Thursday, August 16, 2018

Urban Village Boundary Contractions? No Thanks.

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Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)
Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)

In my Sightline piece from May, I described how homeowners in Wallingford have worked for decades to block housing via downzones, increasing development burdens, and dominating the inequitable and anti-tenant neighborhood planning process. Just last year, the Wallingford Community Council (WCC) proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that would have removed over 50 blocks and the only park out of the already gerrymandered Wallingford Urban Village.

Of course, nearly all areas eliminated were zoned single-family, which will see a nominal uptick with Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Program rezones. The inequitable aspect here is that Wallingford is majority renter with a median age of 33. Per a colleague, the proposed gerrymander wasn’t even put to a vote (oops), unsurprisingly the WCC board’s demographics are the complete inverse of the neighborhood. This gerrymander would have increased development pressure on existing buildings in the urban village, placing existing businesses and multifamily housing at greater risk for redevelopment — all the while removing a sizeable chunk in future MHA units or in lieu fees.

The city council summarily rejected the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, and I kind of assumed classist tactics like that wouldn’t be tried again. So I was a little surprised to see that the Phinney Ridge Community Council put out a survey to test the waters about removing a significant portion of the (already inequitably gerrymandered) Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. The survey is titled, ‘Should we change the boundaries of the Greenwood-Phinney Urban Village If doing so means developers would provide more on-site parking in the future?’

Ah yes. Parking. I should have guessed it.

City Council Saves The Showbox, Vacates ROW, and Sets Move Seattle Levy Process

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council temporarily expanded the Pike Place Market Historic District, effectively saving the Showbox for now. The reprieve doesn’t guarantee perpetual protection of the famed music venue, but it does set in motion a process to study a permanent expansion of the historic district to the property in order to keep the space open for concertgoers and bands alike.

The effort to save the Showbox came in response to a pre-application submitted by a prospective developer last month that is considering a 44-story, 442-unit highrise tower. Canadian firm Onni Group has built other large-scale highrise projects in Seattle and hopes to do the same on the Showbox site. However, the historic district expansion will apply for 10 months allowing for a full review and landmarking process to proceed.

The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)
The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)

The Unfinished Promise of the Center City Connector

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Pioneer Square has the most to potentially lose–but also gain–from the connection of Seattle’s downtown streetcar lines.

During her daily commute into Pioneer Square on Link light rail, Lauren Davis, who is assistant director of ArtXchange Gallery, noticed a change in ridership after the completion of the Capitol Hill and University of Washington stations in 2016.

“The cars are packed,” said Davis. “It’s clear that people in Seattle are hungry for connected transit systems.”

Davis is hopeful that Center City Connector (CCC) will offer Pioneer Square access into another connected system. As the director of a well-established gallery on 1st Avenue just south of S. Jackson Street, Davis knows that customer access is essential to her gallery’s success, and she is tired of listening to customer’s frustrations about “circling for an hour for a park spot.”

“I would personally like to have the CCC in the long run,” said Davis. “If the [streetcar] connector were finished and there were new resources for parking, I think that would be ideal.”

On July 24th Mayor Durkan released a letter explaining her decision to halt construction of the CCC, pending completion of a technical review by the firm KPMG. While the fate of the CCC hangs in the balance, no other neighborhood is waiting for what comes next with as much anticipation as Pioneer Square. Because of the utility work being completed on 1st avenue, the neighborhood has already been living with the painful reality of being stuck in the middle of a major road construction project for several months.

What We’re Reading: CSO Failures, Superblocks, and Historic Lows

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Low-cost activation: Why are cities bringing giant games to parks and plazas?

Walkability: What makes a place walkable?

CSO failures: King County has been fined $118,500 since 2013 ($) for multiple combined sewer overflows.

Safer streets in Canada: Why Canada has a better road safety record than America.

Not much progress: Is a regional coalition making any headway on addressing homelessness?

Olmsted treasure trove: The Library Congress now has a massive digital database of Frederick Law Olmsted’s works.

