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Gasworks Gets Ready for the Big Bang

Fourth of July activities start getting set up July 3 at Gas Works Park. King 5 has an article about the 15 best viewing spots around Lake Union. The fireworks are part of Seafair, noon to 11 p.m.

A brother’s tragic passing: Facing death in life

Death came to my family’s door in recent weeks. My brother’s son, who has experienced psychotic episodes for years, stabbed my brother Chris to death. Alex had just been released from a mental hospital a month before, and stopped taking his medications. He always relapsed when he did this, and he did again.

Ironically, my brother was a psychiatric nurse who along with his wife, Pam, undertook heroic efforts to try to help Alex. In the end, Chris died trying to save Alex from the demons of schizophrenia that plague his soul. Our family finds the loss of Chris and the life potential of a young man who had great promise a twofold tragedy.

Having one close family member killed by another is one of the great tragedies anyone can face. And my family and I have now faced this. We live in a society noted for its denial of death, obsessed with pushing it out of mind. Shoved hard up against the brute reality of death, and one that was untimely and senseless, denial is not an option. It brings to the surface every sense of vulnerability and mortality that normally stays buried, or which comes out as surface anxiety about this or that life circumstance, but really in the end is about dying. It has me musing a lot on the reality of death in life, and about how we must grapple with this reality to live life with authenticity.

The reality of death has surrounded us lately. The day before my brother’s demise, it came close on my Northwest home ground when a Union Pacific oil train derailed and exploded in the Columbia Gorge, forcing evacuations in Mosier, Oregon. Very fortunately for Mosier, only a few tanker cars burst into flames, and no one died. If more had gone up, the town could have shared the fate of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where an oil train exploded July 6, 2013, destroying 30 buildings and killing 47 people. After the Gorge derail, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said that to continue running these bomb trains is “insane.” In this case, the mental illness is a virtually sociopathic pursuit of profit at all cost, and a denial of the deaths that might come to others as a consequence.

A week to the day after Chris was killed, another tragic event brought the reality of death in life to the whole nation. As my daughter and I left the motel to return from my brother’s funeral in Pennsylvania the next morning, CNN was blasting news of the many dead in Orlando from the lobby TV.

In a Facebook post some days before, I had written, “People around the world suffer tragic and senseless losses of loved ones to violence. From Syria and Iraq to mass shootings in the U.S. Now my family has. I can’t take away much meaning in this except to deepen my sense of compassion for those who have suffered similar losses.”

I could not have expected such a monumental event to come so close in time, 49 dead, 53 injured, in the largest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history. An individual driven by hatred and derangement. I know, in a way I would not have known before, the deep grief and soul wounding that at least hundreds of family and friends of the Orlando victims are feeling now. It is a feeling of darkness that burns like a deep black fire into the depths of your soul. The loved one taken away. The loss you can never replace. The empty hole that you know can never be completely filled. The experience of death in life.

I have spent many years working to address one of the largest life and death issues ever to confront humanity, the radical climate disruption caused by carbon pollution. A 2012 report puts annual deaths due to climate disruption at 400,000, from people dying in heat waves to children extinguished by hunger and disease. But climate can seem like a large wonky, abstract issue and numbers are themselves abstractions. They obscure the reality of the human beings behind them. Of a child dying in the arms of a mother wracked by despair at her helplessness to save her dearest. Of a father whose absence will leave his wife and sons and daughters pitted with sorrow. To really comprehend the large issue of climate, we need to touch those human realities of death in life, to feel these losses as our own.

Death is coming upon our world, and we cannot deny its reality. From the death of much of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other corals around the world, along with the biodiversity they represent, to the multitude of deaths brought by drought and heat waves searing hundreds of millions in India. Because of the momentum of climate change, the losses will be greater no matter what we do. We will lose coastal cities to sea level rise, from New Orleans to Venice. Innumerable species will go extinct. Superstorms will wrack continents. Breadbaskets will become dustbowls. The wrenching reality, so hard to face, is that now we can only contain the damage and hope to leave a world with which our kids can at least cope. We must also confront the very real chance that we might not make it, and our world will plunge into civilization-destroying catastrophe. Somehow, pierced by the reality of a death so close, I have found a new grace to take in the possibility of failure.

Much climate denial is about denying the reality of these deaths we must face as a world. The climate movement itself finds it difficult to grapple with these realities or honestly communicate them. But we are late in the game, rushing headlong into oblivion. We can no longer afford to downplay, soft-pedal or bright side what faces us. Ourselves the products of a culture dedicated to the denial of death, we have to summon up the courage to speak the truth and say we have already visited the future with a legacy of death. That unless we rise to the challenge rapidly and in a massive way, many more will die and we well might collapse our civilization. We must confront the reality of death in life, knowing that much will be lost, in order to save that which we can.

