Recent Posts


by Naomi Buell, VIA Architecture Vancouver

The running of the flame has a bit of a controversial past, having been introduced at the Berlin Olympics during the Nazi regime. Today, it represents hope, sportsmanship, and the interconnectedness of nations. The flame is ignited in Olympia and crosses through many continents to arrive at the central stadium of the Olympic host nation. The flame has had an adventurous and interesting history and has traveled through many mediums including boats, canoes, deep sea divers, camels and was even transformed into a radio signal in 1976.

Last Friday, our Vancouver office was fortunate to see this wonder as it made its way to GM place in time for the opening ceremonies.  It would seem that every office had the same idea as the excited crowd covered the streets. Some people even stood on dumpsters, hung out of windows and off balconies and watched from their roofs. Some VIA-ites were lucky enough to see it at multiple locations as it made its way all over Vancouver.

As the flame approached, the crowd narrowed, causing the running of the flame to become more of a walking of the flame in order to make it through the many obstructions (mainly people) in the way. Once the torch bearer had passed in front, all that could be seen was a small flame above the heads of the proud people following behind.

 This is it Vancouver, the Olympics are finally here and as incoming COC president Marcel Aubut said, “We will be the best hosts on the planet, because we are hosting the planet — but on one thing there will be no compromise. These Games are ours.”

Nothing like a little friendly competition to kick off the games.

Unlike Pioneer Square, who resists height increases due to the historic nature of the neighborhood, a recent Seattle Times article looks at South Lake Union and its potential for taller buildings with certain bulk controls and tower spacing. Current residents are concerned, however, that they’ll be “walled in” and others worry that they’ll lose views of the Space Needle, the lake, and even the sun.

As South Lake Union’s biggest landowner, Vulcan is entrenched the process and has been working with residents and neighborhood activists to hear their concerns. Matt Roewe is VIA’s Director of Mixed Use and Major Projects, and is also a member of the Planning Commission. As a resident of Queen Anne, he has been on many committees about South Lake Union’s future, and even sits on the neighborhood’s design-review board.

“Roewe agrees with Vulcan and the city that the current zoning in South Lake Union has led to ‘breadboxes’ — low-level buildings that fill entire blocks. Instead, they propose ‘pencils’ — tall skinny towers that leave room around the bottom for views and public spaces.

Part of the discussion, no doubt, will include exchanging the right to build taller for an agreement to add green space or other community amenities.”

Among the committees that have been working on South Lake Union, Matt participates in the following: Two Way Mercer Stakeholder group, South Lake Union framework charette, South Lake Union height & density study committee, and the Uptown South Lake Union visioning charette stakeholder group.

Back in 2008/2009, Matt partnered with the Great City Initiative in their “Leadership for Great Neighborhoods” campaign that aims to guide growth in Seattle’s emerging urban centers.

To see the combined Leadership for Great Neighborhoods presentation, which includes Matt’s “pencil and breadloaves” presentation, click here.

Join us for our first Seattle Meet-up!

Stop by for some free food and network with others interested in architecture, urban planning, and transportation. Come meet local neighborhood bloggers (like the New Pioneer Square and Citywalker) and other great Seattle tweeps (like @hotel_max, @alexgarcia and @jessestrada).

Wednesday, Feb 17
5:30pm – 7:30pm

Pike Brewing Co.
1415 1st Ave.
Seattle, WA

Anyone and Everyone!
Meet up hosted by the VIA and Banyan Branch

Are you on Twitter? RSVP here:

Monday News Roundup

Feb 08, 2010

Who takes public transit? (Granville Magazine)
Did you know that 61% of Vancouver transit riders do so by choice, not necessity? Check out this and other statistics, including age, gender, employment and household income.

And while you’re checking that out, check out this study by the Mineta Transportation Institute: How to Ease Women’s Fear of Transportation Environments

Portland to get 250ft Vertical Garden (Inhabitat)
Our neighbors to the south always seem to be one or two steps ahead of us.

