Several streets in Iserlohn, Germany are highlighted in this video as fußgängerzonen (pedestrian streets), a street typology severely lacking in America.
The standoff last week between Amazon and the City of Seattle should leave the 20 cities vying for Amazon’s second headquarters with no illusions about what kind of civic partner Amazon will be. Seattle is proposing to dedicate an additional $75 million per year towards affordable housing, paid for by a payroll tax on large businesses. In a warning shot to Seattle and Amazon’s many suitors, Amazon halted planning for its latest office tower pending city council’s vote on the plan.
As in other technology hubs, Seattle’s twin crises of declining housing affordability and rising homelessness are pervasive in daily life. Over the last five years, the number of homes affordable to low-income families has declined by almost half, leaving 23,000 low-income Seattle households in the precarious position of paying over half their income towards rent.
Meanwhile, Amazon has grown to employ over 45,000 people in Seattle, mostly high-earners that can out-bid their neighbors for housing. Washington State’s regressive tax system, with no income or capital gains tax on the wealthy, has failed to harness the benefits of this boom for broader public good. If passed, the payroll tax could be transformative, allowing Seattle to double its yearly production of supportive, deeply affordable housing.
“A familiar face came into focus amongst the crowd. There she was: a middle-aged Vietnamese woman I’ve seen only a few times in as many years. Sometimes she’d be on the route with her daughter, or we’d talk about the bakery she works at. What was her name again? I barely know this person, and yet… how is it, the way such glancing interactions can feel so special to us, moments no less formative than those we make with our oft-more considered loved ones. Two strangers who glow for each other, appreciating each other’s attitudes on life, whose places in the world are each comforted by the other’s existence.
Incredibly, she remembered my name, though I think haven’t seen her since she gave a loaf of pumpkin bread in what, 2012. We shook hands with both hands, letting the moment hold, pushing against time. The sort of connection based on only a few prior meetings, but in some mysterious fashion enough to make this, our present, significant. Travellers will know what I mean; shake hands with a stranger on the other side of the world, and seeing them now again you’re best friends. This was smaller in geography but not in feeling. Her face had been living and struggling in the same great whirlwind you have, and all the while you resided somewhere in the back recesses of her mind, unforgotten.
Her name would not return to me until after I’d gone home. Tjang. Absolutes are few in this life, but this is irrefutable: the positive impact we have will always be larger than we’re ever aware.
I bet you knew that already, but I wanted to tell you anyway.”
I wrote that not quite three years ago, and it was printed on cardstock with the image above (taken by me in Paris the day before the 2015 massacre there) and presented as a gift to each person who attended my “first and last” birthday party bash I held on my thirtieth. For me, it’s a moment that encapsulates everything. It’s why you won’t find me working behind a desk, taking administrative positions for more pay, pursuing a more lucrative career in wedding photography, moving into training or supervision anytime soon… my job allows me the delicate, ephemeral, one-of-a-kind pleasure of having interactions like the above all day.
Just over a week ago I saw her again. The time of day, place, direction– everything was different, but there she was. I stopped walking, and she did too. Our names flew off each other’s lips this time and we hugged tightly– there was a freedom to this meeting in that I wasn’t working. Someone was with her this time, her mother maybe, and we smiled our hellos, asked after each other, but more generally just glowed at each other. We radiated. The words were like baby talk, kind but limited; the hug was what really spoke volumes, that and our eyes, each registering the knowledge and sameness of what the other felt. What did mean? What can it mean?
Many things, perhaps, but at least this: there is goodness in this world, and it continues ever forward: quietly, humbly, and very brightly.
The Forward Thrust bond initiatives of 1968 and 1970 were a success because of their ambition. They were also failures because of their myopia. In this essay—the second installment of a four-part series I’m proud to have published here in The Urbanist—I want to take a look at the demographic tensions and political constraints which etched Forward Thrust ineffably into our civic fabric. Somehow, these same forces also consigned it to the ash heap of big, unfinished ideas. Somewhere in between those two extremes, we should learn to see ourselves.
It’s hard to look out at Seattle’s landscape—both physical and metaphysical—and not see the impact of Forward Thrust. An electoral slate of 11 bond initiatives and one property tax levy, the 1968 and 1970 Forward Thrust measures were a massive investment of money, effort, and imagination that changed the social, environmental, and cultural fabric of Seattle forever. Showing the sheer size of Forward Thrust’s fiscal endowment with numbers adjusted for inflation (a rate of 7.33:1 when comparing 2018 dollars to 1968) gives a sense of the program’s scale and ambition.
