This is one of two essays that I wrote in Charles Mudede’s Writing the City class at the Hugo House in 2018. I was more afraid of making my truths public back then, and didn’t know what to do with it once I’d written it. I’m finally publishing it here, without edits, in late 2021, back-dated to when I first wrote it. This assignment was to write about loss or change in Seattle.

“Our client wants the new building to feel authentic,” one of the developer’s consultants is saying.

“It should really feel like part of the community,” the other consultant affirms.

I glance over at my partner Brian to see if he has any insights to offer. The four of us are nestled inside a Pinterest-ready conference room: rough-sawn wood paneling, rusted steel, red mid-century accents just so.

Several neighborhoods away, interior décor has aged less punctiliously in a cluster of small restaurants run by a refugee generation. Sharing their street is an old warehouse complex; at eye level, one warehouse bears a large white sign, generously sprayed with graffiti. The mind fills in the letters covered by spray paint: “NOTICE OF PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION”.

Continue reading “Authenticity”

Helping out Salmon in Fremont, Seattle, WA

Why would developers voluntarily clean up icky runoff from the Aurora Bridge?

In Fremont, a block uphill from Seattle’s ship canal, construction is wrapping up on a glassy office building. An unassuming, newly landscaped terrace flanks the building. The Aurora Bridge soars above the terrace, carrying cars over the canal.

Along the canal, boats dot the water’s surface on this sunny July day. Below the surface, salmon have begun their migration upstream. The salmon run will continue into the winter, and their babies will make the return trip to the ocean come spring.

Continue reading “Helping out Salmon in Fremont, Seattle, WA”

Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA

Onion Flats

Can a single design- and environmentally-conscious developer influence others?

Tim McDonald runs Onion Flats with his three partners. Trained as an architect, Tim co-founded the Philadelphia-based design-build firm alongside his brother. “As a developer,” he says, “every project I’ve ever done has been an opportunity to explore something. I’m a design-driven developer, and I come at it from an architect’s perspective.” Continue reading “Tim McDonald, Onion Flats—Philadelphia, PA”

How to encourage collaborative development, organically

I’m cross-posting this older essay here so that you can find all of my writing in one place. Please visit Crosscut to read the full essay.

Neighborhood development is fascinating work. The people who choose to spend their lives making places for people can be motivated by many factors beyond simple financial advancement. Yet planning policy provides only numerical parameters for good behavior, creating a world where a developer’s first task is not to visit a site’s neighbors, but to open an Excel spreadsheet; where an architect begins not with a drawing pen, but with a computer model of zoning envelopes.

The language of our regulatory framework suggests that real estate development is for financial wonks and Microsoft Excel masochists, reflecting a civic dialogue over developer motivations that leaves one important factor out — how individual developers respond, as social creatures, to their neighborhoods and to each other.

Continue reading at Crosscut