Chris Mazza, 1958-2016, "There is no death, only a change in worlds." --Chief Seattle

Chris Mazza, 1958-2016, “There is no death, only a change in worlds.” –Chief Seattle

To come to terms with the many challenges we face, both personally and as a world, we need a quality that my brother exemplified, that of empathy and concern for other human beings. As a psychiatric nurse, Chris did not have a glamour job, or one that was particularly high paid. But he dedicated his life to helping the most troubled among us. Many of his fellow workers showed up on the viewing line. They testified to how much he cared for patients and for them. Chris was the glue for his state mental hospital ward and the union shop steward. Nurses on the women’s ward the floor below described him as their protector, the one who showed up first when they had trouble. Some were in tears. Their grief at his passing was real and deep.

Chris was also was the one among our four siblings who most took care of our aging mom, and who last summer drew the family together for the first time in over a dozen years. I will forever prize those last times with him. He was one of those good, humble human beings who put others first, the kind of human being the world needs more of. The hundreds who showed up for his viewing and funeral were testimony to how many lives Chris touched. As I said in my words at his funeral, if I die with as many friends as Chris, I will count my life a success.

If there is any grace in my brother’s tragic death, it is to deepen my empathy for my fellow human beings. In the end, I don’t know if we get through what we face without that quality. Whether as individuals coping with our own personal realities, or as a people dealing with the tragic consequences of our time. I will miss my brother, and take from his life the example of caring. A death, even a senseless one, can have redemptive value if it makes those left behind become better human beings. I can only hope that my brother’s death, the way it is making me confront the realities of death in life, and calling me to empathy and compassion, will have that value. That will be a legacy of life in the midst of death.

 

Patrick Mazza is a Lake Union writer on sustainability issues. This is a cross post from his blog Cascadia Planet.

U.W. gets high marks for sustainability

The Blue Heron just happened to come across a group of people burrowing up from the new U.W. Link light rail station for a tour of the sustainability features of the U.W. campus a sunny day last month in April, for Earth Month.

trailclosed

Burke Gilman Trail closed but should open sometime in June 2016.

The group’s first stop was at the ravaged Burke Gilman trail which has been in detour mode for months, feels like years now, but for a good cause; the segment between 15th Avenue and Rainier Vista is being widened from the current 12-to-16 foot lane to 24 feet and being made into separate pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians. It will be completed in July.

Biologysite

A state-of-the-art Life Sciences Building is going in at this site across from the Medical Center where the U.W.’s first urban farm once was. The botany greenhouse will also be replaced.

Just beyond that overlooking NE Pacific St., the U.W.’s first urban farm is being demolished to make way for a state of the art, 169,000 square foot Life Sciences Building to be home to the Biology Department. Forget images of isolated, lonely lab work; the building will be conducive to “’unexpected synergies’” to promote “entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary” approaches “to teaching and conducting research,” says the website. Adjacent to the new building, a 20,000 square foot biology greenhouse will replace the 67-year-old botany greenhouse. (Recently Huskies helped move plants to new homes.)

The building’s south side will have fins to reduce glare and provide shading. Those will be embedded with solar panels, which turn out to no more costly than aluminum save for the electrical wiring. “Even though the solar panels will not be optimally placed to generate solar power,” wrote tour leader Chris Toman in an email follow-up, “the cost to install them is on par with installing more traditional materials and will offset some of the buildings energy needs.“

There are also plans to reuse lab water to irrigate the greenhouse although that is dependent on funding.

All the new U.W. buildings are LEED silver, some gold. Not just construction but also transportation is going green. The university has 260 flexible-fuel vehicles in it 712-vehicle fleet. It will have a total of 42 electric cars by June 2016. There are 41 EV charging stations around campus, with five of those available for public use.

Bike racks double as landscape fencing.

Bike racks double as landscaping fencing.

About 4,000 of the smart U.W. students bike to class rain or shine every day making use of 650 bike lockers and numerous bike racks around campus.

Communicating with high tech trash, recycling and compost cans.

Communicating with high tech trash, recycling and compost cans.

Even the trash cans are smart. Once the Big Belly Solar waste receptacles are full they text maintenance staff to come empty them.

Make way for ducklings!

Make way for ducklings!

Sustainability features extend to the U.W.’s wildlife too – no not parties – ducks, the feathered kind that swim in the spectacular Drumheller Fountain. The fountain has a duck ramp so that baby ducks can get out. This used to be a problem as the ducklings couldn’t fly or scale the fountain’s steep sides. Now they have safe passage.

