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Dreaming of a bike and family friendly city

by Jen Kelly, Lead Business Dev’t Coordinator

On my drive to work this morning, an unusual scene caught my eye:

Right in the middle of downtown Seattle, a father was riding in perfect sync on a triple tandem bike with his two daughters. I caught up with them at the Spruce Street School, the only K-5 in downtown Seattle.

He told me that they live in Queen Anne, and try to bike to school at least 3 times a week. As we chatted, his oldest daughter stood a few feet away with a proud look on her face as he told me that they are also training for the Seattle to Portland bike ride coming up this July. I asked “Oh, you’re preparing for the race?”, to which he responded, “Yeah, the three of us are.” (I did mention that these girls are in a K-5 school, right?)

p.s. STP organizers: you should feature this family in your marketing materials — if they don’t shame inspire people into participating, I don’t know what will

In Europe, the following photos are not uncommon:

(kidding… this last photo was in Portland)
I know, I know, we’re all getting tired of hearing about how great biking is in Holland, and Denmark, and even Portland. Although we may not have the ideal situation ( = flat) as some of these areas, there’s no reason why we can’t start adopting successful elements. Yes! Magazine wrote a great article, looking at what it would take to make biking less of a “recreational activity” and more mainstream:

In Utrecht, Holland, 95 percent of older students—kids in the 10 to 12 age range—bike to school at least some of the time. In the U.S., roughly half that percentage (50 percent of kids) walked or biked to school… back in 1970. Since then, the rate has dropped to 15 percent, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School program.
Some bullet points of their success:

  • kids learn about biking and bike safety in school
  • in The Hague, the city works hard to separate bike paths from streets used by cars and trucks
  • access to safe, convenient bike storage
  • using color on the roadways to clearly designate bike lanes

At some point, we have to face the facts — not only are oil prices are going to go up again, but our obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, with one in three children currently obese or overweight.

There are campaigns out there that are trying to push us in the right direction — Seattle has a new Walk, Bike, Ride challenge, and 6 months ago, Michelle Obama came out with the “Let’s Move” obesity campaign. And although lists Seattle as the 7th family friendly city, they were really only looking at taxes, incomes, and total expenses to figure a family’s ability to live a good lifestyle. But is that really all it takes to be family friendly? It’s not saying much for our city that we only have one K-5 school, or that people don’t feel safe in our downtown parks.

So — I put it out to the rest of you — what will it take for the scene I saw this morning to become a mainstream in Seattle instead of unusual?

Monday News Roundup

Feb 14, 2011

Tracking Growth in World Cities (Planetizen)
Mega-cities of 10 million people or more are getting a lot of attention these days. But smaller big cities are really where interesting and potentially hazardous growth patterns are occurring, according to this piece.

Who’s got the greenest house on the planet? (Grist)
It’s pretty easy to determine the biggest pie, or longest fingernails, or fattest twins. But what about the greenest house? AOL’s consumer finance site has a nice roundup of what, exactly, it means to have a green home.

In Charleston, an Affordable, Effective Alternative to Highway Expansion (DC.STREETSBLOG)
More street grid, less traffic: The Coastal Conservation League’s proposal for Savannah Highway would cut congestion by reducing the number of curb cuts and establishing secondary roads for those traveling short distances.

Updating and Improving Philadelphia’s Downtown Plazas (Planetizen)
Three public plazas in the center of Philadelphia are set to see much-needed makeovers, and soon.

Researchers Transform Contaminated Shipping Port Sludge into Safe Building Materials (inhabitat)
Swedish researchers have developed a process that can turn contaminated sediment in shipping ports into a cement-like substance that is safe for building.

NYC to Turn Sewage Into an Asset (Planetizen)
Could the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce daily be an asset?

How Green School Buildings Help Children Grow (The Tyee)
Students and teachers are more healthy and productive in sustainably-built schools, research shows.

Global Eco Cities Panel Explores Innovations in City Building (The Planning Report)
Discussion of a global eco-cities panel at VX2011, the VERDEXCHANGE Green Marketmakers Conference, held in L.A. in January. The panelists (including former L.A. City Planning Director Gail Goldberg, Dean of the USC School of Architecture Qingyun Ma, and AECOM Principal of Building Engineering Alastair MacGregor) imagined global eco cities of the near future.

Let’s Be Smart About Intelligent Cities (Planetizen)
“Intelligent cities” is picking up steam as the new buzzword in planning and a potentially game-changing way of using data to drive decisions. But we need to be sure we don’t lose the human intelligence in planning.

