May 012015



Portland, OR

Myhre Group Architects propose to build a 5-story, 37,000 square-foot residential and commercial space near the historic Hollywood Theater in Portland, OR.



Seattle, WA

Construction on a six-story mixed-use residential and retail building at Broadway and Jefferson is scheduled to start in August. Portland-based Gerding Edlen purchased the property from Valencia Capital Management of Dallas for $5.6 million earlier this month, according to the Seattle Times. Valencia paid $3.14 million for the property in 2007.

Central District News reported in December that owners of the property at 412 Broadway had put the land up for sale months after the City Council authorized a rezone for up to 70 feet in height.

The building, designed by Ankron Moisan Associated Architects, will have 118 residential units and 6,500 ft of retail space. Twenty percent of the residential units will be “designated affordable,” according to Gerding Edlen’s press release. They anticipate a LEED Gold certification on the project.

The planned rail projects in the area seem to have played a part in the firm’s decision to purchase the property, according to the press release:

Municipal plans for an extended light rail system from downtown to the Capital [sic] Hill, as well as a streetcar line that will connect this light rail to Union Station in the International District/Pioneer Square will offer direct access to a multi-modal transportation system for the residents of 412 Broadway.

Gerding Edlen will start holding public meetings this summer to engage the community to better fit into the neighborhood, said Ann Hudner, spokesperson for the firm.

“Gerding Edlen has a really wonderful approach to wanting to integrate and engage the community in their projects,” she said. Other projects have included site-specific art by local artists.

Permits have not yet been issued for construction of the project described by the previous developers as a 6-story building containing 100 market-rate apartments targeted towards employees in the nearby medical facilities, and the first-floor retail with room for five to eight new businesses.

This project will be the first Seattle-area development for the company since their 43/42-story Bellevue Towers highrise condo project was completed in 2009. After selling just 118 of the 539 units, the firm handed the buildings over to lenders earlier this year to avoid foreclosure, according to the Seattle Times.

The lot previously held a 4-unit house that has since been demolished. You can still view the old home (for now, at least) in Google Street View.

Summer 2011 is shaping up to be a busy time for construction on Capitol Hill – especially at its southern edge along Madison — and now down Broadway.



Seattle, WA

A 7-story residential/retail/commercial building at 4502 42nd SW (map).



Chicago, IL

Way back in April 2007, we caught wind of a proposed development in Grand Boulevard called the Shops and Lofts at 47. The mixed-use project at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue was to have 167 condos, 45,000 square feet of retail space, and 15,000 square feet of office space. It never moved forward, but apparently its developer, Mahogany Ventures, and the Quad Communities Development Corporation never gave up on the idea.

LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program reports that the project should break ground later this year or in 2011 with one significant change in place — instead of condos, it will feature apartments. According to LISC’s article, the project’s first phase will have 70 residential units and about 28,000 square feet of retail, while a second phase will have another 70 units and 20,000 square feet of retail. A parking level on the second floor of each building will buffer the ground-level retail from the upper-level residences.


Berlin, Germany

5-story Residential – and office building – Kurfürstenstraße, Berlin / Germany




Denver, CO

Infill 5 story retail and residential in Denver, CO.



Merrifield – OCR – Fairfax County, Virginia

Merrifield Revitalization Area

Santa Monica
Santa Monica, CA
Rendering of proposed apartment building at 401 Broadway. Image from City of Santa Monica Staff Report.

Decatur, Georgia
Decatur, Georgia
 Construction has started on Trinity Triangle, a 5-story mixed-use project located in the downtown district of Decatur, Georgia.  The development will have 210 residential units including 6 Live/Work units, as well as 6,000+ SF of street-level retail.  Construction completion is scheduled for June 2016 adding to an active and vibrant urban atmosphere.  ColeJenest & Stone is providing civil engineering and landscape architecture; the developer is Centro Development.

Denver, CO

A large residential developer will be bringing 336 apartment units in a five-story building into the West Highland neighborhood at 38th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.

