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Unsustainable Seattle

When you consider the carbon footprint of new construction, this city promotes growth and development policies that are wasteful, destructive, and myopic. Greens and historic preservationists need to find common cause in creating a truly sustainable urban landscape.
New construction in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. (Chuck Taylor)

New construction in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. (Chuck Taylor) None

Necessity is the mother of preservation. At least some places it is. Take Cuba, where an estimated 60,000 pre-1960 cars are still on the road. These so-called "yank tanks" — classic Chevys, DeSotos, Plymouths etc. — were kept rolling not because they were historic but because the Cubans had to make do after the U.S. embargo cut off their American car supply. They've nurtured, coddled, and improvised to keep their old wheels turning. Now, as times change, the old cars have become a tourist attraction — a slice of heritage on rolling rubber. That provides a whole new incentive to keep them going (and they can, by the way, be retrofitted for fuel efficiency, too), but they wouldn't exist today if they hadn't been needed, if the Cubans hadn't been forced to rely on Cold War-era ingenuity.

Americans have no such incentives. Despite global warming fears and greater competition for resources, we're still happily throwing useable things away. We pay lip service to "sustainability," but the modern ethic is still biased toward the new. We aren't a duct-tape society, though that will likely have to change.

As a result, historic preservationists have to make their arguments based on significance, hoping for tax breaks or government grants or a landmark designation will protect the old from being replaced by the new, because the old are demonstrably important, not because they still have life or use left in them.

Buying new rather than fixing the old is almost always the preferred public policy, whether it's stadiums, bridges, ferry boats, city halls, or libraries. Building new stuff makes developers and bureaucrats happy. But one wonders if, for the sake of the environment and growing taxpayer burdens, we'll have to learn to be more thrifty and more adaptive.

Historic preservation walks hand-in-hand with the kind of sustainable approach that says sometimes "making do" is much better than thinking big. We're trying to build green, but often that's simply a new rationale for old-fashioned 20th century consumption. We haven't outgrown "planned obsolescence," the phenomenon that industrial designer Brooks Stevens defined as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." In fact, our economy still counts on it.

Those pushing new development often cite safety concerns — sometimes legitimately — and in Seattle, making things more eco-friendly (like "green" highrises) is a common justification for tearing down old structures. But rarely do they factor in what is called "embodied energy," which is the energy used to build something in the first place. A building is the physical manifestation of all the carbon used to create it in the first place. Tear it down, you not only have a solid waste problem with all the debris (about 30 percent of waste comes from construction and demolition debris), but you waste all that embodied energy.

In May, Historic Seattle hosted a talk here by Donovan D. Rypkema, an economic development consultant based in Washington, D.C., whose company, PlaceEconomics, specializes in the revitalization of areas through preservation strategies. I missed it, but fortunately Historic Seattle posted the text on their Web site, and it is worth reading in full.

On the topic of "embodied energy," Rypkema points out that while the "green building" movement touts energy efficiency in new construction, it tends to ignore conserving energy that is already expended. "[T]he energy embodied in the construction of a building is 15 to 30 times the annual energy use."

He continues:

Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we're throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are among the least energy consumptive of materials? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. What are among the most energy consumptive of materials? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You're a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.

When you calculate embodied energy and building longevity, Rypkema says, it makes sense to save a less energy-efficient building that lasts 100 years than a 24 percent more-energy-efficient building that will last only 40 years. And much new construction, as you may have noticed, is not built to last. If you squint a little, some of today's instant townhouses already look like tomorrow's tenements.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 8:17 a.m. Inappropriate

transportation too: Sustainability is about more than the building itself. It's also about density that supports transit use, walking, and bicycling, or at least shorter driving trips.

Of course, that benefit assumes the new buildings are bigger than what they replace.

(disclosure, I work for a general contractor)
mhays

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Which greens?: Hi Knute,

I am not sure which Greens you have been talking with, but some of us have been actiively pushing for preservation. We see preservation as a key component of a livable downtown (as well as urban villages). If it doesn't have a soul, people won't want to move in - in the numbers we need for real density. Since we have precious little green space downtown, we at least need to maintain the historic building stock.

