Sunday Video: Stockholm’s Clever Subway Ad


This is one way to liven up a subway platform.

Angels on Second Avenue




In that doorway, over there on Second South, is where a woman goes at night. She injects and imbibes various assortments of drugs as her body shudders and moans, phasing through the different reactions, pushing out time and life.

Just down the block is where a shooting was last night; Sho Luv came by to tell me about it, looking unusually mellow. He still managed his usual “you old enough to have a license?” upon seeing me, gold teeth smiling thick and wide, but not as wide as usual. “I was gonna go over and wait for the bus over there,” he said, explaining his preference for the Third & James Street zone over Second & Main, “but something told me not to go up there. That’s when I heard the shots.”

His monologue today was a sober one, cascading between several intercutting topics- “knew a woman who got shot through the cheek, she was okay otherwise,” “my big brother, at the club down there,” “it don’t matter, anybody gettin’ shot is bad,” “I’m gonna stop inside 88 Keys,” “food’s alright,” “what are they called, the hairstyle, remember back in the, wha’s, casual in the back-”
“Mullets! Yeah!”

He walks over to the club, considering the pavement as it passes him underfoot. On the other side of this block is Third South and Jackson, where Troy Wolff died from an inexplicable nighttime stabbing in September; his girlfriend was injured but survived. I’m here parked on my layover, doors open by choice, proofreading stories in my journal.

Today the sky is low and gray, the wind coiling around brick facades, giving murmur to the empty historical structures. Garbage blows by, scraps of yesterday catching on uneven pavement. I hear a lilting soprano carrying on the wind and look up. Who could be singing like that, here? There is a boy across the street, climbing on the lower sections of a streetlamp pole. He is trying to tape up posters and adorn them with some sort of flag-like banner.

He looks to be early teens, black, in a green hooded zip-up and beige carpenters. The wind keeps rushing through his colorful flag-banner, forever stopping him from securing it as he would like, but there is no frustration in him. His gentle voice sings out soft and pure, angelic, over and over, a lullaby for a bedraggled square. It’s a repeated stanza from a previous age, and I can hardly believe it’s him. I watch him clamber up a few steps, precarious, as he strings tassels around the pole. The lyrics are lost in the whisk of air, but it feels like a forties slow piece, Ella Fitzgerald or early Nina Simone, maybe a song his mother sang when he was little. The block is mostly deserted. It’s just him and the wind and the litter, the flag-banner never quite cooperating, and now, his unfaltering soul singing out, now and now again.

Does his song keep him warm, I wonder? He is not discouraged by the repeating wind, by sullied decrepitude or the buckling weight of history. In his faint but unwavering voice is an outlook that completely revitalizes the space. Some might call him naive; I say he has the boldness to know something we don’t want to forget.

What We’re Reading: SLU Is A Boomtown

Terry Avenue in South Lake Union.
Terry Avenue in South Lake Union. Attributed to Transit Nerds.

Transit could be a lot better: At Seattle Transit Blog, your columnist proposes big changes to Metro’s South King County network, with Link playing a key role in the plan. The Rainier Valley advocates for a new Link Light Rail stop at Graham Street. Perception of good design for transit facilities may matter just as much as service itself in attracting ridership.

Or it could be a lot worse: Bus cuts are the antithesis to all the above.

The number of pink mustaches is too damn high: The Seattle City Council voted to legalize transportation network companies (TNCs, also known as “ride-sharing”). The bill will establish unified licensing and training procedure for the city’s various car-hiring services. More controversially, each TNC will be limited to 150 active drivers at a given time. Like any good compromise, no one is happy with the result.

Take a walk on the supply side: A Canadian company will deliver 1,945 housing units, in close proximity to Amazon’s new campus. As Dan Bertolet argues, this is cause for celebration, not anger.

Separate and unequal: Inequality is rising throughout the country, and especially in our cities. Interestingly, some cities are unequal because the rich are really rich, while other cities are unequal because the poor are really poor. Not that either one is a great place to be.

Urban adventurer: John Feit takes us on a wonderful tour of West Capitol Hill’s urban alleys.

But will the roasters earn $15/hour? Starbucks plans to build a specialty roasting facility on Capitol Hill.

Carmageddon, take 20: Basically every highway in Seattle is closed this weekend. Our prediction: nothing bad will happen, proving once again that transportation patterns are not set in stone.

It turns out that some people actually drive in Manhattan: New York City is considering a plan that would implement roadway pricing for Manhattan’s most congested streets and bridges. If you’re going to implement roadway pricing, then a borough where fewer than 25% of residents own cars seems like a good place to start.