The rise of vertical farms (Scientific American)
A nice post about vertical farming

Some lettuce grows in Manhattan (Archidose)
A look at the forms that several hypothetical vertical farm proposals are taking

Vectorial Elevation

Be an artist – light up Vancouver’s skies YOUR way! Vectorial Elevation is an interactive artwork that allows participants to transform the sky over Vancouver, Canada. 
As suburbs reach limit, people are moving back to the cities (Seattle PI)
Desolate inner cities, surrounded by burgeoning suburban growth, were a feature of late 20th Century America. Donovan sees a reversal in the trend. “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities,” he said.

This post from GOOD looks at how a street can become a bicycle corridor.


If you’re on twitter, follow us at @viaarchitecture

We’re having our first Seattle tweetup! Join us and @BanyanBranch @pikebrewing next Wednesday, 2/17 at 5:30pm – RSVP here:

by Matt Roewe, AIA, LEED AP
VIA’s Director of Mixed use and Major Projects

There has been a lot of discussion and debate lately regarding Mayor McGinn’s proposal to suspend the enforcement of a Seattle ordinance that prevents all-day paid parking near light-rail stations. Citizens are looking at the underutilized areas at these stations and now pressuring the mayor to change this policy. I have been discussing this in house at VIA with our planning and urban design team, as well as with my fellow planning commissioners. The Seattle Planning Commission is writing a letter to City Council and the Mayor with our thoughts on this. Look for that in the next week. Meanwhile, my personal thoughts are summarized here.

Not allowing park and rides in urban station areas is a generally a good policy 
Parking, especially when it is free and used all day by commuters, tends to become an issue that encourages driving as a habit, and works against good place-making and sustainable living strategies. However, some short term flexibility is worth considering while we dig our way out of this down economy.

The new light rail system needs more ridership support
I have heard that dally train boardings are underperforming expectations. So, until more capacity/density can be established within walking distance (rezoned and built), interim strategies should be explored. Significant responsive development may take 10 to 25 years to come to fruition in some station area locations. Even some station areas with unrealized commercial development on Vancouver’s high capacity transit system (Skytrain) are still well behind the ridership targets after 25 years. Meanwhile, existing lots here in Seattle sit underutilized during the work day.

The mayor’s proposal targets only existing parking lots, so the notion of establishing parking as a new single use is off the table
The benefit is that nobody will be tearing down a building to make a parking lot or stand-alone parking structure. The key is to incrementally take away the parking lots that exist now by establishing a penalty or tax for using them for all day commuter parking. Initially, there would be a small tax per stall within the station area, but it could be ratcheted up every year to make that use less viable. I equate this to the Darwin-like evolutionary process of getting people out of their cars and into a more urbanized, walkable lifestyle. It won’t happen overnight. Some areas will happen sooner than others, so a one size policy should not be applied at every station area.

I’ll also point out that the City and Sound Transit need to continue to work closely with Metro to improve bus integration service and frequency east/west to the alignment and in loops around the greater station area neighborhoods. Many high capacity transit station areas in other cities have 40 to 50% or more of the LRT ridership start or end with a connecting bus. This effectively will reduce the need for parking in the station area and give the whole neighborhood more reasons to evolve into a vibrant, walkable, better connected and less car dependent place.

Another critical issue is significant transit supportive rezoning has not yet taken place
Up-zones bring value to properties and bring more reason to owners to sell or consolidate smaller properties for higher and better uses than one story strip malls or surface parking. Of course this needs to be done sensitively to preserve historic structures and neighborhood character and keep local businesses and affordable housing in the equation (amenity based incentive zoning, which is a huge topic we won’t address here). Up-zones would do more to eventually make surface parking economically undesirable. New development should also be encouraged to consider shared parking strategies with transit commuters for approximately 25 to 30% of their structured parking that may otherwise sit empty during the work day.

