Sky Bridge: Local reality

The Fred Huchinson Cancer Research Center is among many other buildings waiting for Seattle Design Commission’s approval to move forward on their design proposal. I ran into this project while looking for projects that deal with air rights issues in Seattle. What I found was a project that represents local issues with  far more complexity than the simple question of architecture and aesthetics.

The proposal is a new skybridge that spans over Eastlake Ave between the two existing buildings and because it spans over a public street, it is imposing on public property therefore it must go through a proper approval process. The design commission according to the report published in 2010, is generally not favorable of the sky bridges but will grant approval if the design offer other public amenities that is beneficial to all.

However everything is achieved by case by case scenario.  On one hand, the sky bridges separates pedestrians from the ground plane and affects the urban density while on the other hand Fred Huchinson is a cancer research center that brings in a lot of jobs and research to the local economy, not to mention social changes. Denying the sky bridge may set a strong stance on urban planning strategies but is it socially responsible? But if you do allow it, it can become precedents for other sky bridge projects. I feel that there is a delicate balance that the city must observe. Fred Huchinson proposal is definitely not the flashy architecture compared to the likes of  Linked Hybrid in China but it has far bigger implications to our local community.


A message for Representative Chopp regarding HB 1513

I recently scheduled a meeting with Representative Frank Chopp to discuss House Bill 1513.  House Bill 1513 was originally introduced to the House floor on January 24, 2011 and then reintroduced on January 9, 2012 when it was referred to the Committee on Technology, Energy and Communication.  However, no further action has been taken on the bill since then.  This really disappoints me and I wanted to question Representative Chopp about his position on this bill, voice my strong support for it and also suggest an addition to the bill that I think would be helpful.

The main purpose of HB 1513 is to promote the development and construction of nuclear energy facilities in Washington state.  It does this by setting specific goals and timetables for the construction of nuclear energy facilities up to a level of 5 new facilities by 2040.  It also provides guidelines for expediting the application and permitting process for nuclear facilities and establishes a joint legislative task force on nuclear energy.

While efficiency gains and increased exploitation of less controversial renewable energy sources can accomplish a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy should not be overlooked given its vast energy production capabilities.  Washington state is in a unique position given our disproportionately high concentration of nuclear scientists working on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and we should take advantage of this to develop nuclear energy as an energy source free from greenhouse gas emissions.  Of course, there are safety concerns and the issue of safely storing and disposing of the resulting nuclear waste, however technology has advanced to the point where nuclear energy can be produced and its waste contained with very little risk of environmental harm or endangering the population.

Unfortunately Representative Chopp had an unexpected meeting come up and he was not able to meet with me at the scheduled time, however I was able to meet with one of his legislative aides.  She informed me that Representative Chopp was in favor of nuclear energy, but was not going to go out of his way to support a bill that did not have significant support among the members of the state House.  I explained to her my reasoning for supporting the bill and how it was entirely consistent with Representative Chopp’s stand on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, I provided her with an additional provision that I would like to see added to the text of the bill.  This additional language calls for a portion of the application fees for nuclear facilities to be earmarked for a statewide PR campaign extolling the virtues of nuclear power and explaining why, although far from a perfect solution, it is a much better option than traditional coal-powered energy generation.

The aide promised to pass on my message to Representative Chopp and ask him to follow-up with me.  If I haven’t heard back from him in a month, I will contact his office again and continue to apply whatever pressure I can as a constituent to convince him to support this bill.

Urban Agriculture is a Much Needed Educational Tool

I grew up on a small rural farm.  We had a large garden that as a child I would tend to every day during the summers.  Fresh corn, green peas, asparagus, lettuce, green onions, spinach, jalapeno peppers, carrots, strawberries, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, raspberries…  The list goes on, and I vividly remember tending to them all.  I can picture what each and every plant looks like from the time it sprouts to its eventual annual death.  We also have a small apple orchard as well as a “tree farm” with 5,000 pine trees, which for the first two years after planting I would nourish with water day after day, row after row.  Nearly 13 years later, the pine saplings have grown from 6 inches to be 10-15 feet or higher.  In addition to several hundred acres of wheat and barley, we also raise cattle, which are fed with hay and grains grown and cut on the farm.  And last but not least, there are chickens.  Lots of chickens.  While sometimes loud and messy, the chickens produced the most beautiful brown eggs, which I would gather every morning.  The chickens, the cows, the vegetable garden – all produced enough meat, poultry and produce to nourish our family throughout the year.  The reason I have such a vivid memory of these activities is because tending to the garden and the animals took an incredible amount of my time.