- The $865 million parks and recreation bond left the Seattle area with 4,776 acres of parkland, including Seattle Aquarium, Hing Hay Park in the International District, and downtown’s resplendent Freeway Park (later christened Jim Ellis Freeway Park, after Forward Thrust’s political mastermind, Jim Ellis).
- The impact of the $293 million “multi-purpose stadium” bond are evidenced at least eight days a year in autumn and winter and another 81 times in spring and summer, as they were responsible for bringing the Seattle Seahawks and Mariners to town with the now-defunct concrete monstrosity known as the Kingdome (much more on this in the next installment of this essay series).
- Even the failed $22 million public housing measure, which provided funds towards a “land bank” to be used by Seattle for the purpose of purchasing land that it would later redistribute to developers interested in erecting affordable housing, lives on as an innovative idea in urbanist circles nationwide.
Mayor Jenny Durkan is trying to block the Seattle City Council’s Left wing from passing a head tax worth $75 million per year and focused on permanent affordable housing and replace it with one worth $40 million and focused on temporary homelessness services and sanitation. Negotiated with Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, the mayor’s “compromise” bill also includes a five-year sunset clause.
Mayor Durkan claims to have the support of four councilmembers–Bruce Harrell, Debora Juarez, Rob Johnson, and Bagshaw–for the shrunk head tax, while the five other councilmembers are standing behind the larger proposal. This could set up a showdown since it takes six councilmember votes to override Mayor Durkan’s veto, should she use it. The last minute maneuvering suggests Mayor Durkan may be prepared to veto. It also possible that one or more of the councilmembers will flip sides. The council is debating the competing head tax measure in finance committee this morning, which you can watch live on Seattle Channel starting at 9:30am. That’s why we encourage you to contact your councilmembers or attend Monday’s full council meeting at 2pm.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved the street and alley vacations requested by the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) for its forthcoming $1.7 billion expansion. In the process, they accepted largest public benefits package in Seattle history, and cleared a key hurdle toward allowing the project to start construction. Negotiated outside the city process by a group of advocacy organizations called the Community Package Coalition, the public benefits totaled more than $83 million.
Failing to make it into the final bill was any language that would have required mitigation funding if city transportation officials determine downtown’s surface streets were not ready to accommodate the 40 buses per hour during peak that use the bus tunnel. The convention center expansion construction will require the closure of Convention Place station, requiring all buses to use surface streets instead, likely in March of 2019 if everything lines up like the WSCC intends. At the council’s Transportation and Sustainability committee meeting last week, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) officials were not confident that they would be able to implement one of the signature projects intended to move those buses efficiently: the new 5th and 6th Avenue transit pathway. But it’s worth looking at what the city and other transit agencies have decided not to do to help move people through downtown.
On April 19th the proposed design for the new Overlook Walk and Seattle Aquarium Ocean Pavilion went before the Design Commission and was approved with one condition and several recommendations. The Overlook Walk is described as ” a signature element” for the redesign of the waterfront and will be composed of “a series of walkways, stairs, plazas, and overlooks that provide a key connection between the waterfront and Pike Place Market.” The project also includes two buildings, one of which, the Market Front building is already built.
Last week, David Allen, 29, was walking along Sand Point Way NE near 40th Ave NE when he was struck by one motorist and then another and left for dead. While there are differing accounts of what actually happened, what’s clear is the urgent need for safety improvements along Sand Point Way. David is not the first person to have his life cut short by the highway design of this road, and he certainly won’t be the last if we don’t fix it. In 2017, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) studied a number of effective safety improvements for part of Sand Point Way, but has since opted not to pursue most of them. This latest tragedy should highlight the need for improvements, and force local leaders to consider going even further than the original proposals in making Sand Point Way a safer street.
David leaves behind a grieving sister, who has set up a GoFundMe. KOMO News has reported that he was hit by two separate vehicles, both hit-and-runs. One driver has already surrendered to police, but the other is still at-large. The driver who surrendered has told police that they didn’t realize they’d hit someone. Consider how fast and inattentively those drivers must have been traveling for this to happen. Two different drivers crashed into a pedestrian, and one claimed to not even realize that they’d done so. David’s family is asking the driver of the second hit-and-run vehicle to come forward.
Sand Point Way is currently a deadly mix of high speeds, wide lanes, poor lighting, no bicycle facilities (despite Cascade Bicycle Club being headquartered there), and missing sidewalks. Much of these problems can be attributed to its highway-style design. Last year I wrote about a number of safety issues along the corridor, including drivers exceeding 65 mph and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) not wanting to address portions of Sand Point Way south of NE 65th (due to that stretch being maintained by the Washington State Department of Transportation).