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Happy Holidays!

[Editor's Note: This post will remain at the top of the blog until Christmas. New posts will show up below this one.]

Moving Forward with Sustainable Transit

by Krystal Meiners, VIA Architecture

Drafting environmental policy to promote better transportation networks

If the US were to reach an agreement on climate action, and specifically, an agreement on GHG reduction targets we may eventually get to see that boom in the transportation sector that we have all been waiting for. In the last year, industry professionals have been hard at work providing policy makers with the latest comprehensive research on the benefits of developing sustainable transit networks, but, without an ambitious target for GHG emissions reduction, will these projects gain priority?

Reaching the current baseline proposed by the Obama administration would mean glacial progress toward more integrated and sustainable transportation systems in the US. Legislation should be aiming higher, not lower, if we want to see real progress in the sustainability of our infrastructure and the growth of our cities.

Setting a more aggressive target for carbon emissions could mean an increased number of transportation projects like light rail and BRT in a lot more cities. If emissions reduction becomes a priority on a federal and state level, sustainable mobility becomes an important strategy in helping cities reach those targets. While the US still struggles to define or commit to an ambitious federal target, it is important for local leaders to step up and decide how their cities will address the issues of climate change; and it may be as simple (or as hard) as getting people out of their cars and planning our cities for density and efficiency.

Industry reports, such as the APTA Sustainable Transportation Practice Compendium (discussed in a previous post here), have made substantial progress in outlining best practices for sustainability in the design, construction and operation of transportation networks.

The recommendations made in the Compendium exhibit the highest levels of qualitative strategies for building better and more integrated systems. It is important to measure these benefits when considering the lifecycle and impact of transit infrastructure and how this work translates to a reduction in GHG emissions on top of reduced vehicle miles traveled.

If the US were to set higher targets for emissions reduction, these recommendations would easily become best practices and would propel our transportation technologies forward. On the other hand, without prioritizing emissions reduction, many of the strategies discussed here would be overlooked in favor of “business as usual.”

Other industry works like Moving Cooler from the Urban Land Institute, have different and more quantitative strategies for reducing emissions. This report examines several ways of bundling implementation strategies and regulatory programs based on desired outcomes and levels of achievable GHG reductions.

These bundles represent examples of how to group transportation strategies together in innovative ways to effectively reduce emissions while creating a flexible framework so that decisions can be based on time frame, intensity of reduction, phasing, and finally cost.

The report builds on what is local and available for reformation like parking and speed limits but provides a measurable component for environmental safety and priority as well as direction for next steps and how to implement more aggressive strategies.

Many states have developed their own climate agendas and are hard at work trying to integrate local policy to reflect their climate change goals. Some states have developed policy around smart growth, environmental safety, and sustainable mobility but these initiatives are not supported by federal funding, which generally favors “shovel-ready” projects that boost jobs and the economy in the short term.

If the US were to aim higher and prioritize long term sustainability, we would be well positioned in the long term green economy, as well. 

Conscious Consumers - Living Off Local Farms (Part 3)

by Adam Criswell, guest blogger
Conscious Consumers, Part 1
Conscious Consumers, Part II
**Only local, seasonal, organic foods, no plastic bottles, no aluminum cans, and no paper towels**
November, I hate you, and me.

What was I thinking? I’m not sure what I was thinking initially but by about the third day I was thinking, ‘I wish I had picked a month when the fruits and veggies I LOVE are in season so this doesn’t feel like so much deprivation.’

In the first three days, my boss and cube-mate told me that if I didn’t go get a latte then losing my job was a best-case scenario and death was not far off. Apparently I can flip a little attitude when not properly caffeinated. I’d already been off of soda since the end of August, so that wouldn’t be too difficult, but clearly coffee was going to be my one vice this month and I wouldn’t be giving it up. My next thought was, ‘Dear God! Who is going to eat all the Halloween Gobstoppers on my desk if not me?’ It seemed as if the first of my concerns was to be the least of them too.

Potatoes, carrots and beets?! This was going to be the worst kind of sensory deprivation torture; the kind where my taste-buds suffer. What was I thinking? I was surprised by our first trip to the farmers market that there was so much green still: chard, kale and my personal favorite (seriously, no sarcasm) Brussels sprouts! Yes! Bonus! Maybe this month wouldn’t be so bad. Now to figure out what I was going to be able to make. Being 26 years old, the recipes that I would call my specialty may not be myriad but I am a pretty proficient cook when I want to be. However, most of my standards are fairly exotic by Western Washington standards. It looks like no Chili-lime Shrimp Tacos for November. Time to consult some recipe books and hit up PCC to get what I need. Below are some local, organic, seasonal recipes I used.

Recipe # 1: Potato + Leek soup
Result: Delectable (if you like potatoes and leeks, which I do). I bought some Washington grown potatoes and leeks at my local PCC Natural Markets store as well as some local milk sold in a glass bottle, some local chicken sausage, and – THANK GOD (and Annette) – local bread made from local wheat. The sausage came wrapped in plastic but this project is all about choices and I chose local, free-range, organic, and wrapped-in-plastic, over trucked in chicken from the other end of the country. Was it the right one? It was for me.

This soup lasted quite some time. I ate it for lunch and dinner for nearly a week. That doesn’t work for everyone, but I was so proud of my first attempt that I couldn’t be pried away from it, or is that “pride away from it”. See what I did there, little play on homophones.

Recipe #2: Whole Wheat Summer Sausage Pizza with Peppers
Making the dough from scratch – a first for me since yeast and I seem to have opposing personalities and I can’t ever get my dough to rise.

Recipe #3: Garlic Chicken with Potatoes and Fennel
The chicken was bought at PCC, the garlic was grown at home in our garden (we have a TON). The fennel and potatoes are from Pike Place Market. I stuffed the chicken with garlic cloves, seasoned it w/ coarse salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning and pan seared it then put it in a lidded baking dish. I quartered my red and purple potatoes, tossed them with E.V.O.O., salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Added in some cherry tomatoes I had lying around. I covered the chicken with these veggies and baked it at 400 for about 40 minutes. If you’re making this and your chicken is still pink after 40 minutes, it’s not done; don’t eat it.

