Seattle 2035: One Last Chance


Editor’s Note: In case you missed our previous coverage of Seattle 2035, check out DPD’s Background Report, which covers the city’s planning data from 1995-2012.

Pike Place

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is wrapping up its scoping process for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analysis. The scoping process is concerned with determining what people want the EIS to address as issues. The EIS already has basic programmatic issues that must be addressed as topics like transportation, land use, environmental health, energy, and more.

DPD is proposing three broad alternatives to accommodate growth. The EIS will analyze these for possible impacts, mitigation measures, and policies to ensure that a preferred alternative will be achieved. By providing specific comments on topics in relation to the proposed alternatives, you can have an impact on the environmental review process and the future policies.

Comprehensive Plan Alternatives


The comment period for the EIS Scoping process ends on April 21, so be sure to provide your feedback. When you do, be specific about the type of things you’d like DPD to consider in its analysis. Comments can be made through e-mail:

Tilikum: Places for People

A representation of Tilikum Crossing, courtesy of Tri-Met.

Portland’s newest car-free bridge will be named “Tilikum Crossing”, and it’s by no accident or quirky Portlandia-style convention.

Prior to the settlement of the Pacific Northwest, before the Bostons hauled their canoes up on the shore,this land was–and still is–a busy land of indigenous peoples of all sorts. Among these in Portland are the Clackamas and Willamette peoples who set up large longhouses along the shores of the rivers that now bear their name. The region also hosted tribes from all over who traveled from miles around to trade and to meet their relatives in the area. Currently, we see many of these original peoples in tribes around the region, including the Portland-area Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, and in the indigenous peoples of all tribes living here.

With so many different peoples in the area the ability to actually get along and to trade in common was frequently complicated by dialectic differences and variations. Even families can have a common language that differs from their neighbors. For the most part these variations aren’t necessarily problematic when they’re minute or a few short steps from one another on a temporal scale, but what happens when someone is far-removed?

This is where Chinook Jargon comes into play.

Language is central to the culture of the region’s first peoples, but before English took over as the area’s primary language in the early 1900s the region’s wide variety of dialects often proved to be barriers to visitors and new residents. To get around these barriers the core of the Chinookan languages was standardized over generations and mixed with native and other languages including English into a pidgin known as Chinook Jargon. This jargon proved to be a powerful and easily understood lingua franca that gave locals and visitors alike a common language full of simple yet powerful words that allowed big ideas to be conveyed with few words.

Many of these words are familiar to us in the Pacific Northwest: alki (at some point in the future), hyak (something fast, or doing something quickly), illahee (a defined place), potlatch (giving away) and so on. We accidentally–or by design of our forebears–have learned the Chinook Jargon.

For many native peoples the word for person, people and for friend alike is the most important word. If you don’t know other words, know this one. In Chinook Jargon tilikum can mean person, people, friends and the human collective around you. On its own it’s a unifying term used to put people on an equal ground. The core of what we as urbanists consider the heart of a city, people, is in this word.

Tilikum Crossing is not appropriation or a cute Portlandia-style convention. It incorporates a meaningful word that is powerful and transcends a great deal of history to give its blessings to a vital piece of infrastructure while reminding us of its true purpose: to serve the people.

Article Notes: Please see the following for further resources on culture of the First Peoples.

  • Deloria, Vine. Indians of the Pacific Northwest: From the Coming of the White Man to the Present Day. New York: Doubleday, 1977.
  • Thrush, Coll-Peter. Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-over Place. Seattle: U of Washington, 2007. Print.
  • A Chinook Jargon Phrasebook and Glossary

Surfing the Sparkling Wave


Picture 4


Jim is waiting at Walker Street, the first stop on the route 4. Normally he prefers to walk off his workday by strolling over to the light rail station, but today’s been a day of days. He’s exhausted. The last ten minutes of his day as a Seattle Housing Authority property manager ramped into overdrive, dealing with a pysochotic ward release. He needs the peace and relaxation of a nice ride into town. Jim has an excellent sense of humor. We chat about his day, which sounds like a tough one. The ward release lost her keys; Jim had new ones prepared; but she shows up just after he’s clocked out, there’s a problem, and he’s not supposed to work overtime but she’s already asking questions, she’s asking and answering in a nonsensical, patternless back and forth, something about the keys, something’s not working, Jim’s trying to figure out what the issue is… ah, but he made it out alive. Time to relax.

It’s all over, for now. We talk about the book he’s going to read. From my library years I always zero in on what people are reading, and today Jim has a copy of J.D. Robb, the pseudonym Nora Roberts uses when she’s not writing those fluffy romance bestsellers.

