Monthly Archives: July 2014

Memorial for Visionary Architect Philip Thiel at the Center for Wooden Boats

The caption under his picture says it all, “Citizen Thiel fights for a plaza above Brooklyn Station with his weapon of choice: an architectural model.”

And that’s what he had the first and only time I saw him; two years ago he came to speak in front of the Sound Transit Board (where I work) pulling that architectural model out from under his arm and good-naturedly made his case for a public plaza that would be like the great ones in Venice, Paris, and Rome.

It was, he told the Sound Transit board, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Photo by John Stamets

Photo by John Stamets

But the Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Planning at the UW didn’t get to see his battle through, let alone won.  Philip Thiel died peacefully May 10, 2014 surrounded by family and friends. The fight for a public space above the Sound Transit University District Station is still undecided. The question is will it be the expected development, likely office space, over the underground light rail stop that opens in 2021, or will it be what Thiel envisioned, a public space along the lines of a European plaza.

The cause has been taken up by many others since being launched by Citizen Thiel.

One of those others helping to carry the torch is Cory Crocker who came across one of Thiel’s type written flyers promoting the plaza idea lying on a table at Café Allegro in the U District. Thiel had left the flyers around the café where he enjoyed free life-time coffee (thanks to another public space battle he led, that one, on the café’s behalf).

After seeing the flyer Crocker called Thiel. He helped take the cause high tech by setting up a website for U District Square – the heart shaped logo design was Thiel’s, and Thiel’s early passionate, type written flyers are posted on the site’s blog.

Thiel was insistent that community action could change the course of development, says Crocker, that government agencies and public institutions worked in silos without always seeing the big picture or understanding what was in the public good. Neighbors, Thiel felt, had to rise up and give direction, says Crocker. “Public streets really are owned by us.”

Crocker says Thiel put the idea of a public square out there showing that it could catch hold, become contagious.

Thiel was giving directions and providing inspiration for the square even from his deathbed.  Says Crocker, “his mind was sharp to the end.”

A memorial celebration for Phil Thiel will take place at the Center for Wooden Boats on August 17. Naval architecture was a first passion for Thiel, so it’s appropriate that the arc of his life would be celebrated there. He had a special affinity for designing pedal boats and tiny houseboats that as one commenter replied put everything wonderful together, tiny houses, boating, and bicycling.

The memorial is open to the public. Family and friends welcome those wanting to help support the cause of a public square in the U District and just ask that folks RSVP through the U District website for planning purposes at

Joining other visionary Seattle architects who have left their mark on the city, perhaps sipping a coffee at a small table, Thiel will likely be watching it all, as his family has said, from that great plaza in the sky.

Putting the “sea” in Seattle

Here’s a recent post on Patrick’s Cascadia Planet site — a future where all the earth’s ice has melted (Union Narrows, anyone?):

I’ve been peering out at Queen Anne Hill from my Eastlake Seattle window for some time wondering what the hill would look like on an ice-free planet, Lake Union long having become part of Puget Sound.  I’ve played with a map tool to envision the contours of Queen Anne Island and the Seattle Island chain.  Now Spatialities has done ice-free planet maps for Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, and they are selling them at their site. Here are Cascadia’s future Seattle and Portland Islands if we are so foolish as to continue on our current trajectory. (Click on the maps for larger size.) These are beautiful depictions of a horrendous future.  May they help motivate us not to go there.  (p.s. I’m about 10 stories underwater by then.)



A few years back I even wrote some lyrics on the topic. Here they are:


Take the ferry boat
To Queen Anne Island
Puget Sound’s a moat
All around is a fried land

Aurora fell down
Dead of suicide
In the waves it drowned
When the ice caps fried

Used to be a lake
Down there somewhere
Until the ice break
In the hot summer air

The lake was my home
Beyond were the mountains
But the future was blown
Cause we were not accountin’

With our gaseous spew
We boiled the oceans
Cared for by too few
We set it in motion

City once here
Now flushed down the drain
Old hilltops appear
Island chain remains

Live on Capitol
Take the Beacon boat
We have paid the toll
We have cut our throat

This year’s South Lake Union Block Party benefits the Cornish College for the Arts, which is coming on its 100th year this November.

The block party features food-sampling tickets to some of SLU’s favorite eateries like Shanik, Kigo Kitchen and La Toscanella. There’ll also be food trucks, beer garden, burger grilling contest, lots of music, activities for kids, and an outdoor movie to top it all off, School of Rock, preceded by a performance by the Seattle Rock Orchestra.

All happening one day only, Friday, August 8, noon to 11 pm at Denny Way and Westlake Ave. N.