23rd Ave E: Rechannelization work on 23rd Ave E near Montlake is about to begin.

Sugar high: Seattle’s soda tax has brought in $10 million in its first six months ($).

Superblocks: What is it like in a pedestrian-first superblock?

Covering preventable tragedies: Lazy coverage of pedestrian deaths often hides why streets are so dangerous in the first place.

This is different: Is the skyrocketing housing prices in America just another housing bubble?

Tech issues: Seattle’s new online permit system appears to have had some major glitches following its launch ($).

CRC redux: Vancouver, Washington wants the Columbia River Crossing resurrected with transit priority.

New chief: Carmen Best will be appointed as Seattle’s newest police chief on Monday.

Historic lows: In Seattle’s suburbs, housing construction is at historic lows ($).

Green streets: Sightline talks about Vancouver, British Columbia’s very healthy and livable street designs.

Nominated: Historic Seattle has submitted a landmark nomination for the Showbox.

Tacoma: Getting To Know My New City Through Walking

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I moved to Tacoma the last weekend of July. Even as I got keys to my apartment the day after I arrived, my stuff wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later in the week. I spent my first weekend in the city in a hotel. These in-between-places days forced me into a sort of nomadic existence that wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

I’m not the first to recognize that walking in a city is the best way to really get to know it. My involuntary nomadism forced a meeting that, given how things go when you first move to a new place, you don’t always get.

It’s also true that not all cities are set up for walking. Some cities–it’s as if they don’t want you to get to know them: not really, not intimately. Sidewalks end, or weren’t there to begin with. Multi-lane roads and high speed limits clearly tell you that you proceed at your own risk. Crosswalks are non-existent or few and far between. I come to Tacoma from a city that works against getting to know it.

Sunday Video: Barcelona’s Superblocks – Change The Grid, Change Your Neighborhood

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Streetfilms takes a look at what it’s like to live in Barcelona’s vibrant pedestrian-oriented superblocks (superilles).

Nathanbabble, III of III

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You may remember Sho Luv, from the 358. He looks like a friendlier version of Ice Cube, with more gold in his teeth. Always in bright spirits, at least when I’m around. We’re both from South Gate. He’s explaining how he was just down in Los Angeles. A flood in a living space he was visiting there had resulted in problems.

“I was down on Skid Row for five days and five nights.”
“Skid Row, uh oh!” Like our Jungle, Skid Row has housed a large homeless population since before the 1930s.
“Went down there for a high school reunion.”
“In Skid Row??”
He bellowed with laughter. “Naw, silly! In LA! Ah found a hotel, finally. The sign said sixty dollars, I said okay.”

Bring on the Clusterwohnungen

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A few years ago, Seattle ran an interesting experiment on radically densifying low rise neighborhoods with microhousing–a typology of small, minimal units that provide somewhat affordable rents as an alternative to expensive apartments or shared housing. They came in two varieties – Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDUs), micro-sized studios; and Congregate Housing, housing with smaller areas for bathing and sleeping with shared kitchens and amenity spaces. They were sort of a market-rate play on the existenzminimum –and they induced a lot of consternation– from homeowners who resented an influx of people who couldn’t afford million dollar homes, to those who believe small apartments are inhumane. In response, the city passed legislation that severely curtailed the production of congregate housing. This was intriguing to me, because Congregate Housing was a bit of a cousin to the Clusterwohnung.

The Clusterwohnung, German for cluster apartment, is a hybrid between a small apartment and a shared residence. It’s a housing typology that isn’t common, but has seen a bit of an uptick in recent years on some high quality affordable housing projects in Germany and Switzerland. They’re supersized dwelling units with communal kitchen, living room, dining spaces – that are paired with smaller private units or rooms with their own bathrooms, and in some instances kitchenettes. The idea is that the common spaces of the house, which are generally some of the least utilized, are shared between more people. In addition, the cost of food, utilities, and household chores can be divvied up to reduce the financial burdens and time.