Sound Transit shows off the construction progress of the S 200th St Link extension to some solid tunes. Watch the guideway grow in this short video.
Sound Transit shows off the construction progress of the S 200th St Link extension to some solid tunes. Watch the guideway grow in this short video.
Stop the violence: Mayor Murray released a detailed plan for how to reduce Seattle gun violence this week in the wake of a serious rash of citywide shootings.
Innovative and dramatic transit: Wanna know if there’s a seat available upstairs on your double-decker bus? In London, you soon can. This week, the Seattle City Council outlined options to save Metro service in the city, but not all options are fair and equal. Pierce Transit is planning to create day passes for their system exclusively. We’ve fawned over Denver plenty in the past, but City Lab talks about just how awesome their public transportation expansion is.
Tear down this highway: Seoul rips out its viaduct and opens up a new public-oriented waterway. Sounds familiar…Of course, Mayor Murray apparently thinks that if finishing the SR 99 tunnel isn’t possible, just do cut and cover…
Rezoning and an appeal: The Seattle City Council voted to approve the rezone for the Mount Baker area on Monday. A Central District group wants to have a say in the future rezone process of the large southeast corner of 23rd Ave and Union St. Smart Growth Seattle lodges an appeal against text amendments to the Seattle land use code that would lower height limits in Lowrise zones.
This week in bikes: Northgate kids shame speeding drivers, the Federal Highway Administration reports that bike and pedestrian improvements pay dividends in traffic relief and health benefits, a study suggests that bike lanes result in motorist giving cyclists more room when passing, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey wants to kill federal funding for bikes and pedestrians, and Amtrak will soon welcome your bike onboard long-distance train service.
Open up a map (in a new tab): See how 12 American cities sprawl while Greater Greater Washington shares a handy new map that tells you if it’s faster to walk, bike, ride, or drive.
Alley activation: Alleys can create community and the central rallying point for Seattle-based World Cup fans has been Nord Alley. SDOT also talks about the success of another alley in Chinatown. Speaking of the World Cup, see the “ghost town effect” that it is having in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Development and design: Tacoma is looking for its first transit-oriented development next to Tacoma Dome Station. A profile on the unique New York City market of building supertall, superskinny buildings explains the challenges and potential of building these cool structures. Chuck’s parklet gets eighty-sixed after landlord opposition.
Future cities: Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer argues that the plutocrats would do well to raise wages to maintain our democracy and they’re very own success. Hayward, California has planned the first community health clinic integrated into a fire station; it poses a new model for primary care for walk-in, lower-income patients over visits to the expensive and overburdened emergency room. San Francisco’s pilot program for real-time on-street parking pricing is reducing circling, traffic, and emissions while opening up more available spaces. And Sightline outlines the ingredients for how cities can be pro-kid.
Update: All images are taken from the execellent center city connector presentation put together by SDOT. We encourage you to read through the full presentation to best understand the project.
On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee considered legislation about the preferred local alternative for the Center City Connector, a project to connect the two existing streetcar alignments (South Lake Union Streetcar and First Hill Streetcar) into a single integrated streetcar line. Previous iterations of this study narrowed the focus to a streetcar on 1st Avenue Downtown. The final release of this study, which selects a preferred alternative produced the following findings:
Rainier and Henderson, the bottom of the Valley, deep in the living night. We’re in the nerve center for gun crimes and drug distribution– the former up 150 percent in Rainier Beach within the past year. While the recent SPU shooting drew national attention, activity in Rainier Valley tends to go unreported. Locals know the numbers– about 50 shootings, 25 of them documented, 12 murders, and nine assaults since mid-April: it’s summertime in the ‘hood. Only out here do I hear folks dread the onset of summer.
We in Seattle are fortunate in that we can get worked up over such small numbers. My hometown of Los Angeles is happy to have gone from 299 murders to just 251 in only a year, with per capita crime the lowest it’s been in five decades. While one incident is too many, and the loss of a single life undeniably tragic, I might suggest it is not harmful to maintain perspective. Isolated incidents are not always indicative of trends. While we’re reading articles with titles like Another Day, Another South-End Shooting, let us try to recall that news reporting is selective.