For the fennel I sliced the blub in quarters, drizzled E.V.O.O., coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper then seared it on a grill at high heat and placed it in the oven to stay warm.

Recipe #4: Mexironi and Cheese
I used pasta that I’d purchased at Pike Place Market; about 1 lb. While the noodles boiled I made a roux in a stock pot using butter, flour and milk. Once that was ready I stirred in shredded chipotle cheddar from Golden Glen Creamery (Mt. Vernon), shredded mozzarella, and added some more milk for consistency. I then added some red pepper flakes for heat. I drained the noodles and put them in a large casserole added some sliced, cooked chorizo from Pike Place Market and poured the cheese mixture over the top and stirred it all together. Then I laid pepper jack cheese over the top. Covered it with a glass lid and baked it for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees. All the ingredients were purchased at Pike Place Market or PCC, except the pepper jack that I already had and could have come from anywhere.

I found an awesome cookbook about halfway through November called Washington Local and Seasonal Cookbook. The only problem for me was that everything seemed to be mushroom, seafood or squash based and that is pretty much the extent of foods that I try to avoid… Rough… Come Thanksgiving, it was time to talk Turkey.

Stay tuned for Conscious Consumers: Getting through the Holidays

Conscious Consumers - Getting in the Groove (Part 2)

by Annette Thurston, VIA Architecture
Click here to read Part 1 of Conscious Consumers

**No plastic, No aluminum, 2 hours of TV/Laptop time, purchase what we can carry, and dine out a max of 3 times a week**

The month of October proved much more difficult than I was prepared for. No Plastic?! EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic. Well...everything bad for us and our planet, right? Sure there are the occasional sacrifices of using plastic. Toothbrushes. Toilet paper, paper towels; (which is completely ridiculous by the way. Paper wrapped in plastic.) It’s definitely an adjustment. One that I am still making.

The biggest issue for me in October was definitely food. Going to Safeway was traumatic. I was limited to just the produce area. Where, by the way, seeing all those rolls of plastic bags for the vegetables was just maddening. There are no instant meals in the produce area and since I couldn’t buy anything in tin, I couldn’t even get canned vegetables or fruit.

Seeing as how I’m not a cook I had no idea where to start. I felt like a stranger lost in a place I had been thousands of times. And I wasn’t even limited to local yet. I could have anything I wanted and I ended up leaving with the few things I knew how to make: potatoes and some veggies for sandwiches. At least I was able to leave with the amount of things I could carry in one re-usable bag.

But the food didn’t last long and I was at the store much more often than before and was spending nearly double the amount in a month than I had before. Not to mention I was eating out a lot more than before too. It felt like I was always out of food! I felt so out of control in my spending and had no idea what to do to curb it. I was just panicking. It didn’t help that Adam would text me (almost daily) pictures of his delicious meals that he made from fresh whole foods while I was eating an apple for dinner or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I really needed to learn how to cook.

The upside to this was that since I was only allowed 2 hours of TV per day, I had a lot more time to spend in my kitchen making something (hopefully delicious) to eat. Also, while we’re on the subject, only watching 2 hours of TV a day opens up a whole new world filled with nothing but TIME. Time to read, time to socialize, time to clean and organize, time to ponder how I’m going to get through this next year.

So October was rough. Just getting into the groove and basically detoxing myself from my life of instant, cheap, and lazy was no easy feat. Thank goodness I work with people who are already adjusted to living sustainably. They provide me with so much support and have directed me to some great resources to help me prepare. One of which was The Natural Resources Defense Council website -- a great website that tells you exactly what foods are in season for whatever state you live in.

For instance, foods growing in early/late November in the state of Washington are:

Apples, Asian Pears, Beans, Beets, Blackberries, Blueberries, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Celeriac, Celery, Chard, Collard Greens, Cranberries, Garlic, Grapes, Hearty Greens (Bok Choy, Kale, Mustard Greens), Jerusalem Artichokes, Kohlrabi, Leaf Lettuce, Leeks, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsnips, Pears, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Radishes, Raspberries, Rutabagas, Shallots, Spinach, Turnips, Winter Squash

Not a bad list. Ironically enough, this (albeit limited) list made it easier for me to go grocery shopping because I knew exactly what I could buy and all I had to do was find recipes for it. So I knew eating locally in the month of November wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as the last month was. I finally figured out how I was going to get a hold on myself and stop panicking.

And that brings us to the next challenge: Eat Local and Sustainably. 

(stay tuned for part 3)

EcoDistricts 101

 by Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

An EcoDistrict, boiled down to its simplest form, is merely a new way of consolidating large quantities of land into a comprehensive development and yet these projects represent so much more. EcoDistricts are the physical manifestation of five major areas impacted by global warming: political responsibility, environmental protection, energy production, social awareness, and building practices.

This means that we are in need of a much more thorough understanding of what an EcoDistrict really is and in order to do this I have expanded upon three major questions: What is an EcoDistrict? Why build an EcoDistrict rather than any other form of structured development? How do we successfully create an EcoDistrict?

Clonburris, a new proposal for an EcoDistrict located in Ireland, presents a model for sustainability in the Dublin Metropolitan area. (image source)
What is an EcoDistrict?
First and foremost, an EcoDistrict is a vision. It is a vision, implemented by both the public and private sector, that a specific district should embody economic, social, and environmental sustainability within a resource efficient framework. Below are five major goals that EcoDistricts strive for:
  • diversity among commercial and residential development
  • comprehensive transportation options (convenient train or BRT access)
  • enhanced community realm (amenities such as communal open spaces, pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks, after school care, etc.)
  • implementation of onsite energy creation with complimentary building systems
  • strategic mitigation of waste (grey water processing, storm water run-off, GHG emission controls, etc.)

Why build an EcoDistrict?
The main reason why it would be better to build an EcoDistrict over any other development is its sheer size and widespread impact. EcoDistricts typically compose several city blocks, subsequently bringing the accountability of governmental oversight and the efficiency of a unified group of stakeholders. Also, the size of an EcoDistrict makes the implementation of district-wide energy much more cost effective because it averages the cost of construction over a large amount of saleable property.

Bo01, an EcoDistrict located in Malmo, Sweden, demonstrates its progressive thinking with a resource efficient exhibit of residential development. (image source)
How do we create an EcoDistrict?
There are three distinct but equally important components to creating an EcoDistrict – buildings and public infrastructure, social infrastructure, and finance tools. Listed below are the particulars of each component:

Buildings and Public Infrastructure
infrastructure acts as the backbone for an EcoDistrict, shaping the primary needs of access and energy production while buildings define the physical character of the district
Social Infrastructure
due to EcoDistricts’ sheer size and the amount of time and effort it takes to shape one, there must be someone in the drivers seat, typically composed of representatives from the government, community, and private investor(s), each pushing the process forward and maintaining the project’s aspirations
Finance Tools
a financial plan must be in place to ensure that all the various project elements are funded (i.e. underwriting for governmental funding can ensure the energy infrastructure is built while private investment is used to pay for buildings and open spaces)

South East False Creek, site of the 2010 Olympic Games located in Vancouver, Canada, highlights its energy efficient buildings with a system of green roofs. (image source)
In summary, EcoDistricts present the opportunity to consolidate our efforts toward economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability at a scale that can change the way our cities look, feel, and work. The power of EcoDistricts is not in their unique character or impressive technology but in the ability to duplicate their overarching framework.

Ideas for the Metropolitan Tract

by Lydia Heard, VIA's Urban Planner

Recently, instead of a party invitation, I found the following intriguing summons in my inbox, from Steven Goldsmith of the Puget Sound Business Journal, as follows:
“In 250 words or less, briefly describe your idea for the Metropolitan Tract 20 years from now — how it should look, and who should own and occupy it.

What kinds of shops and offices should be there? Should the tract go all-residential? Pedestrian-only?  Should the UW turn it into a downtown campus? Or sell the whole thing?

In short, what changes there would be best for the city, and for the university?  Be bold — no idea is too far-out.”

The message had a link to the Metropolitan Tract page of the UW Real Estate Office. My interest was piqued, so I went to the site and read the following information:
“In 1860, the Legislative Assembly of Washington Territory passed "An Act to Relocate the Territorial University" in Seattle, "provided a good and sufficient deed to ten acres of land, eligibly situated in the vicinity of Seattle, be first executed to the Territory of Washington for University purposes." Early in 1861 Arthur and Mary Denny, Charles and Mary Terry, and Edward Lander fulfilled the legislature's stipulation by executing deeds to a forested 10-acre knoll overlooking Elliott Bay. The University was established there, on the site of what is now The Fairmont Olympic Hotel on University Street.
Over the next thirty years, growing enrollment and the growth of Seattle around the 10 acres made the property inadequate for the University's future needs. In 1895, the University's main campus was relocated to its present Montlake site on the shore of Lake Washington. Some years later, the original campus site (less a small portion that had been sold in 1902) was leased to the Metropolitan Building Company for a term of 50 years. The Metropolitan Tract was expanded in 1958 in a property exchange with the US Postal Service and in the 1962 purchase of the site for the Olympic Hotel garage. The present area is 11 acres, and is managed and operated through long term leases with Unico Properties, Inc. and LHCS Hotel Holdings.”

“As presently developed, the Metropolitan Tract contains over 1,500,000 rentable square feet of office space, 200,000 rentable square feet of commercial retail space, 450 hotel rooms, 91 residential units, and about 2,000 parking spaces. The Metropolitan Tract is managed and operated through three long-term leases: one with Unico Properties, Inc. for the commercial office and retail buildings (Rainier Tower & Square, Financial Center, IBM Building, Puget Sound Plaza, Skinner Building); one with Unico for the residential Cobb Building; and one with LHCS Hotel Holdings for The Fairmont Olympic Hotel and garage.

In guiding Metropolitan Tract policy through the years, the UW Board of Regents has adhered to one primary objective: to generate maximum long-term value and related cash flow through the best possible use of this endowment of land and buildings.”
I was flattered to be asked – there was an impressive list of addressees – but really didn’t have any big, bold ideas. Just before the deadline (as usual) I put together a few thoughts – a little over the word limit, actually. I left out references to choice bits such as the early masterplan for a “City Within a City”. It will be in the Puget Sound Business Journal this Friday, Dec. 11th, along with other submissions, including one we know well from the Great Debate, if he accepted the invitation. What sort of advice would you have given them? What sort of vision would you have dreamed up?

What should the Metropolitan Tract become in 20 years?

This is a foundation property, part of the history of the University and of the city. Don’t sell it; it’s like spending the principal. The Tract makes great connections in all directions. It has great bones, and the flesh is pretty good, too. Don’t rush to change it too quickly.

The crossing of University and 5th Avenues is your basic framework. Fifth connects from the Westlake transit hub and the shopping district through to the civic district. It is a special street, of narrower width than the other north-south arterials, beautifully treed, comfortably proportioned, and lined with high end shops and theaters. This will be the next street for people on foot, after Pine through Westlake is returned to us.

University Avenue, that historic reminder, connects from the waterfront to First Hill. This street is different, too. The urban form of full streetwall and blockface is broken here – by SAM and the Benaroya, and all over the tract - the street court at the Fairmont Olympic, to the corner plaza at IBM; interior courts and upper plaza invite at Rainier Square and the Financial Center. Little spaces are carved out everywhere, out of the tower itself. This is special to the Tract; keep it.

Some things will change, and should. Office space will still be needed but residential units are needed even more. The area is well served by transit and more is on the way. Parking garages will change to other uses. The function of the Post Office is changing; that half block will redevelop as midrise residential mixed-use along the lines of the Cobb. If not redeveloped as a residential high rise, the concrete mass of the Olympic Garage will be converted to artist studios and performance space for the downtown branch of the UW schools of the Arts. Keep the option of a presence in this, your historic place.

Share your "Ideas for Seattle"

by Jennifer Kelly, VIA's Marketing Coordinator

Mayor-Elect Mike McGinn has created a site called "Ideas for Seattle" that gives locals the opportunity to submit their ideas for making the city a better place. And some that just help it become a different place.

The top 10 ideas (for the moment):
  1. Expand as much light rail + subway as possible
  2. Legalize marijuana and tax it
  3. Create a lid over I-5 in Seattle
  4. Foot/Bike Patrols for SE Seattle
  5. Make Seattle the 1st US City to be carbon neutral
  6. Install sidewalks throughout Seattle
  7. Seat aside park beach areas for "clothing-optional" recreation
  8. Secure a new source of funding for City libraries
  9. Revitalize Pioneer Square
  10. City-funded public farmer's markets

The website is a great tool for letting the public feel like they have input on the future of their city. Many of the suggestions take some serious effort and will not be made quickly. Regardless, this website provides a good opportunity to open up dialogue for many issues that our city faces and will hopefully show this new administration some of the things we feel are important.

When you check out the website, make sure to look at individual forum's, such as Transportation, Neighborhoods, Homelessness, and Public Safety. Some of the interesting ideas that are worth noting are:
  • Promote family-friendly urban neighborhoods
  • Create a Pedestrian friendly zone throughout downtown
  • Build new streetcars and restore the Waterfront Streetcar

In response to the #1 voted on idea on the site, Seattle Transit Blog provided information from McGinn's light rail information handout that sparked a mini debate. As the debate rages on throughout Seattle blogs regarding what McGinn is going to do about the problems facing our city, Ideas for Seattle is a good outlet, and can even provide some humor (see "Zombie Epidemic Emergency Plan"). To add your own ideas, simply create a log in and start typing!

Southeast False Creek and the 2010 Olympic Village

by guest blogger Jeff Olson, Urban Designer for VIA

We began our design work in 1998 after the Kyoto Protocol was published. We had the idea of a sustainable future; a new way to build that would benefit everyone’s quality of life, air quality, water quality, and soil quality, a way that would protect plants, insects, marine life, land animals and bird life. We started in the library, we reviewed the scientific literature on environmental issues, and then we thought about urban systems, urban design, architecture, material engineering, energy sources, environmental performance measures, and so forth.

We inherited an industrial site from the past century with derelict buildings and industrial machinery related to ship building, lumber products, and salt distribution. These lands have been transformed over time from inter tidal swamp, to land filled lots, to armour protected sea wall. Today the land is totally transformed; nothing remains the same except the feeling of timeless walking paths along the water’s edge.

Our collective dream of a better future became our 2010 Olympic Dream to host the winter games and to welcome the athletes to our village. Some twelve years later the Copenhagen Convention is about to convene and in another two months the games will open. Signs of life have appeared in the village and it’s environs, the riparian zone has re-established along the shoreline, the birds have returned to feed, a habitat island has been constructed and planted, spawning fish have returned to the area, the constructed wetland is hosting new life, the stacks from the new sewer heat recovery plant are venting steam for the first time.

Vancouver designers and builders have invented and built a village of high performance buildings and memorable public spaces. One of these buildings is a net zero building that will sell excess heat back to the new energy utility. The new district energy system utilizes up to 70% renewable fuel. Most of the buildings have roof top gardens, collect and use rainwater. The project has become a model of actions that can be taken elsewhere across the globe and so we warmly welcome all our visitors from near and afar to “Vancouver Green Capital” as they visit Winter Games.

For more information, visit the Challenge Series.

It’s closer than you think: A DVA forum on Northeast False Creek

by Naomi Buell, VIA's Marketing Assistant
“It’s closer than you think” was a forum put on by the DVA (Downtown Vancouver Association) and organized by our own Graham McGarva. The forum’s speakers were Brent Toderian, the Director of Planning for City of Vancouver and Michael Gordon, the central city planner for Vancouver. The topic discussed was the future of the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) area.

NEFC is a neighbourhood that currently contains two stadiums, a casino, a skate park, the Plaza of Nations (which hosts a number of events) and a few restaurants and bars. It has long been designated as Vancouver’s entertainment district but has never jelled as a meaningful people place since Expo ’86. Decisions now being made about NEFC not only affect those that plan to live there but also the thousands of event goers that currently flow in and out of the area. The neighboring areas also have a vested interest. Ask anyone between Burrard and Main street (a 20 block span) about the Molson Indy or the Madonna concert and you will hear a number of accounts of how people could hear the entire event from their living rooms. The forum’s name “it’s closer than you think’ therefore refers to the future of NEFC being closer to us both in terms of time and proximity.

Those of us that have been reading the local Vancouver newspapers have become quite familiar with BC Place’s new retractable roof, which will begin construction after the Olympics. The $458 million dollar roof and renovations have caused quite a stir as most of the funding will come from a 40 year loan from the provincial government. City council has also endorsed a plan to create a high-density, mixed-use neighbourhood of about 7,000 people¹ around the stadium.

This high density neighbourhood, as stated by Michael Gordon, is proposed as a family friendly area with an anticipated 400 children living in the buildings. However, one challenge faced by city council is how to address the needs of those with families and provide them with the necessary amenities and security while dealing with the thousands of people going to and from the stadiums, restaurants, clubs, pubs and casino. The dichotomy caused by these groups with seemingly different interests and needs is just one of the many issues surrounding the area’s plan. City council recognizes these challenges and plans to address them.

As Brent Toderian pointed out, although the future residents of NEFC will be warned about the noise and high traffic nature of the area, there will need to be more done to try and rectify anticipated complaints. He referenced a recent and similar situation in Whistler in which a residential building was built near an industrial plant. The residents were all notified about the existence of the neighbouring plant and were required to sign binding covenants acknowledging the existence of the plant. However, residents have still begun to voice concerns and frustrations, thereby putting political pressure on the city officials.

Another of the challenges of the NEFC area will be to provide a high density neighbourhood without obstructing views. NEFC, not surprisingly, is across from Southeast False Creek, which includes the 2010 Olympics Athlete’s Village. This area has been recognized globally for its environmentally focused design and drive to create a self sufficient neighbourhood, and includes some of the most expensive land in the city. The residents, who will most likely be paying a premium to live there, will no doubt have an interest in the view that currently looks out past NEFC to the mountains and sky. Because of these amazing views that the City has protected through designated view corridors for the past two decades, ideas are being discussed to ensure that there are only minimal view obstructions arising from new development. One such idea is to have an articulated skyline, so that the height of the buildings would vary with relation to the mountains in the background. Another idea is to place the larger buildings in areas outside of the specified view corridors. This was the idea behind the approval and placement of the Shangri-La building, which at 62 storeys became the tallest building in Metro Vancouver.

Brent mentioned that the planning of NEFC must look at the area in terms of the associated opportunity costs. That is to say that for every structure, amenity or public space that is built, there is one less area to build something else. With a finite land area and a multitude of stakeholders and proposed land uses, the planning and development of the area will be challenging. However, there is also excitement to see what will become of the last waterfront property in Vancouver. So raise your glass to Expo ‘86 (which is the last time the land was used for anything besides a racing track or show tent) and be prepared to create new memories. The shape of the city will inevitably continue to change to respond to the pressures of each generation it serves. The challenge now is to play a meaningful role in shaping this change at the heart of Vancouver’s urban frontier.

Image 1: from L to R:  Michael Gordon, Graham McGarva, Brent Toderian
Image 2: link

Get Schooled: What it Takes to Become an Architect

Get Schooled is a program that encourages education and works to make positive changes in the education system. Part of that program is to find different career professionals and talk to them about how they ended up in their field and what schooling it takes to get there.

For the Get a Career feature of "What it Takes to Become an Architect," our very own Alan Hart was interviewed about his path towards becoming an architect. He talks about hurdles in his educational path, what inspires him, and about the Olympic Village as part of Southeast False Creek in Vancouver.

To read the complete interview on Get Schooled, click here.

A Look at the Transportation Association of Canada Conference

by guest blogger John Collings, Collings Johnston Inc.
The annual conference of the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) was held in Vancouver this year and was well attended by over a thousand transportation officials, planners and engineers from across Canada. TAC is an association which provides “a neutral forum for gathering or exchanging ideas, information and knowledge on technical guidelines and best practices.” source

The newly opened spectacle of the Golden Ears Crossing was evident at the conference. The project’s urban planning and aesthetics were highlighted by Graham McGarva’s and John Collings’s poster presentation. Collings Johnston Inc. and VIA Architecture were retained by TransLink to develop, specify, and implement the urban design process for the new 14 km highway and major crossing of the Fraser River linking the municipalities of Langley and Surrey with Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. The design and construction was undertaken by the Golden Crossing Group between 2006 and 2009 as part of a Public Private Partnership. The project had three main urban design goals:
  • to design and build a new arterial corridor and river crossing in support of its surrounding context 
  • provide a moderate speed arterial for use by all road users: cars, trucks, buses, bicycles and pedestrians
  • implement an integrated urban design theme whose aesthetics would enrich users experience along Golden Ears Way

The presentation highlighted the process of designing a Major New River Crossing within the context of its surroundings and took the form of questions and comments as the audience passed the posters. That is to say that the audience came to the presenter instead of the presenter talking to an audience. There were about 100 conference attendees that visited the Golden Ears Crossing presentation and showed genuine interest through their inquisitive questions and informative comments with regards to the design approach. Many of these people were from the senior ranks of government and municipalities.

John Collings also gave a presentation on Context Sensitive Solutions to the Urban/Freeway Interfaces of the Golden Ears Crossing. The 15 km arterial was specified and designed as a limited speed facility in keeping with the urban features through which it passes. The iconic and landscaping features of the route provide much of the context and items such as Curvilinear bridge approaches with a median barrier marked with reveals are used to manage speed.

Robin Johnston gave a tour of the new bridge and arterial to conference participants and was able to demonstrate many of the planning and urban design aspects of the project where VIA Architecture provided leadership and inspiration. These three presentation styles enabled conference attendees to get a well rounded informative experience about the design process of the bridge.

Golden Ears Way: Using the Design-Build Process to Support Creativity

The Golden Ears Crossing Project comprised a new 14-kilometre, multi-lane, highway corridor which included a major bridge crossing of the Fraser River. This Public-Private Partnership Project in Metro Vancouver crosses the flood plain of the Fraser River amidst the Coastal Mountains and passes through residential, agricultural and industrial lands. After four years of work on alignment and preparation of bid documents, construction commenced in February 2006 and was completed in the summer of 2009.

The Crossing was conceived as a transportation facility that would be designed and built within the context of its surrounding land uses. The base concept that was used for the design/build proposals required a comprehensive and integrated design approach from each proponent. It incorporated speed management and involved design elements that were in keeping with the surrounding area.

The commitment of context sensitive design led to a mandate to make aesthetics and urban design considerations integral with the technical and financial performance of the project. The RFQ to pre-qualify bidders led to the selection of three teams, of whom two submitted bids to Design, build, operate and maintain the project.

The successful proponent, Golden Crossing Constructors Joint Venture (GCCJV), provided a design theme that built upon the story of the valley beneath the Golden Ears peaks. This incorporated the natural and cultural history of the area, such as the Katzie First Nation, salmon fishing and the eyries of golden eagles. These were reflected in many of the aesthetic features of the bridge. Handrails adorned with metal fish were used to create an image of the salmon traps and nets that had been set across the river for many generations. These high fence verticals, and the absence of guardrail caps at eye level both mitigate suicide attempts (a functional criterion) and provide an open vista up and down the river for bridge users (a perceptual criteria that is hoped will complement speed management). Sculptural eagles circling the cable-support towers at both bridgeheads of the main river bridge symbolize the many eagles whose eyries have long inhabited and overlooked the Fraser River’s expansive splendour.

In addition to these, Translink required identifiable features that characterized the crossing as a context sensitive roadway. Luminous “entry beacons” were used to introduce the gateways and to represent the towering fir and cedar trees that once adorned the banks of the Fraser River. This continuous ribbon of native landscapes reinforces a perception of “parkway” over “highway” along the approaches.

In addition to aesthetic features, geometric design was used to ensure that the crossing provided a positive experience to all road users. Pedestrian Facilities were designed to be attractive and encourage use. The attractiveness of pedestrian ways is a function of their walkability. Their design had to create safe and attractive paths that were free from noise, dirt and fumes. Landscaping features such as planted roadside and median environments were also used to encourage use. All pedestrian facilities took into consideration the special needs of users including creating sidewalks that are accessible for wheelchairs and people who are visually or auditorily impaired.

Bicycle Facilities, in keeping with criteria, were configured to the right hand travel lane so that they could double as emergency stopping lanes for motorized traffic. They were placed all along the arterial road and are clearly marked.

Human factors were also an important consideration for the design of the crossing. The ability of the driver to process road information is the key to the design of a safe road. Human factors were used to provide messages about the intended speed for the arterial and to provide characteristics for safe operation by drivers unfamiliar with the route. Curvilinear roads approaching the bridge were used to manage speed as were landscaping and horizontal alignment features.

The bridge and roadway provides an essential north south link for community building, serving industrial traffic enabling transit, encouraging cycling, as well as eliminating lengthy trips that formerly had to funnel into the Port Mann and out the Pitt River Bridge and vice versa. The Golden Ears Bridge integrated aesthetic and geometric design to create an arterial crossing that is both accessible and visually appealing.

Image Sources: Polaroid, Bridge with Eagle,GEB at night, Biking on the bridge

Best Small Project: Burien Transit Center

We're very excited to announce that the Burien Transit Center won "Best Small Project" for Northwest Construction's Best of 2009 awards competition.

According to their website, Northwest Construction "received a record-breaking number of entries."

The winning projects will be honored at an awards breakfast December 11th at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott. For more information call 206.378.4708.

See our previous post with more information on the Burien Transit Center here.

Congrats to the Burien team: INCA Engineers, Tres West Engineers, AKB, Karen Kiest Landscape Architects, Julie Berger (public artist), and Pellco Construction.

Green Decisions: A Community Process

by Stephanie Doerksen, Intern Architect for VIA Architecture

I recently attended the Resilient Cities Conference in Vancouver, co-hosted by Gaining Ground and Smart Growth BC. In the afternoon of the first day, I attended a workshop session about community-based decision making processes for sustainable communities.

One of the panelists was Peter McLeod of MASS LBP, a Toronto based consulting firm specializing in proactive community research and consultation. He framed his talk with two questions which, although referring more generally to local governmental policy decisions, are extremely relevant to the type of urban planning and design decisions that VIA faces with on many of our projects.

The two questions were:
1.    How do we (local governments, planners, community groups) make the right decision regarding any particular issue relating to sustainability?
2.    How do we balance democratic processes with the need for quick action on environmental issues?

In order to answer these questions, we have to understand why the decision making process is difficult and what we generally do wrong.

We don't ask the right questions

In order to give citizens the right to meaningfully engage in the decision making process, they must have the opportunity to provide input, and this can only happen if the question is correctly framed.

The example given by McLeod came from a community in France in which residents were asked whether they would accept the construction of a nuclear waste dump in their neighbourhood. When the respondents understood that their community relied on nuclear power for its energy, over 50% responded that they would accept it. However, when residents were asked if they would put up with a nuclear waste dump in the community in return for a sum of money, the number of respondents who were willing to do so dropped drastically.

What this reveals is that generally citizens are willing to make sacrifices, or accept a decision that they see as being a civic duty or somehow beneficial to their community, but they are much less willing to accept something they see as being imposed on them, even if there is personal compensation involved.

We don’t have the right mechanisms

According to McLeod, standard analytical methods don’t bring solutions in the context of decision-making around sustainability. This is because there is no right decision when it comes to environmental issues. There are always trade-offs that have to be made. Rather than making the right decision, our goal is to make the best decision. This is a crucial shift in thinking, and one that needs to be conveyed to the participants of any collaborative decision-making process.

Because of the complexity of sustainability, the standard open house format of public consultation doesn’t work. Instead, we need to design a public learning process that engages the public imagination and provides residents with all the tools and knowledge they need to guide the process of building their community. Although this sounds more laborious and lengthy than the typical methodology, it would do us good to keep in mind that quality of the decision making process will reflect the quality of the decision.

We don't provide the evidence

In order to allow citizens to engage meaningfully in the decision-making process, we must provide them with real information that measures what is truly important. Traditional cost-benefit analyses tend to miss out on key aspects of environmental issues. They do not account for many of the repercussions of the proposed solutions, such as the impact on the health of residents, or the relative value of alternative solutions.

Despite their inappropriateness, we persist in using these types of analyses to provide a basis for decision-making. If we expect citizens to make the best decision for their community, we need to structure our analyses of the issues around the values of that community and to measure the factors that we want to be the basis for the decision.

In addition to providing the correct evidence around the issue itself, we need to provide participants with evidence that their engagement in the decision-making process is real. Public consultation should result directly in a policy decision, and this should be very clear throughout the process, so that participants have a sense of their responsibility towards their community.

In summary, there are certain key ways in which we need to rethink our standard methodology for collaborative decision making, to suit the particular needs of complex environmental issues.

We need to frame the question in a way that gives people the agency to participate in community building and, in doing so, we mustn’t underestimate the ability of citizens to make hard decisions or see beyond their immediate personal interest.

We need to develop analytical methods that measure the truly important aspects of the issues. We need to provide this information in the form of a community learning process, and this process needs to result in a concrete outcome, in the form of a policy decision, a community plan or some other directly measurable result.

Although these strategies, as they were presented by McLeod, were aimed at the municipal government level, as architects and planners we are often engaged in decision-making around issues of sustainability and community building. From time to time we engage directly in community consultation, but even if this is not the case, many of these collaborative decision-making strategies are invaluable to us, as we try to guide our clients in making difficult solutions on complex issues. We are often involved in integrating the input of a variety of consultants and disciplines, and working in a collaborative setting to make the best decision.

Image Sources: Conference Banner, Peter McLeod, Nuclear Waste

In Honour of Remembrance Day

In Flanders Field
by John McCrae

In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Poem's Origin
The areas of Northern France known as Flanders and Picardy, saw some of the most concentrated and bloodiest fighting of the First World War.

There was complete devastation. buildings, roads, trees and natural life simply disappeared. Where once there were homes and farms, there was now a sea of mud, a grave for the dead where men still lived and fought.

Only one other living thing survived. The poppy, flowering each year with the coming of the warmer weather, brought LIFE, HOPE, COLOUR and REASSURANCE to those still fighting.

In 1915, John McRae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, was so deeply moved by what he saw that he scribbled the verses in his pocket book.

In hono[u]r of Remembrance Day, our staff in both VIA offices have been wearing poppies for the last week.

Vancouver Office Staff:

Seattle Office Staff:

The Salvation of our Environment Lies at the Feet of the Poor

by Jihad Bitar, Planner for VIA Architecture
After three days of intensive lectures and presentations about the environment, climate change, ecology, economy, development, theories, corporate progress and grass root success example at the Gaining Ground Summit under the theme of ‘Resilient Cities, Urban Strategies for Transition Times’, there were a lot of messages flying through the air at the Canada Place ballroom. Yet, at the end of it all, I grew rather depressed reading all the data and equations of how long we humans have on earth before we totally destroy it.

In the midst of this ‘Smart’ jungle, I was reminded of a great message from Paul Hawken’s speech and lecture. When asked whether he is an optimist or a pessimist about the future, he replied with what became his most famous quotation: “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” And then Hawken later used the word ‘heart’.

For me, I like to think of myself as a scientist with a heart, which by Hawken’s definition, makes me a pessimist-optimist. But when I thought of Hawken’s words, the scientist side of me linked Hawken’s inspiring ideas to Hernando De Soto’s theory which talks about giving the poor full rights over the illegal properties they live on as the first step toward a better future for us all.

These two ideas may sound different at the beginning but, in my humble opinion, when we link property rights and social justice with sustainability and green development; we are actually working towards greater social justice for the people who need it while simultaneously developing their neighborhoods into a safe and sustainable environment. This is the very soul of the current global movement of sustainability and what it means to be green. We must be just and fair to everything around us: air, soil, plants, animals and, above all, humans.

Think about it, the majority of the development we have today is happening only for a lucky few of us who have access to credit and proper basic services like energy and water. Meanwhile, the majority of the population continues to live in poverty in highly polluted and highly concentrated environments.

Do we dare imagine that we are contributing to world-wide social justice and cleaner environments when only a small percent of the world’s population reap the benefits? And of that small minority only roughly 5% are consciously taking measures to be environmentally friendly? How can we achieve the goals we set for our planet if we don’t include the majority of us – the poor – into our plans?

My straight answer is – we cannot. Period.

Regardless of how much we recycle and build green; or how much we develop and force corporations to do their clean duty; or even how much we try to produce environmentally friendly materials and programs; it is all fruitless if the majority of us humans don’t or can’t participate in the global movement.

Therefore, we must address the issues of poverty in order to tackle the problems with our environment.

To further illustrate this, I would like to give a short and quick explanation of De Soto’s theory.

It explains that unregistered properties have no proper ‘value’ attached to that land. For instance, if a person were to take an unregistered piece of land, build on it and use it, the property will still have no value because it is not officially legal. If this person decides to sell their developed land to someone else, there is no proper documentation that can connect this person to that property or transfer the property title from one name to another. Therefore, anyone or any government can simply take the land at any time because it is not properly registered and push those people outside without any legal protection for them. As a result, these properties are entered into the ‘shade’ or black market and are not accounted for in the official market.

In order to grasp the magnitude of this problem, we need to multiply this one property by a million to understand that entire neighbourhoods, communities and even villages that have residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural value currently exist only on the black market. And since these groups are not officially recognized on paper, they do not have any official value to support them in the real market.

So the first step we need to take to get these ‘shade’ properties into the market is to connect each property to its owner and then help them enter formal markets. There, they can retain official value of what they own and have the ability to engage in real business or apply for legitimate loans and credits without fear from any person, organization or law that may have intimidated them before.

Yet before we can implement such a theory, where it is needed, and for it to work properly, several supporting steps need to take place. This includes remedial action such as fixing political problems and fighting corruption, as well as providing awareness and incentives for environmental improvement and sustainability. We also need to factor in the cultural, traditional and custom layers into the property right laws to discourage any corruption among the poor. We simply want to make business easier to do in these communities instead of killing it.

Educating the poor about property rights and then teaching them to be responsible land owners and showing them how to incorporate green practices into their daily lives would be our best contribution to help slow down climate change. Meanwhile, we must also continue pushing corporations to do their share by conducting more research and finding new ways to clean up the earth- an earth that includes everybody, even the poorest of us all.

Majora Carter, one of the speakers at the Smart Growth Conference, shared with us her success story about bringing justice back to her own neighborhood of South Bronx, New York. Carter worked with her community to improve their run-down neighborhood by treating polluted areas, planting parks and building community centres that introduced education programs to help improve community wellbeing.

Yes, we must educate the poor. Yes, we must improve their corrupted systems. And yes, we have to introduce a democracy to them in the way that works for the main goal and not to our western standards. I believe that we can achieve it all by connecting theories and working with organizations that have clear visions and passionate people who work hard for their community. This is the key to slowing down environmental deterioration and it is for this reason I have chose the title to my article.

I started my post with Paul Hawken and now I will close with him saying:
‘Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich’

Image Sources: Gaining Ground, Paul Hawken, Power of the Poor, Poverty, Majora, Flowers

Cities Stand Together in the “New Normal”

by Lydia Heard, VIA's Urban Planner

On October 14th, a Mayor and Managers Summit was held in Redmond, organized by NextGen Today, in partnership with the attending communities, and hosted by Redmond Mayor John Marchione and Kirkland City Manager David Ramsay. The attendees were representatives of towns and cities ranging from 1,000 to 85,000 residents, from strong mayor to mayor-council-manager governance, from 85% residential base (Maple Valley) to twice as many jobs as residents (Redmond). Some had administrations with paid staff support; others had mayors who essentially volunteer their terms of civic service and receive a stipend for their labors. All were facing similar and urgent challenges and seemed truly hungry for the opportunity to hear from their fellow civic leaders what issues they were dealing with, and the solutions and best practices that they might share.

