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Get Stoked to Surf The Fourth Wave of Planning

by Dan Bertolet, Urban Planner
Photo credit: VIA Architecture (Original article posted on CityTank.org)

Last year in Seattle, the Bullitt Foundation’s proposed Living Building was subjected to a costly legal challenge based on Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Opponents argued that an environmental impact statement (EIS) should be required because the building would block views. Given that it’s on track to being one of the greenest commercial buildings ever constructed in the United States, and is also located in a dense, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, the fact that environmental regulations could be exploited to oppose the project suggests something is amiss, to put it mildly.

Following on the heels of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Washington’s SEPA was created during an era in which the planning culture was dominated by concerns over ecological degradation and responded with strict limits on growth -– planning’s so-called first wave.

Continue reading here…

Credit DavidSuzuki.org, 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 bike, but I was never really able to motivate myself enough to give it a try.  I have plenty of alternatives – it’s easy for me to walk to work, and I live on an express bus line. I thought that biking through downtown would be unsafe and scary, and that the long climb home (I live close to the top of Queen Anne Hill) would be torturous.  But I felt a bit safer trying out the bike commute during Bike-to-Work Month because I knew that other cyclists would be out there – both seasoned riders from whom I could learn more about commuting etiquette as well as newbies like myself who were giving it a try for the first time. As for the hill…it would be extra exercise, and good for me.  I promised myself that I would commute by bike every day this month, rain or shine.

The team aspect of the challenge made it more fun.  Having my VIA workplace team for support and inspiration definitely provided needed encouragement.  Our fearless team captain, Steve McDonald, kept us organized and motivated.  We even took on a challenge from the WSDOT SR520 team, “We Wheel West.”  We’re a bit behind at this point, but we are sure making a valiant VIA-king effort.

VIA works on a daily basis to design and build healthier, more accessible and livable cities and to support multiple modes of transportation. The Bike-to-Work Month challenge gave the team an opportunity to promote our office values through our actions and transportation choices. By participating in this event, we are hopefully working toward building awareness and acceptance of bicycle commuters, contributing to a safer culture for cyclists, and garnering support for improved bicycle amenities and infrastructure in our city.

Bridge Cyclist, credit Flickr user ebis50

According to Cascade, thousands of people started biking for the first time during Bike Month last year. This year, on May 18 (Bike-to-Work Day) alone, more than 16,000 people participated in the event. In July, Seattle will be getting the nation’s first bike counterso that the city’s cycling data can be recorded and shared year-round.

As of this posting, the BIA-king VIA-kings have logged 320 miles.  Collectively, we have made 73 trips, burned 15,800 calories and offset 315 lbs. of CO2 emissions that would have been generated choosing to commute by car instead.  We have added more riders to our team every week, and even the most seasoned of riders among us had something to gain from the experience.

Here are some of the BIA-king VIA-kings’ observations, accomplishments, and lessons learned:

Catherine biked to work for the first time since she was a teenager and found it to be a more fun and interesting way to exercise – and that commuting by bicycle has an unexpected “cool” factor.  On Bike-to-Work day, she rode the entire 17.5 miles to work via the Kingston-Edmonds ferry!

Matt found that Seattle’s hills and rain and often make cycling tough, but misgivings about getting soaking wet on the way to and from work can be somewhat assuaged by amenities like bike storage lockers, clothes-drying racks, changing rooms and showers.

Our team captain,Steve, has biked to work for nearly 16 years, and although he has seen cycling gain recognition as a means of commuting in Seattle during that time, he still feels a bit naked without his helmet on. He notes that although the situation is improving, a lack of infrastructure and good behavior on the part of both cyclists and drivers still keeps us from being safe.

Kristin racedher kids to school by bicycle and won!  Very impressive.

Dan rides every day all year, so this month was no different for him except that this month, there were more cyclists in his way and he occasionally lost his spot on the bike rack.

For me, the best part of Bike-to-Work Month was having a reason to explore new routes and to learn the city better – I love riding through Seattle Center every day and along 5th Avenue under the monorail.  I learned three different but correct ways to make a left-hand turn in traffic (thanks to Cascade’s helpful how-to guide). I gained commuting confidence.

Having transportation options is great. It’s key to creating a livable, viable urban environment. Commuting by bike was always an option for me, but it was one that I had left unexplored for various reasons.  After taking part in the team challenge this month, I now know that it’s by far the fastest way for me to get to work, that it feels good to get the extra exercise, and that it’s not as scary (but just as steep) as I thought it would be. Will I keep cycling after the month is over? I’m honestly not sure yet. But now I don’t really have an excuse not to – because now I know that I can do it.

