Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Goats Again

The goats were still on Capitol Hill this morning and, as promised, I had my camera.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Goats, Chickens and Cheap Shit Condos

The one day I left my camera at home I stumbled across some authentic "green" behavior on the border of Capitol Hill. Between the dog park on Pine -- directly East of I-5 -- and the highway there were about twenty goats grazing on the grass that slopes down to the freeway retaining wall. Evidently the steward of the dog park had contacted Rent-a-Ruminant to trim the grass in the most natural way possible. I apologize for the lack of photos but see SLOG for an ongoing quasi-discussion. From now on I never leave my camera at home.

This reminds me of something else I've recently heard about but have yet to explore. Backyard chicken ranching would certainly be a "green" feature that would fit into my vision for a co-op.

And in the spirit of honesty and directness, I bring you the newest Seattle residential/land use blog to hit the internet: Cheap Shit Condos. Thanks to urbnlivn for linking to it and adding some laughter to my evening.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Design For Livability Forum

I just received another email from Allied Arts about a three-day livable city design extravaganza. I'm actually going to the Austin City Limits Music Festival that weekend but I'd would attend at least part of this forum otherwise.

Design For Livability Forum
September 25, 2008 - September 27, 2008

For more information contact Ezra Basom

Three Day Conference on how to design and advocate for great cities

How will we design our communities to accommodate enormous population growth, yet respond to critical climate change issues and improve our environment, economy and standard of living now and for future generations?

How do we change the American Dream from a society that chooses poorly-planned, sprawling development to one that prefers vibrant, walkable well designed neighborhoods?

AIA Seattle, the Cascade Land Conservancy and Allied Arts are joining together to present a three-day symposium on the questions of sustainable cities and how they can work.

Please join us for all or part of the conference. We'll kick the discussion off with a Thursday evening conversation with Carol Coletta. Friday is geared towards professional training for design professionals, planners and policy makers, and the Saturday Taking Action Day is public advocacy training for everyone to learn the skills and hear success stories about what it takes to shape your community.

The schedule:
Sept. 25, Town Hall Seattle. Changing the American Dream: Public Lecture with Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities and host and producer of the nationally syndicated public radio show, Smart City. $5 members, $10 non-members,registration required.

Sept. 26, Seattle Center NW Rooms. Doing Density Right: Full Day Summit for Design, Development & Policy Maker Professionals. AIA Credit: 8 LUs / 3 HSWs; Cost $165 for members, $85 Government and non-profit, $35 students, $260 non-members, registration required.

Sept. 27, Seattle Central Community College. Taking Action: Half Day Public advocacy training that unpacks a grassroots organizer toolkit and teaches you how to develop a message, pitch the media, and lobby your government. Learn how to apply these skills to issues you care about with briefings on the Seattle Waterfront, Arts Neighborhoods, and a Neighborhood Building Project. Free admission, registration required.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost Time and Density

A few weeks ago, I walked past the Joshua Green Building and saw some workers toiling with the Carroll's Jewelers clock out front.

As one would suspect by looking at this photo, the clock has since been moved. According to this blurb on the DJC site, the shop closed in the spring and the clock was donated to the MOHAI.

I always liked this clock because it reminds me of the cover of The Adventures of Augie March, and the famous clock on Marshall Fields in Chicago.

At times I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Obviously, the need for public clocks has long since evaporated but the patina on the Chicago clock, as well as the dense crowds occupying the sidewalk on the Bellow cover, transport me to a time when city life seemed to be bustling rather than emptying out after standard working hours. And, true, the photo on the Bellow cover was taken a few years in to the Great Depression -- a time to which I'd rather not return -- when the density was about 25% greater than it is now. I can't say what Seattle would look like with a 25% increase in density but I suspect that it would probably be a good thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I'm about due for a positive post so let's visit the corner of 14th and Pine on Capitol Hill, specifically the building on the southwest corner.

I think it's fair to call this the apotheosis of functional diversity; on the ground level it houses an Italian restaurant, a furniture store, an architecture firm, a salon, a children's clothing store and a gardening store, all of which are capped by what I assume are apartments. Spatially this building is not overwhelming; it takes up about a sixth of the block on which it sits (as opposed to the Braeburn Apartments, which take up half of an identical block and are a story taller at the corner, and, thankfully, house the Online Coffee Company). Economically, I would say the retailers in this building are reasonably priced though not exactly appealing to a different "class" of consumer (they are all independent outlets, to my knowledge).

Take a step back and you'll notice that the entire corner is diverse. I took this photo from in front of Online, across the street from a caterer to the west and a church to the south. Not to mention that there is also a fire station, a watch shop, a piano studio, a real estate office and the sales office for the mythological Cameo Condos (more on this later) on the same block.