Best,
Heather Trim
People For Puget Sound
HTrim

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 9:33 a.m. Inappropriate

It Takes Everybody: Although I disagree with Mossback on the Ballard Denny's he is right on with this piece. But it takes more than just a politically alignment of greens with internal consistency, it takes everybody. The converesation that Berger is attempting to start needs to happen, but everybody needs to be a part of it before the truly big decisions are made.

I rarely agree with Mr. Hays - I think even in real life, if my guess is correct. But he is right on this one - the particular location of the Googie Denny's does make sense for redevelopment.

And it's not just transit that justifies it, it's also economics. Sustainable environmentalism also requires a business model - and the word sustainability applies there as well.

The really big decision in the room right now is Transit. I do think the greens have a point in asking for a vote, but as a resident of Tacoma Pierce County I am definitely voting no on the plan as it is now emerging.

Greens need to be aware that they may well be set up for a fall on this one - making sure the outlying areas vote no on a Seattle corporate welfare project which is NOT sustainable - environmentally or business wise.

Business people, not just the mega-corporate types, Transportation people, and Greens need to communicate with respect about there different positions - not let their disagreements be used as a tool of political divisiveness to the consequence of being extortion.

-Douglas Tooley

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

One House at a Time: As a retired construction Laborer, I've worked on many commercial buildings in Seattle and Bellevue, so I'm not opposed to development. I am now on my second old home restoration and I feel I am making a contribution to preservation and affordable housing. Just the other night, a friend asked me "wouldn't it be better to just tear the place down and rebuild". He's probably right. It's a lot of work, but it's what I do. However, it would be nice for the City to recognize the value of my work.
Disclosure: I drive a big truck (I also bicycle commute), I have a gas guzzling collector car (I don't drink bottled water), I have a power boat (I walk to the grocery store), I love a hot shower (I ride the bus downtown) and I use plastic bags for the dogs.
sonny

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: It Takes Everybody: You're right that we've talked -- first when I was with the Seattle Commons.

On transit, we need more light rail spines and we need way better bus service. Even when the upgrades are close-in, it benefits everyone regionwide -- when drivers turn into riders, and low-income people find it easier to get to work, and more of people of all stripes have the option to delete car ownership. (I've a militant pedestrian who's never had a car.)
mhays

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 10:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Carbon impact of Waldo - now and proposed: Since March 31, Seattle has required every SEPA-eligible project to file a carbon checklist. It makes for interesting comparisons. For the purposes of the comparison below, I corrected (lowered) the checklist filed by the developer to fix their calculation error. For the current carbon profile of Waldo Hospital, I simply zeroed out the spreadsheet cell that applies to new construction.

The project as proposed by Prescott: 71,411 Lifespan Emissions (MTCO2e)
The site as it currently exists: 22,461 Lifespan Emissions (MTCO2e)

So, the proposed project will contribute better than 3x more carbon than retaining the site in its current (office space) use.

I will note the spreadsheet does not factor in the net tree loss that will happen at the site, nor the permanent adverse carbon/pollution impact of replacing mature conifers with immature deciduous trees.

Another poster above noted there are carbon benefits to density in terms of commute, but there are two ways to accomplish this. You either move people closer to where they work, or move work closer to where people live. The corollary to moving work closer to homes is moving/retaining services close to where people live -- a cornerstone of our urban village concept. This project removes jobs & services close to where people already live.

This is 17,000+ square feet of in-city Class B office space we are losing from our neighborhood. The building does needs renovation, but the renovation would have MUCH less environmental impact than the proposed plan. However you care to look at it, this project is a net negative for the environment. It has zero benefit to the public and, in fact, contradicts nearly every portion of Mayor Nickels' Environmental Action Agenda.
ddmiller

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Unintended consequences of density: Berger continues to point to disconnects in the slogan based planning we see here in Seattle. The environmental community and many in government mistakenly justifying growth and density as environmental laws which have no exceptions. The narrowness of this twisted environmental reasoning neglects so many other truths that it's no wonder we blunder so much in urban planning. So often they fail to acknowledge the unintended consequences or trade-offs. What we may gain with one choice we can loose in another. Berger points to the wasted energy and natural resources lost in tearing down structures that still have value. He might have also mentioned that in Europe the preservation of old buildings is an industry for which Americans spend millions to visit each year.