The future of the strip mall: downhill (Crosscut)
Suburban strips with huge parking lots are losing favor, thanks to economic shifts, rising gas prices, and more appealing pedestrian-friendly town centers.

U.S. News ranks Portland #1 for Public Transit (Oregon Live)
TriMet may be running on red ink, slashing services and in the middle of a nasty contract fight with its driver’s union, but Portland is still the nation’s best city for public transportation, according to a new analysis.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Peter Houseknecht and I am an Architect who has worked predominately on a wide variety of private development commercial projects. Many of these were hospitality projects in which I was involved with the Interior Design either separately or in addition to the architectural design. These projects included resorts, conference centers, hotels, restaurants and all other types of food service, casinos, country clubs, wineries and combinations of these uses. I also have experience with government projects of various types and some private residences as well. Currently I am the project manager for the Evergreen Line that is a new expansion of an existing transit line in metro Vancouver, BC.

What made you decide to go into your field?

Perhaps it started at a very young age with creating elaborate electric model train and racing car platforms with people, buildings, covered bridges, farms and streetscapes forming little towns complete with landscaping, snow and lighting effects. Some elements were model kits while other parts I built from scratch with balsa wood. My grandfather was passionate about model railroading whose hobby I shared with him starting as far back as I can remember.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

They did not really care one way or another so long as I was happy

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

It’s hard to just pick one as there were several teachers but also employers, work experiences and clients that equally qualify as well. My first architectural graphics professor for teaching me to communicate graphically in a variety of ways as well as to think with a pencil or other drawing implement. My second year architectural design professor for really opening the door to what a building design entailed, how to approach it and to think about the sequence of events and hierarchal order of a design and the resulting experience of it’s inhabitants. My fifth year architectural design professor for sharing his great design mind in concert with an open mind, enthusiasm, sense of humor, flexibility and hanging in there – don’t let the bumps and obstacles get you down attitude.

Various employers for giving me a full breath of opportunities, tasks and responsibilities very early in my career. Others for expanding my skills and arena of practice particularly with hospitality work that combines so many uses, design talents and creative disciplines in a tightly interwoven and expressive project type full of imagination when at it’s best.

Client’s with which I enjoyed a truly collaborative and open minded relationship who allowed me the freedom and trust to practice our profession to its full potential without premeditative end results. This provided them with the full benefit our services can offer as well as resulting in a project exceeding their expectations with a lasting contribution to their business, their client services and their lives.
This in turn provided me with a truly deep sense of satisfaction that our hard work did mean something, it mattered, made a difference and realized an old school time dream – it did and can make the world a better place. Their excitement as a result of the open collaborative process without question has been the greatest reward of my career. Likewise other collaborative experiences, yes even including with general contractors, where teamwork and project goals were paramount with everyone pulling together with back support in lieu of stabs to make the best possible project were also deeply satisfying. The shear power and joy of true and fully committed teamwork is electrifying and restores hope in human spirit especially in today’s world.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)

School was a really heavy and challenging workload – considered at the time to be second only to pre-med (persons on a degree track to enter medical school not to be confused with others experimenting with bio-chemistry and less certain of their major). There was a very high drop out rate and lots of all-nighters meeting deadlines. The constant work load and long hours in the studio challenged my commitment and motivation on more than one occasion.

During nights darkest hours yet again sweating, seemingly endlessly, over your design work while producing perfect ink presentation drawings and cutting 5-ply Strathmore board with razor sharp knives to produce pristine models, occasionally if still possible counting to ten hoping all your digits were still with you that by now are looking like the walking wounded and redoing any mistakes while strategizing how to shoehorn in some time for that rather inconvenient structural engineering final later this week that you haven’t nor could ever have studied enough for, all in hyper sleep deprived mode that is on the verge of answering the question of “just how long can a human being go without sleep before spontaneously collapsing into a coma” that was way beyond any military research on the topic, eyeballs ready to write you a “Dear John” letter, your bed a distant memory, unknowingly enacting the Walking Zombies before they were called such, occasionally uttering random thoughts and curses in what would at other more rested times be recognized as the English language but whose afflicted overtones are likely more recognizable to your Neanderthal ancestors than current day friends and family.