Granted, this corner isn't bustling with activity throughout the day. I think that is due to the fact that it is bounded on two sides by primarily residential areas and by a major road (Madison) a block away to the south. Regardless, this type of building -- modestly sized and functionally diverse -- seems like a better building block for the neighborhood than, say, the Press Condos, which take up an entire block of Belmont north of Pine and only offer the community a snooty restaurant/bar with a misspelled name that I can't even bring myself to type...oops, there is that negativity again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Retail Diversity

In Response to Jennifer Langston’s article in the Seattle P-I “Seattle’s small shops…”:

“Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration,” writes Jane Jacobs in the final sentence of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her critique of postwar urban planning, which is often celebrated and frequently cited in the academic world, yet seemingly ignored in practice. Published nearly fifty years ago, her seminal work – which stresses, among other things, the importance of diversity, active streetscapes and buildings of all ages – remains incredibly relevant in the “world-class city” we are ostensibly trying to build. However, as Jennifer Langston shows in her article on the displacement of established independent retailers by shiny new mixed-use developments in West Seattle, Jacobs’ wisdom has again been relegated to the bookshelf while developers continue to homogenize our city in the name of expediency and low-risk returns.

Whether one is concerned with twin-tower condominium projects downtown, mid-rise and mixed-use condo projects on Capitol Hill or the ubiquitous townhouse rows that Lawrence Cheek described as “The Townhouse Scourge,” a poignant unifying theme is the disregard for diversity. The extent of this disregard is, paradoxically, remarkably diverse. It ignores both economic and aesthetic diversity: groups of varying income levels, living in or patronizing establishments diverse in function and form, are replaced by new groups in visually indistinctive, often block-long developments, which are affordable to only a small subset of the population. Spatial and temporal diversity also fall to the wayside: extensive redevelopment of an area isolates the new architecture in time, leaving it disconnected from the history of the area and often becoming the dominant style, which overpowers any remaining buildings. Traditional distinctions between public and private spaces are also blurred: a new project may, much like a shopping mall, provide intentional or de facto “public space” for the surrounding area, but if one attempts to partake in an old-fashioned public activity, such as handing out pamphlets or staging a political demonstration, the security guards will likely come running.

In the case of Funky Janes, the West Seattle consignment shop profiled in Langston’s article, which lost its first lease because it appealed to an alternative demographic, this disregard for diversity might better be described as paternalistic or even authoritarian, both adjectives that would probably make most businessmen, including developers, cringe.

On the other hand, developers like Dunn & Hobbes, who have helped propagate diversity on Capitol Hill with the Agnes Lofts and Pacific Supply Company hardware store restoration, show an authentic concern for the current residents, as well as the future residents whom they are hoping to attract. Returning to the spatial aspect of development, the modest size of these projects speaks volumes about the intent of the project: rather than attempting to transform the area via sheer magnitude, as in the case of block-long projects, they simply cut out a small parcel and become another integral part of the increasingly vibrant urban fabric; as for temporality, where the larger developments seek rapid change, the smaller are part of a slower organic evolution. Fremont was not built in a day.

We must remember that one of Seattle’s finest points is that it has not been overrun by big-box retailers and chain restaurants, at least not yet. Ensuring that small, independent, and diverse enterprises can continue to thrive is of paramount importance as we strive to create a vibrant, livable and sustainable built environment.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Facebook for Design Professionals

Today I received an email from a reader of this site referring me to Konstructr, a social networking site for those involved in the construction industry (Designers, Planners, Financiers, etc). The site is still new and the creators are looking for feedback, but I would recommend that anyone with similar interests/career paths take a look.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


While walking past 1700 Olive on Friday, I noticed this Energy Star sign in the window. I don't have any familiarity with this ranking system but I was happy to see the sign.

This building is home Clise Properties, who, by the way, owns quite a few properties in the Denny Triangle area, some of which is for sale according to this map. In fact, the purpose of my walk was to try and photograph this area where Westlake bisects the bland grid of downtown. This area, which begins at the back corner of Westlake Center, where Fifth crosses Olive, has been my favorite part of Seattle (visually) since I moved here three years ago.

This sort of layout is exactly what Jane Jacobs is talking about when she says, "a good many city streets (not all) need visual interruptions, cutting off the indefinite distant view and at the same time visually heightening and celebrating intense street use by giving it a hint of enclosure and entity." This photo of the Medical and Dental Building doesn't do the area justice, but it shows how nonorthogonal streets, coupled with visual interruptions can make for a more interesting district.

Moving North and returning to Clise, we come to 7th/Westlake/Virginia. Not too long ago there was a rendering of a future building atop the white billboard in the upper left corner -- if you look closely you can see the poles that supported the sign -- but perhaps they are not continuing with the project. According to the aforementioned map, this property is for sale.

Another property that is not, at least to my knowledge, for sale is the eyesore of a McDonalds at 6th/Westlake/Virginia.

I love the small triangular lot on which this abomination sits and think it would be a fantastic location for a building shaped like the long lost Hotel Seattle or Pb Elemental's Trophy Building.

(rendering taken from Pb Elemental's website --

I can't help but see the potential of this area and hope that future developments are small and diverse, rather than huge monoliths like Insignia Towers, under construction a few blocks away (on a former Clise property).