It's also interesting to keep in mind that some locals admire how Europe plans their cities and manages their growth. They keep telling us about how smart those Europeans are. What they fail to notice is that building permits in most of Europe can take years to obtain. They control growth and insist on quality energy efficient construction by intense scrutiny of what effect and impact and trade-off's their new development will have.

Here we clear-cut any existing trees, evict residents out of affordable housing and then replace it with a new high density building that not only increases rents, but it also drives up the cost of land that often forces neighboring business to move to the burbs where land and rent is cheaper. The result is those people and business spend more energy in transportation than we saved with density.

Not even dedicated preservationists would try to save every unsafe or dilapidated building nor would they support the mindless tearing down of still serviceable structures targeted by decisions made by people bent on substituting slogans for thoughtful analysis. We need wisdom and balance that isn't driven by profit.
KK

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes and no: Knute,

I agree with 110% about the importance of the idea of "embodied energy" in existing structures.

But you go off in so many other directions – with so many superficial characterizations which amount only to diverting sideshows – that your excellent main point gets lost.

"Diverting sideshows" such as reminding us that you didn't like the Monorail or trying to pit "prservationists" versus "greens."

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Limits to preservation: As is known, I am not enthusiast for massive redevelopment and densification, and I'd like to "sustain" a lot of the single family houses, duplexes, older apartment and small business in Seattle and beyond. But the market, and planning (and I) all understand and support the reality that as a region growns (a lot) in population and jobs, much of this ineveitably be accommoated by building up; existing stuctures alone can't "sustain" a growing and changing city. However particular structures can be and are preserved, across the world, not by arbitrary rules or burearcracies, but because concerned persons, groups or sometimes governments think themworth preserving and BUY them and preserve them. The Ballard Dennys did not meet this threshold.
PS I'm curious what others might choose to preserve among transportation structures! I like the four low level Ship Canal bridges (attractive as well as functional), but the George Washington (Aurora) bridge wins! Uh, we tried to preserve the original Lake Washington floating bridge, but messed up.
DMorrill

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

What it costs: The way it's supposed to work is that the cost of demolition and development of a property is compared to the cost of leaving it alone, renovating, restoring it or just tweaking. Then the owner makes his or her decision based on those costs.

Our society is supposed to make sure that the true costs, including environmental negatives, are properly calculated and paid but I am sure there are multitudes of environmental and social costs that are absorbed by the public and future generations with the benefit going the proximate population
(including, but not limited to, developers)

You may be right that the "embodied costs" are not properly recognized but I think, in general, we are doing pretty well at recognizing real costs and bringing them to bear on our decisions. It is an ongoing process, as they say.

My guess is that the "embodied costs" are reasonably well reflected in resettlement, demolition and disposal costs.
kieth

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 1:59 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Which greens?: Alas, it's officialdom.
Here's a graphic depiction of the carbon cycle. Here's Seattle's rosy depiction of its carbon footprint. For the footprint of mega urban renewal, see Appendix A, where the line "cement production" (almost equal to light cars and trucks in 2005, not yet a boom year) is assigned the majority of the "Industrial" sector's high number in the body of the document. Where's the rest?

The left hand giveth
">disclosure of greenhouse gases on environmental checklists.

The right hand taketh away environmental checklists. Which explains the unfinished push to raise the thresholds for SEPA reviews and continued resistance to stopping "micropermitting" problematic townhouses so as to avoid SEPA and Design Review.

Lack of whole system thinking and thousands of little-cut incomplete thoughts steal Puget Sound and a city that was once affordable to a workforce who found living here "like being on vacation" or as Brewster phrased it "what one sees if you look long and hard enough is a city in which one can live, one whose rhythms are agreeable to human needs." (What Makes Cities Livable? Learning from Seattle, 1980, Institute for Environmental Action/ Partners for Livable Places).

Puget Sound (the water cycle)
Local scientists, including key employees of state agencies, insist piped urban storm drainage is a problem, not a solution. Ms Trim recently reported new uncertainites of treating and releasing combined systems. Here too, we need to expand upon and conserve direct infiltration, i.e., the City's existing yards and open space, put untested high tech substitutes to the test of time, and consider both replacement and high tech as last, not first option.

