Subscriber Drive: Cary Moon Testimonial

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Cary Moon (Credit: Cary Moon for Mayor)

What is a city anyway? Try to answer that; it’s not as easy as you think.

We could say it’s a collection of people united by not just geography but an ever-changing culture, economy, and social practices. We could say it’s the political structures, community organizations and the power dynamics of who is at the table making decisions. We could say it is the on-going accumulation of experiences we all have as we drift within this place, living our lives. We could say it’s the people, some of who are new, some who have been here for ages, and some who are being cruelly pushed out. However you start answering that question, it becomes clear that the definition is complex, messy and hard to pin down.

Whatever a city is, it is always in the process of becoming. Shaping its future requires constant dialogue among us all. We need a place for that dialogue. And The Urbanist has become that place.

Can you imagine where we would be without them?

They are a team of great writers who inform, provoke, and inspire.

They are super nerds about policy and history, who happily go deep into the details and explain what others miss.

They are bricoleurs who find the cool stuff other cities are doing and examine how we might adapt and transplant good ideas here.

As needed, they poke at elected leaders or other power players when they fail to act for the well-being of people and planet.

They are hopeful activists who help organize us around solutions that will improve lives.

In some ways, it’s a miracle that The Urbanist exists at all. It’s hella hard work, powered by mostly volunteer energy. Their written pieces are consistently high quality and thought-provoking. How do they do that, day after day, when most of us are exhausted and worried and maybe feel like being snarky and cynical?

Seattle Should Lead on Mass Timber–and Solve Our Housing Crisis

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It is a little known fact that one of the biggest drivers of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is the construction of new buildings. Together, cement and steel production account for 14% of global emissions, and in 2016 buildings and construction accounted for 36% of global energy use and 39% of related CO2 emissions when upstream power generation was included. These numbers make it clear: construction, and buildings themselves, can be big drivers of global warming.  

Fortunately, a traditional material is here in an updated form to help save the day. New materials techniques have allowed for the large-scale prefabrication of solid wood panel, referred to as mass timber products. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels are the most prevalent and consist of multiple layers of kiln-dried lumber stacked in alternating directions and bonded with adhesives before being pressed. These panels are lightweight yet exceedingly strong with excellent fire safety, seismic, and thermal performance. While mass timber is a hot topic in urban development classes and construction industry circles, there is little widespread public knowledge of the substantial benefits of cross-laminated timber over concrete and steel. 

One benefit is in construction speed: CLT panels are cut to size at the mill and shipped to construction sites allowing for quick and easy assembly.  The production of one laminated wood beam compares favorably to that of a steel beam of comparable strength while using only one-sixth of the energy required for steel. Mass timber also offers significant environmental advantages due to the carbon that is captured by trees as they grow, mitigating the effects of climate change by capturing carbon in wooden buildings at a rate of one cubic meter of wood storing one ton of carbon dioxide

Midweek Video: MASS Talks Seattle Squeeze

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In this video, City Inside/Out interviews members of the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition about the Seattle Squeeze and what the city could do differently to manage transportation. Those MASS members include Claire Martini of Cascade Bicycle Club and Keith Kyle of Seattle Subway. Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Heather Marx from the Seattle Department of Transportation, Katie Wilson from the Transit Riders Union, and Gordon Padelford from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways also have an extended panel discussion on the Seattle Squeeze.

Community Transit Planning to Opt-Into ORCA LIFT in July

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A Swift coach passed a parked bus at the Everett Station. (SounderBruce)

On Thursday, Community Transit declared their intention to join several other local transit agencies in offering a reduced fare program for low-income individuals. The low-fare program would be unified under ORCA LIFT, which allows registered participants with ORCA cards to be charged the lower fare. The transit agency could implement the new low-fare program by July, if approved by the board of directors. Community Transit provides local transit service across much of Snohomish County and some commuter routes into King County.

“Access and affordability to transportation in Snohomish County are important to a good quality of life,” said Emmett Heath, Chief Executive Officer of Community Transit. “This low-income fare would allow all residents to participate in our growing community and the strong local economy.”

Under Community Transit’s low-fare program, fares on bus routes that operate within Snohomish County (including Swift lines) will be capped at $1.25, half the price of a normal adult fare. Fares on commuter routes traveling to and from King County will be capped at $2.00. The low-income fare program will apply to both adults and youth. Ultimately, the program matches the fares that people with disabilities and seniors pay.

Subscriber Drive: 2018 Urbanist Programming

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Monthly meetups used to be held at Elephant & Castle but we've moved to Panama Hotel. (Photo by author)

While The Urbanist is mostly known for its high quality journalism and hot takes on local issues, the organization also has been striving to expand our event programming. The goal of our programming is to provide educational opportunities for people in our region about its history and the policy decisions that are shaping its future.

We hope to provide a forum for people to hear from and ask questions of the elected officials, policymakers, and thought leaders who are shaping the conversation. We also want to build community amongst people who care about the future of our region. One of the satisfying things about urbanism in Seattle and events like what we do is seeing people connecting issues of housing affordability, transportation options, racial equity, climate justice, and others and see them as all part of one big picture. We hope that our events can be places where people who may focus on different issues can come together and find help forge a vision of what we want our community to look like.

One of the main ways we have done this is through monthly meetups – we had a meetup every month in 2018 with attendance ranging from 25 to 60. At every meetup was a guest speaker who shared what they are working on and thinking about and took questions from the audience. Our speakers this years were:

January: Kelsey Mesher – Cascade Bicycle Club (Now with Transportation Choices Coalition)
February: Kathy Nyland – Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
March: Katie Wilson – Transit Riders Union
April: State Rep. Noel Frame, 36th Legislative District
May: Shaun Scott – Filmmaker, Writer, Activist (and now Position 4 City Council Candidate)
June: Matt Hutchins – MOAR (More Options for Accessory Residences)
July: Lorena González – Current Seattle City Council member, Position 9
August: Tim Harris – Real Change newspaper
September: Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Activist Panel
October: Don Blakeney, Downtown Seattle Association
November: 350 Seattle Activist Panel
December: Bryce Yadon, Futurewise Policy Director

Money for West Seattle Tunnel Would Be Better Spent Extending ST3 Lines

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West Seattle Link under a tunnel alignment. (Sound Transit)

Some political leaders are in full court press to add a West Seattle tunnel to the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package. Apart from adding at least $700 million in costs, Sound Transit can discern minimal operational benefits to such a decision. Projected ridership would only increase by 1,000 to 2,000 daily boardings. Transit times would be the same. It’s time to put the idea to bed.

But we should not walk away from the idea of investing more in transit using third party funding. Instead of simply burying the light rail line we are already building, there are a whole range of options to provide access across the city. Primarily, more neighborhoods could be served with the ST3 facilities. Think of how many better ways we have to spend $700 million!

  • Light rail extensions. Extend Ballard Link northward and West Seattle Link southward.
  • Speed up bus, bike, and pedestrian upgrades Move Seattle promised. Deliver RapidRide upgrades, sidewalks additions, and new protected bike lanes on a faster timeline and avert cuts that are being planned in the face of a $96 million shortfall.
  • Rapid rollout of bus-only lanes. The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition is pushing dedicated bus lanes as a way to deal with the gridlocked transportation system we are experiencing with the Seattle Squeeze.
  • Pedestrianize streets. Streets like Pike Place, Pine Street, Bell Street, Ballard Avenue, and University Way (“The Ave”) should be pedestrianized.

Onward to White Center: Extending West Seattle Link

Sound Transit estimated extending West Seattle Link south to Burien would cost $2.8 billion (in 2014 dollars). The catch is that the estimate is predicated on elevated rail. A subway option wouldn’t just be way more expensive to build to Alaska Junction, it would also be more costly to extend further south. Easier expandability is a key argument for choosing the elevated option to Alaska Junction. And while $700 million wouldn’t get us all the way to Burien, it might get us to High Point. Do we want to serve the racially diverse High Point neighborhood as soon as possible or just provide a tunnel for the purposes of optics at Alaska Junction?

American Cities Deserve Better than Disposable Urbanism

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It is hard to want something you’ve never had. It’s hard to describe a need you’ve never seen. Numerous cities in the US are not true urban cities by most international standards, but highrise office cores surrounded by sprawling suburbs and exurbs. Urban designers and architects are now trying in 2019 to remake American cities, yet find themselves building artificial urban environments composed of faux neotraditional main streets adorned with crackerjack-box quality facades and buildings.

American designers do this because we don’t know any better. The American urbanism that once thrived has been terminally ill for the better part of seventy years. We have forgotten that we were once a nation with dense and vibrant cities. As an urban designer who was born in the Midwest, raised in South Africa, and having worked in several nations, I cannot reconcile with the low quality, disposable urbanism that has become synonymous with the American built environment. 

The Original Urban Sin

Redlining practices, the post-World War II G.I. Bill, the automobile lobby, and the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, effectively gutted our cities and refashioned them into autotopias. Every incentive has been in place from a federal level, for the last seventy years, to leave urban centers behind. Cities have slowly decayed and concentrated minority poverty inwards, pushing wealth outwards to the exurban fringes in ever-widening concentric rings of White ethnic monoculture. 

City jurisdictions used Euclidean zoning regulations to divide function and keep density, and sometimes people, at bay. Financial institutions became averse to any development that is not of single use, surrounded by similar, horizontally zoned parcels of sameness. The result was tracts of strip mall-style development that continued to proliferate as the American city slowly lost its soul. If it were not for iconic downtown skylines, every newer US city would be utterly indistinguishable from another. 

Subscriber Drive: Alex Hudson Testimonial

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Alex Hudson speaks on behalf of the Community Package Coalition. (Courtesy of Community Pckage Coalition)

The Urbanist is a community-driven resource, reporting on a range of urban issues in our region. In addition to its online reporting, The Urbanist’s events and community building opportunities provide valuable spaces for community-building and education offline.

The Urbanist’s events such as monthly meetups and walking tours are opportunities for the community to connect and engage together on urban issues, creating space that facilitates learning and idea sharing. I value their walking tours that give community-members a first hand look at our growing and changing landscape. Walking tours provide the community an opportunity to learn about the policies and design that shape our city — our present and historical racial and social inequities, and current land use and transportation investments — and collaborate on solutions that will create a healthy and thriving city for all.

The Urbanist occupies a unique and valuable space to convene community members around our region’s history, present-day challenges and opportunities, and to inspire policies and actions that result in a better future. And their work is all volunteer based. Each member brings a true commitment to making our region people centered as we continue to grow. I hope you’ll consider supporting the Urbanist.

2019 Subscriber Drive

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