Let’s Bury I-5: Redux

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Earlier this year I proposed capping Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle. The original idea was radical, and it received a flood of positive and negative feedback. This entry looks at the project more critically, dials it back to a reasonable scope, and includes additional details. I’m tackling this again because I plan to pursue it as a thesis for my master’s degree over the coming year. I chose not to update the original post in order to preserve it as a record, but to accommodate new readers I have repeated (and edited) some of the original content here.

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Legacy and Prophecy: The 2014 APA Washington State Conference

The annual two-day Washington state planning conference wrapped on Friday in Spokane, and I came away with a refreshed sense of the many issues planners face both now and in the coming years. The sessions covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from farmland preservation and family housing to economic development and comprehensive plan updates. The two keynote speakers reiterated the need for smart growth strategies and keys to success of retail districts. I only attended a few of the many sessions, and what is offered here is a brief review of them and ongoing planning in Spokane, the state’s second largest city.

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Event Recap: U-District Open Space Forum

Some 100 University District residents and employees attended a new community forum on Tuesday night that seeks to revitalize the neighborhood’s vision for its existing and future public spaces. Seattle’s standards for open space are 1 acre/1,000 households and 1 acre/10,000 jobs, and currently the neighborhood has a 3 acre deficit. With 1,500 residential units now under construction or planned, and an additional 4,000 units expected by 2035, the neighborhood’s open space deficit will surely grow. Amidst other planning processes, including an upzoning centered around the 45th Street light rail station, the goal of the forum is to publish an updated public space plan for the U-District that will guide future planning and development.

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U-District to Discuss Neighborhood Open Space

The U-District Partnership will host a community forum on Tuesday, October 7th at 7pm at Alder Hall (1310 NE 40th Street) with the Seattle planning and parks departments to discuss public open space in the the University District, one of Seattle’s most populous neighborhoods. Despite being adjacent to a major university campus, according to the U-District Parks Plan the area has less than half of the recommended park and open space it needs. An under-construction light rail station and impending upzone have prompted debate about how to ensure future residents and employees have enough breathing room.

The U-District Partnership is an organization of business and university leaders focused on creating a vibrant neighborhood. U-District Square is a separate group of citizens who are specifically advocating for constructing a plaza on top of the light rail station, which is scheduled to open in 2021, and who are also leading the effort to construct an adjacent parklet on 43rd Street (Kickstarter campaign). The City of Seattle is also considering the feasibility of converting 43rd and 42nd Streets, which are east-west streets connecting with the university campus, into “green streets” with landscaping and pedestrian improvements. Brooklyn Avenue near the station is being studied for traffic calming and bicycle improvements, and may even be designated as a festival street for farmer’s markets and other frequent events.

Major existing open spaces in the neighborhood only include Cowen Park and a parking lot at the University Heights Community Center, and there are at least two P-Patches for community gardening. The large median within Campus Parkway, which is pedestrian accessible, is being eyed for major improvements.

The forum will continue with two additional events on October 30th and December 3rd.

A Planner’s Visit to Vancouver

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The Vancouver skyline.

After growing up and living the Pacific Northwest for many years I finally had an opportunity to visit Vancouver, British Columbia last weekend. Along with Seattle and Portland, it is an important hub of the Cascadia region and I was intrigued by what I’ve heard about it. And, quite frankly, I had a stunning experience. Though I was only in the city for about 30 hours, I could see that Vancouver is much more progressive in its city planning and design, resulting in an urban environment that is highly sustainable and delightfully livable.

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It’s All About Streets

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Think of different types of public space and parks, plazas, and piers probably come to mind. Streets are another type that often make up the largest share of publicly-owned land within cities, but they may not be obviously “public” in the civic sense when a community only uses them for transportation (and most frequently, for moving cars as fast as possible). In many cities streets are an overlooked opportunity to serve many other purposes; when properly designed, they can be places for people to do business, meet each other, play or wander, and eat and drink, along with moving people and goods. Urban denizens spend much of their time on streets, regardless of how they are designed, so these spaces offer one of the greatest potentials to enhance livability. Make great streets, and you’re on your way to great cities.

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Pronto Set for a Rainy Start

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Pronto Cycle Share, previously working under the name of Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS), has secured sponsorships, station locations, and is set to launch on Monday, October 13th. Annual memberships ($85) started being offered this past Monday, with the first signup being none other than Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. According to the Pronto website, the system will open with 50 stations and 500  bicycles through Downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and the University District. The system will contribute to the city’s diversity of transportation options, but because of its late launch it may be off to a rocky start.

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Germany Visits South Lake Union

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Last week I led a tour of students and professors from the University of Munich’s Department of Geography through South Lake Union (SLU) . It was a great experience for me, as I’ve never done anything like it, and the German group got to see the city’s most rapidly evolving neighborhood. Their primary studies are in the economics of geographic tourism, but among the mix of undergraduate and graduate students some were more interested in ecological design, urban planning, or related subjects. In our brief walk through the neighborhood we also had an enlightening discussion about the differences between American and European cities and culture.

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