Affordable Housing (the carbon cycle)
When you check out Rypkema's PlaceEconomics be sure to read carefully his paper on Affordablity. His focus is east coast, but the economics are exactly the same. The bulk of the affordable housing already exists. There is no way that the small margin of new construction year by year, even if all subsidized, can produce work force housing lost to boom time impacts of overzoning.
What's overzoning? See here for definition and evaluation techniques and Livable Seattle for Seattle.

What's the slack-time impact of overzoning? Detailed background reports year after year explain how sometimes land prices don't justify zoned capacities. Plainer English? During slow times, property is bought and held on expectation that conditions will eventually justify its zoning; developers shun it, renters love it; booms randomly "bust" sleepy block after block all over town.

While tackling this, Seattle's increasingly ignored urban village strategy set laudable environmental and housing strategy as well. By conserving existing housing in the primarily streetcar developer platted fabric outside the designated villages and concentrating the support needed to make the villages livable (transit, open space, green streets, infrastructure updating), the lesser amount of needed new affordable housing can also be more fully subsidized. For heaven on earth see Hope VI. Seattle holds a lottery every 2 years for 4000 waiting list spots for Section 8 vouchers. Highpoint's list?
afreeman

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Half right, half wrong: The essential point of the article is correct, but please, enough of the "straw man" arguments. Plenty of greens get that saving buildings is often the right thing to do. "Reduce, reuse, recycle" applies to buildings as well.

The half right part is important -- we need to account for multiple factors in our decisions. I fear however that Mr. Berger is guilty of the same failing he accuses others of committing, only picking the factors that support his position and ignoring the others.
michael

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

1200 units demolished last year in Seattle: Knute, you've hit the nail on the head. There were 1200 units of lower density affordable housing - including larger single family rentals, duplexes, and older apartments - demolished last year in Seattle to make way for higher density more expensive development. That's double the average annual loss we've seen over the last decade. Many of these units were valuable both from an historic perspective and from the perspective of affordability.

Also, according to newly released data, in only four years, Seattle has reached over 50% of its 20 year growth targets (set at the regional level as required under the Growth Management Act). So why is the Mayor still pushing for more upzones, more property tax breaks, more zoning exceptions to accommodate still more density at the expenses of the physical, social, and historic character of our communities. Let's call it what it is - a giveaway to development interests. Groups like Transportation Choices and Futurewise wittingly or unwittingly just provide cover for the Mayor's pro-developer agenda. The real enviro's are found in the neighborhood movement protecting our parks, open space, and tree canopy. That's what keeps our city liveable and what attracts newcomers back from the 'burbs'

You correctly point out that the literature on sustainable and smart growth says nada about preservation. Try finding anything in this material that mentions housing for the poor or low income people. That's because most of the literature is about greenwashing density and selling it to otherwise reluctant white middle class communities. Adding density ain't inherently bad but it is in the context of this political climate that is unreceptive first to putting in place measures that protect existing affordable, trees, and historic structures and which guarantee a significant percentage of the new units are truly low income and affordable.
jvfox

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 6:34 p.m. Inappropriate

how many were built?: jvfox, the demolished statistic does not mean much unless compared to how many were built does it?

The political forces seem to have decided that the way to cheaper housing is to let the developers overbuild. Who can argue? developer harrassment via DPD, and the preservation movement in particular, does not produce any housing.

How can that be a good thing?
kieth

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 7:34 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: how many were built?: Kieth,
you are not making any sense, try again.
afreeman

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 7:58 p.m. Inappropriate

It helps to read: kieth says:

"My guess is that the "embodied costs" are reasonably well reflected in resettlement, demolition and disposal costs."

Rather than guess, why not read Rypkema's remarks that Knute Berger provides a link to? Rypkema lays out the economic costs to society that are not usually part of the economic calculation a developer makes when deciding to replace an existing structure with a new, larger one.

These include a range of costs that are born by the existing residents/users and society. And as Rypkema points out they can be significant. Some are easily quantifiable, some are more difficult to measure. But they need to be considered by a government that purports to be interested in greening our urban future and making a city that is liveable for people who represent a range of economic circumstances, not just those with fat bank accounts.

