Open Space Seattle:2100

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks

Open Space Seattle 2100 gets great coverage in this month's Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks newsletter. This organization, which is helping sponsor the Open Space Seattle 2100 project, is a great organization that has been providing stewardship of Seattle's Olmsted park's legacy for over 25 years.

In the newsletter's masthead is an amazing quote from the Post-Intelligencer from 1902, wherein their editorial board writes the following: "We must build. . .not merely for today, but for twenty, fifty, a hundred years hence. . . . a system of squares, public parks and drives which will answer the needs of a city of half a million people."

We are there. In another hundred years, projections are for more than 1 million in the city of Seattle alone. What might we look like then?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Field and Frame

On November 17th, the Urban Sustainability Forum, which is sponsored by DPD, hosted author and professor Mark Childs as he returned to Seattle. His talk was incredibly engaging and introduced several useful topics about how we might think about open space and move the discussion beyond fixed ways of thinking about our open space system in Seattle.

Public Works versus Infrastructure--Taking the example of the water tower at our own Volunteer Park, Mr. Childs spoke about how this beloved landmark is a iconic public work, rather than simply a piece of infrastructure. What does he mean by this parsing? Infrastructure maximizes one goal, has fixed standards, but often misses opportunities. Public works, by contrast, achieve multiple goals, uses balanced judgment, has higher initial costs and is more designed. Thus the water tower at Volunteer Park achieves multiple goals by being a water tower, a terminus to the axis of Millionaires Row, and is an observation tower.

Frames and Fields--Highlighting the crucial role of squares in the public life of a city, Mr. Childs spoke about the need of both a frame to enclose the public space and a field, the spatial void where the public gathers. Thinking about some of the public space that we have in our city, the most successful are fully enclosed with definite edges (Pike Place and Westlake) while certainly some of the more problematic public spaces have weaker edges (Pioneer Squares and Freeway Park).

Other themes comments that were significant: "the places we make are the habitats for other species;" "simultaneously in the heart of the city and in the middle of nature;" "need for a powerful story that allows people to gather resources around an idea."

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Herbert Dreiseitl, the German landscape architect who is pushing the functional and aesthetic frontier of how we relate to and interact with water in our cities, is featured in a post on the Portland Architecture blog. Dreiseitl's firm recently completed work on Tanner Springs Park which is part functional wetland, park kinetic sculpture and part neighborhood park. In the post, he has strong praise for Portland as a walkable, bikeable city and for that vibrant streetscape as a deterent to crime.

Since the publication of his book Waterscapes (and this month marks the publication of the follow up, boldly titled New Waterscapes), Dreiseitl has been a bit of a personal hero for his innovative rethinking about water in the urban environment. Rather than pipe stormwater away as quickly as possible, Dreiseitl advocates embracing water as a catalyst to joy, entertainment and fun. And intrinsic to those qualities Dreiseitl advocates another layer: ecology. Thus his work is infused with a cultural and natural resonance that allows it to comfortably straddle both city, suburb and country.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nickels for Open Space

While it is very true that this story is an old one, we thought it important to recognize the Mayor's August announcement that open space in the urban centers be funded through additional development fees. Kudos to the Mayor.

However, Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound makes a great point toward the end of the article that we wanted to follow on: how can the now-funded open space create "quality" open space. For Heather, as it should be, "quality" greenspace means open space types that help control stormwater to contribute to water quality for the Puget Sound.

But what does "quality" open space mean for the developers who are paying for the open space improvements? Putting ourselves in their shoes, it would mean an increased economic return for their investment. How could an open space requirement provide a happy outcome for both the developer and the environmentalist? What if the open spaces were linear--along the streetscape--increasing retail activity, "curb appeal," property values for the developer, and what if those same spaces were part of a "natural drainage system" that were aesthetic amenities, stormwater treatment devices and enhancements to the pedestrian environment? These spaces could then feed into larger neighborhood, community and regional parks creating a network of spaces.