The Alexan West Highlands development will likely break ground early next year after Trammell Crow Residential closes on the property. Full buildout is expected to take about two years and the project will also include 33,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

Eugene Lucero of the Lucero Financial Group owns the property and is under contract with Trammell Crow. Lucero will buy back the retail portion of the site and said he might move his business office back to the property after the construction is finished.

“I’m excited about the proposed development. It’s the type that is envisioned in a corridor such as 38th,” Lucero said.

Lucero’s current office is on the site, as is a Bank of the West building and 21,000 square-foot parking lot. He said a grocery store is a possibility for one of the new retail sites.

The $80-million project is one of two large projects Trammell Crow is working on in west Denver. The group is also involved with the Sloan’s development at the old St. Anthony’s site.

Matt Schildt, managing director of the mountain states division of Trammell Crow, said the appeal of building in West Highland is obvious with the good views, proximity to downtown and other amenities close by.

Both Lucero and Trammell Crow met with the West Highland Neighborhood Association and got mixed comments from residents. Some people along West Clyde Place mentioned their view would be obstructed by the structure that will be five stories in some areas and four in others.

Also the density in the area will greatly increase with this development along with another a few blocks away that will have about 150 units.

“That seems like a heavy burden at that intersection,” said Steve Kite, zoning chair for the West Highland Neighborhood Association.

No rezoning request is needed for the site as it was modified to allow for this type of development when the city updated its zoning guidelines in 2010.

The intersection of 38th and Lowell is also viewed as more of a commercial area compared to 32nd and Lowell, which has seen controversy over builders wanting to build taller structures in that location.

“The city wanted to see — and everyone agreed — increased density. This is the realization of that plan,” Kite added.

Lucero said he welcomes any comments from the community about the project and is excited to see it come to fruition.

“The time is right for it, the location is good and it does not contain the characteristics that other proposed developments (in the area) have contained,” he said.

Apr 132015

In many areas, trees are under siege. But our cities need them, for all sorts of reasons.

Image LeahI00/Flickr

I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with many large, mature trees. Our bit of urban forest is one of our community’s greatest assets, if you ask me. But, loved though they are, trees are getting to be a little controversial in and around D.C., and that worries me. I’ll get to that a bit later in the post, but first I want to share some of things I have learned about city trees in the last few days.

In particular, last week I spoke at a forum hosted by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, and after the program I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees. The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowd-sourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.

I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees. As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community. San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.

If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service. Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.
Photo by Kaid Benfield

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees. Among other things, he calculated that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.” Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure. In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.

I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally. Burden puts it this way:

Urban street trees provide a canopy, root structure and setting for important insect and bacterial life below the surface; at grade for pets and romantic people to pause for what pets and romantic people pause for; they act as essential lofty environments for song birds, seeds, nuts, squirrels and other urban life. Indeed, street trees so well establish natural and comfortable urban life it is unlikely we will ever see any advertisement for any marketed urban product, including cars, to be featured without street trees making the ultimate dominant, bold visual statement about place.

That is extremely well said.

The DC area also has an extensive tree inventory hosted by the nonprofit Casey Trees, which has done much praiseworthy work to increase both plantings and awareness in our area. Among the several informative maps on the organization’s website is one marking trees recently planted in the city directly by the foundation. There’s also a map showing trees recently planted by the city. As with the San Diego maps, you can zoom in and click on a particular tree and bring up a popup window (see below) of tree characteristics.

Casey also publishes an annual Tree Report Card evaluating how the area is doing with respect to such performance measures as tree coverage, health, planting and protection. For 2011, for example, the organization found that tree planting has been robust and that the health of the city’s forest is strong. But the organization expressed concern about weak enforcement of the city’s tree protection law and urged both legislative and administrative changes to strengthen the city’s aggregate tree canopy, which has remained constant for several years at 35 percent coverage of the city, short of the goal of 40 percent.