It’s really happening: Over at Ravenna Blog, Rebecca has posted a beautiful photo series of North Link construction activity at Roosevelt Station and the Maple Leaf Portal.

Move King County Now Fundraisers


Move King County Now

On April 22nd, 2014, King County voters will decide the fate of Proposition 1. If the proposition passes, King County Metro will have a stable revenue source for years to come. If it fails, Metro will be forced to eliminate 17% of all transit service in the county. (See the end of this article for more information on the proposition.)

Cuts of this magnitude would be devastating. They would affect 80% of Metro’s ridership. They would add 20,000 cars to our congested streets. They would take away basic mobility from seniors, students, people with disabilities, and working families. We must ensure that Proposition 1 passes, and we need your help to make sure that it does.

Want to join the campaign? It’s as easy as drinking beer! Local groups are hosting several happy hours where you can learn more about our effort and find out what you can do to help us save Metro.



Reach Urbanist status, donate $600 today. Your donation helps ensure we can continue producing great content like this.

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If you know about other events, please let us know and we’ll add them to this list.

If you aren’t able to attend an event, or if bars aren’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other ways you can help.

Happy Hours

Beers for Buses—Bellevue
Monday, March 24, 2014
5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Bellevue Brewing Company
1820 130th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98005

Beers for Buses—Seattle
Wednesday March 26, 2014
5:00 p.m.
O’Asian Kitchen
800 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

Seattle Subway Fundraiser for Move King County Now
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
5:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Hattie’s Hat Restaurant
5231 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
Special guest: Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien

Beers for Buses—Redmond
Monday, April 7, 2014
5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Redmond’s Bar & Grill
7979 Leary Way NE, Redmond WA, 98052

About Proposition 1

King County Proposition 1 would authorize two new revenue streams to fund Metro, local roads, and other transportation improvements. The measure would raise the annual vehicle fee by $40 (compared to today) and would raise the sales tax by 0.1%. Low income households would receive a $20 vehicle fee rebate.

Of the new revenue, 60% would be used for transit and 40% dedicated for roadway safety, preservation, and maintenance.

In addition, the measure would create a $1.25 low income bus fare.

You can read the full text of the proposition here.

New East Link Video


East Link Video

For those of you wishing East Link were open today, Sound Transit has given us something to chew on in the meantime. Sound Transit has put out a video visualization of the East Link corridor. The video focuses on the alignment from the interchange of I-90/Bellevue Way and Overlake Transit Center. Highlights of the simulation include station and transit facilities, three-car trainsets, and future transit-oriented development sites. Be sure you have time to watch in full though, the video runtime is 13 minutes.

On a related note, Sound Transit has also published the technical drawings (90% design) for the Northgate Link alignment from the Maple Leaf portal to the Northgate Station terminal tracks.

For more information on both projects, browse the extension pages of East Link and Northgate Link.

Seattle 2035: EIS Scoping and Comprehensive Plan Alternatives


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.

Comprehensive Plan Alternatives


The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been working hard over the past few months to plan for Seattle’s future growth. To do that, DPD must update the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The project has now moved into its environmental review phase, which means preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

On Monday, DPD (and consultant Studio 3MW) will hold an open house and presentation to talk about the EIS Scoping process and unveil three alternatives to the future Comprehensive Plan. The EIS will evaluate each alternative for its impacts and benefits of accommodating growth over the next 20 years. Some of the topics that the EIS will analyse include transportation, public services, housing affordability, health, social justice, and environmental resources.

Seattle has very specific growth targets for the next 20 years. The Growth Management Planning Council of King County has charged Seattle with the responsibility of accommodating up to 70,000 new households and 115,000 new jobs by 2035. Each alternative accommodates these levels of growth, but distributes them differently within the city. In brief, these are the general differences between the Comprehensive Plan growth alternatives:

  • Alternative 1: Urban Centers Focus – This alternative would primarily focus development in the city’s existing urban centres. It would achieve this by accommodating the vast majority of new housing and jobs through mid-rise and high-rise development within those centres.
  • Alternative 2: Urban Village Focus – This alternative essentially mimics the current land use development pattern of the city, but focuses more jobs in urban villages.
  • Alternative 3: Transit Focus – This alternative would establish two new urban villages to support high capacity transit investments already in the pipeline. Other urban villages could expand in size if in proximity to light rail stations.