It is questions like these that we hope to answer at the Green Futures Charrette on February 3+4. We hope to see you all there.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Curitiba: The Cur for the Common City

Curitiba, the Brazilian city that is the dream of urban designers everywhere, was featured in a recent article by Bill McKibben in Mother Jones. We've long known that Curitiba was brilliant in it's transportation planning. The article raises further points:

  • due to its transportation infrastructure (in this case mostly bus transit) Curitiba's streets are imminently walkble
  • The city's visionary mayor Jaime Lerner, began the city's transformation by pulling a Daley-like performance: Friday night the jackhammers were out transforming a main thoroughfare into a pedestrian plaza. By Monday morning, they were done and by Monday morning the once-dubious merchants along the street were asking for more.
  • when the federal government gave the city money to channelize the rivers that braided through the city, the city instead bought land, created check dams that formed lakes behind them and had a network of flood control parks.
  • Curitiba Fact #1:"In 20 years-even as it tripled in population-the city went from two square feet of green area per inhabitant to more than 150 square feet per inhabitant"
  • Curitiba Fact #2:"Green begets green; land values around the new parks have risen sharply, and with them tax revenues."
  • Curitiba Fact #3: "Integration" is a word one hears constantly from official Curitiba, another of its mantras. It means knitting together the entire city-rich, poor, and in-between-culturally and economically and physically.
But the final note comes from Mayor Lerner: Many cities have "a lot of people who are specialists in proving change is not possible. What I try to explain to them when I go visit is that it takes the same energy to say why something can't be done as to figure out how to do it."

Obrigado, Mayor Lerner.

Starting the Dream

In Friday's Post-Intelligencer, the editorial board gave strong support to the Cascade Agenda. Invoking the old proverb that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, the editorial uses the Olmsted plan for Seattle's parks as a demonstration that a large vision can be "substantially fulfilled" with dedication and agreed upon steps toward implementation.

While right to praise both the Cascade Agenda and the Olmsted Plan, the P-I does not record that neither of these documents call out explicit ways to provide for open space within the urban areas as we look into the next century. How will open, natural areas be valued outside of the city if there are limited opportunities to touch nature and be affected by it? What if, as part of our daily urban experience, we touched, felt and interacted with the natural world?

Monday, November 07, 2005

(Green) Space Invaders

If you did not see it above the fold and bright as day on the front of today's PI, there was an very indepth article about the health of Seattle's urban forests. The article focused two of our coalition groups, the Seattle Urban Nature Project and the Cascade Land Conservancy's Green Seattle Initiative . I particularly enjoyed the mysterious, gloomy, foggy yet utterly magical picture of Nelson Salisbury, hands lifted in explanation--or is that adulation--to the tree tops in a dripping forest.

As a follow-up: the Cascadia Scorecard Weblog has a good discussion about the argument for urban nature vs. ecosystem bang-for-the-buck.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Coalition for a Livable Future

An amazing model from our neighbors to the south of a broad alliance of various citizen groups that are "working together to create a more equitable and sustainable Portland metropolitan region." Looking at their on-going programs, it looks like they are concentrating on several areas with program initiatives for each:

Afforable Housing NOW!
Nature in the Neighborhoods

As well as ongoing mapping and planning efforts like the Regional Equity Atlas Project and, of great interest to OSS:2100 subscribers, the Designing Urban Habitats program. This seems like exemplary work that I hope will be discussed during Mike Houck's discussion on December 5th as part of a great partnership with DPD's Urban Sustainabilty Forum Speaker Series.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Green Roofs:Chicago

A quick note about Chicago's innovative program to provide incentives for green roofs--a new type of open space that reduced heat island effects, retains stormwater, regulates stormwater runoff and provides insulations. Perhaps the incentive program came after the successful and much-acclaimed installation of a green roof above City Hall.

In Seattle, our City Hall's green roof is plugging along. And a quick web search reveals that Councilmember Steinbrueck, as of June 2005, is planning on introducing changes that provide the same incentives for Seattle.

Open Space Seattle: 2100 Website Posted

While it is still under construction, the Open Space Seattle: 2100 website is now up and running with some preliminary information. Please check early and often for updates. Information about participating in the charrette will be posted in the beginning of December.