Many people living in urban environments have not been exposed to the process of farming (I’m talking about actively participating in the process of growing something, not just driving by and “seeing” a farm).  What many urban dwellers don’t realize is that farming takes an incredible amount of effort and dedication.  Without that effort and dedication, produce doesn’t grow, and animals don’t thrive.  When it comes to introducing agriculture into urban environments, I am a strong advocate not only for the benefits of healthy, locally produced meat and vegetables, but also for the chance to educate those who view fresh foods as a product that “comes” from the grocery store.  Nothing “comes” from the grocery store.  Every fruit, vegetable, meat and egg comes from a living plant or animal; a plant or animal that was tended to and cared for by an individual who dedicated their time and effort to the food-production process.  While I surely complained a lot as a child about having too many chores, I am so very grateful for my rural upbringing and for my understanding of how food is cultivated and produced.  Unfortunately, this education is something that many urban dwellers lack and Urban Agriculture is a way to provide that education.  If people want to live healthier, more sustainable lives, then food choices and education is probably the most powerful way to make a statement.  Does that fruit or vegetable grow on a vine, a bush, a tree, or in the ground?  What part of the animal does that cut of meat come from?  How long does it take for that fruit or vegetable to grow (usually MONTHS!)?  How are bananas still green after traveling from Equator?  Everyone today wants to eat healthy foods and support agricultural practices that support a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.  However, healthy food choices can only be made with an educated mind.  And urban agriculture just might be the best educational tool for that job.

Community Garden – 50th St and University Way NE, Seattle

Last summer, I walked past a large patch of an array of plants in front of the Broadway Bound Children’s Theatre.  The garden patch was right next to the U District farmer’s market. A little girl with garden gloves was tending to her 3 feet by 3 feet area in the garden. I asked her some questions regarding what the garden was about. She told me that this was a community garden. You pay a small fee each year to have your own garden area where you can grow your own vegetables. It suddenly struck me that I was living by the University of Washington where there were no large spaces for people to garden. I also remembered a time when I visited a site on Capitol Hill for a hypothetical development project for a class, and I saw on the side of the site, where it sloped, that neighbors has come together to clean up the weeds and make a garden. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had joined together to clean up and make their “neighborhood” look nice. They had the developer’s permission to clean his site for no cost. I would have thought that the developer could have paid the neighbors a maintenance fee. As I look back on this patch of garden in front of the Broadway Bound Children’s Theatre in Seattle, I think about how a neighborhood bonds over a common interest.

More Information on the garden:

It’s Not Intentional (And Thats the Problem!)

“…A chorus of summer herbs

Of mangoes and bar-b-que

Of perfumed sisters

Hip strutting past

Fried fish joints

On Lenox Avenue in steamy August

A carnival of children

People in the daytime streets

Ring-a-levio warriors

Stickball heroes

Hide-and-seek knights and ladies

Waiting to sing their own sweet songs

Living out their own slam-dunk dreams


For the coming of the blues…” (Myers)

”No part of the property hereby platted, shall be used for trade, manufacture or business purposes of any kind, but shall be used for residential purposes only by white person…” Broadview, Seattle

During the majority of the 20th Century, Black-Americans were actively barred from living in white neighborhoods across the United States.  This led to the segregation of Black-Americans into mostly black ghettos in many urban cities, including or very own “politically correct, passive aggressive” Seattle which had restrictive covenants barring blacks and other minority groups from living in over 416 white neighborhoods around the Seattle Area.

Seattle’s discriminatory covenants and other private acts of discrimination prevented Black-Americans from living outside of the Central District in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s, the city’s black population grew rapidly due to Black-Americans migrating to the Seattle to work in the growing defense industries. Discrimination from employers, however, limited the economic opportunities for Seattle’s black community. The growth of the black population coupled with the restrictions on where Black-Americans could live led to overcrowding in the Central District.  By the 1960’s the black community increased from 1 percent to 4.8 percent of which almost 80% of this population lived in the Central District.