Without provocation a soft wave arrives in your consciousness that at this very moment “normal” people are perhaps sleeping –peacefully – free of stress or worries – but the real test is that at this very moment in time back at the dorm there is a party going on which is registering on the Richter scale. Knowing you could be right now in the heart of it all in the arms of someone you’d give your eyeteeth to be with – but no……..someone must take the high road and answer the call to save the world by learning to create the best environments for the spirit of humanity to flourish within taking that to new heights while your buds are out exploring the boundaries of how to flourish in any environment they find themselves in quite successfully and could not imagine in their wildest dreams anything of greater height educationally than what they were experiencing right now thank you very much and are having the time of their lives passionately pursuing their personalized Studies in Humanity curriculum. How do you spell – I really want to be an Architect!What inspires you?
Most things in life qualify – it’s a matter of how open my mind is and how observant I am at any given moment. When the lines are open the magic seems to come out of nowhere and reveal itself in many and different ways – sometimes literal but most times in other ways. Viewing elements and activities through conceptual eyes tends to trigger a chain of ricocheting thoughts and ideas taking my imagination to new unrelated and unexpected places. At other times and more profoundly are ideas, thoughts, concepts or new perspectives that arrive in my mind as a seemingly unconnected package that appears out of nowhere. Likely just transferring from my un-conscious mind to the conscious dimension, but presents are fun.

Otherwise viewing other architects and artists work from any discipline usually gets my imagination flowing as does engaging in some form of creative activity regardless of the medium involved.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University that was a 5-year program. I think that is still the typical program stateside although there are other paths. That was followed by a minimum 3 year internship working full time in the profession to be eligible to start taking licensing exams. My first license was earned in California which at the time had a 3 stage exam process that took about a year and a half minimum to complete due to infrequent scheduling and sequencing. The heart of it was a 5 consecutive day exam lasting up to 12 hours a day and a 26% passing rate.

Today I feel a Masters in Architecture is the current minimum standard I would recommend to someone considering the profession. I would also suggest including coursework in urban planning and business as well as other related design fields of the profession such as lighting and interior design. Computer proficiency in a variety of CAD and 3-D modeling programs is paramount as well.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

People who are well connected and architecturally talented followed by people who are well connected followed by people who are talented. Networking with peers and other people connected with the industry you want to practice in is important and getting involved with your community is helpful. An inner passion and natural heartfelt commitment to the profession is helpful as it is often more of a lifestyle than a job. It is a profession that should be chosen more out of a love and enjoyment of what it entails and one where that passion outweighs financial reward.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

Continue on and obtain your architectural degree as it is one of the best educations you can get – then go and be a politician or anything else but an architect. Well guilty as charged – I did not take the advice.

Follow your heart, your inner voice, your bliss and your truth. We’re working on this one – heh who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks and guess what – these are evolving and moving targets.

Follow the money – aahhh has anyone seen hide or tail of this – any hints – rumors – is there any left?

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

Yes and no. No as this has become a profession that is amongst the first to be affected by any negative changes in the economy and one of the last to recover. So there are more and sharper spikes and valleys with regard to work opportunities than ever. I have lived thru several recessions with this being the worse by far with reports I have heard of general unemployment between some 9 and 14% but with estimates of 50 to 75% of architects who are unemployed.

Yes with there being more firms and people in the profession and in schools than at times earlier in my career. Also firms are less restricted to local or national markets than in times past with more opportunities to work internationally. During my college days and early professional years most architects in the USA were male and of Anglo origin. While that may statistically be the case, thankfully I have witnessed a vast change with many more women and people from all origins enter the field that has really enriched my life both professionally and personally a great deal.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

You need to love the work and most of what it entails, but it is a field in transition. Try to get a real world baptism into the profession as early as possible particularly during college by talking with architects, volunteering with a firm, engaging in work-study school courses and working at firms during school breaks etc. to help determine your passion. Then get the best education you can and work for the best firms you can particularly where you will get exposed to all aspects of the profession, which are quite varied. Keep an eye on and engage with new technologies, sustainability and issues of shifting from the current North American car oriented paradigm to a new model as they will all have profound impacts on the field in the years ahead as will current paradigms of architect-client-general contractor models change to something new.

Monday News Roundup

Feb 07, 2011

Do the words route or line better describe transit? (Human Transit)
The word for the path followed by a transit vehicle is sometimes route, and sometimes line. Whenever you have two words for the same thing, you should ask why.

Duany predicts decline of strict green building standards (Partnerships for sustainable communities)
Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of “optimization” of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.

An Ideal City Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with David Gouverneur (Next American City)
A native of Venezuela, Gouverneur has made a career out of injecting environmental and social values into the process of placemaking. He was kind enough to take some time out of his sunshine and paper-filled morning to share his recipes for healthy cities.

