Weekend Density Update

Bill Dietrich on livable density.

Roger Valdez on Portland’s courtyard housing program.

Aubrey Cohen with a follow up to the environmentalist NIMBY oxymoron. 

Cohen notes that one problem with promoting density in Seattle is that we don’t have many good examples to point to (a.k.a. the burden of the density advocates).  Part of that is because it is still a work in progress in many neighborhoods.  But there are certainly isolated examples of well-done infill housing projects all over the City, and the Pike/Pine/Madison area has many of the best. 

And since we all like pretty pictures, below are two that I happened to have lying around:  the Pearl Apartments at 15th and Madison, and the Bowling Green Apartments at 34th and Spring in Madrona.  Both add density and fit well with their contexts. 

16 Responses to “Weekend Density Update”

  1. mike

    if by fitting well in their context[s], you mean crappy block buildings w/ pathetic attempts at modulation, crappy windows that don’t provide enough ventilation and no direct exterior access (deck, balcony) among even sh*ttier block buildings w/ pathetic attempts at modulation, then yeah. they ‘fit’ in their context. hopefully, we can see increased density without seattle being known for ridiculously awful low-rise and 4-pack options.

  2. ktstine

    i agree that there are a lot of examples of crappy density everywhere in seattle – the braeburn comes to mind on cap hill – from a design perspective it is all over the place. and i certainly prefer the pearl’s modern aesthetic to the braeburn’s confusing one. personally, i think the brix on broadway is superb.

  3. dan cortland

    And all those beautiful trees appeared right after the buildings topped out. How do they do that, anyway?

  4. dan cortland

    I ask only because Dietrich and Cohen give favorable mention to rowhouses with no setback from the street: if this model were to be adopted, we’d lose many trees from SF front yards when the lots are redeveloped, and likely lose existing trees in the planting strip as well, due to damage to their roots from excavation. But if mature trees will instantaneously materialize in the back yards they both mention…

    The “oxymoron” is largely made of straw.

  5. Shane

    The Bowling Green building is awesome. I moved into Madrona a little before it was built, and it transformed the business district almost instantly. They did a great job with landscaping – adding a nice big sidewalk on one side and leaving big trees on two other sides – and. About half of the south side apartments DO have balconies, and since its only two stories of apartments, you are never more than one floor from the roof-top-deck or the sidewalk.

    Coffee, dentist, friends, BBQ with a view, and shopping for my girlfriend – all a nice dog walk away.

  6. dang

    @3,4: Am I understanding your argument correctly? You seem to be refuting the argument about environmentalist NIMBYism by pointing to the loss of mature trees on the street and in front yards as a result of new, denser building… What about the loss of not only trees, but very likely the loss of more intact habitat as a result of building the very same housing units elsewhere? What about the loss of trees and habitat required to build out the infrastructure to service those housing units?

    Yes, building within the existing city boundaries will result in change (i.e. the loss of mature trees, expanses of lawn, etc), but the whole point of building here (within Seattle) is to limit impact elsewhere (i.e. in greenfield areas) by more efficiently utilizing land for housing as well as tapping into an existing infrastructure.

    Thus, the oxymoron of environmental NIMBYism is the failure to consider the forest because of the street trees…

  7. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    DanC, they’re comparing rowhouses to 4-packs, so the trees are collateral damage in any case. A good option in my opinion would be to actually protect street trees since in most cases they don’t significantly impact development potential, but get cleared out for convenience.

    (The trees in both of this post’s photos are in parks, by the way.)

  8. dan cortland

    dang@6, We do not live in a closed housing system. Without withdrawals from buildable land in the burbs in parallel with urban development, in-migration seems likely to assure that that land will still be developed for people who prefer the burbs. And “denser housing” in Seattle doesn’t necessarily mean more people housed, just a larger number of kitchens and bathrooms. You make the columnists’ mistake and assume that people haven’t thought about the issues.

    Josh@7: Good point re the comparison.