Black Americans and other minority groups occupied some of the oldest parts of the city. By the 1950s and 1960s, the housing stock in the Central District was beginning to decline and property values fell. Low rates of ownership and redlining from banks prevented neighborhood residents from rehabilitating their homes. Continuously White-Americans and jobs continued to move out of the city and discrimination prevented people of color from seeking higher quality housing outside of these neighborhoods.  “Hypersegregation” (Denton and Massey, 1992) created by this isolation of minority groups further enhanced the disparities between of the members of these minority communities and their white counter parts. 

Awww, the Central District, home to: Cat Fish Corner, Eizel’s Chicken,  Langston Hues Cultural Center, The Black Community Festival, beauty Supply, hair shops and Barbers.  Local activists in Seattle were inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement and while it was more subtle than in Southern cities, many African-Americans believed that it “differed only in intensity” (Taylor, 1994.)  The issue was (and still is) that whites were isolated from minority communities and indifferent to their concerns.  Historian Roger Sale said about Seattle that “The deepest of our racial sins is ignorance. In the south, where whites and blacks have lived, however badly, for generations, that ignorance turned out to be shallower than in many parts of the north; in Seattle the ignorance runs deep. People here were uninterested in the Chinese in the 1880s, in the Japanese in the 1940s, in the blacks in the 1960’s.” The problem with gentrification is re-awakening the consciousness of the white community and uncovering the even more subtle attitudes towards gentrification in regards to “pushing out” these communities which promotes inequity as well.

“…any house building or improvement thereon erected shall at any time be occupied by persons of the Ethiopian race or by Japanese or Chinese or any other Malay or Asiatic race…” Greenwood, Seattle

Republican Governor Daniel J. Evans encouraged residents in Seattle to support fair housing by stating that: “ I think all citizens of this state must search their own background to recognize that people ought to be able to live where economics and where their desires would put them” (1967)  After hundreds of years of economic oppression and discrimination, I’m confused how this was going to disrupt racial settlement patterns.  I watched a show once that was speaking to the women’s movement and a commentator said “When you oppress a group of people for an extended period of time and then you take the oppressor out of the equation, the oppressed group will continue to oppress themselves.” 

Segregation is not simply the separation of whites from minorities but it also involves the results of the policies that promote segregation such as economic segregation in zoning, segregation of public housing, and individual preferences and prejudices that have a residual effect on future outcomes on these communities. This means that some minorities must settle for lower quality housing than whites. Since school assignments are geographically based, discrimination also limits parents’ choices of schools for their children. In the absence of busing and extensive school choice programs, housing segregation contributes to school segregation. Discrimination by lenders and insurance agents limits opportunities to own homes. This reduces the amount of capital minority families can accumulate from real estate investments.  Continued segregation indicates that minorities are still experiencing discrimination in housing markets whether intentional or not.

“That no part of said premises shall ever be used or occupied by or sold conveyed, leased, rented, or given to negroes or any person or persons of negro blood…” Capitol Hill, Seattle

Where you live will determine your access to opportunity. Your address will determine your access to good schools, jobs grocery stores, parks and other amenities. While the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s allowed minorities to live in previously white-only communities, many of the job opportunities moved away from the cities living the in cities around the country without viable options for good jobs, schools and other public amenities.  Recently, as our nation moves from a production economy to an agglomeration of information and services jobs, there has been a movement back into the inner-cities. The demand for housing around city centers has increased and gentrification to these previous blighted communities is the reproduction. 

Out of this:  “No person other than one of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of any lot in said plat or any building thereon except a domestic servant…”  Beacon Hill, Seattle

Came this:

“…A huddle of horns

And a tinkle of glass

A note

Handed down from Marcus to Malcolm

To a brother

Too bad and too cool to give his name.

Sometimes despair

Makes the stoops shudder

Sometimes there are endless depths of pain

Singing a capella on street corner

And sometimes not…”

It’s socially irresponsible to preserve a building in the name of “Historic Preservation” but not the community and it’s cultural imprint. It is indicative of this countries value system that continues to have a “quantity verses quality” sentiment.  The topic of gentrification doesn’t frustrate me. It makes me red-hot mad!  I was born in raised in Seattle’s rainier valley area.  I agree that gentrification is not an issue of race but an issue of economics, however, when you have a history of institutionalized racism and hypersegragation for almost two centuries, is there really a difference? Previous policies about segregation such as covenants in land deeds barring minorities from white communities, redlining and discrimination have affected past and future practices that are exclusionary and don’t even need to be intentional at this point.  The economic disparities created from years of racism and oppression are institutionalized and self-sustaining, no conspiracy theory needed.   