Which brings me to the controversy. The Washington region, like many others in the U.S., has many neighborhoods (including my own) with above-ground utility lines strung overhead along our streets. We also have a lot of thunderstorms, which in some years cause significant treefall and power interruptions, most recently for the better part of a week during a severe heat wave. Utility workers strive heroically to restore service, but there are not-entirely-unfounded complaints that some of the local utilities lack sufficient preparation and have cut budgets in the wrong divisions of the company. This became a major news story, as some electricity providers performed significantly better than others in restoring electricity.

To try to shorten what could become a long story, some defensive utility executives have pointed to the trees when customers complain (“At the hearing, Pepco officials blamed trees for much of the damage to about 2,400 Pepco power lines, 200 transformers and 240 utility poles that fell during the storm”). This has been refuted by analysis, however (“By far, Pepco equipment failures, not trees, caused the most sustained power interruptions last year, records show”).

But it’s not just utilities, unfortunately. As reported by Justin Jouvenal in The Washington Post, a “massive and iconic oak that stood in the heart” of a northern Virginia suburb fell two weeks ago and crushed a car and driver underneath, killing the driver. This has prompted at least one local businessman to ask the authorities to immediately take down two nearby large, mature trees and to “deal more aggressively with aging trees” in the community. Some community members are now claiming that tree lovers “have blood on their hands,” while others believe that some of the area’s grandest trees could be casualties of an emotional rush to judgment in the wake of a tragic accident.

Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito/Flickr

Personally, I am unqualified to evaluate risks and benefits in these situations. But one resident quoted in the article appears to be a voice of reason, asserting that it is important that trees be evaluated but that weight should be given to professional arborists as to their health and safety. If a tree is healthy and not posing a hazard, it should stay. I would add that, if some should indeed come down, the affected property should be replanted as soon as possible. And, as for the power lines, let’s put them underground where they belong.

Original Article

editor: Urban Street Trees – 22 Benefits




Oxnard’s Core Downtown Corridor will become vibrant and alive places when there are more people to frequent the areas. Oxnard must increase the density of nearby residential areas to get more people Downtown. Zoning changes, to mandate moderate density, is what is needed and is the only thing that will change the current poorly frequented Downtown areas.

To get more people Downtown, Oxnard needs to change its zoning ordinances to incentivize infill housing and multi-story mixed use building in its Downtown Corridor areas.

Current Oxnard zoning incentivizes sprawl. Zoning changes along the Oxnard Blvd/ Saviers Rd Corridor will reverse this negative trend and bring building, investment and vitality back to our Downtown areas.

The major benefit and result of zoning changes will be to bring more People into core Downtown areas which will encourage small businesses like restaurants and galleries, clothing and book stores, local foods and produce, and other like small businesses catering to people that live in the area and beyond. For example nearby communities have stores that sell specialty olive oils, kitchen supplies and local produce. This will happen because zoning changes will increase property values and stimulate investment in Downtown Oxnard.

Zoning changes, in addition to benefitting Oxnard as a whole, will benefit local property owners, contractors, builders and crafts people as the money earned and spent on smaller infill projects is recycled in the local community many times over. With large-scale developers (developments), there is little incentive to do the right thing for Oxnard and where the money mostly goes out of the area, the community is saddled with long-term costs. Large scale developers, all too often – hit and run – shunting long-term costs onto the Oxnard community for many years to come.

Anyone who thinks that promoting and developing Downtown Oxnard specifically to attract tourists is seriously misguided. Tourists, pure and simple, are attracted to vibrant culturally alive places, which unfortunately Downtown Oxnard currently is not. However, once Downtown Oxnard is a thriving place that locals are attracted to and frequent – then and only then – does Downtown Oxnard have a chance of attracting tourists.