The people of the texture world: adding people into renderings (The New York Times)
I happened to spend a lot of time looking at renderings, and found myself drawn to a recurring feature that, strictly speaking, had nothing to do with the suggested structures: the little human figures who inhabit the rendered world.

Building permits bounce back (video) (The Globe and Mail)
BNN gets analysis and insight into Canadas building permit numbers for December with Victor Fiume, general manager, Durham Custom Homes, and president, CHBA.

The Life and Death of a College Bikeshare System in Maine (The City Fix)
n 2007, a few students and staff at Bowdoin College started the Yellow Bike Club, an informal system of bikes left on campus and re-purposed for the shared bike program. Spray-painted yellow, secured with U-locks and repaired in an old shed on campus, the system of just a few bikes was born. Initially, there were seven bikes and about 50 members, now the program is in disarray.

Secretary of Energy Announces “SunShot”, Gives $27Million to Cut the Cost of Solar (inhabitat)
US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu just pledged $27 million in funding for nine solar energy projects that will help with his “sunshot” effort — a plan to cut the costs of solar energy by 3/4 in the next decade.

Landscape and Architecture Converging (Planetizen)
The Architect’s Newspaper explores the “fertile new approaches to building” springing from the growing use of landscaping in contemporary architecture.

Car-Dependent Suburbs May Be Slums of The Future, Says Urban Planning Report (Treehugger)
A study released by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) in late 2010 found that “Australia will be forced to rely on huge quantities of imported oil unless it radically overhauls its transport and urban policies” according to The Age newspaper who reported on the findings.

Bikes for Boomers? Panasonic’s Electric Bike for “Elderlies” (Treehugger)
If you take it for granted that bicycles are a safe and green part of the transportation system for all ages, then this makes perfect sense. Panasonic has just introduced an electric bike with 20″ wheels and a “low floor design” that makes it really easy to get on, start with a boost and stand with your feet flat.

Princeton Plans Largest Solar Field for Any U.S. University (inhabitat)
Long a leader in top-notch academics, Princeton University is now a leader in green technology and clean energy. The Ivy League school announced last week its plans for a 27-acre solar field to partially power its New Jersey campus.

Friday Feature: Brian

Feb 05, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian Kenny and I’m an architect in our Seattle office. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moved to Seattle in ‘97 after graduating from Virginia Tech. I consider myself a suburban refugee – during summer jobs I spent 2-3 hours driving each day around the D.C. Beltway. That “drove” me (ha ha) to find a livable city where I didn’t have to do that and Seattle passed with flying colors! VIA is the fifth office I’ve worked in since moving here. My wife Lori is also an architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was doomed from the start with a classic architect childhood: drawing all the time, unhealthy Lego obsession, treehouses, etc. Growing up in the 80’s I was always the “art kid” but also loved to take apart lawnmower engines, build models, launch rockets, and devour Popular Mechanics articles about the “World of the Future in the Year 2000!” (Are we there yet?).

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My dad worked for NASA and my mom was a librarian but they always supported my interests. While I’ve never asked, I’d bet they were relieved when I switched from being an Art major to the Architecture program.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Virginia Tech had many fantastic professors who pushed us to find our own path in design and in life. But I continue to be influenced daily by my second-year studio professor Jay Stoeckel. Our very first day he shocked us by stating that he didn’t care if we ever became architects – his concern was our education. We learned of numerous alumni who’d used their design training to thrive in a wide variety of other careers and professions.

On our last day he said he’d tried to instill an attitude towards, and a habit of, self-education and pushing ourselves to our limits – this would serve us the rest of our lives. We hung on his every word because most were pretty profound…

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was competitive so it was essential to learn to listen to what’s inside and not measure yourself against others. Also, as a generalist I seem to find everything interesting but in college I had to learn to focus.

What inspires you?
The world! People! Art! Science! Any and everything! (see above). To narrow it down, I love how wildly unrelated ideas can cross-pollinate to generate new ones. I try to encourage this when my mind is chewing on a problem but then picks up the scent of a solution when I’m not working on it…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I earned a five-year BArch degree so I didn’t need a Masters, but there are also 4-year undergrad degrees where a Masters is required to get your license. Many people do a 3-year Master’s program after undergrad in something else. And then you have to earn a number of years of experience and take a plethora of exams before you can acquire your license and legally be considered an architect. But I feel that if you’re training, thinking, working, and acting like an architect then effectively you are an architect, just not a licensed one which is an important distinction to make in public.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Stubborn but open-minded people! Also, architects have to work with a huge variety of trades and professions, not to mention your clients. This means your most brilliant idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t communicate it effectively.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A few quotes I’ve internalized:

Advice is cheap.

