by Dan Bertolet
It is widely established that concentrating growth near transit is a key strategy for sustainable urban development. Historically, planning for transit station areas has focused on housing rather than employment — when most people think of transit-oriented development, they picture dwellings above street-level retail.
In recent years, however, the value of planning for employment around transit has become increasingly recognized for several reasons. From a practical standpoint, jobs near transit boost ridership and help leverage transit investments. But more importantly, creating a healthy balance between employment and housing is essential for growing a complete community that maximizes opportunities for both residents and workers.
In some station areas the primary need is for new employment that builds upon the assets of the existing community and becomes a source of living-wage jobs for locals. In other cases, the main challenge is to avoid displacement of existing businesses. Industrial jobs are particularly challenging since they can conflict with residential uses, and often rely on the availability of cheap land.
Of course the catch is that there’s no easy formula for bringing high-quality jobs to desired locations. Do innovation districts just happen, or can the public sector help them along? VIA recently engaged in two employment-based planning efforts that illustrate concepts and approaches, as described below.
Seattle’s southernmost Link light-rail station is in Rainier Beach, a highly diverse, relatively low-income neighborhood. Within a quarter-mile of Rainier Beach station are a handful of small businesses, and the housing is mostly single-family. There has been no significant redevelopment near the station since the trains started running in 2009.
The city recently completed a neighborhood plan that focused on opportunities in the station area. During this process, the community consistently expressed a high priority for redevelopment that creates high-quality employment that can improve economic mobility for residents, such as low-impact production, light-industrial, food-processing, education and incubator businesses.
To address this goal on the regulatory side, the city is developing new zoning that will incentivize educational, industrial and innovative commercial uses while promoting a vibrant, sustainable and walkable urban environment. Proposed zoning includes floor area or height bonuses for projects with the employment uses noted above, first-floor minimum height requirements for flexible accommodation of commercial uses and special allowances for loading.
With easy access to the industrial corridor that extends south from the Duwamish, Interstate 5, Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle via light rail, as well as relatively low land costs, Rainier Beach is well situated for many types of innovative business pursuits. However, stakeholders also recognized the need to start with a specific sector that could leverage existing community assets for competitive advantage over surrounding areas, and the idea of a food innovation district rose to the top.
Rainier Beach is home to Seattle’s largest urban farm, and its diverse population provides a wealth of ethnic food knowledge. These assets provide a unique opportunity to leverage its light-industrial zone to become a hub of food and agricultural production, combining educational and training facilities with processing and distribution.
To catalyze the growth of a food innovation district, the planning team proposed an opportunity center for food education and entrepreneurship. This facility would combine commercial and training kitchen facilities, classroom space, office space, meeting areas, computer lab and community gathering space.
The city convened a workshop to gather input from potential partners and users of such a facility, including Seattle Tilth, the Emergency Feeding Program, Rainier Valley Food Bank, Project Feast and Fare Start, as well as the Seattle community colleges, Renton Technical College and Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
Input from the workshop led to a prototype building design. Unfortunately, the Rainier Beach station area lacks any existing building stock suitable to be adapted for the center, so new construction will be required. The next steps to implementing the center involve establishing partners, developing a business plan and space programming, securing a site and financing, construction, and lastly, operating the facility.
The Portland-Milwaukie light-rail extension, due to open in 2015, will have two stations in Southeast Portland’s Central Eastside, one of the city’s most important and dynamic industrial and employment centers. To address this unique environment, the city and its consultant team have been developing a new model for station area planning known as employment transit-oriented development, or ETOD.
The overall goal of the city’s ETOD approach is to strategically intensify and diversify the range of commercial uses on industrial lands, with the primary intent of increasing jobs, but also to leverage transit investments. At the same time, the city is intent on controlling land speculation, since high costs tend to push out many of the desired businesses. While there is already streetcar service in the Central Eastside, it is not another Pearl District, nor does the city want it to be.
A key strategy will be to reduce conflicts between the Central Eastside’s long-established businesses such as lumber and mill works, a dairy, and boat repair, while also welcoming an increasing number of new small, nimble technology and production companies that value a close-in location. These “makers” are seen as an important next generation of commercial enterprise whose employees are likely to bike commute and patronize the small-scale restaurants, bars and lunch spots that have begun to populate the area.
Another important piece of the ETOD puzzle is an intensification of land use in buildings that blend industrial and production uses on the ground floor with flexible office spaces on multiple floors above. The goal is buildings that can provide a delicate balance between a diversity of new businesses, and an industrial core of users that rely on lower land values to stay in business.