Embrace and encourage Oxnard’s cultural diversity (one successful example is Vallarta Market)

Recognize and develop Downtown Oxnard for the People of Oxnard (when we are successful the tourists will come)

Change the zoning to INCENTIVIZE building and development to create Moderate density infill housing and multi-story mixed-use in Oxnard’s Downtown Corridor areas

Make Oxnard a pedestrian and bicycle friendly Complete Streets community – People first – cars only after people (listen up traffic engineers)

Redesign/recreate the Oxnard Blvd/Saviers Rd Corridor (The Collection-101 to the Sea) into a tree lined road with wide sidewalks, separated bicycle lanes with lots of bicycle parking (because of the vibrancy created by increases in density, People will flock to pedestrian/bicycle oriented vibrancy)


Establish an Oxnard Blvd/Saviers Rd (The Collection-101 to the Sea) Design and Development District. Staff it with visionary and creative City planners and arborists – and include, from the public, artists, restauranteurs, Master Gardeners and stakeholders interested in a vibrant Oxnard.


Anyone who says “it can’t be done” or that “there is not enough money” – or whatever the negative conversation…


This is a long-term endeavor…keep the faith, stay the course.

A Facebook conversation about this can be found here:


Braving the New World of Performance-Based Zoning

“Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism.”
“The critical thing is to zone for what will create great places, rather than to zone simply for sprawl, as has been mindlessly done for decades,”

“The problem isn’t zoning per se — it’s zoning that requires all the wrong things, few of the right things, and well-intentioned, piecemeal amendments that have made an incomprehensible mess.”

Conventional zoning is an outdated barrier against good urbanism, but there’s disagreement on the best way forward.

Most people might think of zoning as the province of white-haired volunteer boards, but in an increasingly developed world, it has a larger importance. Codes that guide development are the DNA of human settlement.

The problem is that most zoning hasn’t changed with the times, for nearly a century now. It’s like having traffic rules and manufacturer regulations based on the Model T.

A short history: The landmark 1926 Supreme Court case Euclid v. Ambler Realty confirmed the authority of local governments to lay down the law on building—literally. Zoning, in legal terms, is considered part of police powers, enforcing health and safety. A hundred years ago, cities were increasingly congested and dirty places, and planners sought to spread things out and separate noxious uses; a tannery shouldn’t be next to a townhouse, and so on.

The principle of separation of uses led to the color-coded zoning maps pinned up in most town halls: residential here, commercial over there, and industrial over by the other town’s border. But the approach is pretty much entirely inappropriate for urban development—and especially infill, downtown, and transit-oriented development.

Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism.
Conventional zoning is downright sinister in the ways that it forms a barrier against good urbanism. It prohibits live-work arrangements, residential over retail, and all other manner of the mixed-use environments that are proven formulas for vitality, walkability, and convenience. Outdated and NIMBY-driven codes ban accessory dwelling units and the occupation of carriage houses and in-law apartments, as well as infill cottages—building smaller dwellings on empty portions of already-developed residential land—which would instantly increase the supply of affordable housing.

And zoning has another attribute, typical of a system long overdue for an overhaul: all kinds of loopholes and amendments, layered on like barnacles. For instance, the “approval not required” clause in Massachusetts doesn’t give the local planning board any say on development, as long as it fronts on an existing street. A coalition has tried to get reform legislation passed for years, but the homebuilders lobby has blocked a full vote (and the subject is so obscure, it’s hard to get anyone to care).

What to do, then? The 1960s and 1970s saw a fresh take with conditional zoning, special permits, and planned-unit developments. Credit New Urbanism for drawing attention to the need for new codes around the beginning of the 1990s: When neo-traditional planners went to build the equivalent of a New England town square, they found it was illegal.

In the 21st century, the most notable innovation has been the form-based code. It is less concerned with the use that goes on inside buildings and more with their appearance and the way they relate to each other and shape the streetscape in the context of a vision for a  neighborhood. The most high-profile adoption is Miami 21, but a surprising number of cities have taken the plunge, including Denver, Cincinnati, El Paso, Nashville, Fort Worth, and nearly two dozen others.

Joel Russell, executive director of the Form-Based Codes Institute—yes, there is such a thing—has said he hopes to take things to the next level by emphasizing the benefits of a code overhaul to a broader public. He is taking the campaign on the road in the coming days, to the Future of Places conference in Buenos Aires.