Resolve to always be a beginner.
~ Rilke

The best place to be an architect is at a cocktail party…
~Ron Van der Veen, Seattle architect

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Unfortunately opportunities have shrunk dramatically during this mother-of-all-recessions. Many architects are still out of work which has increased competition for new graduates. But before getting too gloomy, I’m very optimistic about the long-term demand for creative people to solve the challenges of of an urbanizing world.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Architects make plans – that’s what we do. But to drop another quote, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So by all means pour your heart and soul into your efforts, but also know that things will rarely turn out how you expect. And that can be a good thing!

European Transportation, a traveler’s perspective Part 2 of 2

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

If you read part I of this post, you will recall some of my conclusions about Paris and their transportation preferences – little city, little cars, huge metro system. This week I will be talking about my observations while in Belgium – trams, trams and more trams.

I will start with the first city I visited in Belgium called Ghent. It is a beautiful town and at night when the lights ricochet off the facades of the buildings it feels like something out of a fairy tale. The city still has much of its medieval architecture including Gravensteen castle, from which this picture was taken, which just adds to its fairy tale like nature.

The main form of transportation in the city centre appeared to be walking, bicycling, bussing and the use of the 4 tram lines. Many of the streets in the city centre were closed off to cars, likely because they are very narrow and made of cobblestones. However, as the picture below depicts, some of the narrow alleys are used by cars despite their difficult maneuverability. The cars appeared to be slightly bigger than those we saw in Paris which with alley’s like this did not make much sense. However, with a little elbow grease and the proper angling in of the side mirrors, we were ready to go.

Like many places in Europe, Ghent has entire bicycle parking lots. As there appeared to be lots of areas where cars couldn’t drive, bicycles seemed to be the obvious choice to navigate the narrow roads. It should also be mentioned that the cyclists ride in style. Girls will bike with heels or boots and skirts. I did not see spandex or reflective jackets as is common in Vancouver. I suppose Lululemon has not yet infiltrated the European market.

Upon leaving Ghent, we got a little lost and ended up in a small town called De Panne in Belgium. It turned out that there was a tram that went from De Panne, down through a number of different cities and ended up in Oostente, a beautiful seaside town which we were more than happy to visit. We were shocked that a tram would have such a long route but after about an hour, we arrived at our destination. I am not sure what the word ‘bad’ means in Flemish but I took this picture for pure comedic value, sorry West End I think you are beautiful but you seem to have made some enemies in Belgium.

While on the tram I noticed that people would listen to music or watch TV or youtube on their phones which would be fine had it not been for the fact that it was on speaker phone and billowing out through the tram. In Vancouver there are signs reminding riders to turn down their devices even while using headphones, I am not sure what people would have done had they heard entire songs and TV shows. Another frustration came from the signage on the tram. Although it had a sign which listed stop names, not all the stops were listed (I am guessing this was a result of having so many stops as the line was about an hour and a half long). At one point we heard the name of a stop so we tried to see how much longer we had but we couldn’t see the name of the current stop on the sign so we just hoped for the best. Despite this, the tram was very comfortable and smooth on the rails below.

At the end of our ride, which felt kind of like a longer darker version of the train that travels around Disney Land, we arrived in Oostente. We found a nice Chinese restaurant, yes Europe has amazing Chinese food, and a hotel and called it a night.

A few warm croissants here, some fresh mussels there and a warm chocolate Belgium waffle and it was back to Paris to prepare for our flight back to Canada. It truly was a planes, trains but little automobile experience.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 31, 2011

Seeking an example of sustainable urbanisn in Seattle (Planetizen)
Seattle has the political momentum behind sustainable urbanism, but it doesn’t seem to have a physical neighborhood example of how sustainable urbanism can work, according to this article.

Building the virtual city (Planetizen)
Beatville is a new “open source, multi-player environment for real cities”, which purports to be a useful tool for democratizing urban planning. Does it live up to the hype? Urban Omnibus checks it out.

Giving a lift to Vancouver’s downtown eastside: build taller buildings (The Vancouver Sun)
A group of academics have challenged Vancouver’s Historic Areas Height Review, which recommends city council permit buildings on several sites to exceed the existing height allowance to further the long-standing goal of densification, supported by consecutive city councils.