This configuration is already beginning to emerge in the Central Eastside, and one of the best examples is the newly constructed Pitman Building, with 11,000 square feet of space for six production kitchens on the first floor and 3,000 square feet of office space on the second floor. The area’s supply of historic buildings is also an asset, as exemplified in the recently renovated Ford Building, a former Model T assembly plant that now houses office, retail, artist studios, and a variety of small, creative businesses.
The role of partnerships
Lastly, partnerships between large institutions and the private sector are an essential ingredient for catalyzing true innovation districts. With the goal of creating an environment suitable for 21st century industry and providing meaningful occupation, many cities are establishing collaborations with universities that have a technical research and innovation focus.
For example, New York City has established a collaboration called Cornell NYC Tech, with Cornell, Teknion (an Israeli technical university) and Google. In Portland, there is a huge opportunity to tap into the synergies between the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University, the burgeoning “makers” industry, and/or a corporate giant such as Nike.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry owns significant riverfront property adjacent to future light rail, and has great potential to leverage its location at a regional transit gateway and bring culture and complementary employment to the Central Eastside. In this case, the most advantageous outcome may be a new large tenant that would both benefit from and contribute to new synergies with existing business clusters.
Note: This post originally appeared in the Daily Journal of Commerce.
By Brendan Hurley
VIA Architecture is proud to have participated in the City of Surrey’s 2014 PARKit Design Challenge. A team of VIA designers presented ‘PalleTopia’, a design to use stacked reusable pallets as modules to create a playful and multi-functional space right next to the entrance of Surrey Central Station. This endeavour was part of a public call for the design and installation of a $15,000 summer season pop-up park. PalleTopia, designed by Zhaleh Moulaei, Sophie Steer and Brendan Hurley was granted Honourable Mention amongst all of the submissions received by the City. Exercises carried out within the VIA Office in Vancouver helped develop a vision for the mini-parkit as a simultaneous node, stage and gateway to create a place that comfortably and elegantly connects the people of Surrey with their urban centre and to each other.
This spring’s opening of Surrey’s new City Hall right next to rapid transit marks a turning point for the City’s transformation from suburb to city. It is now centred with a transit connected central business district and civic heart for its 500,000+ residents. The area around Surrey Central Station now becomes a central node in a new and future axis of the City’s core. It is a crossroads of moving people (through transit), moving commerce (with a renovated retail mall) and moving minds (with the Simon Fraser University campus and recently built public library). Yet, this site has great potential to allow people to connect in a more meaningful way. The ParkIt under the guideway of the SkyTrain will help making a more visually special place that clearly stitches the elements of the Central City.
For this year’s challenge, the VIA Team’s goals in these design elements was to enhance the power of this place to facilitate connective community in Surrey’s core and to make this place special for visitors and passers-by alike. Our design presented a porous space made with stacked pallet modules. Dubbed ‘PalleTopia’, the pixelated modules rise, fall and disappear to create a plethora of social spaces, resting places and passageways. Shipping pallets were chosen as the base material to reduce environmental impacts and costs, and their design was specifically tailored so it would maximize the reusability of the pallets when they were returned to industrial circulation. A smooth wood surface would provide comfortable seating and staging on top of these more industrial wooden bases. The stacks rise to a crescendo on the northwest corner to, not only, act as a buffer and refuge from the transit centre’s noisy bus loop, but also to create a vibrantly coloured visual signifier to mark entrance into a special space.
The VIA team salutes the many other participants of this challenge, who, by contributing to this site with their creativity and ideas, have increased the likelihood of this central place to coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts… a brighter more connective new urban core for Surrey. The top honours go to ‘Gingham Style’, a submission by Liz Nguyen and Mike Wartman that evokes and was inspired by the archetypal gingham checker-pattern of a picnic blanket. Congratulations all for your efforts and thinking on this space and we hope to join you in enjoying and celebrating this renewed urban space as it continues to evolve and develop.
There’s a new type of space coming to Seattle – it’s tiny, but packed within its small stature are all kinds of good qualities. Residents are reclaiming the public right-of-way (i.e. roadway), traditionally taken-up by parked cars, for open and green space. It’s called a parklet and like the name suggests, the easiest way to describe them is as “mini open space.” And yet that term just doesn’t quite capture the breadth and beauty of these little spaces because they’re so much more than a plaza or patch of green space. Read the full article on CapitolHillSeattle.com by clicking here If you want to learn more about Seattle’s pilot program or get involved in one of the 13 parklets already being planned, consider checking out SDOT’s project website. And remember, these little parklets are being funded completely by our communities, businesses, and neighborhood organizations so if you’re short on time but still want to support the mission of these little gems, you can always help by donating! If you’d like to contribute to the 25th & Union Parklet, you can do so at this parklet’s online Crowdrise campaign.