Home of a blue heron.

Home of a blue heron.

Just southwest of the fountain, hidden in a patch of tall trees known as Island Grove, Blue Herons have been nesting since 2007. As the tour group stood around peering up at the nests high in the trees, one flew in, gliding through the tree tops, circling and disappearing among the branches. The photographer was so captivated, she failed to take a picture, knowing there wouldn’t be time, instead watching as the bird appeared and was gone. “Sweet!” someone said.  And another remarked to Chris, “You planned that well.”

 

Bonus photo: a Secret Garden at the U.W. Hint: it is near the fountain.

Bonus photo: a Secret Garden at the U.W. Hint: it is near the fountain.

For a fascinating historical perspective, the U.W. has an online Environmental  History Tour.

The climate hour is late – Time to rapidly Break Free from fossil fuels

This is a cross post from Cascadia Planet, a Lake Union blog:

The climate hour is late, too late for anything but the most sweeping and fundamental efforts to break free from fossil fuels. Lying oil companies have skewed our political system, blocking effective response for over 25 years.  Now the Earth’s climate is severely twisting under the effects of fossil fuel carbon pollution.  Never has the disruption been more visible than in recent months.

This is the first of a series of blog posts leading up the largest direct actions against the fossil fuel industry in history.  From May 4-16 Break Free, staged by the global 350.org network and other groups, will mount actions at six U.S. locations and in 10 other countries around the world. Civil disobedience will play a leading role.  That will definitely be the case for the Pacific Northwest action, taking place from May 13-15 at oil refineries in Anacortes, Washington and organized by a broad coalition of mainly grassroots groups and collectives from around the Northwest.

After many years of political system failure, we can rely only on a massive people power wave capable of making demands for fundamental and rapid system change.  A political system corrupted by the greatest series of corporate crimes in history leaves no other option.

Investigative journalists recently uncovered how oil companies systemically lied about climate disruption, knowing the monstrous implications of their deceits. Journalists documented that Exxon scientists researched fossil-fuel-driven climate disruption in the 1970s and 1980s, and accurately predicted the outcomes.  These revelations are now fueling fraud investigations by 20 state attorneys general across the country.

Exxon and its cohort of oil companies knew exactly what they were doing when in the late 1980s they began funding disinformation campaigns meant to cast doubt on climate science and stop regulations that would have reduced carbon pollution.  Their tragic success already spells the death of millions of people and extinction of uncounted species.  It is the absolutely pinnacle example of how powerful corporate institutions driven by the imperative to preserve profit and the value of capital assets will take our planet down if we let them.

Thus, to break free from fossil fuels, we need to break free from the institutional corruption that pervades our society, and prevents meaningful progress.  To paraphrase John Lennon, we need to free our minds from the institutions that have held back our imagination of what this society could be if we decided to make a world fit for our children.

Make no mistake.  Our generation is well on the way to leaving a legacy of utter desolation. Severe climate disruption is already upon us.  We need to understand what this means.  Climate is an abstract word, and that is part of the challenge in drawing people to respond to it. Climate is in essence the pattern of wind and ocean currents that drive weather patterns around the globe.  It hits home in the amount and intensity of rain and snow a region receives, or does not, as well as extremes of heat and cold, and the way they lock in for extended periods.   Wind and ocean currents are becoming seriously twisted.

This is evidenced by the Pacific Ocean’s third monster El Nino in 34 years, affecting weather patterns across the Earth, and by warm winds blowing over the Arctic leaving the March 2016 maximum Arctic Ocean icepack tied for 2015 as the lowest ever recorded.  Going into melt season, this could set up record low ice cover this summer, with expanded patches of blue water soaking solar heat that white ice would otherwise repel into space. Heating of the Arctic is likely slowing and stalling the jet stream, one of the world’s major weather generators, resulting in massive deluges and snowstorms in some places, scorching heat and drought in others.  And, as much feared, it is now documented that Greenland icecap meltwater is interfering with North Atlantic currents that transport warm water from the tropics.  While the world is seeing record warmth, the North Atlantic is witnessing record cold.  The cold-warm contrast is already fueling more intense storms.

Underscoring the emergence of a climate emergency, scientific agencies reported that this January and February were by far the hottest ever recorded.  It was the largest spike over average temperatures on record.  At 1.35° Celsius, reported by NASA, it came perilously close to the 1.5°C limit set as an aspirational goal by the recent Paris climate summit, and regarded by many scientists as an absolute limit to prevent runaway climate catastrophe.    In fact, with climate-twisting carbon emissions at a record, we are well on the way to a 4°C increase as early as this century. This represents a massive crime against climate justice.