Green building: where to live? (Cambridge)
Are cities the best place to live? Are suburbs OK? A fight grows in urban planning, with Harvard at the center.

Affordable housing, parks to receive budget boosts from city council (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver City Council will decide Tuesday where to spend its $337-million capital budget, with priority going to creating affordable housing, community centre developments and more park space. The budget will also provide funding to support the city’s green initiatives, including improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, work on sewer separation and initiatives related to the solid waste plan.

A new tool for fighting rural sprawl (Crosscut)
Developers can already buy up development rights in farmland and nearby forests, transfering the rights to increase density in cities and towns. This new proposal from Cascade Land Conservancy would tap the increased taxes to help pay for urban infrastructure and amenities. It solves economic and legal issues that have held back such transfers.

Top 10 Nations With Clean Power – Hydropower, Nuclear or Small Populations Figure Heavily (treehugger)
Apropos of President Obama’s intent to have 80% of US electricity come from clean power sources by 2035, GE has just released a graphic detailing to the top ten countries with the cleanest energy sources.

Gallery: 5 Up-and-Coming Canadian Cities (The Vancouver Sun)
Here are five Canadian cities on the up and up.

The future of transporation funding in uncertain times (Planetizen)
In this Q&A, urban planning professor Mitchell Moss explains how budget crises at the federal, state and local levels will affect transit funding in New York City and other places.

First Full Bamboo School in Philippines Stands Up to Tough Stormwinds (inhabitat)
A new school in the Philippines (where they know quite a bit about buildings being blown down by powerful tropical winds) has done one better by utilizing a flexible, storm resistant material that is also locally grown and rapidly renewable – bamboo.

Glass-Clad Bike Transit Center Opens in Downtown Washington DC (inhabitat)
A newly-opened bike station in the heart of Washington, DC has been likened to an eye, a bike spoke and even a bike helmet. The glass-enclosed station sits adjacent to Union Station, where it makes low-impact commuter travel a reality.

Friday Feature: Naomi

Jan 29, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Naomi Buell and I do marketing and business development for VIA Architecture. I also try to make people laugh whenever I get a chance.

What made you decide to go into your field?

I was taking communications at school and found it to be too theoretical and not applicable enough for me and my friend told me she thought I would like business. Once in business I realized that I had always been a marketer, right from my days coming up with slogans for my Kool-Aid stands (No PST, GST or MSG).

What did your family think of your chosen field?

As an only child I think they would have been proud of me no matter what I did. Having recently helped my mom with her business cards and e-mail signature though, I think she is happy I chose marketing. My dad has always encouraged my writing skills so anything that connects me and words together seems to make him happy.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

I had two marketing teachers that taught me so much in University. I later found out that they were actually husband and wife which just seems to make sense. They were both very knowledgeable helpful and encouraging and had the best marketing assignments. My one professor told me “there is no such thing as the general public” which means you can’t market to everyone so you better find out who your target market is. I think about that at least once a week.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Definitely financial. I mean don’t get me wrong business school is challenging but filling out Student loan forms was way more stressful.

What inspires you?

A good song on a beautiful day.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

I have a degree in business but any degree in marketing or communications gets you off to a good start. I would suggest choosing a school with a co-op program or do an internship as companies will want someone with experience.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

You should be creative and innovative and understand people. Having an eye for design is a great attribute as well.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

I personally am a fan of the secret. Positivity breeds positivity. I truly have found that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

There will always be a need for marketing and there are new specializations for social media marketing and that field is certainly growing.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Well I may be a little biased but I would say go for it because it is the best career ever. It’s fun, you get to do so many different things and so far I have found that the other people in it, the ones you get to work with are pretty awesome to.

by Matt Roewe, Director of Mixed Use and Major Projects

Last Saturday (January 22, 2011) Sound Transit and the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development hosted an Urban Design Framework workshop for the Capitol Hill light rail station development sites. This workshop is part of an ongoing community engagement program in collaboration with the Capitol Hill Champions, which consists of a joint committee of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Community Council.

For those of you who have not heard about the Capitol Hill light rail station development sites, these properties represent an incredible opportunity to strategically enhance one of the most established, vibrant and diverse places in the city. As a consequence of the underground bored tunnel and station construction effort, there will be five residual parcels on two different city blocks that will be available for redevelopment when the station is finished in 2016. The station is intentionally sited in the heart of the neighborhood and if designed well, will ultimately serve as the civic center of the community.