On Sunday May 4th, planners and architects from VIA kicked off the 2014 Jane’s Walk with a twist: our “walk” included transit, which is an integral part of the history and future of development in Vancouver. Our 2.5-hour-long urban exploration covered more than 44 km (27.5 mi) of Vancouver’s urban development context and history by including a ride on the SkyTrain.
The intent of the Jane’s Walk is to celebrate the life and works of urban thinker and activist Jane Jacobs by presenting free community tours that examine elements of what makes a city work. Our tour focused on building and enhancing walkable, connected communities by viewing transit as an extension of being a pedestrian. It revolved around the past, present, and future of transit-defined visions of the Vancouver region and its neighbourhoods.
An Ongoing Tradition of Rapid Transit
The tour covered a lot of ground AND track, but followed the historic path of transit in Vancouver. We started on the Expo Line, the oldest line of the SkyTrain rapid transit system, where portions of it followed the path of the Central Park Interurban Line that ran from 1890 until the 1950s, connecting downtown Vancouver with New Westminster. In some places, evidence of the system of 120 years ago is still exposed below the pillars of SkyTrain. The modern system is a dream of a region-connecting “people mover”—part of the legacy of the 1986 World Exposition.
As a group, we discussed that there was an intentional experiment in common sense when the Vancouver region developed a plan to intensify “town centres” around stations in the 1970s. With the construction of the Evergreen Line and the completion of the Canada Line, we are now reaching a vision of a fully connected network, however there are emerging challenges. Updating and maintaining the Expo Line as it approaches its 30-year mark while keeping it running is one of these challenges, currently addressed by projects including the VIA-led Main Street and Metrotown Station upgrades.
A Continuum of Transit Development
The impacts of thoughtful and integrated design have shaped neighbourhoods and the activity of the City as a whole. Our walk yielded a lot of conversation about the changing nature of transit-oriented development. Transit infrastructure has created new ways of experiencing and building the City, which planners and builders have adapted to. Developments are now doing their best to be incorporated into the station areas and the system itself—a tight integration of buildings, people, and activity. For example, at New Westminster Station, housing towers and retail spaces share the land and rights of way with the rail transit, allowing people to move, live, shop, eat, and play in the same place. The mall at Brentwood Town Centre is undergoing renovation to re-orient its retail layout as urban fabric and development to focus on the station and place itself as a powerful core for its neighbourhood.
The expansion of transit in the Vancouver region has strong roots and aspirations. The network is a result of visions that were produced because of a change in ideas about how the City worked: a region that revolted against freeways and grasped a future that connected and moved people through an ever-improving and expanding network. It is a system where transit has been a tool to integrate the lives and reach of the pedestrian. It is a pump to inject characters onto the stage of what Jane Jacobs called the “sidewalk ballet.” A ballet where we hope to find ourselves and our future on the walk home from the train.
As part of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, VIA opened the office to young people ages 8 to 18 who wanted to learn more about architecture and planning.
Director Catherine Calvert, who participated with 14-year-old relative, Meegan, said, “Today provided not only a great opportunity to share our profession with a curious young person, but it also allowed all of us to think back to our fascinations at that age and remember why we were drawn to the idea of becoming architects. Almost everyone we spoke with said that they ‘just knew’ that they wanted to be a designer from a young age, and sought every possible opportunity to build, to draw, and to create. Meegan was able to see and hear about many of VIA’s projects currently ‘on the boards,’ and learned about the profession from a variety of people at different stages of their careers. I look forward to further conversations with Meegan about what she learned today, how she can feed her creative spirit, and how she can prepare herself for her own eventual career.”
More than 37 million youth and adults participate in Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at over 3.5 million workplaces each year, and the program has been in place for 21 years. The theme for 2014 was “Plant a Seed, Grow a Future.”
At the start of 2014, the sharp criticisms of one state agency against another made California planning headlines. The State Smart Transportation Committee (SSTI), in a report to the legislature, called out Caltrans as “archaic,” incapable of adapting to a changing transportation environment, and lacking resources needed to lead in the modern, post-Interstate building era. The report enumerated the problem with a Caltrans which is at direct odds with other statewide agendas to promote smart growth, sustainability, and reduced GHG emissions through SB 375. A culture change is in order.