Chocolate Topped MOHAI

Chocolate goes with a lot of things: coffee, raspberries, and naked performance artists, but the Museum of History and Industry seemed like a bit of a stretch. Yet that sexy aphrodisiac is on display there, and of course when you get right down to it chocolate is an industry and has a history, so the exhibit at MOHAI,  once you get your mind around it, like chocolate with oranges, makes yet another perfect combination.

The exhibit which is on tour from Chicago’s Field Museum is as rich and a varied as its subject, taking you from deep in the Amazon rain forest where the cacao tree grew undiscovered for centuries with only birds sipping its fruit’s nectar and dropping the fruit’s bitter seeds, where chocolate comes from, on the fertile rain forest soil to its discovery by ancient civilizations where it was made into a spicy drink and revered.

Then Spaniards conquering South America found it, not quite gold but close enough; it was also used as currency by native people. Its history takes an especially brutal turn when sugar and cocoa are married by Europeans. One simple display says it all: an elegant teaspoon spilling its holding of sugar – the value of a day‘s work for a slave.

When you come to the modern age, there’s a reminder that all is still not well in the world of commercial chocolate but the rise of artisan chocolates is helping to change that with fair trade and sustainable farming practices. And chocolate is another good reason to save our global rainforests, cocao’s natural home.

The exhibition, which runs through September 28, is all ages friendly with a lot interactive elements for kids, and MOHAI is offering additional toppings to go with it including a double-chocolate feature outdoor movie night August 23 of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chocolat.

“But there’s something missing,” I said to my husband as we left the exhibit. “Yes,” he said, “samples.”

So for a quick fix, visit MOHAI’s gift shop, which offers a nice selection of local chocolates. Or make a plan to head over to your favorite chocolatier and savor the food first offered only to kings and gods.



With apologies to Thomas Jefferson: A Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels

Lake Union writer Patrick Mazza pens a new call, a declaration this July 4th for 100% renewable energy.  Reprinted from his blog Cascadia Planet:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve the bands which have tied us to fossil fuel dependence and to power our world fully on nature’s renewable energy, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that we should declare why.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people possess certain unalienable rights, that among these are the protection of our own survival, freedom to have a future, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves and our children. That to secure these rights we create energy systems that derive their support from those who use them. That fossil fuel has become destructive of those ends.  Thus it is the right of the people to abolish fossil fuel as an energy source and to create the fully renewable energy system that is most likely to effect our survival, freedom and happiness.

Fireworks sketch by Karen Berry

Prudence dictates that energy sources long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. And experience shows that our economic system is more disposed to continue with dependence on coal, oil and natural gas while it seems that impacts can be managed, than to right itself by abandoning the fossil fuel dependence to which it is accustomed.  But when a long train of fossil industry abuses invariably pursues the same object, to hold us under economic dependence to polluting, climate-destroying fuels, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off fossil fuel dependence and create a 100% renewable energy economy that ensures our future security.

Apologies to Thomas Jefferson.  But I think the lead author of the original Declaration would appreciate the spirit of independence from fossil fuels.  Jefferson looked to a land of self-producers, and 100% renewable energy will distribute energy production throughout communities.  It will empower us.

The 100% call can now be made because solar, wind, electric vehicles, smart grids, energy storage and other clean technologies are becoming economically practical alternatives to fossil energy. Tipping points have been reached, costs are coming down, and utility executives are losing sleep.

Several groups have risen to carry the 100% Renewables message.

The Solutions Project is built on the work of Stanford scientist Mark Jacobsen, who has developed a 50-state all renewables scenario.

Renewables 100 Policy Institute has developed scenarios and roadmaps for the 100% strategy.  Go 100% Renewable Energy is the group’s public campaign.

Global 100%RE joins a number of international energy organizations in a global campaign.

100% Renewable Energy should be the clarion call and the battle cry of all who care for our nation, our world and our children’s future. The urgent necessity to rapidly reduce carbon emissions says we must set this goal, and gear all our work and strategies to achieve 100% as rapidly as possible.

100% Renewable Energy is not just about climate.  It’s about prosperity, building new industries and creating new jobs with clean, domestic energy sources.  This opens doors across the spectrum. Energy independence has broad appeal.

100% Renewable Energy is profoundly about saying, “Yes.”  About putting a positive vision in the foreground. Declaring the kind of world we want and how to make it.  Of course 100% must be in the context of building a more energy efficient economy overall.  This will allow us to reach the goal even faster.

So let us dissolve our dependence on fossil fuels and declare our right to 100% Renewable Energy.  To this end let us mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our honor as human beings who care about our future and our kids.

100% Renewable Energy Now!