Earlier workshops focused on uses appropriate to this location. The neighborhood has a long list of desired uses and activities including:

  • 50% affordable housing
  • arts and performance space
  • subsidized local retailers
  • restaurants/cafes
  • community meeting facilities
  • a hotel and a cultural/resource center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community

Also desired is an open city square that can be used for outdoor farmer and merchant markets, concerts and civic events.

The current zoning, called neighborhood commercial, allows buildings from 45′ to 65′ tall with a development capacity of about 400,000 square feet. The lone odd shaped parcel on the west side of Broadway is zoned as part of an institutional overlay for Seattle Central Community College and will allow about 100′ of height. That site is tough to develop individually as it straddles a third entrance to the station and is best suited as part of a project that includes college land to the south.

I participated in the workshop as a representative of the Seattle Planning Commission. I’m also interested as an architect/urban designer who works on transit oriented development and station area planning. Incidentally I’m also a board member of Capitol Hill Housing, an affordable housing provider who manages and operates about 30 buildings in the neighborhood.

This particular workshop focused on design quality and scale. About 60 people participated in the 4 hour session. A great range of divergent opinions were expressed by a range of participants that include neighborhood residents, business and institutional leaders, civic groups, students and plenty of professional architects and planners. Expectations were high, but the room was full of collaboration and enthusiasm. There definitely was interest in tossing out the old zoning and establishing new development standards specific to this site and including incentive based public benefits tied to added value creation.

Here are my summary notes and personal conclusions (the opinions expressed here are my own and are not representative of VIA, Capitol Hill Housing, or the Planning Commission):

  1. Blurring the property lines that define where the mid-block crossing should be on sites A1/A2, as well as B1/B2. Both those long segments may want to be one developer with connected garages. ST should remain flexible on this rather than specifically delineating those as four “pads”…rather two long pads should be a welcomed option.
  2. A sweeping pedestrian desire line from the primary entrance down Broadway, arcing through site A1/A2 (possibly building this as a ground level internal arcade with building over it) then through to The Nagle Market Square and on into Cal Anderson. Three teams came to this conclusion.
  3. E Denny between sites A + C should be dedicated and designed to function as a square or plaza. Service and limited access can be controlled by electronic bollards subject to time of day and key card access. No need to delineate curbs as long as appropriate programing and features allow a clear path for sire and service.
  4. ST and the city may want to be open to breaking away the strict street grid on the plaza space at E Denny. The RFQ/RFP process should be flexible for this to break down given the right geometry and outcome from item 2 above.
  5. Parking is a major concernas it is essential to the retail and market rate housing in this location. Certainly this will be a paid, below grade solution with best practices in sharing and managing this as multi-tenant/user asset.
    1. Making enough parking would be welcome by the merchants. But walk-able/environmental advocates fear that it will generate too much traffic. A delicate balance should be the goal, rationalized with a good traffic and market/real estate study.
    2. Automated below grade parking may be necessary for the tower residents (see below) and to take advantage/necessary regarding the footing depths of a tower having to go down about 80′ to match the station box depth.
  6. Massing Option 4: Putting the height on the NW corner of the project makes sense in terms of shadows and hierarchy of form. The other sites could transition down from 65′ of height, gradating down toward Cal Anderson Park. Even consider one story kiosk like buildings near the square if certain elements want to be special single use jewel boxes.
  7. Just one building could be built as a high-rise(in the NW Corner) as the construction costs are heavy and the visual impacts would be limited to one location. I suggest starting at 240′ tall. The additional development capacity would be viewed as value creation which would be part of an incentive program that requires the developer to provide public benefits.
    1. If there is more appetite for mutually agreed incentives of private funding for community benefits, go up to 700′. Think of a stellar tall tower as a beacon signifying this as an honorable civic place and as a huge, yet fun and welcoming transit investment. It also allows some expression of this place as Seattle’s ” Times Square” and as a way-finding symbol …”you have arrived” as you step out of the station…”we are at the heart of this community”.
    2. A hotel use in the tower was welcome, even targeting the gay/lesbian tourism sector. Calling this the “Peoples Tower” by allowing a public view platform and/or restaurants at the roof seemed to make sense as more of an inclusive structure. Who says the Space Needle should be the only profit making icon in the whole city?
  8. If 50% of the housing is targeted to be subsidized, we have to look hard at how this can be accommodated and where. If there is a luxury tower that helps pay for affordable, that ratio will need to go down, but for all the right reasons. I suggest the city set 50% of the current allowed zoning housing capacity as affordable. Then, if the zoning changes to allow significant more height, that added area would need to be exempt from that requirement…unless they want to 20% tax credit of course.