“As the planet warms, climatic conditions, heat and other weather extremes which occur once in hundreds of years, if ever, and considered highly unusual or unprecedented today would become the ‘new climate normal’ as we approach 4°C – a frightening world of increased risks and global instability,” the World Bank recently reported. “The consequences for development would be severe as crop yields decline, water resources change, diseases move into new ranges, and sea levels rise. Ending poverty, increasing global prosperity and reducing global inequality, already difficult, will be much harder with 2°C warming, but at 4°C there is serious doubt whether these goals can be achieved at all.”

The human face of this could be seen when the most powerful storm to make landfall in Southern Hemisphere history plowed into Fiji February 20, killing 42 and destroying the homes of 62,000.  At seven percent of the nation’s population, that would equate to 23 million Americans being suddenly driven from their homes. Category 5 Typhoon Winston, with winds up to 185 mph, was the second most powerful tropical cyclone to hit land in the planet’s history after Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in 2013.  These storms underscore the tragic fact that the fossil fuel consumption, mostly by the richer countries, is taking from poor people of color what little they have.

In the face of all this, when the world should be taking desperate measures to reduce carbon emissions, 2015 saw record growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The Titanic is headed toward the iceberg and the captain is ordering the boilers stoked to speed the ship toward its destination.

The climate emergency is now staring us in the face, as is the bankruptcy of politics as usual.  We must break free from fossil fuels, and relentlessly drive for a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy.  The next post will detail how we must undertake this energy revolution, which is well within our grasp.

This is all that Typhoon Winston, the most powerful landfalling storm in Southern Hemisphere history, left Kalisi and her three-year-old son, Tuvosa, when it hit Fiji Feb. 20.  Climate disruption created by the richest nations is hitting the poorest nations hardest. This compels us in the global North to rise up for climate justice.  Photo Courtesy Reuters/Unicef-Sokhin

This is all that Typhoon Winston, the most powerful landfalling storm in Southern Hemisphere history, left Kalisi and her three-year-old son, Tuvosa, when it hit Fiji Feb. 20. Climate disruption created by the richest nations is hitting the poorest nations hardest. This compels us in the global North to rise up for climate justice. Photo Courtesy Reuters/Unicef-Sokhin

Wallyhood Resurrected?

A few weeks back the Wallyhood Blog seemed to give up the ghost.

The founder had taken a leave of absence. Contributor and co-editor, Eric, took over, publishing frequently. Then a post on Ride the Ducks unintentionally offended. It was immediately edited with a follow-up apology. But the response was unforgiving. The internet can be merciless when it takes offense.

And exhausting.

Eric bowed out, writing a Swan Song, and founder, Jordan Schwartz, followed up with a Goodnight Wallingford post.

“I was feeling burnt out by the unrelenting commitment of posting every day for 7 years,” wrote Jordan in an email, “and having to deal with that vitriol on top of it was the straw that broke the camel’s back…. [T]he incident caused me to reflect on ‘why am I pouring myself into this?’”

Both posts received many supportive comments, but the blog lay dormant for a time.

Then like the coming of spring seemed to show signs of life. Articles on a helicopter over Wallingford and an arsonist alert were just too important not to share.

Then Jordan wrote that he was reconsidering the decision to put the blog to bed. A lot of people had contacted him about keeping it going.

Now a Wallyhood 2.0 is in the works.

Will it be as wildly successful as the original Wallyhood? Only time will tell.

Wallyhood 1.0 began seven years ago. Jordan started it, he said, because he liked to write, and he didn’t really feel connected to the neighborhood. All that changed with the blog, which today has some 2,000 subscribers and 14,000 more unique visitors each month.

His personable style won over some readers and seemed to baffle others at times. His goal, he once wrote, was to make the feel of the blog more like neighbors chatting over a fence than objective news reporting.

He began by posting two to three articles a day for the first year and half, a grueling pace, then hit a rhythm with about one article a day. Other contributors stepped up. The blog gets plenty of news tips, too many to chase down. It also got sponsorships without too much effort although those have been returned with the shuttering of the blog.

At a recent meeting at Murphy’s Pub to talk about the blog’s future, (it was one of two meetings set up to accommodate people’s schedules) nine people showed up. Jordan said he wanted to have more of an advisor role in the blog and get away from the day to day work of keeping it going. He’s definitely burnt out he added. He described how the blog had evolved, and people kicked around ideas for what to do next.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping people involved, Jordan said. But the group seemed undaunted, and one man voiced what everyone likely felt, “What you’ve built by yourself, it’s incredible.”

By the end of the second meeting the following night, Wallyhood 2.0 was germinating.

