ponder, particularly because Pullman, Washington, home to Washington State University, is on Real Estate’s list of top college towns for adults. Proximity to a college environment provides access to intellectual opportunities, arts, and culture. A smaller community can offer greater public safety and a livable, walkable environment easier to afford than in a large urban center.

The Pacific Northwest abounds with smaller communities that contain major higher education institutions. Besides Pullman, Ellensburg, two hours east of Seattle, is home to Central Washington University; Eastern Washington University is in Cheney (near Spokane); and Western Washington University is in Bellingham in northwest Washington. Oregon’s largest public universities are in the smaller communities of Eugene and Corvallis, and Kelowna is home to the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. Community colleges and private institutions expand this list of institutions that reside in smaller communities. Most of these institutions offer persons 65 and older tuition and fee waivers for auditing classes, a wonderful opportunity to expand knowledge, …