Thursday, 6 August, 2020

Sunday Video: How Glass Skyscrapers Conquered Our Cities

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Cheddar documents the rise of glass building and skyscrapers and how tides are beginning to turn against the overuse of glass in skyscrapers.

The Barista

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I forget her name, but I remember the enormous Barnes and Noble Booksellers that once stood here, inside the Starbucks of which she worked. Someday people won’t even remember there was a Barnes and Noble here. But today was before present became past, just another day in Westwood Village, as I dashed into the store while on break from the 5/21. I knew her through her boyfriend, a Jamar who’d taken my 49. Before that they both knew me from the 7. 

She saw me and glowed. She probably glows for anyone who walks in. My kind of people, I thought. I was glowing myself, having just heard the news, and had to tell her:

“Hey. Did you know, Seattle Magazine just named me one of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle!”
“Whoa!”
“Yeah! It’s ridiculous! I’m just the bus driver!”

She paused, thinking about it, unable to keep from grinning. “Um no. That’s not ridiculous. You totally… Nathan, that’s like the lowest honor they could give you.”
“No way.”
She shifted the stance of her hips, the better to emphasize her point: “Okay. Do you realize you make getting on the number 7 bus… Pleasant??”
“Ha!”
“That is not an easy thing to do! That’s hard! And you just… Whenever I would see the driver had curly hair, I knew, I was like okay, today’s gonna be a good day.”
“You, this makes my day! My week!”
“I’m so glad I could make the Maker of Days’ day!!”

She would shortly move to another state, off to a new start with her partner. I imagine I’m only a footnote in what seems, on the basis of her consistently ebullient attitude, like a rich and fulfilling life. Does she know I still remember this exchange? That it comforts and inspires me? 

You have to understand, when someone tells you you’re the most influential person in the city, you don’t believe it. Who would? But when someone tells you the specifics of how you elevate their day, their life for a brief moment, that reads differently. It carries further into you, freed as it is from agenda and committee, one person to another telling how they bring the light. 

Would m that I had the adroitness of mind to tell her how similarly she brought me up after my long trips on the 5. To walk in and see a smile like that; you like who you are all over again, in the presence of such people. I don’t remember your name, or where you were going, and if I saw you again I’d recognize you from your attitude, not your appearance. Thanks for giving that energy out to people.

It means more than you know.

Trump’s Desperate Suburban Appeal Underscores Need for Fair Housing and Zoning Reform

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Snohomish County suburban sprawl. A view of 192 Place SE located within the unincorporated Bothell urban growth area. This is one of many private streets in this development, a mechanism that allows for the construction and upkeep of the road to be placed on homeowners associations instead of a municipality. (Photo by Ray Dubicki)
Snohomish County suburban sprawl. (Photo by Ray Dubicki)

Donald Trump is losing the suburbs, but he has a plan and wants “Suburban Housewives” to know it. The plan will be familiar to urbanists: stoking fears of single-family zoning reform and low-income housing and brazenly claiming opponents want to “abolish the suburbs.” Eerie isn’t it–am I reading a Seattle Times column?

Packaging sexism, classism, and screaming racist dogwhistles together is hardly a new formula for the president, but squarely targeting suburban voters with all the subtlety of an atomic bomb is novel.

Urbanists have long argued that widespread single-family zoning is a racist artifact that drives up housing costs and furthers segregation. Reform that zoning and it allow more affordable housing, more seniors to age in place, higher transit frequencies, and lower climate emissions. Much to our chagrin, suburban cities and neighborhoods continue to be overwhelmingly dominated by single-family zoning in the Seattle region and across much of the county. Still, that message is slowly making inroads.

In a tele-town hall earlier this month, Trump said that Democrats want to “eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.” Even more melodramatically, he claimed former Vice President Joe Biden wants to “abolish the suburbs.”