 

Eastlake Community Council sends letter to the city to fix Fairview Ave. flooding

The ducks love it, but flooding on Fairview Avenue isn’t much fun for anyone else. The water is dirty and nearly two feet deep in some places, and it’s taking away scarce Eastlake parking, wearing away infrastructure, and forcing pedestrians off the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop pathway onto the roadway with cars, according to a February 2, Eastlake Community Council  letter sent to the mayor, city representatives, and city councilmember, Rob Johnson.

The four-page letter outlines the history of the three-year-old problem and requests something be done before it gets worse and costs the city more money to fix.

The ECC also notes that adjacent, local business, United States Seafoods, has used their own resources to pump the water from the street, but it’s not their responsibility, and the flooding may be damaging their property.

But challenges represent opportunities to paraphrase a Chinese proverb. Fixing Fairview is a good opportunity to enact some of those planned for Cheshiahud Loop improvements, the letter points out. The 2009 Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop Master Plan has several “general recommendations” (see page 51) for the stretch from East Blaine Street to Terry Pettus Park (the flooding is happening between there, from E. Blaine to E. Newton streets). They are:

  • Create a wider pedestrian walkway with uniform grading and special paving on the west side of Fairview.
  • Enhance path/driveway crossings to enhance visibility and awareness.
  • Prune and/or enhance vegetation to provide visual interest along pathway and visibility of path from street.

Will the city respond to the ECC letter? Stay tuned.

 

2014 pumping out Fairview Ave.

2014 pumping out Fairview Ave.

2014 parking lot flooding view from on high.

2014 parking lot flooding view from on high.

2015 water over walkway forces pedestrians onto roadway.

2015 water over walkway forces pedestrians onto roadway.

Three pumps run for six hours to drain Fairview Ave. but flooding returns the next day.

Three pumps run for six hours to drain Fairview Ave. but flooding returns the next day.

Should bike lanes replace parking on Eastlake Ave.? Plus Fairview Bridge Replacement update

If you attended SDOTs open houses on Roosevelt to Downtown High Capacity Transit Study on December 9 or 10 and on Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement on November 10, then you didn’t miss much at the January 12 public meeting, as information from the open houses is largely unchanged. The city is still collecting comments on the Roosevelt to downtown design that can be submitted on line.

What you did miss was a lively conversation about neighborhood concerns chiefly involving the removal of parking along Eastlake to make way for dedicated bike lanes but also about several other issues connected with both projects.

The question is should bike facilities, i.e. lanes, replace most or all of the parking on Eastlake Avenue? A representative from the Cascade Bike Club said a November survey on a rainy evening commute counted 500 bicyclists using Eastlake Avenue and that the avenue, while definitely not safe for bicyclists, was the most convenient corridor. Eastlake is also the street called out in the Bike Master Plan. Many voiced concerns about losing parking on Eastlake predicting that it would kill local businesses. Others argued that making the neighborhood more bicycle and pedestrian friendly would help local businesses. Finally Alison Townsend, the SDOT staff member presenting, suggested a show of hands. Eight people were in favor of losing parking for bicycle lanes. Eleven were in favor of keeping parking. (Others choose not to vote.) The split seemed to come down to generational lines, with the younger generation in favor of the bike lanes and the older generation in favor of parking.

Dec. 9 last half hour at Open House at TOPS; not comment in colorful post-it notes on the board with question below.

Dec. 9, last half hour at Open House at TOPS; note comments in colorful post-it notes on the board with question below:

The topic of January 12 ECC Public Meeting at TOPS.

The topic of January 12 ECC Public Meeting at TOPS.

But in the end everyone agreed that they cared about local businesses and safe bicycling and wasn’t there some kind of solution? One audience member suggested using business parking lots when they’re not in use for weekend and evening public parking. Liability issues could be a challenge, said Ms. Townsend. Another person said that was the best suggestion all evening. A formal private parking inventory of Eastlake has not been done, said Ms. Townsend, suggesting that might be a start. There was also a suggestion to create more short-term parking zones in the neighborhoods, to ensure parking turnover for local businesses.

Full BRT shows parking disappearing on Eastlake Avenue.

Full BRT shows parking disappearing on Eastlake Avenue.

Targeted BRT investment shows parking available off peak and two views -- bike lanes on either side or two-way bike facility on one side.

Targeted BRT investment shows parking available off peak and two views — bike lanes on either side or two-way bike facility on one side.

No one seemed opposed to losing the local bus service for a more frequent bus rapid transit (BRT) along the lines of Metro’s new Rapid Ride. It will mean fewer stops on Eastlake but faster service. The goal is to have 72% of Eastlakers within a 10 minute walk of a bus stop and with the stop having ten minute or better bus service. Proposed bus stops are at Garfield, Lynn, Hamlin, and Furman. One audience member questioned the ability to meet the 10 minute walkshed as, for many people, the stops will be uphill.