Taking the report at face value and diving into the wake it opened up, Caltrans’ Director, Malcolm Dougherty, together with the Leadership of Transportation Secretary, Brian Kelly, is leading a swift response. A new mission statement published in February redirects the agency from that of “master builder” of roads and highways to an emphasis on its role as a partner within the context of an integrated and mature transportation system. The intention is to allow for better collaboration with “self-help” counties who bring a large share of local dollars to the table for infrastructure projects, as well as a major policy realignment toward all forms of transport, that brings the department up to date. In the end, perhaps it might look more like San Francisco’s SFMTA Department of Sustainable Streets, as statewide Complete Streets in chief.
Dougherty’s comments given Tuesday at UC Berkeley, that “land use matters,” reflect the inner struggle of an agency now looking to apply better understanding of context. One of the recommended early steps in the SSTI report is the full implementation of the 2010 Smart Mobility Framework – a plan to better link transportation design with existing community patterns, using performance criteria and a “place type” framework (such as main streets, downtowns, or office campus) to guide decision making. Another initiative underway is to transfer multi-modal and bike/ped projects away from their former status as “special projects” requiring expensive design exceptions, toward their own set of design standards and procedures. To this end, just last week Caltrans adopted NACTO’s best practice Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guidelines as a ready-to-go alternative for metropolitan areas. (Caltrans is the third to adopt the standards, after Washington DOT).
For those of us working in urban sustainability, it is all good news, and changes can’t come fast enough. One last big planning policy shift is on the horizon: Caltrans, in collaboration with the CA Office of Planning and Research, must also coordinate on rule-making to implement the 2013 passage of SB 743. This bill removes auto “level of service” as a criteria for CEQA analysis in infill areas. In the most simple terms, SB 743 shifts the public concern in an environmental review from vehicular “delay” to thinking instead about performance, i.e. the overall number of trips a project might create, with an accounting for which mode it best supports (e.g. car, bike, transit or walking). Still, the measures are undefined; we are all looking forward to seeing how it comes out this year in July.
Graham McGarva, Founding Principal of VIA Architecture, will be speaking at Cascadia Cities: Then + Now which is presented in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute’s The Cascadia Experience: Behind the Emerald Curtain event, exploring the unique market drivers that shape the cities of Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. The lunch program takes place Tuesday, 08 April 2014, from 12:30 – 2 pm at the Grand Hyatt in Seattle, WA.
Graham will be presenting the Vancouver perspective, alongside a panel that includes former Mayor of Seattle Norm Rice, and Scott Andrews of Melvin Mark in Portland. His presentation will include a recount of the history of Vancouver, the successes it has seen along the way—including the advent of the pencil tower, the planning and development of the False Creek area, and growth of regional transit—as well as current issues, and what the city faces in the future.
The program will cover how the geographic, cultural, economic, and environmental elements of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada have yielded unique communities. For more information visit http://northwest.uli.org/event/cascadia-cities-then-now-seattle/
VIA is thrilled to bring our practice in planning, architecture, and transit systems design to the Bay Area. For 30 years, we have focused on creating sustainable communities, with a collaborative approach that yields meaningful solutions.
We are also pleased to announce the hire of director Jeff Stahl, AIA, who brings more than 25 years of experience, focused on transportation, commercial, housing/mixed-use, and academic projects in Northern California. Jeff joins director Kate Howe, AICP to manage our Bay Area team.
Our new office is located at 525 Brannan Street, Suite 406 in San Francisco. We look forward to bringing our passion for connected communities to California.
Help Build a Mobile Parklet!
To celebrate VIA’s office on the move, we are contributing to Out of Site Youth Arts Center’s Mobile Parklet!
Please join us today in making a donation on Crowdrise to ensure tools get into the hands of high-schoolers for a spring break devoted to community building.
If you’ve strolled down San Francisco’s Market Street this past winter, you may have noticed something new jutting up from the sidewalk at Market and Yerba Buena Lane — a set of eight-foot-tall parabolic concrete disks positioned next to a mysterious “singing bench.” The instillation is the result of a joint project between the Yerba Buena Community Benefits District, the Exploratorium, and the City. As the first “Living Innovation Zone,” or LIZ, these paired discs are the Exploratorium’s “whispering dishes” — now a popular public exhibit for unscripted play, learning, and conversation. If you whisper into one dish, another person can hear you loud and clear at the other, 50 feet away. You might want to stop, explore, and teach someone else how to use them.
Initiated by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and the San Francisco Planning Department, the program is intended to create a pathway for the experimental — to activate public space, foster learning, and showcase innovation. As Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for Mayor Ed Lee commented, “San Francisco is the innovation capital of the world, but you wouldn’t know it from just walking the city’s streets. We are creating a way for the City to showcase the explosion of creativity — design, arts, and technology innovations that are currently pouring out of San Francisco.”