“What’s it called?”
“This one’s called Conspiracy in Death,” he says, holding back a smile. He’d be the first to admit this isn’t first-rate literature.
“That’s outstanding,” I say.
He laughs. “There’s this whole series. It’s all about death. Everything’s in death. Naked in Death. Rapture in Death. Vengeance in Death. Betrayal in Death, Judgment in Death, Indulgence in Death,”
“Wow. He’s really into,”
“Yeah he is. Did you say Indulgence in Death?”
His short salt-and-pepper beard spreads into laughter. “You better believe it! Holiday in Death!
“There we go!”
“It gets me by.”
“Oh, yeah. Some good death books. Passes the time.”

Jim sits back to enjoy some good Conspiracy in Death, but peace and relaxation are not forthcoming. Julie’s here today, sitting at the front as always, bless her heart, and she’s making business calls on her phone (“Now if I remember correctly, we agreed on…”). Jim and I are talking over her (Creation in Death, Divided in Death, and the best yet: New York to Dallas (In Death)), Julie’s talking over us, and he and I laugh at the building hum. A family ambles on in at Jackson which small children, and they raise a racket- Jim moving a little further back to accomodate their massive stroller. I see him in the mirror, amused. What can you do but throw up your hands and smile?

I hear Julie explaining over her phone, clearly responding to a query along the lines of, where on earth are you? Certainly no bus is this loud! There’s the screaming kids, there’s me blabbing about the upcoming stops (“Let’s make a stop at 12th, by the Youth Detention Center…”), there’s Julie discussing matters of pressing importance, and there’s Jim and I talking about J.D. Robb, Janet Evanovich, and others (Delusion in Death; Calculated in Death)…

I’m lovin’ it. This bus is a back porch, an office, and a preschool playground all rolled into one, and we haven’t even hit Cherry Hill.

At 17th we have a mob of hospital workers- larger than usual, since we’re late. This particular run, a piece I picked repeatedly for years, is one that gets slightly more mobbed than the trip before or after it, coming in at the perfect time for those folks who get off at five sharp. I’m thankful for the extra attention. If you’re jonesing for excitement, it’ll be here. Many of my 3/4 stories come from this piece of work, which sadly no longer exists (or I’d be driving it!).

One of the nurses offers me strawberries with cream and streusel- “how wonderful!” I exclaim. Despite my minimal-sugar proclivity, I can’t turn it down. Streusel on a strawberry- who knew? My ebullience reaches new heights. Harborview is usually where we fill up, but today we’re already brimming as Harborview looms in the nearing distance. I try not to laugh as I announce the stop, because I see yet another mob- a much larger one. The giddiness surfaces in my tone, bubbling through the cracks of the microphone. Chaos makes me smile. I feel in my element.

The toddlers are doing something I don’t understand, just barely managing to keep out of the aisles, the nurses are commiserating, Julie arranging a conference for later this week, Jim silent now, I think he’s chuckling, watching me surf the center of the maelstrom. I’m greeting the onslaught, eye contact, eye contact, a sentence for each person incoming, the tear of transfers and maneuvering on the steps becoming a blur. I look at the masses outside, marveling at how this is all going to work. Thankfully a 3 pulls up behind me. Together we inch down the hill, a convivial, bubbling cauldron of tongues and attitudes.
“Alright, friends,” I say as the bus begins to move. “Hang on tight.”
“I don’t think we need to today, man!” Somebody quips. “It’s so many of us in here, there ain’t nowhere to fall!”
“This is the safest bus in town!”

Later, Julie ends her business call and says, “wow, Nathan! What a ride!”
She’s blind, and I can only imagine the multitudinous details her ears were picking up.
“I know! Hope that wasn’t too loud for your call there!”
“No, of course. They were like, where are you?”
“You shoulda told ’em you were at an amusement park! That’s pretty much what this is!”

The sun is shining. I find Jim in the mirror and we share a huge grin. This is no time for Conspiracy in Death! He’s given up on reading. Peace will find him at home. For now there is the jubilant, howling merriment known as the 3/4, and there is nowhere else to be but the present.

The Urbanist Meetup for Prop 1


Metro Bus Route 3

Next week, The Urbanist will be hosting our regular meeting, but it will be a special one, too. We’ll be talking urbanism and watching the results for Proposition 1 roll in after 8pm. You can find us at the Roy Street Coffee & Tea on Capitol Hill from 6pm onward. In future meetings, we’re hoping to come to a neighorhood near you for an occasional rotating meetup. If you have ideas of places with great atmosphere and space, let us know.

