Thursday, October 30, 2008

Urban Election

While watching Obama's short program last night, I was reminded of this post on BLDGBLOG, which raises the question of the importance of small-town values when our nation (and the world) is becoming more urban all the time. Check it out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Argonaut Folly

I'm not sure how many visitors to this site have read the "manifesto" that launched it. The original intent was to form a group of like-minded individuals who would develop a green, multifamily cooperative in which they would live, similar to a family buying a plot of land and having a contractor build them a house. In an effort to keep people's attention and not just say, "hey guys, let's do this," I have spent the majority of my blogging time commenting on projects around Seattle and trying to express my thoughts on what makes cities livable. However, I just finished reading an article in n+1 about similar projects throughout history, starting with Jason and the Argonauts and continuing up to actual co-housing projects as well as being manifested in the comic book, X-Men.

You should read the article; it was written by Joshua Glenn and is titled The Argonaut Folly. The Seattle Public Library has a subscription to n+1 and you can find the essay in issue five.

The gist of is argument, which is counter to what I've written, is that the group need not be all that similar. The only real point about which to rally is freedom from the quotidian. While this is a little more loose than I had initially imagined, it makes plenty of sense. All I'd ask is that our loose band of rebels/misfits/dreamers has the means to uphold their end of the project, and is committed to constructing a seriously eco-friendly abode. Sounds simple, right?

Mr. Glenn ends his article with a plea for anyone with similar feelings to contact him by letter. That's exactly what I'm doing here, electronically. With that said, I'm going to write the gentleman a letter this weekend. Maybe you'll write me an email.

Friday, October 10, 2008


A recent announcement from Allied Arts of Seattle:

Pike/Pine neighborhood conservation open house

Tuesday, October 14th
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Seattle Central Community College Room 1110

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen invites you to an open house to discuss neighborhood conservation and the future of Pike/Pine. City staff will provide information about the first phase of proposed Land Use Code changes intended to continue the implementation of the Pike/Pine Neighborhood Plan and to protect the special character of Pike/Pine.

The Pike/Pine neighborhood of Capitol Hill has had a special zoning designation since 1995. This zoning, known as an "overlay district," has promoted the development we have seen, with commercial buildings on the ground floor, and housing above. Unfortunately, the development has caused the demolition of unique buildings and the loss of small local businesses that make Pike/Pine a unique and affordable neighborhood. The proposed Land Use Code changes will address these issues.

For more information contact Councilmember Tom Rasmussen at (206) 624-8808 or

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Not So Huge

I took these photos back in August while walking from downtown to lower Queen Anne. The first is a construction photo of the Alex Condos, which likely looks completely different now, and the latter is the headquarters of Pensar Development, an engineering company. Though these buildings serve different purposes, they are similar in size and that's what draws me to each.

In the era of (hopefully dead) block-long developments and worse (Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards -- see Dissent article here), it is so refreshing to see something at a more reasonable scale. Take Pb Elemental's 151 Lofts: would you rather live in a wonderful building like this or, as the narrator says in Fight Club, a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals, like the offensively reactionary (not to mention intrusive with respect to the sidewalk) Olive 8? And in all honesty, I'm not even that into the modernist aesthetic. It just happens that several of the projects at the scale I cherish were designed in this fashion.

I was reminded of Jane Jacobs' dislike for large projects while recently reading about the Kelo v. New London (2005) Supreme Court decision that upheld that city's right to exercise eminent domain on the grounds of spurring economic development (the city subsequently handed the land over to private developers to execute the redevelopment plan). Before you freak out, as I did -- I thought eminent domain was only used for projects that served the public -- rest assured that the case didn't set any precedent for such behavior. It basically says that economic development for depressed areas is beneficial to the public and that cities must exercise caution and not play favorites, etc.

Anyway, besides pointing out these questionable uses of eminent domain (fifty years earlier), Jacobs discusses some negative sides of huge projects. A major one is how they attempt to change an area immediately (cataclysmic money is thrown at an area rather than gradual money being slowly invested) when the process of true community building takes time. Another downfall is that block-long developments, like the Sheraton along 7th Ave, are bland visually while areas made up of small, diverse buildings, like Fremont, are interesting.

While the Alex Condos may never develop into a full-fledged "community," I'd bet the residents feel more like one than those in the high-rises; and though skyscrapers atop podiums are all the rage, they certainly don't offer much to one experiencing the city from the sidewalk.