Why the need for BRT?  As Ms. Townsend told the group, Link light rail will connect downtown to Capitol Hill, U District, (and eventually Northgate and beyond) but there is no good transit connection to South Lake Union from the north, and 36% of Seattle jobs are in the Roosevelt to downtown corridor.

Worst case scenario is that Eastlake Avenue will become even more of a transit freeway than it already is and nobody wants that.

A chief concern posed by the Eastlake Community Council is losing the center left turn lanes and center median strips. (A comprehensive look at the difficult trade offs for the corridor can be found on the ECC website.) The center lane has many benefits, said ECC President, Chris Leman, and was fought for years ago by the neighbor as a traffic improvement. The center lane keeps traffic flowing by allowing for safe left hand turns into neighborhood streets and businesses. It also services as a temporary quick loading zone for many businesses and as a refuge for pedestrians crossing Eastlake. SDOT noted that the last two purposes were not the intended use and suggested that better design could address those issues.

A couple of people mentioned that they don’t envy SDOT’s task of trying to sort out the various uses for Eastlake Avenue and keep everyone happy and they thanked the city representatives for their efforts.

The second half of the meeting was devoted to the Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement and what came out of that was something that will make many people happy. The SDOT presenter for that project was very optimistic about the floating sidewalk being rebuilt. There are permitting concerns with the Department of Ecology among others, but she said the city has definitely heard the neighborhood’s desire for bringing back the floating sidewalk.

Work on the Fairview Bridge will be at 90% design by spring 2016 with pre construction activity starting in the summer and full construction beginning in 2017. The bridge will be closed for 15 months with detours likely happening at Aloha. The bridge will be “widened” by absorbing the middle buffer lane, with sidewalks and bike lanes on either side and two 12-foot wide lanes to support BRT and one general purpose 11-foot lane going north.  The bridge will be seismically sound and able to support a street car should the street car be extended (rail could be added to the bridge along with new surfacing), but right now BRT is the plan.

 

 

 

South Lake Union: Making an urban sustainability model (second of a two part series)
By Patrick Mazza

As the new century dawned, major changes were in store for South Lake Union. The low-slung light industrial district occupied by warehouses, supply shops and auto dealerships was set to become the epicenter of Seattle’s development boom.

In anticipation, the district’s major landowner and lead developer, Vulcan, commissioned the Urban Environment Institute and veteran green architect Bert Gregory to develop a framework and handbook that would make SLU a world-class green development model. The seminal sustainability plan published in 2002, Resource Guide for Sustainable Development in and Urban Area: A case study in South Lake Union, offered strategies for everything from water and energy efficiency to materials use. It was soup to nuts for limiting the impacts of buildings on local and global environments, and for making a compact urban district that would provide an alternative to suburban sprawl.

This is where solving the climate crisis comes home. The kind of sustainable urban development envisioned in the SLU study is central to reducing climate disrupting carbon emissions. Buildings alone are responsible for 45% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, while transportation emits another 34%. Creating compact, walkable urban districts served by transit and composed of efficient buildings is one of the most potent of climate solutions.

I visited with Bert at the Mithun architectural firm’s waterfront pier offices in downtown Seattle earlier this year. He is chair of the firm, one of the nation’s leading design firms and an innovator in the green building revolution that has broken out since he did the SLU handbook. With the emergence of a new downtown in the area, I wanted to find out now whether Bert thought SLU had lived up to the promise he saw when he was pulling together the document in 2001 and 2002. For the most part, in Bert’s view, SLU has fulfilled his vision, with one important exception that I will deal with later.

Bert noted his study focused on what can be done within the constraints of the market. SLU both reflects and has helped spur a major market transformation, he said. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system “was still in its infancy” when he did the study. The certification standard sets criteria to limit environmental impacts and create buildings that are healthy for the people living and working in them. Today, “The market is transformed.”

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

Seattle was an early green building leader, he said. Now, “Green is the price of entry.” In SLU, “Almost every building is gold.” That is the second-highest rating. “There is an ambition for platinum.” That is the highest. “It is a pretty remarkable collection of green buildings in one neighborhood. Overall when you look at buildings in SLU all are pretty sophisticated in terms of ambition for green strategies.” This includes features such as green roofs to cut energy use and to capture and reuse of stormwater.

“There’s been a revolution in the investment community,” he added. “It’s a revolution in where they want to make their investments. Many investors require green building. It’s less risky. Every building we’re doing has some kind of certification. It’s very different from the old days. The excitement is the market has changed.”