Biden painted those accusations as smears. Biden’s housing plan does identify exclusionary zoning as a problem and sets aside $65 billion in low-income housing funding for jurisdictions “willing to implement zoning laws that encourage more affordable housing.” However, this incremental incentives-driven approach hardly qualifies as the wholesale top-down elimination Trump portrayed.

Trump must have been keeled over on a Victorian feinting couch when he painted his nightmarish vision of the consequences of loosening single-family zoning laws, which bear little resemblance to empirical housing research. Building low-income housing does not cause housing prices to collapse.

Rebecca Parson: Let’s Breach Lower Snake River Dams to Save Salmon Runs

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Sockeye salmon spawning in the Adams River. (Photo by Pixabay)
Sockeye salmon in the Adams River. (Photo by Pixabay)

The issue of salmon run restoration provides a sharp contrast between challenger Rebecca Parson and incumbent Congressman Derek Kilmer in District 6.

The birds are larger, their feathers fuller. The water has turned a luminous, healthy green-blue hue. Elk roam where they couldn’t before. Thousands of salmon swim upstream and—instead of dying as they once did—spawn. And indigenous people have discovered a legendary creation site that had been covered up for decades.

It almost sounds too good to be true. But this is the story of the successful dam removal and restoration of Washington’s Elwha river, both for wildlife and the Lower Elwha Klallam people.

It’s clear to me and a growing number of leaders across our region that we should be diligent students of what has been achieved in Elwha. It’s time we get moving to breach the dams of the Lower Snake River and ignite another environmental flourishing.

Along with the Nez Perce, Lummi, and Yakima tribes, recently the Port Angeles City Council joined a broad coalition pushing to breach the dams. While it’s noteworthy that the dams provide emissions-free hydropower, the council rightly recognized that it defeats the purpose of fighting climate change if we sacrifice vast ecosystems in the process. The council’s vote was 5 to 1.

How did my opponent, 6th District Congressman Derek Kilmer, respond to the council’s call to action—co-written by the Sierra Club and over 200 constituents? A mealy-mouthed “I am grateful for the continued engagement” statement that evinced no plan, no moral leadership, and certainly no agreement on the need to breach the dams.

Another Interbay Transportation Study Is a Lesson in Omission

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The Elliott Bay Trail squeezed between the expanding Terminal 91 and the Balmer Rail Yard. (Photo by Ray Dubicki)

Here’s the problem. Sitting through a presentation about the Ballard Interbay Regional Transportation (BIRT) Study, one finds themselves cheering for terrible options. 

The issues are implacably difficult and balancing interests is complex beyond imagining. Interbay has a dozen bridges that are not earthquake or climate change ready sitting at the intersection of rail and water. Three very powerful and wealthy communities overlook the neighborhood. Every level of government has a finger in the pie, often crossing political boundaries. Cutting-edge industries share space with the legacy companies that built this city. Everything must keep moving at the same time all of it needs replacement and upgrading.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and their consultants at Nelson Nygaard have culled a list of transportation improvements from two decades of Interbay planning studies. The projects range from painted pavement to half-billion dollar bridges. Together, these options are being wound into blueprints for the next two decades of development. 

And we are still left asking “is this it?” 

High-Speed Rail Benefits Small Towns and Large Cities

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An high-speed train pulls into a station and passengers approach. (Photo courtesy Midwest High Speed Rail Association)
An high-speed train pulls into a station. (Photo courtesy Midwest High Speed Rail Association)

There are many ways a high-speed rail system can benefit the urban hubs of a megaregion, but small towns along the alignment can also benefit and grow economically. According to Representative Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts), who authored a white paper on American High-Speed Rail, “Economic development is not limited to the major city pairs that will likely serve as terminals in initial high-speed passenger rail corridors across megaregions: intermediate communities with access to HSR service will also benefit, perhaps even more dramatically.” 

