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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Crosswalk treatments as an element of community identity in Seattle

When I first got involved heavily in community revitalization from the standpoint of ground up citizen-driven efforts, one of the initiatives I came across was City Repair in Portland, an organization that focuses on neighborhood improvement through placemaking-focused interventions in the public space and streets including "intersection repair." 

This was an early form of "tactical urbanism" long before the term was coined.

They had a Seattle affiliate but the group is now defunct.

Earlier in the month I wrote about "Crosswalk treatments" as an element of placemaking, and included an example of a rainbow crosswalk in Seattle.

It turns out Seattle has formalized the ability to specially paint crosswalks as an element of neighborhood identity and community building.  They call them "cultural crosswalks" ("More cultural crosswalks coming for Seattle pedestrians," MyNorthwest) and have created a permitting and funding process to assist neighborhoods in creating them.

KING5-TV photo.

This happened as a result of a ground up response to the rainbow crosswalk program in Capitol Hill last year, where some artists and residents in the Central District painted two crosswalks in Pan African colors  of black, red, and green ("Rogue colorful crosswalks in Central District," KING5-TV).  From the article:
The red, green, and black horizontal-striped crosswalks can be found near the intersection of MLK and Cherry and about a block south near Powell Barnett Park. A vertical version can be found on South Jackson Street.

Supporters feel there is no difference between this colorful crosswalk and Capitol Hill's rainbow-colored ones.

"That's gay pride, this is African American pride. There is no difference," one man said.

A spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Transportation told KING 5 they are aware of the rogue crosswalks, painted by unknown parties. He said SDOT is supportive of community building activities, but must ensure the city's crosswalks remain recognizable and safe. As a result, he said SDOT is now reviewing what action should be taken by the city.

Some people expressed concern that the use of non-reflective paint made the crosswalks difficult to see at night.

"I was shocked that the colors are so muted," one man said, after walking the crosswalk and driving through it. "It makes the crosswalk virtually invisible!"
The city then created a process for neighborhoods to do this legally, partly because the paint used in the Central District project didn't meet standards required for street treatments which include reflective particles so the crosswalks can be seen at night.

Now, ten more crosswalks will get the Pan African treatment in the Central District, although a new pattern has been devised to meet visibility requirements.

-- Community Crosswalks, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

The response in Seattle is the opposite to that of St. Louis, which after being told by the Federal Highway Administration that the "cultural crosswalk" painted in a leaf pattern and adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden did not meet MUTCD guidelines, said they would let the paint fade and wouldn't allow other crosswalks to be painted in non-standard ways.

Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods. Seattle has an extensive neighborhood-community building program (see the past entry "Main Street and getting schooled in politics, constituency building, and building support for your program") under what is called the Department of Neighborhoods. The book Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way describes the program as of 10 years ago, and was authored Jim Diers, the founding director of the program.

I like their approach much better than DC's because here "neighborhood services" units under the Mayor or Councilmembers are more about constituent services and incumbent protection, whereas in Seattle, even though the agency is part of the Executive branch, the program is more independent philosophically, and focused on supporting self-help initiatives, from community gardens to all sorts of neighborhood and community projects.

Part of the way they do this is with a grants program that provides funds that must be matched by the groups applying for the grants.  The program has large, small, and mini grant programs, which can be taped to help fund a "crosswalk intervention."

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At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

I wrote a report on City Repair and the intersection repair project. It's pretty fascinating in terms of how they used the concept to rethink and rewrite the city code in Portland. It's both tactical urbanism and tactical politics. They knew from the beginning what the problems would be and what needed to change and they approached the entire project from that view point. It was incredibly strategic, so much more so than some of the tactical urbanism projects that I see which seem to be more urbanist than tactical (and more about getting local buy in, rather than changing power structures and city code.)

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Very interesting. I'd love to see the report. (Sadly, it seems the City Repair Seattle project is dead, and even worse, they set up their website so that wouldn't archive it, so I can't use that as a workaround to find old content.)

wrt your points, I don't think the average citizen, the avg. people involved in a project are capable of that kind of analysis.

That's ok, they shouldn't be expected to have to do it. Govt. people should be oriented to providing "help" and people should recognize the need for people like me in the process.

It's why my writing here is so much different from most blogs, because it takes a structural/process approach.

In fact, when I get to do planning projects, what I do is look backwards at the process that produces the outcomes. If the routine outcomes "don't improve quality of life/don't generate the kinds of projects that we desire", I look at the process and figure out what the inflection points are and make structural-process recommendations for change.

Baltimore County was a shocker because some of those recommendations were made in ways that significantly reshaped the process, if not the outcomes. (They still aren't willing to put a lot of money into building the new infrastructure, but in those Council districts where the citizens are organized, and where the Councilmember is committed, they are making noticeable improvements.

... anyway, I remember talking with Karina Ricks, who was for a time the chief transportation planner for DDOT, about City Repair more than 10 years ago.

2. wrt parking day, the way it has spawned formalized parklet projects is equally interesting and comparable to City Repair.


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