The move is away from suburbs and back into cities. “Its responding to demographic and workplace living styles. It is driven by lower risk, higher value and market demands. You look at Amazon. What a fundamental decision for a corporation to decide to stay in the city! It is driven by competitive advantage to attract talent.”

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

SLU “reflects good long-term work by people to create place, to do all the things needed to keep sprawl from happening.”

Bert pointed out one way SLU is a cutting-edge sprawl buster. Also board chair of Forterra, a local nonprofit devoted to landscape preservation and urban sustainability, he noted that SLU is using a system promoted by Forterra and implemented by King County. That is Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Forest and farm lands on the urban fringe are preserved when development rights are sold. Purchasers are urban developers. TDR lets them build taller buildings, and so make more money on a parcel of land.

“King County at leading edge,” Bert says. “Ultimately the rest of the US needs to be as forward thinking about urban development, placing people in walkable neighborhoods close to transit, rather than low-density development. Get population in urban centers. “

“We look at a couple of million more people coming here by 2040. We need a whole bunch of SLUs throughout our region that are green and walkable. Places like Lynnwood, Federal Way and Puyallup can learn a lot of good lessons from SLU.”

The SLU study not only looked at buildings, but at district systems that tie them together. District systems operate on a scale beyond individual buildings. They can provide services such as heat, cooling and electricity.  For example, a heating plant can serve several buildings, as can a chilled water system or an electricity microgrid. A goal was to “enter into dialogue on systems beyond the individual building,” to line out opportunities for district-based solutions in energy, water and transportation. That is where success has been more mixed.

In terms of transportation, “The investment in the street car is really the key part, continuation of the street car downtown, and then slowly, linked across the city.”

SLU’s growth has come with increased traffic congestion, always a problem in an area long noted for the “Mercer mess.”

“SLU, like a lot of Seattle, is in the transportation ‘teenage years,” Bert notes. “We’re transitioning into a compact, global city that must have a convenient and enjoyable mass transit, biking, and walking system to get around.  Using the car will never be convenient in Seattle again with our new long peak hours, especially as more cars are added to the system.”

And that is as it should be. Making car use less convenient may have its irritations. But for a sustainable planet it is necessary.

The SLU report also envisioned district energy systems powered by technologies such as solar, fuel cells and microturbines, as well as chilled water systems linking buildings. That is the element of the vision that has not played out.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

“This is a very challenging situation for a wide variety of reasons. District energy is still an emerging topic, fraught with unbelievable complexities, such as infrastructure in public streets, property lines, and risk for investors,” Bert says. The region’s mild climate and cheap hydropower also militated against district energy.” SLU was “way too early for district systems.”

But technologies and systems are improving. “The exciting thing there is an emerging revolution in district-based systems. The policy and economics profile is significantly different than in 2001. There is greater viability. It is a topic in all projects of higher density.”

The SLU study pointed the way for the district. But, Bert noted, “its greatest success was its widespread impact beyond Seattle. We have received requests all over the world for copies. It is used in university curricula. Fundamentally the impact is much broader than SLU because it is a case study.”

Bert since has gone on to do other similar studies, including a more detailed plan for the Lloyd Crossing area in Portland that “took this to a different level.”

In Bert’s eyes, SLU has overall lived up to the sustainability concepts he lined out in 2002.

“These are things that takes vision, partnerships and 20 years of efforts,” he said. “Now we as a region have to be thinking about what’s next for 2040, for 2100.”

More people are coming to our region. How we grow will make all the difference for our region, our planet and our climate. Compact urban districts that are built green and served by transit are the way to go, and SLU provides an important model to guide growth throughout the region, nation and world.

In Defense of South Lake Union (first of a two part series)
by Patrick Mazza

I had to think long and hard about this story.

I started out many months ago with a simple concept. I would interview Bert Gregory of the Mithun architectural firm about a seminal sustainability plan he did for South Lake Union back in 2001 in anticipation of the building boom. Bert Gregory is one of the pioneering green architects, and was well positioned to create a plan that would make SLU a global sustainability model.

In early 2015 I visited Bert to ask him how well he thought the plan had been carried out. I’ll report on Bert’s comments in the second part of this series. But before I could write the story, I realized I had to flesh out my own thoughts about SLU, figure out what I really think about the neighborhood that is now a representation of Seattle’s explosive growth. Among Seattleites, there are a mix of feelings, always inevitable with such major transformations. Knute Berger captured this in a May Crosscut piece:

On the plus side, SLU is ground zero for Seattle’s job growth, boasts major institutional support (Amazon) and comes as close as anything in modern times to a planned urban neighborhood with parks, museums, traffic projects and street cars . . . On the downside, the neighborhood is a poster child for corporate welfare, receiving more attention and public benefits than some needier areas of the city. Its rapid development has displaced established businesses and overwhelmed older enclaves like Cascade . . . for many, the architecture of the neighborhood is cookie-cutter, view-blocking, phony (those facades) and often sterile – a little bit o’ Bellevue.