Parking is a resource and an asset that can be utilized and manipulated under the right circumstance to get the results desired. Every neighborhood/station area plan needs a well conceived parking strategy that is incremental and flexible. As Graham McGarva (Principal at VIA) often says: “…inside every car is at least one pedestrian that shops and supports the station area and the transit system.” Station area retailers (in this context) need the short term street parking to support their businesses, but all day commuter parking may not be all that helpful for them. Incrementally, a neighborhood can eventually wean itself from their dependency on cars. Until a critical mass of residents and workers exists and better bus/bike cross integration is established, a car dependant area will need to transition slowly to reduce the parking ratios and take away stalls. It took 20 years to remove parking lots in downtown Copenhagen. It never would have been accomplished if they tried to do it all at once.

I suggest that current parking uses be allowed to provide all day commuter parking for one year as an accessory use with a modest tax. After that, start imposing a greater tax that gets more aggressive every year. Also allow the possibility to re-visit the tax increase each year at each station area in response to economic and development realities. Meanwhile, we need to work on the up-zones, do more planning and bus integration.

I hope the banking system frees up capital and loosens lending restrictions soon so that this parking use discussion will be a brief footnote in the transformation of Seattle’s new station areas. Then we can all get back to sensitively infilling and appropriately redeveloping these fine grain communities into livable, walkable places. Meanwhile, let’s support the systems ridership and not underutilize an existing parking resource.

Image Credit: Rainier Valley Post

Monday News Roundup

Feb 01, 2010

Techno Jeep (YouTube)
So once we get everyone out of their cars and on to a bus/train/their feet, what do we do with all those cars? We make music!

David Miller’s Legacy (CBC)
Here’s an interesting interview with outgoing Toronto Mayor David Miller about his legacy with respect to his transportation initiatives.

Trainspotter’s guide to the future of the world (NY Times)
A comparison of the new ultra-high-speed-train service in China, transportation in Europe and Japan, and why America is so far behind.

SF plans ambitious transit center (NY Times)
San Francisco has an ambitious plan for a new urban neighborhood with a $4.2 billion public transit hub as the centerpiece of the project.

Three Cool Concepts for Urban Biking: (EcoGeek)
The Copenhagen Wheel, YikeBike Mini-farthing, and underground bike storage.

New Commuter Shopping Centre (Global TC)
Plans for Canada’s new commuter shopping centre unveiled in New Westminster.

About Active Living Research  (Active Living Research)
The latest in best practice and research where public health meets urban design.

Obama to Give High Speed Rail the Go-Ahead (Daily Kos)
Advocates are expecting a $2.5-$2.6 billion grant for the country’s first 150+ mph passenger train in Florida. “Not only are these the kind of projects that are long overdue in America, they also offer an opportunity for exactly the kind of messaging on government stimulus projects that the White House should be engaging in every week.”

A Bike-Ped State of the Union: 9.6% of Trips, 1.2% of Federal Funding (Streesblog Capitol Hill)
“Overall, the report found that biking and walking account for 9.6 percent of all U.S. trips (0.9 percent of that share from biking, 8.7 percent from walking) but just 1.2 percent of federal transport spending.”

by Patricia Schultz, VIA Architecture

The first thing you see when you go to the 10×10 challenge site is that “you are joining a community of we thinkers around the world who are working to create a better global future.”

The idea of the “10 x10 challenge” is to list 10 commitments publicly on their site that you plan to follow that will make the world a better place. In return, $10 will be donated to Free the Children, an organization that helps create schools and offers clean water to children in under-developed countries.

Here is a list of the most popular commitments for the challenge:

  1. Turn off the lights (22,712)
  2. Drink water from a re-useable water bottle (20,025)
  3. Clean out my closet (16,869)
  4. Hug, hug, hug (16,589)
  5. Re-connect with an old friend (13,655)
  6. Read about a new social issue (11,586)
  7. Give a donation on someone’s behalf (8,864)
  8. Volunteer somewhere new (8,806)
  9. Say thank you — in writing (8,495)
  10. Buy organic products (8,437)

I urge you to take a few minutes to go to their site, take a look at what it’s all about, and list your own 10 commitments that you plan to do.