    Yes, I know those trees are in parks. That’s part of the joke.

  9. dang

    @8 DanC – I understand the calculus involved, but question the validity of the model. The preference for the burbs has been made possible in large part through subsidies that defray the true costs associated with those choices, cheap readily available energy and transportation, and an economic model that has mortgaged future benefit for the sake of immediate gratification.

    A Seattle with more households, even if they are small households, equals more density and lessens the pressure to build elsewhere. Thoughtfully planned and designed, a dense environment can provide the same qualities and benefits of a poorly planned, inefficient landscape. Attempting to preserve a inefficient SFD model here in Seattle is ludicrous, which is the point of departure for this post.

  10. dan cortland

    dang, nothing in your first paragraph is news to any regular reader of this blog.

    I think the departure for dan b’s post was the failure to do increased density well enough to persuade people that it’s a good idea.

  11. dang

    DanC – All right, so perhaps a misunderstanding of you on my part. Regarding doing density well – its the departure for the whole blog, no?

    So pertaining to doing density well enough to convince people, who are advocates of density in the abstract, but have reservations when it comes to the realities; whether or not they are environmentalists or NIMBYs or otherwise, I think there is a real failure of understanding what density is, what it entails to be done successfully and the appropriate time frame for the evaluation of “success”.

    I know a while back DanB posted some great visuals to explain the differences in density metrics as well as built examples. But those figures are lost on people when they are not familiar with a project. And they are also usually project specific, as opposed to reevaluating the affect on neighborhood density. What I am getting at here is when people advocate for 50DU/acre in a TOD that currently consists largely of SFDs, what does it take to get there? What is the magnitude of the change? I ask this rhetorically here, but its something that needs to be communicated to the larger community.

    Also, the discussion of density cannot be just about buildings… it has to be about the whole environment. Let me guess, not news to you? Nor to me. But it is to many of the people I encounter at community meetings, even colleagues who should know given their interests and profession. Its especially important when operating in such a car-dominated environment, when many “givens” are really just assumptions. Knute Berger’s bit on woonerfs in his article on the Future Shack competition just underscores this for me. A street where pedestrians and cars co-exist?!

    And the last thing I’d like to get people’s take on is the time frame of evaluation. Attending the neighborhood plan update meeting, I was appalled by some of my neighborhood’s reps lack of understanding of not only the process but the time frame for implementing neighborhood plans. People do not understand the dynamics that shape our city or the time line required to achieve the results. When higher density projects are built before the supporting infrastructure is in place that makes the higher densities livable and sustainable, aren’t we begging to make more enemies than converts?

  12. Madison Guy

    Since I walk by the first building all the time, I’d like to comment that yes, it adds density. However, the streetscaping on this project is horrendous. The building has no street presence on three sides (okay, I can understand the back, because it faces a 7-11 gas station). But the Madison and Pine sides do not engage with the street. There is no landscaping of any kind, just concrete on top of the sidewalk. A closer inspection of the building from the street reveals cheap flashing and siding and shoddy workmanship. The overall appearance is just a box on a concrete island on a busy street. So yes, it adds density, but that’s about all. I would hope that we could do better.

  13. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Dang, the post with visuals was What Density Looks Like. I’ll just say this: check out the DU/acre on the townhouses vs lowrise in that post. Which one will get you to 50DU/acre within .25mi of mass transit stations?

  14. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Arg, messed up the link, should be:
    What Density Looks Like.

  15. michael strangeways

    The Pearl is one of the ugliest new buildings in town…I like to call it “The Gulag Barn With A View Of 7-11″.

  16. Kathryn

    From the street I prefer the braeburn over the pearl because I am not drawing a picture to look at. I am walking down the street. Feeling like many buildings instead of a huge hulking box is important. The Braeburn is not really a great building, though. There is another one further east on the south side of Madison that works out like three buildings on one block. It doesn’t have the endless confusing crazy do dads, it uses some different materials, but mostly really looks like three buildings of an ideal proportion.

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