We have plenty of time as the RFP for development won’t come out until 2012 and the station will not be operational until 2016. Construction under current zoning would likely take another 1.5 to 2 years. If there is rezoning or if markets are soft, complete build out could take until 2020 or possibly longer.

What is an urban design framework?
In order to guide and inform the redevelopment of the properties acquired by Sound Transit, Capitol Hill community members, Sound Transit staff and City of Seattle staff will develop, in partnership, an Urban Design Framework for those properties. The purpose of the Urban Design Framework is to establish a shared programming and design vision for these properties and adjacent streets and public spaces. An Urban Design Framework is a set of recommendations focused on physical planning issues (urban design, land use mix, street and public spaces, sustainable design, etc.).

The Framework is a “bridge” to connect broad goals and policies, to specific physical planning recommendations. Focused on urban design and place-making, the Framework can include implementation actions that are cross-departmental, regulatory, capital and programmatic. In the case of the Capitol Hill light rail station sites, the Framework will address desired uses, programming and maintenance in addition to design. The extensive body of past planning work done by the Capitol Hill community (including but not limited to the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan), Sound Transit, and the City is a foundation for the Urban Design Framework.

Read more here

Calatrava’s Turning Torso Tower in Malmo

An example of a single iconic tower amid a 4 to 6 story townscape.

Food for thought – feel free to share your comments and ideas.

Monday News Roundup

Jan 24, 2011

Heavy Traffic Means Less Social Streets (Planetizen)
Streetfilms looks back at Professor Donald Appleyard’s pioneering work observing the social life of streets, which proved that streets with less traffic fostered more social interactions than those with heavy traffic.

Unimaginable marriage of high-end architecture and car storage (The New York Times)
A Miami Beach Parking lot doubles as an event space. When cars aren’t in the way, the space is open for Bar Mitzvas, Wedding receptions, Charity events etc.

Portlandia parody show:Can a City This Self-Serious Take a Joke? (The New York Times)
The first episode of “Portlandia,” a new television show that pokes at the Northwest confection’s urban preciousness.

UNStudio Unveils Green-Roofed Library of the Future for Belgium (inhabitat)
UNStudio has unveiled designs for an Urban Library of the Future in Gent, Belgium that presents a refined sense of public space. The building’s light, transparent design creates a public gathering place that doubles as a learning environment.

The Good & Bad News Of World Energy Consumption to 2030 (Planetizen)
“From 2010 to 2030, the report says, renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels) will increase their contribution to energy growth from 5% to 18%.

UK’s Largest Solar Housing Project Also Tackles Fuel Poverty
Some folks may believe that solar feed-in tariffs are a subsidy for the wealthy, but it’s not just the rich that are getting in on the action. Just like some pioneering solar affordable housing projects in the States, one UK housing authority is pressing ahead with plans to install solar on over 650 houses by 2012. The initiative will, it claims, make it the largest solar housing project in the country, and other housing associations are looking to follow its lead.

Vancouver vs. suburbs: What homes you can get for around $750,000 (The Vancouver Sun)
What do buyers sacrifice by choosing to live within Vancouver city limits, versus a more suburban location? We compare the homes in the $700,000-$800,000 range in Vancouver to those found throughout the Metro area to find out.

Spaced Out in a Flat World (Observers Room)
Tom Friedman’s book The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2005) is filled with anecdotes about change in different parts of the world that threaten our fat-cat lifestyles in the North.

City of mass construction: Toronto’s unstoppable condos show no signs of slowing down (National Post)
“There’s no other place on the planet where all this [activity] is happening,” says the president of Brad J. Lamb Realty, who specializes in downtown condo sales. “We have a large immigration of people coming to Toronto every year. We have a diverse economy that can support a reasonably affluent lifestyle. And we have a very stable Canadian economy.

Fear of Ghosts: Vancouver’s Hospice Uproar (The Tyee)
Proposed St. John Hospice location makes some Chinese residents uneasy as ghosts have ominous cultural meaning.

City seeks federal stimulus grant extension (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver city council has asked the federal government for an extension on a stimulus-grant program so it can finish $150-million worth of civic infrastructure projects. Affected projects include the two most expensive the city is doing under the program — a new visitors’ centre for the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and a police property and forensic storage facility.

A Comprehensive Urban Agriculture Plan (Planetizen)
A new project is seeking to create the first citywide, comprehensive urban agriculture plan for New York City.