Today many will argue that gentrification is not about race but economics.  And isn’t it completely convenient to fail to acknowledge that economic disparities in this country are correlated to race and continue to bar these same minorities groups from these gentrifying neighborhoods?  I’d like to argue that the historical context in which these inner-city communities have fought to become “a community” through the civil rights movement has added value and created a culture lead to ownership and pride of these communities.  This ownership will not exist if these communities are once again relocated away from prosperity and opportunity.  Part of responsible gentrification is recognizing the value of these communities preserving the culture that defines these communities with the same vigor that we preserve the historic buildings in these communities.  The availability of affordable housing in neighborhoods with rich opportunity is the next battle ground for Black American’s and other minorities groups in Seattle and other gentrifying American cities. 




Memories of feelings

Of place

A journey on the A train

That started on the banks of the Niger

And has not ended”


(Harlem: A Poem

By Walter Dean Myers)

Identifying with Urban Farming

In reading the New Harvest for Detroit article, I was struck by John Hantz’s desire to reinvigorate Detroit by developing sections of it into a for-profit large scale urban agriculture farm and help employ a population with a 25% unemployment rate. This desire to renew Detroit reminded me of an urban farm I came across in the Bayside neighborhood in Portland, Maine. This urban farm in Portland could have a similar impact on its neighborhood which is missing an identity.

The Urban Farm Fermentory (UFF) is an urban farm located in an industrial warehouse district in one of the poorest neighborhood in the city. I happened across the UFF when I was in the area taking pictures of a nearby brownfield as a potential thesis topic. The UFF began life in an abandoned single story warehouse as a fermentation center for food, beverages, and honey production. UFF has since evolved into a micro farm. UFF is run sustainably by reusing materials found in its industrial neighborhood such as palettes, cable spools, and scrap wood and has been used as an environmentally friendly material for their growing needs.

The Portland area is known for having a high number of restaurants and would seem to be an ideal location for an urban farm. Restaurateurs and patrons would both appreciate knowing that their herbs and vegetables were not just grown locally, but exactly where, and most likely within walking distance. The UFF could also appeal to the locals by selling their products at the local farmer’s market. The UFF could expand their operations at low cost to any number of nearby abandoned warehouses in the neighborhood. Given the neighborhood’s high unemployment rate, community members would be happy to work at the UFF.

Similar to John Hantz’s plans to reinvigorate Detroit through building a large scale urban agriculture farm, the UFF could have a similar impact on its surrounding neighborhood. There is an abundant amount of people that can be employed, ample space to grow the farm, and also having a plentiful restaurant base to cater to and help create an identity for the Bayside neighborhood.

The Give/Take

There is a consistent tension between developers and communities when it comes to gentrification.  The debate is often centered on the implied gentrification impacts of the project in question.  The discussion, however, has shifted in the past few years.

Predictably, communities that once opposed any new commercial development as recently as 2006 have met new proposed plans with much more welcoming attitudes in recent months.  A commercial developer of a retail center in a north metro community of Saint Paul, Minnesota has recently seen rapid approval by the city council after resubmitting a project with few discernable changes.  What was once an intractable debate over green spaces, traffic patterns and demographic shifts toward the yuppie set, has turned into a partnership between the city and the private developer with expected closing on construction financing in a matter of weeks.  Those in the developer’s camp are celebrating.

The instinctual reaction to an economic downturn is to incent job creation as the paramount objective for any business or government activity.  It can blind decision-makers to the unintended consequences of development that occurs at too rapid a growth rate. When it comes to commercial development, it is commonplace for developers to sell a project to communities as an economic engine that will create jobs.  Though there is often an impact from new commercial development, job or market creation is not the developer’s primary objective.  A good developer does not believe it can create a new market for a product overnight.

Development that will make sense to a community over the long-term will usually be responsive to the current or short-term expected demand within a market.  A commercial development that promises to change the landscape and create a whole new micro economy may be too good to be true.  Communities that vacillate between fending off and aggressively attracting new development should be most wary of their own long-term planning strategy.  A disfigured plan has the potential to breed disjointed development and an unconnected community.  In these times of economic hardship and high unemployment, it is tempting for community leaders to grant carte blanche in the name of job creation.  It is our duty as community members to advocate for good, long-term planning where developers are neither seen as sharks or saviors, but rather, as responders to what the market demands.