Some of the most out-of-the-box thinking is coming from (where else?) the Bay Area, with the adoption of “performance-based zoning.” In the city of Fremont, the city council chose a new path for a nearly 900-acre parcel anchored by a future BART station, set for massive redevelopment. Planners started with a set of goals—a certain number of jobs, a certain number of homes including affordable homes, and critically, strict standards for a low carbon footprint. However developers achieve all that is their business.

“We wanted to get away from the usual laundry list—You can do this, this is a conditional use—and instead say that, if you can achieve this, you decide about the uses,” said Noah Friedman, senior urban designer at Perkins + Will and force majeur behind the Warms Springs South Fremont Community Plan. The zoning, approved by the city council, “doesn’t tell you how to achieve the standard, just that you need to achieve that standard.”

The former Toyota plant site, a regional hub soon to be strategically accessible, is envisioned as a “workplace TOD,” including 9.6 million square feet of light industrial, research and development, office, convention, retail, entertainment, hotel and residential development. The targeted 19,390 jobs and 4,000 homes can be phased in over time.

Bring it on. Explore the frontier. Anything’s better than the mainframes we have now.
The performance-based approach is also being tested in the Atlanta region, where planners are rethinking the framework for light industrial development in a world where there just aren’t a lot of tanneries anymore. It’s a zen approach to setting down the rules: zoning without being zoning. Or call it Zoning 2.0, though like a lot of garage startups, the concept can be traced back many years. The notion of  judging development by its impact rather than its use categories can be found in the 1980 book Performance Zoning—and who doesn’t have that on their shelf?—by Lane Kendig. The concept never took off quite the way its initial backers hoped, however, with several local governments giving it a try and then abandoning it. The Fremont experiment represents a new hope as performance-based zoning gets fined-tuned and draws from the framework established by LEED, the green building standard.

Devotees of form-based codes suggest there are good things about performance-based zoning, but that it’s not the answer unto itself.

“The critical thing is to zone for what will create great places, rather than to zone simply for sprawl, as has been mindlessly done for decades,” says Russell. “The problem isn’t zoning per se—it’s zoning that requires all the wrong things, few of the right things, and well-intentioned, piecemeal amendments that have made an incomprehensible mess.”

Different views of the best way forward sure sounds like foment to me. And that may be the best sign yet that zoning is entering a new phase of disruption: a little Apple vs. Microsoft-style rivalry.

Bring it on. Explore the frontier. Anything’s better than the mainframes we have now.




Must View

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

– Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces


What’s the Big Idea?

  1. The current path cities are pursuing is not financially stable.
  2. The future for most cities will not resemble the recent past.
  3. The main determinant of future prosperity for cities will be local leaders’ ability to transform their communities.
Form Based Codes
“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ ]

Tactical Urbanism

City Planning

City Planning & Urban Design

These firms and consultants seem to get it right

Economic Development

  • Safer Streets – Stronger Economies
  • Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns
  • A candid talk about the future of America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods
  • Competitive Cities for jobs and growth
    “While the report takes pains to note that there is no silver bullet for urban competitiveness, it identifies some key factors and strategies that bear on itThe most competitive cities focus on higher-skill tradable industries, attracting foreign investment, creating new businesses, and growing their existing, already competitive firms (which usually has the biggest impact on job creation). They also have strong growth coalitions of elected leaders, civic officials, and the private sector. Most importantly, they have a clear strategy to exploit their competitive advantages. In Bucaramanga, Colombia, for instance, the city has used its oil revenues to invest in universities known for their research on the oil industry—in turn generating technical skills and boosting human capital. It’s this kind of creative and independent thinking that allows cities to do a lot with a limited amount of resources.”
You Think You Know About Parking?
Design Review

Human Scale Design

Transportation Engineering
  • Context Based Design and the Fate of the Arterial
    A brief and urban look at the way a street engineer can make our streets walkable. The street engineer that pulls out the code book and tells you, with various official sounding citations, that making streets only for cars is the only thing that can be done – is regressive and does not understand where cities are going. We need street engineers that understand walkability, urbanism and placemaking. The code based street engineer is a dinosaur.
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers
    Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach