Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Been distracted, forgot about the Seattle election

Seattle's City Council used to be elected at large. With the current cycle, the city shifted to districts, with two of the nine council members elected at large. With the new system--technically local elections are nonpartisan, but of course, candidates have affiliations--the two candidates with the highest vote totals move on to the general election.

Image via The Stranger.

District 3, covering Capitol Hill and Central Seattle, is the District that Kshama Sawant, affiliated with Socialist Alternative, has chosen to run in and represent. She received just over 50% of the vote, while a leading opponent, Pamela Banks, director of the Urban League, came in second with about 34% of the vote.

Seattle's Port Commission also features commissioners who are popularly elected, and according to The Stranger, the candidates leading in the vote for the two open positions espouse anti-pollution platforms, which is a significant change.

That the Port Commission there is publicly elected should be an example to other similarly situated organizations, such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which also controls a significant revenue stream.

While I argue that perhaps the DC area WMATA transit agency board should be popularly elected, the fact is that the organization doesn't control the bulk of its revenue stream, which comes from supplemental appropriations from the member jurisdictions and more recently the federal government.

Move Seattle proposition for transportation infrastructure funding.  This fall, Seattleites will vote on an extension and reworking of the previous "Bridging the Gap" initiative--a program that included taxes and general fund revenues, and was used for specific transportation and streetscape improvements, but not for transit improvements.

The new initiative is called "Move Seattle."  The Seattle Times, which is pretty much anti-tax, likely isn't favorable ("City’s Move Seattle transportation proposal needs careful scrutiny," Seattle Times).

I use the "Bridging the Gap" initiative and the "Metropolitan Area Projects" program in Oklahoma City ("MAPS4: New generation bids for quality of life investments in Oklahoma City," Daily Oklahoman) as financing, branding, and program delivery models for my "Signature Streets" concept. From the article:
MAPS transformed downtown and enlivened the Oklahoma River through public investment in projects including construction of Bricktown’s canal and ballpark, construction of the Ronald J. Norick Library, and Civic Center Music Hall renovations.

MAPS 3 includes construction of a whitewater recreation park on the Oklahoma River and downtown construction of a streetcar line, central park and convention center.

MAPS 3 also is making a down payment on neighborhoods with about $100 million for senior health and wellness centers, trails and sidewalks.

Gaining traction

By the time MAPS 3 is complete, MAPS investments including MAPS for Kids projects in public schools will have totaled around $1.6 billion.
The MAPS article includes an almost 20 minute long video which is worth a listen.  It would be amazing to have locally elected officials able to talk at this level about quality of life and placemaking benefits derived from investing in community infrastructure.

Both the Seattle and Oklahoma City initiatives are city specific, even though the Oklahama City program is termed "Metropolitan".  By contrast, the "Regional Assets District" levy in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh, is county-wide.

===Signature Streets=====

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, "Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy," David Barth and Carlos Perez, AECOM.

* At the very end of the development process for the Western County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, I came up with a concept that I called "Signature Streets" but I just didn't have the time to develop it more thoroughly or "sell" it adequately to the advisory committee.

The basic ideas were:

(1)  combine complete streets principles
(2)  with smart growth ideas (the County has a policy prioritizing investment in extant places)
(3)  along with the integrated public realm concepts of David Barth
(4)  by designating a subset of the county's road network as foundational or "signature"

(5)  and upgrading these streets with systematic special and complete treatment so that sustainable transportation modes (walking, biking, and transit) are integrated into the mobility system (also related is Barth's concept that streets should be treated as linear parks), along with streetscape improvements (the County already has an excellent streetscape improvement program, just not a focus on sustainable transportation)

(6)  and justifying using bond funding to pay for the development of the upgraded mobility network and acquisition of the necessary right of way.

Iin counties, to expand the right of way, you have to buy the land.  That's expensive.  The government doesn't want to do it.  But by laying it out in terms of developing a road-based complete mobility network that extends quality of life and how the county "deserves" a road-mobility system that meets its needs in the 21st Century and as the third largest jurisdiction in the State of Maryland makes this kind of re-thinking achievable.

With regard to bond funding, even in bad times, parks-related bond initiatives pass overwhelming in Baltimore County.  And this idea is kind of an extension of parks.  The model that I suggested was Seattle's Bridging the Gap initiative.

Garden District
Flickr photo of a "street sign topper" in Toronto by Steven Hoang.

I suggested denoting "Signature Streets"--a community's primary mobility network--with special street signs, not unlike how the City of Toronto has special "sign topper" designations for all sorts of areas in the city.


Proposition 1: Seattle levy for improvements in King County Metro bus services.  Last fall, Seattleites also voted in favor of a special tax that supports King County Metro, providing additional transit service within Seattle only--this was in response to a previous initiative covering all of King County, which didn't pass. It was only in Seattle where the previous initiative received a majority of the vote in favor.  So advocates and the city council moved a specific initiative to the ballot for Seattle only.

In my occasional trips to Seattle, I have always been "struck dumb" on coming across materials from government agencies reporting back to the citizenry on the impact of levies on the operation of agencies.

Below is an infographic on the improvements that will result from the Proposition 1 transportation levy.  And I've seen similar reports on the impact of library and parks levies.

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