To meet that goal, the program has several complementary objectives. The first is the idea that LIZ interventions should delight and engage the public by addressing a specific community-identified need. (Unlike the popular Parklet program, no sponsorship from a fronting property owner or tenant is required). The second objective is to provide a temporary platform for emerging technologies to pilot new ways of improving the public realm. This, in effect, takes the City’s “open data” initiative to the next level.
With these efforts, San Francisco hopes to improve how we use the city itself; and as an economic development initiative, LIZ might help experimental projects compete more quickly in the market. For example, the installation at Yerba Buena Lane includes a technology component to help city planners understand the social use of public space. By tracking people’s movements anonymously with cell phone signals, planners can now for the first time get a sense of how people are using the space, i.e., how many stop, where they go, and for how long.
The last program objective is perhaps more nuanced but is also highly valuable. Citywide Planner Paul Chasan points out that LIZ offers a lower stakes, temporary place for “government learning.” In the three month window in which the LIZ was designed, permitted, and constructed, over 60 people were involved with the project, including staff at the Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office, Department of Public Works, Public Utilities Commission, Municipal Transportation Agency, The Mayor’s Office on Disability, and architectural consultants, as well as private sector partners.
For anyone with experience working on projects with the City of San Francisco, to move anything ahead in this incredibly short period of time can be a trial. However, LIZ helps to encourage dynamism, and in so doing enriches and builds internal relationships. The LIZ team worked to imagine a different response to typical constraints — and allowed staff the ability to engage with notions of adaptability, flexibility, and building trust.
The City isn’t sure what’s next for LIZ, but we aren’t worried. The projects themselves are only temporary interventions. Nine more are slated for Market Street, the idea being to continue to provide support, reduce barriers, and highlight innovative thinkers. We hope to see the City continue moving the principles of open government into — and onto — the street. anything ahead in this incredibly short period of time can be a trial. However, LIZ helps to encourage dynamism, and in so doing enriches and builds internal relationships. The LIZ team worked to imagine a different response to typical constraints — and allowed staff the ability to engage with notions of adaptability, flexibility, and building trust.
In December, the American Institute of Architects announced that its Gold Medal will be awarded to Julia Morgan in recognition of her contribution to the profession. This is the first time in the 70-year history of this award that a female architect has been chosen for the honor:
“The Board of Directors of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted today to posthumously award the 2014 AIA Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, FAIA, whose extensive body of work has served as an inspiration to several generations of architects.
The AIA Gold Medal, voted on annually, is considered to be the profession’s highest honor that an individual can receive. The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Morgan’s legacy will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago.
Morgan, who died in 1957, won a litany of firsts she used to establish a new precedent for greatness. A building technology expert that was professionally adopted by some of the most powerful post-Gilded age patrons imaginable, Morgan practiced for nearly 50 years and designed more than 700 buildings of almost every type, including houses, churches, hotels, commercial buildings, and museums.”
In my junior year of high school at San Francisco’s University High School, I attended a talk by the author Sara Holmes Boutelle, who was in the area researching buildings designed by the architect Julia Morgan. As it turns out, the oldest part of our school, located at 3065 Jackson Street, was an undiscovered Morgan building.
Until that time I had just thought of it as a gorgeous old structure, U-shaped and opening onto a south-facing courtyard, with giant interior transom windows above all the classroom doors and flooded constantly with sunlight:
As an aspiring architect at the time, learning about Julia Morgan’s career and the beauty of her work made a strong impression on me. Ms. Boutelle is credited with rediscovering Morgan and creating the definitive monograph on her work: “Julia Morgan, Architect,” published in 1988 by Abbeville Press, is a lush visual love letter that exhaustively documents the breadth of Morgan’s portfolio:
Morgan was a reclusive and prolific genius who destroyed all her records prior to her death; she had great skepticism for publicity-seeking architects, leaving a legacy of buildings that had to be rediscovered in order to be recognized. Although Morgan’s Hearst Castle project at San Simeon is best known and most closely associated with her historicist style, she was incredibly skilled at creating great small institutional projects such as this building on Jackson Street. These are projects that make great “background architecture” – humble, yet sensitive in scale to their urban context, gracious with their internal spaces, and carefully detailed from a technical and craftsmanship perspective.
Julia Morgan (1872 – 1957) was the first woman to graduate from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (1902) the first to be licensed to practice architecture in California and, along with Louise Bethune, was one of the first female architects in the United States. Both of these women were told that they could not become architects and persevered despite overwhelming resistance from our still male-dominated profession – even today, less than a quarter of registered architects in the US are women:
VIA strongly supports AIA’s recognition of Julia Morgan for the 2014 Gold Medal – well done.