We encourage our readers to get in their ballots, and keep talking to their fellow bus riders, family, and friends about Prop 1. If you need to arm yourself with literature and reasons why, see here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here. Isn’t that enough reason?! In any case, we hope to see you next week.

4 Demographic Implications on Housing and Transport


Last week, the Planning Association of Washington (PAW) hosted their annual conference, which gathered a wide range of disciplines in planning like land use, transportation, architecture, and urban design. Sessions included topics like practical implementation of I-502, climate change initiatives (district energy projects and action plans), and communities preparing for northbound light rail. Perhaps the topic of most interest were the attitudes of different generations towards urban living, as Baby Boomers and Millennials represent the two largest cohorts in society. If you haven’t been paying attention, there is a huge demographic shift taking place across North America, not just Seattle. This may seem like a passing social anomaly in select cities, but it isn’t. It’s widespread and, to date, happening gradually. The question is when this shift will fully achieve its total saturation point.

Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute, Mark Hinshaw of LMN Architects, and Brian Vanneman of Leland Consulting Group in Portland hosted a panel on “Recognizing Imminent Demographic Change.” The panel represented an interdisciplinary view on future housing preferences, auto use, and differing intergenerational values among Boomers and Millennials affecting the social norms that ultimately guide public policy decisions.

In the session’s closing remarks, the questions raised varied widely between the baby-boomers versus post-baby boomers and between the rural and urban professionals in attendance. Attendees from around the state questioned under supply of urban schools, school mitigation fees, the economic sustainability of the rural town centers outside of Urban Growth Areas, Baby Boomer housing preferences, and ultimately whether suburban development will continue to attract younger generations. As one of two Millennials in the room, I was tempted to ask my colleagues if they had studied our generation in great detail or not.

I appreciated this session, as the presenters neatly packaged some assumptions I had about the future of new housing and market trends. Here’s some thoughts on demographic change.

photo (8)

LeMay-America’s Car Museum, Tacoma.

1. Car ownership for the 17- to 30-year-olds and teens with driver’s licenses have both decreased.

A driver’s license used to signify independence and “making it” to adulthood. These days, the number of 16-year-olds lining up at the DMV is dwindling. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that in 2010 approximately 50% of 17-year-olds possessed a driver’s licenses compared to 69% in 1983. In Seattle, average traffic volumes have dropped despite a growing population. Consider this: Seattle’s population increased 11% from 2000 to 2010 while per capita trips dropped by 20% over the same period.

2. Millennials earn less money, live in smaller spaces, and by default some have a lot less stuff.

The average income for Millennials is about $31,000. Younger generations tend to opt for various co-housing or home sharing options, sacrificing privacy. Average apartment size in Seattle is also lower than in previous generations; 400 to 700 square feet is typical for an urban singleton or childless couple. Essentially, Millennials are trading living space for quality public spaces. They see public spaces as their optimal living room or caffeine-infused home office.

Historically affordable pseudo-dormitory housing options have been zoned out of the city centers and many inner neighborhoods—things like boarding/rooming houses and extended-stay hotels. Today, the concept has been re-imagined with similar options, but with higher quality and more permanent forms like aPodments and microhousing units. This typology may well meet the needs of some Millenials and other age cohorts while encouraging new forms of intensification and mixed-income neighborhoods. Moreover, they provide a needed affordable housing alternative and opportunities for individuals from all walks of life (an address is key to getting back on your feet!).

photo (7)

Fremont Craft and Farmer’s Market.

3. Not all Baby Boomers are looking to slow down and retire. They are living longer, and some will forage for an urban and engaged lifestyle.

Baby Boomers will seek mid- to high-density housing. Some might even congregate near post-secondary institutions to attend a few classes or frequent the local facilities associated with colleges. In terms of demand, proximity to urban or neighborhood centers is in and golf courses are out. Many retirees, however, will continue to prefer the typical form of suburban development and the flexible to host family or friends it provides. Might retires opt for smaller homes and split their time between condo living (with adult-children) and places like Sonora, Arizona?

Paddington Station UK

London Paddington Station, UK.

4. We’re seeing visible indicators that all generations are moving back to dense, well connected, walkable areas.

Cities will become increasingly populated. We know this. But what about Seattle? Housing building permits have reach their pre-recession peak. At the regional level, construction hasn’t reached the apex of the late 1980s, but metrics from 2014 will be interesting to compare.