Far from making us “more aware,” a notion which would be comical were it not so patently wrongheaded, wallowing in crime news in fact builds a view of our surroundings which is not just skewed, but incorrect. Only from a mindset of staggering privilege and reactionary, ignorant fear could we do ourselves the injustice of failing to see the modern miracle which happens in Seattle’s greater metropolitan area every day: each night, nearly all three million souls make it home, completely unscathed.
I remember living in LA and watching car accidents happen in front of me while waiting for the bus home. This was a regular occurence. The idea that most of these other cars– in fact, practically all of them– would not get into accidents tonight seemed so unlikely. How was it even possible? Would LA’s twelve million people really follow those colored lights and stripes on the road well enough that ninety-nine percent and change would actually make it home without their cars touching any other cars? It seemed impossible. Impossible! But it happened, every night, and the saddest thing was that nobody noticed. They were part of a truly unbelievable, physics-defying miracle, and no one cared.
Now is also a good time to point out that crime in our great city, however we’re looking at it, is either declining sharply, flat, or slowly declining. Seattle continues its steady decrease in overall crime since 2000, and has 32 percent less crime now than then. Homicides are down by 12 percent and assaults by ten in the last year; the numbers are more dramatic if we go back further. It’s worth relinking Dominic Holden’s detailed writeup from a year ago, Crime is Not Actually Spiking Downtown, and situating it in the larger context of our tendency to think crime is up when it’s just the reporting that’s proliferated: violent crime in the US has been declining steadily since the 1990s, and the LA Times article sums up reactions to that fact succinctly: Gun Crime Has Plunged, But Americans Think it’s Up.*
All of which is to say, let us try to keep our outlook in proportion. Float above the madness and consider the aerial view. If you read the above-linked Rainier Beach crime article, please also read More to Rainier Beach Than Crime, Violence and Rainier Beach: A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth. Take in the beauty and stories of your Seattleite neighbors, those vibrant faces of all colors, hopes, and commonalities. Recognize the similarities in your dreams. There is no Other.
Back to Rainier and Henderson, where I pulled up to the stop at about 10:50pm. Open the doors with a smile. A few thugs get on, tall and hulking, heavy in jackets and swagger. These are the hard types, connected, the men the teenagers wish they were. I greet each one with eye contact and some variation of “hey, how’s it goin’?”
They appreciate my friendly gaze, equal-handed respect and complete lack of fear. The second shakes my hand after I oblige his imploration for a transfer. The third steps on with a “hey man, I’m tryna go ta work.” He shows me a couple faded white plastic cards, incomprehensible to me.
It’s eleven o’clock at night in Rainier Beach. Going to work? Really? It seemed like a ridiculous excuse, if that’s what it was. Was he trying to “scam the system?”
Nope. I let him ride in any event, and soon saw him halfway down the bus, still standing, removing his coat and other outerwear and suiting up, as it were. He was putting on thick undershirts and some sort of waterproof coverall. Afterwards he put the jacket back on.
“Gettin’ all dressed up for the nighttime!” I said.
“Yup, gettin’ ready for work.”
“Rockin’ the night shift!”
“Yeah, I do the pressure wash, at Safeco. S’pposed ta be there at ten, but don’t usually start washing til eleven, so I’ll still be early. We wash all the seats.”
“That sounds cool. Getting to be out there in the stadium, nobody else around.”
“Yeah, iss good.”
“Been doin’ it a long time?”
“Good to have a job like that, something interesting, different,”
“Yeah. It’s fun.”
There is no other, indeed. I’m so glad I gave him the benefit of the doubt. There are people I know who wouldn’t have.