I’ve already gotten a head start on my #7 commitment: Tell more people about 10×10.

Just Trans It!

Jan 27, 2010

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

It is shocking to think that the average person is exposed to between 600 to 3,000 advertising messages a day. Whether it be a banner ad on a website, a giant product ad on the side of a bus, or that catchy jingle you can’t get out of your head about Sprott- Shaw Community College…since 1903, we are exposed to advertisements everywhere we go. Some companies are even branding golf holes so that when you take out the flag it reveals a hidden logo in the hole.

So why is it that some of the most important services don’t market themselves?

In an interesting article about LA’s push to market its transit services, the author dispels the notion that money spent on marketing means less money for improvements to the service. Rather, he argues that marketing the service leads to more usage and therefore more efficiency. This is what Clayton Lane, a transport expert for EMBARQ, calls “the virtuous cycle.”


The “virtuous cycle” begins with a marketing campaign that increases awareness of the benefits of transit, or a campaign that aims to dispel the negative images of transit. This usually leads non users to try the service. The increase in demand is met by an increase in supply, which means new routes and more frequent bus or rail services. An increase in the number of routes and frequency of service leads to more efficiency, which encourages use by another wave of patrons, which starts the cycle all over again.

Environmental agencies that spend a substantial amount on marketing could donate some of their resources to help with a transit marketing initiative. The benefit to them is that increasing transit use not only creates a more efficient system, it creates less dependency on cars and thus less traffic, which also means less idling in stop and go traffic (which we all know would be a good thing for the environment).

After reading the article, I tried to reflect on whether or not I had ever seen a transit advertisement in Vancouver and I came to realize that I had seen a few, but that they had all been on the bus and were often for the U-pass, a bus pass available to university students attending certain institutions.

Although it is nice to know that there is some marketing effort being put forth, these ads are not especially effective when it comes to the larger goal of increasing transit use and targeting non-transit users. Advertising a service to the existing patrons does very little to increase the user base for the obvious reason that it’s not targeting people who don’t use the service already.

The Metro, on the other hand, (LA’s transit service) is focusing their efforts on increasing their user base and improving their image by having an in house marketing department that re-brands and cleverly markets their services. It is perhaps one of the most effective transit marketing campaigns, albeit perhaps one of the only transit marketing campaigns out there. Their website could use some better navigation and graphics, especially in comparison to ours but their ads, logo and slogans seem to be getting people’s attention.

By re-branding and marketing their transit service, “discretionary riders, (those people who have the choice to commute by car or transit) have jumped from 24 to 36 percent.”[2] With a recognizable M inside a circle as their logo, they have created a number of effective campaigns as shown below. In addition to these ads, they have used vibrantly coloured buses to heighten the image of their fleet, something which is extremely important in an image conscious society, such as LA. They have also incorporated the local culture by using California poppy red as one of the colours of their fleet.

Of particular importance is their “Go Metro” campaign which is a great way to emphasize fitness, and with the arrival of the new year, I imagine the timing is not a coincidence as people try to implement their resolutions. Slogans such as “bike the cycle: go metro” or “take the first steps: go metro” focus on increasing activity by using transit in combination with walking and biking. This in ingenious as it takes a potentially negative view of walking all the stairs or the long distance between stops and turns it into a great, affordable alternative to a gym membership.

Their website is full of helpful hints and suggestions. This would be another great campaign for Vancouver as we Vancouverites have such an interest on health and fitness. I can see it now…TransLink branded pedometers being given out and perhaps even fitness groups getting together to walk the stairs or go for a run and then catch the bus home.