To take a quick peek at the presentations, click here for the Sightline Institute and here for Leland Consulting Group’s (LMN’s presentation coming soon). A big thanks to the PAW Session Panel for providing their presentations and insight from the field.

Seattle City Council Unanimously Passes Bike Master Plan


Seattle BMP

Yesterday the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to pass the Bicycle Master Plan. This document largely covers the infrastructure that would be needed to build a complete network for safe cycling. It is neither perfect nor comprehensive but it does provide a vision.

The brief take on what this means is that the city is committing to a document for how cycling should be managed. In order to reach this conclusion it begins with five primary goals:

  • Improve safety: The language of the document and the city council both understand the importance and scope of ensuring safe infrastructure for cycling. The plan makes a point of saying that facilities should be easy and safe to use for all ages and abilities. This could (and will likely) be measured by both the demographics of cyclists and fatalities/injuries of riders.
  • Increase ridership: The plan also notes that achieving the other goals will likely increase ridership. Tracking ridership is a practical way of measuring the quality of cycling infrastructure but increasing ridership isn’t just a measurable outcome. Ridership also contributes to the other goals. There is research suggesting that increasing the number of cyclists may increase safety and definitely increases livability (both health outcomes and economic activity).
  • Create connectivity: One of the biggest accomplishments of the plan is that it creates a vision for a network. The vision is specific and ambitious. A true bicycle network speaks to cyclists who are familiar with bike lanes that end abruptly or seem to lead nowhere. If you look at one thing from the plan check out the network.
  • Provide equitable facilities: Like any grand project, bicycle infrastructure has the potential to positively affect every resident, whether they bike now, will bike in the future or won’t ever bike. The project will touch every neighborhood, require input and invest public funds. Unfortunately, we have a long history of under-investing in neighborhoods with less wealth and less power. For those reasons it’s important to explicitly state (and achieve) the goal of providing easy access for everyone to the facilities. Furthermore, there is a practical reason for spreading the infrastructure. This ensures neighborhoods see the benefits and have a stake in accomplishing the plan.
  • Promote livability with a welcoming environment:This goal directly states the importance of cycling for healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. Building cycling facilities isn’t just for cyclist but to improve the dynamism of the entire city

Why The Plan Is Important

The plan is a pretty big document with a lot of details in it. Generally though, the actual document addresses a few different things:

  • sets out what the goals are for cycling infrastructure
  • gives a vision of what a cycling friendly city would look like
  • standardizes a lot of the language and understanding for different cycling facilities
  • creates a strategy for accomplishing the plan

Lastly, the plan has a purpose that’s not stated explicitly in the document, creating consensus. This may be the most important function of a master plan. The document has been developed over a long period of time with a lot of feedback. This serves to ensure the needs of our communities are understood and the goals are clear. There will be many controversial details to work through before the plan is achieved but the over-arching idea will serve to join communities and activists, even when the specific infrastructure they support isn’t in their neighborhood.

What’s Next

For the best summary of the most important next step, read about the funding issues covered on Seattle Bike Blog. The plan lays out infrastructure that may take as long as 20 years to build. Additionally, the unanimous vote by the council doesn’t actually dedicate any funding for any of the specific projects. It is likely that funding will have to be acquired for each and every project implemented. Perhaps the most important achievement to focus on next would be dedicating more money from the city’s general fund for cycling infrastructure.

Overall, it’s estimated that the city would need $20 million a year during the lifetime of the plan. While this may seem like a lot, it’s a fraction of what we spend on automobile infrastructure and large amount of it would come from sources outside of the city. Most importantly, the value of the lives saved and injuries avoided would well exceed this cost.

There’s Only One Denise!


Picture 10


“Thank you. I hope it’s a pleasant rest of the evening for you,” I say to someone at Third and Union, on a late-night inbound 13.
“I hope so for you too,” she replies. It’s been a quiet evening.

Then, from the sidewalk, out in the darkness, a face approaches with the familiar accompaniment, shrill and hoarse all at once: “AYYOUGOTHIRDUHJAMES?”
“Hi, Denise! I do!”
There’s only one Denise. She plows onboard like the force of nature she is.

Abnormally thin and ever-moving, she comes from the cartoon tradition of relentless vocal and physical energy. You sense it rushing out untapped, barely controllable, an inertia with everywhere and nowhere to go.

“Aw, pretty good,” I reply in normal tones.
“Oh yeah, Third and James!”
“THANK,” she cries as she tosses in a few coins. Glistening yellow pustules cover the lined umber skin and charcoal bruises of her aging hand. Denise will always offer a token gesture as she storms the farebox. What more could one ask for?