Major cities and small towns within in a clustered network are characterized as a megaregion; the Pacific Northwest megaregion stretches from Eugene, Oregon all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia, encompassing Portland and Seattle as well as smaller cities along the I-5 corridor such as Bellingham, Olympia, and Surrey. High-speed rail will provide a fast, affordable, and sustainable mode of transportation between larger cities and for commuters in smaller towns–optimizing travel times, boosting innovation opportunities, and providing economic growth to all cities in the region.

Live Where You Want

In his proposal for American High-Speed Rail, Rep. Seth Moulton explains that the mobility that comes with high-speed rail, “opens new housing markets to workers, reduces the cost of living, and shares economic growth with nonurban areas.” 

Building high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest will ease highway congestion, cutting travel times between city centers and suburbs. For example, a commute between Seattle and Everett could be reduced from 90 minutes at peak to 15 minutes with fast trains, which would save employees 650 hours of time spent in traffic each year–that’s an extra 27 days of free time that people can spend with their families. 

Cascadia Rail’s latest map. (Oran Viriyincy)

Residents of smaller cities like Bellingham would be able to commute to a job in Seattle in 45 minutes by high-speed rail, while living closer to nature and reducing the high cost of residing in the city. Workers from nearby metros can also benefit from fast train journeys. Families who are established in Portland may be willing to work in Seattle, but not be willing to move house. High-speed rail would transform a three hour drive to one hour train trip between the metropolitan areas, expanding collaboration and connecting innovation hubs such as universities, nonprofits, and corporations. 

Durkan Declares Seattle Fed-Free, but Her Own Violent ‘Troops’ Dig In

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Protestors gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31.
Protesters gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31. (Photo by Ethan Campbell)

Mayor Jenny Durkan did a victory lap on national media yesterday declaring Seattle free of federal agents, but local residents noted that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) continued to aggressively deploy the same weapons and tactics she decried from federal police. In fact, the City of Seattle is being sued for it.

Videos from protests this weekend showed SPD officers indiscriminately targeting crowds of protesters with blast balls, pepper spray canisters, and rubber bullets in violation of a restraining order from a federal judge that banned exactly this kind of indiscriminate use of chemical weapons and rubber bullets.

The Seattle City Council attempted to ban chemical weapons outright, but the Durkan administration went to court to temporarily block the ban. With a legal respite and implied permission from the Mayor, police seemed to use their weapons with vengeance and targeted people trying to render medical aid and those documenting the protests as journalists or legal observers. Mayor Durkan forgot to mention this on MSNBC and CNN.

Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made the Mayor promises before and broke them–triggering a strongly-worded letter–Durkan said she believed assurances were for real this time. In a press release, Mayor Durkan said she had “received confirmation that the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit has demobilized and left the Seattle area.”

The Mayor correctly identified that police using excessive force and strong-arm tactics escalates situations and increase violence. She just didn’t apply that analysis to her own police force. Troublingly, she sought to hang all accountability for policing decisions on Police Chief Carmen Best rather than herself.

“The president’s actions to target and ‘dominate’ Democratic cities through the use of federal forces is chilling. It has increased violence in Portland, Seattle and other cities across the country, which was what the president intended,” Mayor Durkan said in a statement. “Policing decisions in Seattle should be made by Chief Best–not Donald Trump, and we can rest assured that they will be. We will continue to heed this moment in history and to work with the community to make systemic and generational changes to make Seattle more just.”

The Mayor’s double standard

On CNN, Mayor Durkan argued federal police escalating violence in Portland and inciting larger protests proved that strategy didn’t work.

“We’ve seen that in Portland. It has proven the case the federal agents presence there has escalated things to the point where thousands of people turned out against that action,” Mayor Durkan said. “I think that tells all we need to know about whether they made it better or whether they made it worse.”

The Mayor didn’t apply that same standard to SPD, which had escalated violence and incited larger protests for two months running. Those protests peaked at 60,000 and are building strength again as SPD cracks down once more.

Midweek Video: How Humans Are Making Pandemics More Likely

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Vox explains how human expansion into natural habitats is directly linked to the spread of new and deadly diseases in human populations.