The current users of Vancouver transit appear to take it because they have to, either because they cannot afford to drive or the commute is too strenuous. My experience has been that once people have taken transit, however, they realize how effective it is. Of course there are still a few inefficiencies, which according to the virtuous cycle, would diminish with an increased ridership. The challenge is to change the perception of those that don’t already use transit, which is where a marketing strategy becomes integral.

As “just do it” is to Nike, we need to find a memorable message to encourage new transit users….Just Trans It?

There’s an “us” in every b“us”?

Transit: because finding parking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Or perhaps a pedometer that says “you are less then 1000 steps from a bus stop: help yourself and help your environment.” Whatever the tag line, a more efficient transit system awaits, which will certainly help with Gregor Robertson’s goal of becoming the Greenest city by 2020.

Image Credits: RLR Bus, BC Billboard, Cruel/Kind, Superhero, Green City

Monday News Roundup

Jan 25, 2010

High-Speed Trains Return to U.S. Fast Track (Wired)
Passenger Rail is becoming a viable option as President Obama calls for heavy investment America’s rail infrastructure. Michael Dukakis has been a long time advocate for mass transit + high speed rail; the post includes an interview on Dukakis’ thoughts on the future of rail in the US.

Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke (Wired)
A discussion of the concept of nuclear power without waste or proliferation and the political appeal in the US.

Big City, Small Condos: ‘Micro-lofts’ to come to Vancouver (The Vancouver Sun)
Reliance Properties Ltd and ITC Construction are behind new mini market rental suites in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Thirty 270 square foot units will be constructed in a 6-storey heritage building on West Hastings Street.

Axial Mapping (Digital Tectonics)
A short post by a Welsh School of Architecture student who is doing Transport Interchange Modeling. The axial model and isovists grids that he mentions were recently outlined by VIA’s Lydia Heard on her city walker blog.

Taking transit saves you LOTS of money! (APTA)
APTA study shows how much.

Architect Barbie in 2010? (Daily Dose of Architecture)
Go vote! (+ empower young women)

New Energy Hubs: Transit-Oriented Development Meets District Energy
TOD meets District Energy: “This is a vision for a New Energy Hubs, a comprehensive community development model that meshes transit-oriented developments (TODs) with emerging energy technologies. Deploying advanced transportation and energy concepts in one geographically defined location provides synergistic benefits, making for the most effective use of energy and resources.”

Shape Vancouver 2050
An online survey for shaping the skyline of Vancouver that is fun to complete and shows the connection between density + carbon footprint reduction.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics Free Events Guide (City Caucus)
A site that lists all of the free events during the Olympics. Check out the daily laser show over English Bay that you can contribute to designing.

We had our first blogger meet up on Wednesday at the Roundhouse Community Centre. This project, which won a Gold Nugget Grand Award and the Lieutenant Governor’s award, was the perfect place to host our Vancouver meet up as we did the architectural design and heritage redevelopment. We had a great time meeting a great group of diverse bloggers — conversations around the room included local transit + planning ideas, the Southeast False Creek neighborhood, US politics, energy districts, the olympics, and even fashion.

The goal of the meetup was not only to learn more about some of our local bloggers, but also to continue the dialogue we started back in June when we produced the Great Urban Debate (Seattle vs. Vancouver). Instead of comparing Seattle vs Vancouver, however, we hope to facilitate conversation between cities in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland. We believe this will enable us to discuss important issues while getting feedback from those that are local, as well as our urban city counterparts.

As we continue our blogger meet ups, we invite any bloggers who attended or who write about Vancouver to join us for the Seattle meet up, scheduled for Wednesday, February 17th (more details coming soon). A big thanks also goes out our social media consultants at Banyan Branch for helping organize and run the event.

 Thanks to all those who attended, including Capsule Designs, Planning Pool,, Pricetags, Thirteen Cent Pinball, Stephen Rees, City Caucus, Just a Gwai Lo,, Re:placeFashion Forward 40, and others. 

We look forward to continuing the conversation.