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 in the history of downtown Seattle—an approximately 3 million square-foot headquarters for Amazon—may take eight years to complete. Project details presented at a recent downtown design review committee meeting revealed that Amazon’s glassy three block project, designed by NBBJ (designers of the recently-c0mpleted Gates Foundation, also in Seattle), will be built in three phases of two to four years.

The Expo As Change Agent (The Atlantic Cities)
Seattle is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. The 1962 Century 21 Exposition is remembered as a great space-age fair of the New Frontier-era that inspired The Jetsons, popularized monorail, and spread the idea of revolving restaurants to the world. The first U.S. world’s fair after 1940, it also now serves as an excellent reminder that expos can be powerful agents of urban transformation. Century 21 left a permanent legacy of infrastructure and attitude that continues to shape Seattle to this day.

From Living Future With Love

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

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 Bay Area have the advantage of being the last among the big regions to pass an SCS. What can they learn from the other regions about the implementation of SB 375 and the prospects for better regional planning statewide?

Urban Sustainability’s Missing Ingredient? Education (The Atlantic Cities)
“Helping the trees. Which provide oxygen.” …That was the uncertain (and somewhat serious) answer one college-aged woman gave when she was asked the question, “what does sustainability mean to you?” by a pair of George Washington University students. Unprompted, she then second-guessed her response: “The trees provide oxygen? Yeah.” This video illustrated the impediment these cities most frequently cited in their efforts to refocus their cities on the long haul: a lack of knowledge about sustainability.

Green Roofs Will Cover Toronto (Sustainable Cities Collective)
Back in January of 2010, Toronto became the first North American city to make installing green roofs on new commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential developments compulsory – now that requirements will apply to industrial developments as well.

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 on both sides of the equation, qualitative and quantitative, knowing that both balances will be judged wanting from one perspective or another.

I have often said “The goal of City Building is that the Café Canopy be in the right place”.  In order for that to happen:

  • There must be a peaceful civil society within which people’s take pleasure in a public realm
  • There must be an adequate population with access to this facility
  • There must be a level of comfort to mingle with people you do not know
  • The design must reinforce the attraction of being there

The amenity of the public realm is a pre-condition for a healthy city.  A healthy City is the only kind of City that we can afford.  It is the multitude of tiny pulses, the ‘cafe canopies’ for which we leave our cocoons and stretch our legs, that make the ‘big thing’ work.

The health analogy is deliberate and apt.  We need a City that operates as a resilient organism,  not a monolithic fossil; flexibility and resilience to continually rebalance affordability and amenity.  We need a culture of nimbleness, whose actions consider the long term trajectory of impacts.  This nimbleness is not natural to bureaucracies, whose tendency is to hold close to the established course regardless of political swings.  The answer is neither day to day knee jerk expediency nor not-in-my-term-of-office avoidance of key decisions. The answer lies in timely collection and assessment of evidence, and  consequent adjustment of the parameters.  It is not pantomime, but closer to rocket science, this continual pulling of strings.  It is annoying how reality keeps on changing, but it is even more annoying to sail full speed into an iceberg.

The 3rd and Final DVA Affordability / Amenity Forum is on Tuesday May 29th from 7:45AM to 9:00AM at BCIT Downtown Campus, Seymour Street.

The Panel is: Graham McGarva, VIA Architecture;  David McLellan, Vancouver Deputy City Manager; Al Poetcker, UBC Properties Trust: Gary Pooni,  Brook Pooni

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 they? Beautiful furniture designs are cropping up out of the need to save space.

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 reasons we ride. Whether you bike to work or school; to save money or time; to preserve your health or the environment; to explore your community or get to your destination, get involved in Bike Month in your city or state — and help get more people in your community out riding too!

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 missing the parking spaces, and the public space now anchors the retail street. He sees the parklet as a first step for more street pedestrianizations, and has his eyes set on their nearby streetcar stop.

Outer Sunset’s Trouble Coffee parklet

My favorite parklet of all, Outer Sunset’s Trouble Coffee, hosts a remote gathering space of scavenged materials from driftwood and old fences, to a full sized tree spirited from City landscape crews.  The owner commended her parklet for its galvanizing effects, not only on her business (she saw her investment return in two months of sales) but also a place for neighborhood gathering.

As parklets spring up in a neighborhood near you, folks witness how much more can be done with 288 square feet of street.  According to Paul Chasan, the planner who joined our tour, the City is now experiencing growing pains as they try to keep pace with demand. Parklet popularity is also causing some internal battles as some question how many are enough, and when do we reach saturation- while public works is worried about how to ensure good maintenance.

As the next wave of parklets is constructed, I am, for one, hoping that creativity remains its driving force and that the City will bring its lessons learned to bare for an improved, affordable, and fast process that gives the streets back to the people.