I attended a play some years ago in the Central District’s Washington Hall. A ladyfriend was performing, and the show revolved around the subtle mistreatment and unintended subjugation of women in college environments. The playwright was on hand for a Q&A session afterwards.
Somebody behind me, a middle-aged man, prompted him by saying, “we’re all sitting here, in a playhouse in the Central District, and we’re probably all left-leaning liberal people, who already agree with the excellent points made by your play. I don’t think any of us here believe in sidelining women… I guess what I’m trying to say is, this play expands our understanding, but we already agree with its main points. What can we do to change the minds of people who don’t? How do you get this to change the minds of an audience in the backwoods of Arkansas…?”
The playwright looked at the floor for a while.
His legs were crossed in front of him, and his hands were clasped around his knees. He picked at the cloth of his pants and finally said, “I’m really glad you asked that. Because I think about that question all the time. What you’re basically asking is, ‘how do you change the world?’ And my answer is, you don’t. You change the person next to you. And you do that by being yourself. You don’t even try to change them. You talk to them, you… whatever. Just be yourself. That’s how you change the world. Be something they can see and think about, and maybe they’ll change their way of thinking a little bit. It happens not on a mass scale, but on a human scale.”
*Even if crime is low, it’s still worth lowering; how do you lower crime? Community Policing is the new watchword. “A community that watches after each other,” [LA Police Chief Charlie] Beck explains. More from the LA article linked above: “Beck credited community policing for the 17.6 percent drop last year in gang-related crime in Los Angeles. He said the LAPD doesn’t only rely on policing and enforcement, but works with interventionists to control rumors and prevent retaliations. ‘Sometimes over policing makes gang identity stronger,’ he said. ‘You have to watch how you police it. We have just the right prescription in Los Angeles right now.'”
Read more at www.nathanvass.com.
Last week was the first meeting for the micro-housing working group. Council Member Mike O’Brien announced the working group during a prior Planning, Land Use and Sustainability (PLUS) committee meeting. The group will examine regulations on micro-housing proposed by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and consist of stakeholders representing various interest groups. In an email to those subscribed to micro-housing updates, Council Member O’Brien laid out the goals, the process and make-up of the working group.
This development was the result of a larger planning process that is looking in detail at micro-housing in Seattle. Regulations were developed by the DPD, some of which I have covered previously. Since the process began, there has been a lot of great research on micro-housing in Seattle, including a visual differentiating micro-housing from other types of housing and this excellent graph showing how much is being built compared to congregate housing:
Working Group Goals
The working group will be tasked with determining how micro-housing should function and where it should be built. Council Member O’Brien’s notice makes clear that whether or not micro-housing should exist will be off the table. This point should eliminate the concern trolling by groups that fear the units are unlivable (the word “coffins” has been tossed around). With that purpose in mind, the group will attempt to find areas of consensus.
Points of consensus will be brought before the PLUS committee to consider as part of the legislation. Areas where there is not consensus, the main points of discussion will be used to help draft legislation. The meetings will be open to the public and take place in City Hall or the Seattle Municipal Tower. You can see updates for the meetings here. The final two are scheduled for:
Council Member O’Brien hopes to have legislation prepared by August.
Working Group Members
As mentioned in our previous micro-housing post, this group provides a great opportunity for the discussion to be more balanced with the inclusion of new and important interests. Many of the meetings on micro-housing were overwhelmed by neighbors of the projects who have a less direct stake than people actually living in the buildings. The group consists of four neighborhood representatives, three micro-housing developers, one member of the Seattle Planning Commission, potentially one representative from an affordable housing group, two micro-housing residents, and Council Member O’Brien. How You Can Help
The first working group meeting was held last week, but there are still two more meetings that you can attend if you’d like to learn more. The meetings will not be a venue to publicly comment, but you can still submit comments to Council Member O’brien himself or the working group for them to consider during their discussion. Things you might want to encourage include:
You should also feel free to commend Council Member O’Brien for his leadership on this issue. From the view of someone that attended public meetings on this topic, I was surprised by the move to form the working group. The loud minority that is vehemently opposed to these projects appeared to have hijacked the discussion and it seemed like there wouldn’t be a careful consideration of the impact from proposed regulations. Council Member O’Brien showed a lot of leadership by not cowing to their demands and including residents of these buildings in the decision making process. While we don’t expect the final regulations to be perfect, we are looking forward to the legislation that results from these discussions.
With this series, I initially set out to highlight some of the aspects of baugruppen I found intriguing, and the reasoning for this was mostly selfish: I’m an aspiring baugruppee. Can these types of projects be replicated Stateside? I believe so, and I’d love to see jurisdictions prioritize them. But, as in Germany, I think it will take time to gain foothold. There are a few ways this could happen, but first…
Regarding Germany, there are a couple of reasons baugruppen are cost-competitive: the financing terms, taxes and fees aren’t drastically different for either turnkey or BGs. German home loans generally require a significant down payment (up to or over 20%), whereas a baugruppe member’s loan are generally higher, around 30% (or more, potentially).
While seemingly vast, baugruppen typically save 15% over turnkey projects. For comparable units, BGs require slightly more up front, but result in much lower total and monthly payments. The tradeoff being a tailored unit, bombtastic communal spaces, etc.
Why is this relevant to the US market? I don’t foresee legal or social obstacles to forming a baugruppe–judging by conversations/ tweets/emails–many others love this idea, and legal structures (e.g. LLCs) exist for taking on project development. Rather, it is the financial side that will probably be the highest hurdle.
Once a group unites around a concept or idea, they’ll form a legal structure in order to protect themselves, make payments, etc. Those are relatively easy and don’t incur much cost. The purchase of land and financing of construction, however, are quite the opposite. The first wave of projects will probably require self-financing, which could affect if affordable housing plays a role unless owners push to include it.
Alternatively, a green, community bank or better yet, a progressive city, could step in and assist through a variety of means. I do think that if this shows to be a successful, affordable model–jurisdictions will step in, and the financing hurdle becomes lower.
Banks will likely be reluctant to lend without prior experience with baugruppen, so early groups will likely need to self-finance/develop their projects. There is precedent for this–initial BGs in Germany had difficulty obtaining funding and so members used personal savings, borrowed money, and even undertook some of the construction themselves. This is probably how the ‘first wave’ of these projects would have to be taken on Stateside and is also not without precedent in the US.
Being innovative/groundbreaking early adopters can be hard! This is also an issue the co-housing community is pretty familiar with, as several have had to take this route. There are a handful of urban co-housing projects that could serve as a good model such as the eastern village (Treehugger), and DurhamCentralPark. That last one seems to be BG-esque: urban, dense, and is listed as ‘self developed’ on the co-housing website. I like where it is headed, and hope they open source their process. That being said, there is room for…
In Germany, a number of progressive cities have taken the lead in prioritizing, facilitating, incentivizing, and in some cases, funding baugruppen. Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if, within the halls of city government, there existed a department with the ability to finance affordable housing to ensure diverse citizenry, strong tax base, jobs, etc, as in these incredible German jurisdictions? Perhaps in Seattle, the Office of Economic Development (OED) or Seattle Investment Fund‘s NMTC’s could be reconfigured to prioritize affordable housing (instead of, say, above-market commercial offices).
Though scrubbed from the site, OED previously claimed to provide, ‘low interest loans for mid-sized and large mixed-use and commercial projects. Both for-profit and non-profit developers or community developers may be eligible.’ Hmmm… we may be getting somewhere. Eligibility requirements? Achieve ‘significant public benefits including:’
Creation of jobs:
Several ongoing, mid-scale baugruppen projects would provide quality construction jobs with prevailing wage requirements. That these workers could potentially afford to own in projects they build would be a significant advantage for the city (and model for the country!). And BGs could even have retail spaces to activate the street-level facade–more jobs! Winning!
‘Affordable housing that will support neighborhood businesses while helping to preserve a diverse economic base of residents:’
We’ve shown that baugruppen can be an innovative, cost-effective alternative to turnkey projects, including the potential for ultra-low maintenance and operational costs. Additionally, BGs have the potential for more economically, racially and socially diverse ownership versus traditional development. Furthermore, the City could make a requirement for a percentage to be allocated for families, elderly, etc. Boom!
‘Redevelopment of abandoned or underutilized property that will contribute to the revitalization of the City’s business districts.’
Baugruppen and abandoned/vacant lots near business districts sounds like a winning combination if ever I heard one. This is how the innovative eco-districts in Freiburg (Vauban) and Thuebingen actually started. Affordably housing community-oriented groups in buildings near communities they want to live in? Isn’t this what we should already be striving for in urban environs? I’d like to think there may be some synergy here!
Banks will be reluctant to lend money to groups that don’t have a construction background (hence incorporation of Construction PMs on projects), but I believe this is a market where smart, innovative, sustainability, and community-focused banks could thrive. Maybe I’ve been forced to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ one too many times, but I think these are the exact kinds of community investments that pay big dividends.
Again, this is not without precedent: Shorebank Pacific (now one pacific coast bank) has provided loans for co-housing projects in the past, as have others. Historically they haven’t been predominantly multifamily urban projects, so whether or not these organizations would find interest in this market is unclear.
In Germany, while there was reluctance, there have been a couple of banks that have realized the potential in baugruppen, and have divisions willing to finance them. I imagine that a similar course would result Stateside after initial proof of concepts have been built and everyone sees how awesome they are. Additionally, jurisdictions incentivizing/prioritizing BGs would probably go a long way to getting banks more interested in lending on these kinds of projects.
So… is this all just a pipe dream? If we’re going to make Seattle a green leader (and beat Freiburg!) then we’ll need affordable, urban innovations like baugruppen to succeed, along with the regulatory and financial tools to organize and construct them. At some point, City Hall will have to acknowledge existing ‘free market’ models are entirely insufficient for low, moderate, or even upper-middle income families in Seattle, and will only get worse without drastic intervention.
What green-focused City government wouldn’t want urban, uber-sustainable, hyper-comfortable, high quality, well-designed, prefabricated, bike-friendly, car-free, affordable, jointly-built housing inhabited by racially and economically diverse homeowners making stronger communities with reliable tax bases? If that’s a pipe dream, then I must be crazy, because it’s the exact urban model I’d dwell in, along with pretty much everyone I know, if there existed the space in ‘progressive’ cities to allow it to develop.
As I stated in my first BG post, I’m very interested in sowing the seeds of a baugruppe here in Seattle. I’d prefer not to uproot and move back to Freiburg to find this kind of urban construct. I would absolutely love to see a car-free, bike centric, passivhaus/living building challenge project that housed a diversity of inhabitants that were also kindred spirits. I’ll have more thoughts on how to go about this soon…
Nathan Vass is a photographer/filmmaker who drives for Metro. Learn more at nathanvass.com.
There are times when I can’t tell if it’s the world opening up, or just myself. You feel exhilaration coursing through your arteries, the kind you felt as a child, when it was okay to be silly. I’m running back to the base after a day on the 12. I’m always running around on the lot- from the coach to the base, from the base to the parking garage, from the garage to the… you get the picture. Why? I think what everyone supposes is that I’m always late to sign in. “You’re gonna make it,” they’ll yell, in encouragement.
I’m not late. I’m just excited. I began the routine after noticing an ex-military crewcut of a man hustling across the lot, his shoulder bags and other gear bouncing uncermoniously off his sides. He had a lot of gear, but he was moving.
Why do you do that, I asked. Run across every day.
Well, he said, if I run this short distance every day, I’ll know I can at least do this. I may not have time to exericse, but at least I’ll know I can do this every day.
That’s a great idea, I said. I did it the day after and every day since, probably looking totally ridiculous. The only people who heedlessly run into the base are drivers desparate to sign in on time… and me, grinning wide and high from all the endorphins. Have you ever noticed how runners for the bus are almost always smiling- even before they make the bus?
I tear through the base today, dropping off my leftover transfers and timetables, putting my runcard away. “Hello, friends!” I say to Vickie and Ashish, deep in conversation, other drivers who went through full-time class with me. Great people. I fly through the restroom, washing my filthy trolley hands. Two other operators in there. On my way banging out the door I realize they’re discussing LSBW. “She started yelling this song about abortions…” yup, I thought, chuckling. That’s definitely her.
I grab my bicycle and meander up the street. There’s time before my bus home. I loop aimlessly through the 505 Union Station plaza, and drift over to Jackson Street. A 14 pulls up and I ask the driver, Nebiyat, how his night is. It’s going well. We talk up the good points of the 14, and with the green light he’s off. I nod a hello to the Sheriff watching the bus stop. His night’s going well also. Nothing’s happened, he says. This is a good thing. Continuing my aimless loops, here’s a man outside Starbucks, setting a single padlock down on the center of each of the outdoor seating tables.
“What’s the story here?” I ask, slowing down on my bicycle.
I thought it was some sort of art installation. But no, the real story isn’t as exciting: he’s simply the security man, locking up the chairs and tables for the night. Of course. He laughs at my idea, having likely never considered the mundane task in such a light. I wish him a good evening, and as I turn away there’s George, a regular from the 358. I’m excited- more than he is, I think; never seen him here before. Across the way a Metro maintenance truck ambles by. It’s a guy who helped me earlier. We wave. He’d come out to check the carbon inserts (shoes) on my poles. He was happy to follow me for a bit as I did my route, while we tested a new shoe. “Are you the guy who runs?” he’d asked. Apparently that’s how they know me at the base!
I got home and put the bike away, and then began driving my car around on errands. At 145th I’m stopped in the left lane, reflecting on the day, when a bus pulls up alongside and the driver’s motioning, pulling on my peripheral vision. I turn to look, and it’s Sonum driving, waving wildly at me, both of us waving now in shock and glee- our faces are maps which read, what are the odds of this? I couldn’t get over him recognizing me in a car and civvies.
What confluence of airs had led to these little mini-reunions and moments of warm exchange? Was the burgeoning glow coming from me, or was I standing in a passing shaft of light and time, the planets already fading out of alignment? Neither seemed plausible. Luck is a poor excuse for explaining most things, and it’d be silly for me to take credit for such great vibes. No, it felt like a mystery greater than myself. That surging, airy well-being that flows, built in part by you, sure, but also by whatever it is that holds us all together. That’s the universe, glinting out from all those eyes. I’m thankful for whatever the reasons are. I just keep running through it all, trying to feel, to reach out and touch something real in this life. It gives me the heady, impossibly light sensation of feeling whole.
As we wrote about last week, the Seattle Department of Planing and Development (DPD) is working on a comprehensive plan to realign zoning, transportation, open space, and other policy areas for future development within the University District. The University District Urban Design Framework (UDUDF) document presents three alternatives for accommodating (or not accommodating) the University District’s growth in the coming decades. Our editorial board encourages you to support our own Alternative 4 (PDF), a plan that would combine high-density mixed-use development near the light rail station with mid-rise residential buildings throughout the neighborhood.
Since the publication of our original editorial, we have been informed by DPD that their final report very well might include combinations of their three alternatives. In other words, Alternative 4 is on the table, and our readers deserve a lot of credit for making that happen.
The public comment period for the project ends today at 5 p.m. If you haven’t already, please email Dave LaClergue (the DPD project manager) to let him know that you support Alternative 4. It will only take a few minutes of your time, and the change that you can help us achieve will benefit our city for many decades to come. Of course, please feel free to share any additional thoughts that you have on the UDUDF as well.
[For additional background on the plan, you can visit the project website.]