She sits down and stands up. Then she sits down again, just behind me.
“How you doin’ tonight?”
“GOOD,” she wails. “MAH FAV’RITE DRIVER!”
“Aw!” It’s often hard to tell how present she is. Typically every fiber of her wiry frame is focused on her next fix, but you get a glimmer every now and again. She loves candy, but doesn’t have any tonight.

“AHM GOIN’ THIRD JAMES,” she announces to no one in particular. There’s only one other passenger on the bus, a crisp silent man in a blazer from Queen Anne. “I WANNA GO THUHJEMS.” The syntax was shaky to begin with, and it’s beginning to
collapse. She experiments with subtly different alterations on an established theme. I’m listening to the Goldberg Variations here. “AH GUH THUJUMS,” she offers.

At Marion a well-dressed African-American gentleman asks if I stop at Yesler. I do. He folds his umbrella, reaching inside his frock coat for an Orca Card. The glint of his oiled shoes catches in the dim light. The man’s on his phone, attempting to have a conversation: “I might be able to get that to you by Tuesday-“, but it’s to no avail, what with Denise’s variations in the background- or, perhaps more accurately, the foreground.

“I GOTTA GO THIR’ JAMES,” she howls to the high heavens, with wild abandon.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” I say. “We’re definitely goin’ to Third and James!”

Well-Dressed hangs up, giving up on his conversation. He looks at Denise, and then at me. “Dayumn,” he declares after a moment. “Why’s it so loud in here?”
“Just another day in the life!” I laugh.
I respond to her with, “I’m goin there too!”

Denise has dropped some change, a few pennies rolling out of her clenched fists like so many raindrops. One rolls toward Well-Dressed. Denise says, “you want tha’ quarter?”
“That’s a penny.” He kicks it back disdainfully.  “There. Take your penny.”
“Oh whuh oh iss okay,” she replies, rocking back and forth, barely registering him.

I was thinking of commonalities I shared with Denise, or other ways of considering the scene. Moments of urgency I’ve felt. The Goldberg Variations. Well-Dressed seemed to be thinking about how different he was from her. Even a sigh can be elitist: “I want the next stop,” he moaned.

Now, the next stop is called James, but it’s also the stop for Yesler. The zone is on the block bordered by the two streets. Well-Dressed asks, “is the next one Yesler?”
“It is.”
“NO! NO! THE NEX’ ONE THUHJUMS!” Denise’s mouth extends out, flat sideways, almost in tears. She sounds like she’s about to start crying.
Placating: “No worries, both of you guys want the next one, it’s all good. It’s the same one, Yesler and James.”
“Here we are. At Third and James! Bye, Denise! I’ll see you again!”
“AY!” she yells at someone in the shadows, already racing forward, on to the next thing.

Well-Dressed is gone, and the third man gets off as well, the silent witness from Queen Anne. “You have a good night,” he says with untold volumes of emphasis and concern. It was the genuine concern you voice for your friend who’s just been drafted.
“I will,” I say, laughing. He was kind, and I was grateful, but I felt fine. No draft was taking place.

Some people think Denise is the bottom of the barrel. I don’t agree. That would be elitist apathy, which we can always use less of. My heart breaks a little when I hear terms like “Lake City Trash” or “Garbage on Aurora” used to describe people. I happen to like the lady. She is exactly who she is determined to be, no more and no less. My first experience with her was in my early teens. She asked me for change (at Third and James!). After I gave her a handful, she walked away without a word, picking out the pennies and throwing them on the ground. I was offended by that for years, even recently. Now I can see her single-minded drive wasn’t concerned with offending others; just hurting herself.

That was around the time I stopped offering money to people, and the beginning of my time gladly offering help- gestures, food, a smile- and expecting nothing in return. She was doing her best to eliminate everything in her life unrelated to acquiring crack cocaine, in a way perversely similar to my great desire to purge from my life everything unrelated to being truly happy. Without knowing why, I must admit her unrelenting energy and focus brings me amusement. No other passenger knows with such confidence which stop they want! I imagine she would like simply to be acknowledged as a fellow member of the human community. I get the feeling that doesn’t happen very often.

Read more of Nathan’s stories at

Sunday Video: Ride the Bus


Ride The Bus by Lok Raj Dhakjal on YouTube. h/t Caelen Ball

We at The Urbanist love riding the bus. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this set of playful commercials for De Lijn really caught our attention this week. The Belgians certainly know how to sell public transit. Enjoy the video short and ride the bus!