Focus on Funding
The morning session was titled “Navigating the Turbulent Waters” and began with attendees describing where they felt their city budgets were – above water, treading water, or underwater. Many were trying to find funding for capital projects (infrastructure). Funding was uppermost on everyone’s minds. There was much discussion about I-1033 along with the worst-case assumption (at the time) that it would pass, and that voter tax referendums are now the “New Normal.” There was dismay over the raiding of the Public Works Trust Fund this year to make up state budget shortfalls. There was stated interest in asking the legislature, once again, to change the constitution to allow for TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funding for infrastructure, affordable housing and transportation. There was much discussion of Levy Lid Lifts (involving the 2001 limit on property tax increases) to make up budget shortfalls. There was talk about local Tax Benefit Districts, and local car tab taxes (MVET).

The New Normal, it was generally agreed, was a move away from voters as “citizens” to voters as “consumers,” who are more likely to vote to tax themselves for specific local benefits rather than for a more general, widespread common good. This seems to entail a move away from general funds towards specific funding levies. Voters will be more likely to vote for tax measures for visible, tangible benefits such as Parks and Public Safety – but who wants to pay for things like “Administration” or such an esoteric good as “Planning”? Each Tax District represents a new bureaucracy with its own costs. Each election for a voter referendum generates its own costs. How are the elections that will be necessary in the New Normal to be funded? The general agreement was that the present funding structures – from property taxes, sales taxes, B&O – are not sustainable. There is a need for long-term funding structures, and that will require state legislative attention.

Smaller cities are pressed to create partnerships with each other, to consolidate services, to put services into a separate taxing district. This causes some consternation over preserving local identity – but cities are not the services they provide; they are the embodiment of a shared local vision of aspirations for the future. Partnerships, rather than special districts, may provide economies of scale while retaining a sense of local control. There are different models for consolidation. In this gathering the civic leaders expressed a desire to learn from each other what they have done in this regard, perhaps in workshops to share best practices.

Local Community Vision: Transportation and Land Use
The afternoon sessions dealt with transportation issues from the statewide scale of connecting cities, as addressed by WSDOT, to transportation and land use visions, practices and innovations at the local and regional scale. WSDOT is focused on providing connections between cities; many planned improvements to this end were left unfunded when the 2007 RTID (Regional Transportation Investment District) failed. Rural communities have a sense of inequities from the PSRC 2040 vision for growth. Smaller communities such as Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Carnation band together to buck this perceived trend and are working to put together their own commuter rail line.

Where statewide responsibilities leave off, local governments require a vision and a strategy for what they want to achieve. Nothing can be done without funding, but the danger of a focus on narrow funding channels is in loss of vision and of larger planning issues. Communities and cities have their own context for a vision of land use that then sets the context for highway and transportation improvements.

Redmond, for example, was once a single-family bedroom community that was required to become a growth center under the GMA. They invested in the infrastructure downtown, to encourage development there. They have a vision for a better housing to jobs balance and for diversity in housing choices. They also have a vision for overall connectivity and for the eventual arrival of Sound Transit, and it is part of their planning. They have prepared for dense centers around proposed stations and are ready for it to happen. Redmond also organized as one large traffic concurrency zone in order to accommodate a citywide bicycle network.

Parking Management is also an issue. Strategies such as lowering parking requirements, giving developers the option of providing transit passes instead of parking, using shared parking arrangements, and other tools that the different communities are trying were discussed. SeaTac offered a land use test case. They have two transit stations going in, along with a huge demand for airport parking, making surface parking lots more lucrative than other commercial or retail uses. They have to subsidize retail in order to promote mixed-use development around the transit stations, which are there to serve the airport rather than the community. Parking, land use and transportation overlap and require a strategy that changes over time.

The issue of Transportation Impact Fees came up. They can only be used to pay for vehicle infrastructure; how might that funding be used to pay for bicycle and pedestrian facilities? Redmond has done something very innovative in this regard. Instead of Transportation Impact Fees, they charge Mobility Impact Fees and have developed Mobility Units to measure charges and credits. For example, if a developer puts in bicycle infrastructure, they get back some mobility credits to offset mobility fees. It’s never been tried before and is something of an experiment. So far, no one has challenged it.

The challenges faced by cities in the New Normal, even condensed into the discussions of a single day, seem staggering. Questions of funding ruled the day; but vast reserves of resourcefulness and innovation were very evident. Land use and transportation, tools such as parking management, transportation concurrency, commute trip reduction, service partnerships, and entirely new innovations through merely substituting “mobility” for “transportation” provided  much to work with. The greatest benefit among civic leaders seemed to be the recognition that, in sharing the issues they face, they are also sharing potential solutions – and not bearing the burdens entirely alone.

Silence of the Squash

We submitted a pumpkin this year for the annual Carve for a Cause that benefits Architects without Borders (more info here).

Last year, we did the artichoke lamp, but were disqualified for using too much "non-pumpkin" material:

For those who don't know what I'm referring to, here's a picture of the artichoke lamp:

So, this year, we decided to step up our game. Our interior designer came up with the idea of doing a pumpkin modeled after Silence of the Lambs or making something out of pumpkin skin. After a brainstorming session, Silence of the Squash was quickly formulated. Hours and hours went into steaming the squash, scooping out the insides (you can image how quickly you can get sick of squash for every meal), and getting the skin ready to be sewn together.

Here is the pumpkin in progress:

Surprisingly, it only took us about 3 hours to sew everything together and put nails in strategic places to hold the skin in place. The next evening, we headed down to Design Within Reach to see the competition. There were some incredible entries.

After mingling at the event, they announced the winners and our pumpkin won Judge's Choice this year! After the competition, they auctioned off all of the pumpkins, which was a good way to help raise more money.

Not sure what we're going to do next year, but we're going to have to come up with something really good to top this year's entry!