Tough stuff. And as an Eastlake resident I have my own mix of feelings. In 2012 I spent most of the year living and working in Portland. When I returned to work in downtown Seattle in early 2013, suddenly I found what had been my well-used but moderately filled 70 bus suddenly stretched to capacity, like a New York City subway at rush hour. Mystified, I asked what happened. “Amazon,” the bus driver told me. While I now work out of my home, I still catch the 70 for downtown meetings. The stuffing only seems to have worsened.

I also looked at the blocks of buildings and, while I’m not as down as the Berger quote, I found the district very much a 21st century neighborhood, very functional, but lacking the warmth of older urban districts.  I needed to dig deeper. So I took walks around and through the neighborhood to further explore its new feel. What did the street life feel like? What is the potential for SLU taking on a more organic feel as it settles in?

Of course, the youthfulness of the street crowds is one of the first and most striking impressions. Young Amazon geeks and their equivalents in other firms. There is some effort to create a face to the street, with many restaurants, outdoor café patios, street furniture and trees.   It isn’t Paris, but maybe it’s a start to a warmer urbanity.

There is some effort to vary the buildings and provide some interesting features. Nothing like the decorative ornamentation one finds on older buildings in downtown, or on some postmodern buildings. But something.

While the impression from beyond the neighborhood is a somewhat uniform block, for example looking at it from South Lake Union Park, when you delve into it a surprising number of the older buildings still stand, offering a needed variety. As Berger points out, it is important to save some of the old neighborhood.

A walking tour of South Lake Union is an eye-opener: It is far more than throw-away light industrial warehouses. A remarkable variety of architectural styles exist there, from 19th century row houses to turn-of-the-century bungalows, from mid-century modern commercial buildings to Deco structures, even some interesting Brutalist brutes.

SLU and its new downtown are facts on the ground. We live in a new Seattle that might discomfort us with change. But my conclusion is that, in a world of change, SLU is necessary. In part 2 of this series, I will delve into specifics about the district’s green buildings, and how they do indeed reflect the sustainable development envisioned by Gregory. For now, I will say that in terms of overall development patterns, we need SLU.

Ultimately, my conclusion about SLU is shaped by the work I do. For most of the last 17 years my work has focused on the massive challenges of global warming and resulting climate disruption. This is seen in our own state in the form of record drought and wildfires, huge and sometimes unseasonal storms, deadly landslides, massive salmon run deaths in overheated rivers and shellfish-industry killing ocean acidification. The greatest source of planetary heating and all its impacts is carbon pollution from fossil fuels including petroleum that runs almost all of our transportation system. In Washington state with its clean hydropower, transportation plays a disproportionate role in climate-twisting carbon emissions, 45% of the total.

Thus, while densification and growth come with some discomfort, and my Eastlake neighborhood is seeing its own share, if we are going to have growth, this is the way to do it. SLU’s creation of a dense, modern urban neighborhood is the kind of model we need. We cannot reduce auto dependence without moving to land use patterns that make car use less necessary – Neighborhoods that place work, shopping and residences close together. Amazon’s rapid expansion has its drawbacks, and one wishes rocket-ship-subsidizing billionaire owner Jeff Bezos might consider a greater contribution to ground transit. But for the climate and sustainability in general, the Amazon development is infinitely superior to Microsoft’s 1980s vintage campus in auto-centric Redmond.

We can quibble about the details of development. But overall, global sustainability requires dense, walkable urban development that can be served by transit. SLU meets that test.

In the next part, Bert Gregory tells us which pieces of his sustainable development model SLU fulfills, and which it doesn’t.

Image of South Lake Union is a combination of photograph and rendering of a potential future condition of the neighborhood.  Courtesy: Studio216

An After Thanksgiving Walk Around Lake Union

UFO sightings, new geological formations, signs of the times, and holiday cheer; walking is when you really see things, despite the boring stretches (as one of our party complained).

Or maybe because of them.

Here are a few photos of things that caught our eye the day after Thanksgiving:

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union  though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

Sign of the times: "Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President." (This place always has intriguing signs.)

Sign of the times: “Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President.” (This place always has intriguing signs.)

And artwork -- more signs of the times.

And artwork — more signs of the times.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

And another temporary geological formation -- the Seattle canyon.

And another temporary geological formation — the Seattle canyon.