The event begins at 5pm on March 24, 2014 in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall. The agenda is as follows:

  • 5pm-5.30pm: Open House with staffed displays about the Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, Environmental Impact Statement process
  • 5.30pm-5.45pm: Presentation about Comprehensive Plan and Seattle 2035 by DPD
  • 5.45pm-6pm: Presentation about the Environmental Impact Statement process by Studio 3MW
  • 6pm-6.30pm: Public Comments on proposed Growth Alternatives
  • 6.30pm-7pm: Open House continues with staffed displays about the Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, Growth Alternatives, and Environmental Impact Statement process

You are encouraged to attend the event on Monday where staff will answer your questions and take comments on the growth alternatives. The scoping period for public comment runs through April 21, 2014. Comments can also be made through e-mail:

Choosing Place-Receiving Over Placemaking, and Why


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Chuck Wolfe and was originally published on


In 1997, I returned to Europe after a long absence. My Paris photograph, above, jump-started a then-dormant fascination with the scenery of urban life and form.

I later digitized the photograph, to enhance internal contrasts between the Eiffel Tower, the layered scene on the Pont d’léna and the Champs de Mars beyond. My goal? An indelible impression, evoking a provocative, dream-like quality, consistent with a profound place-based memory.

Call this informal process “place-receiving”, and not placemaking.

Is place-receiving composed of unique occurrences, limited only to when and where we, the users, find them? Can they be replicated? If so, how?

These questions raise a practical side—and a real challenge—in assuring that placemaking efforts dovetail with the human nature of place-receiving described here.

The challenge comes from today’s renewed interest in creating special urban places for people—whether public, private or somewhere between—often offered by design professionals or related consultants.

Sometimes, the look and feel of a remade urban place is not consistent with the human perceptions common to place receiving. A quick example from my hometown: Assertions that downtown redevelopment approaches and several features of the Seattle waterfront plan just don’t fit the context of local climate, local history and likely end users.

Sixteen years later, disassembling the Paris photograph, I see many central elements of what urban visitors, residents and design professionals aspire to, whether resulting from spontaneity, casual tactics, or more purposeful plans.  The photograph suggests several words well within the vocabularies of placemaking, complete streets, green infrastructure or human-scale approaches.

Some summaries of these elements seem stale and full of labels. Others evoke emotion through climate, color and the built environment.  Here are just five examples:

  • The pavement dramatically mirrors people approaching the Eiffel Tower on the Pont d’léna.
  • The Eiffel Tower, the Pont d’léna, an equestrian statue, cars, buses and people combine to enhance  a Paris view and experience.
  • The grainy textures of infrastructure stand out along the Seine.
  • Water and pavement blend in Paris.
  • A red bus and red backpack stand out against the Pont d’léna, the base of the Eiffel Tower and the expanse of the Champs de Mars.

Other summaries could be more poetic, or more human in focus. And perhaps they should, because  place and place-receiving occur as much in our minds as in the real world.

My take? In the end, we should focus more on place-receivers as the most authentic stakeholders of meaning in the urban experience. If people cannot place-receive with a sense of acceptance and inspiration, placemaking may mean very little indeed.

Image composed by the author in Paris in December, 1997. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist.  All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effort, an e-book from Island Press.

See more at

Today is Bus Driver Appreciation Day!


Picture 1


Yes it is! The title says it all. Have you thanked your driver lately? Officially speaking, today’s the day to do so, although you’re welcome to do so any day you choose!

Driving the bus is a rewarding task, but an extremely demanding one. I’m amused when passengers ask if “it ever gets boring-” it’s rather more the exact opposite. Repeated exposure to certain behaviors makes being at your patient best more difficult- but still possible. Each day is a test. The County Council’s financial decision to tighten schedules exacerbates all the problems one encounters on the road; here’s hoping that April 22 funding tax comes through, without which everyone in the county, even those who never use buses, will be put at a severe disadvantage. But enough of that for now.

There’s no doubt bus driving has made me a better person. I’ve learned levels of empathy, patience and kindness I’ve never approached at any other job, let alone known were possible. I consider the needs of others and see the equal plane we all exist on so much more clearly. I’m thankful for the intense joy it brings me, the opportunity to be here, amongst the crowds, where I feel whole. There is an immediacy and a fulfillment of being that I encounter out here. It is specific and soul-satisfying; I’ve not felt it anywhere else.

Much of that joy comes from you, the passengers and other operators. I have you to thank for building such a beautiful house together, on every bus I drive, over and over, day after growing day. Thank you to all the operators who guide me by their example, and who teach me valuable things without even trying, simply by being themselves. You know who you are.

Maybe I’ll see you later on today.