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 8:18 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: 1200 units demolished last year in Seattle: HA, we built more units, all right, but added no additional people, because the new units had smaller households.

DMorrill

Posted Mon, Jun 9, 9:30 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: 1200 units demolished last year in Seattle: Fewer on average perhaps, but last year we added a much larger number of new units than 1,200. Even with smaller household sizes, I'd bet anything the new units have more residents than the demolished ones, even factoring in slower than usual occupancy. I'm guessing your remark wasn't meant to be literal.

Here's a semi-related statement that would certainly be controversial: On a per capita basis, it's more beneficial transportationwise to concentrate working-age singles and couples near job centers than to concentrate families there. That's because the singles and couples are nearly all workers. I'm not recommending any policy or making a value judgement, but it's interesting to think about when density and proximity are discussed.
mhays

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 12:39 a.m. Inappropriate

you don't get it - 1200 units to demolition most rentals...condo's don't replace rentals: Ok you passed econ 101 and yes we saw a net gain in residential units in 2007 but since most 80 percnet of new construction that year was condo, we actually saw a net loss in our stock of rental housing. That's because when combined with the loss of rentals to condo conversion these 1200 units lost to demo (60-80 percent rental) and the fact that most new construction was going into the more lucrative option of condo development, it produced a net loss of rentals despite rising rents, lower vacancy rates and more demand (influx of new residents to take new jobs, and yes declining hh size). Letting the market do it's thing turns market analysis on its ear in Seattle. Runaway growth and simply adding density and public policies blindly accommodating these trends that conveniently benefit development interests (while regurgitating econ 101 nostrums to justify it)...has produced a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions in our city. We need 1 for 1 replacement of housing demolished at comparable price, limits on conversions, and other mechanisms put in place to manage where and when growth will occur. And until that happens, more density simply will exacerbate these trends, exacerbate our housing crisis, drive prices up and create more homelessness. Until we replace most of our current crop of electeds with those more willing to counter these trends and ensure that developers replace what they remove at comparable rents and foot for the full cost of insfrastructure they demand we will simply dig a bigger hole for ourselves - the character of our city will continue to erode.

jvfox

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: you don't get it - 1200 units to demolition most rentals...condo's don't replace rentals: For the 0-80% earners, we should to expand the housing levy beyond the current $16m. Especially since construction costs have skyrocketed. I'm thinking more like $25m+ per year or more.

The commercial developers aren't going to supply housing for that group because it's not financially viable without subsidy. But they'll build for the 80-100% earners, if they're allowed to reduce/delete parking, not go through design review, maximize units allowed, etc. Much of the problem is city code.

The 50-100% range (guessing) would benefit hugely from more mother-in-laws, more garage houses, etc.

Aside from subsidies, the best friend of low-income housing is a good supply of older units. Today's affordable housing was generally built as for-profit housing, whether in the 20s, 50s, or 70s. The crucial part is a constant supply of new units, because lacking those, the higher-income people will accept the cheaper ones. (disclaimer, I work for a contractor)

Back to the low-income stuff. I'm impressed as hell by the new buildings being built by LIHI, HRG, CHH, PHG, and others. They're generally positive additions to their neighborhoods. This success is a strong reason to expand the levy.
mhays

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

It helps to read: dn, I actually did read Rypkema. He describes the problem nicely. I don't think he said anything that contradicts my "guess".

Thank you jvfox; I am strictly K12. You tell me you want lower production of housing and lower prices. At the same time. With the same (or even higher) demand.

When you do not achieve that goal who are you going to blame?
kieth

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Yes and no: David: I'm glad we found an area of agreement, but I don't think my mention of the monorail was a sideshow. It was an example of where public policy pitted many green-minded people against some preservation-minded people who were concerned about the monorail's impact on Seattle Center, Pioneer Square, 2nd Ave., and the planned demolition of the old, landmark Alweg Monorail. Aspects of that debate came alive during the Ballard Manning's/Denny's controversy, as the diner was on former monorail property and the issue was frequently raised in articles, on blogs and in blog comments that the property should be developed along the lines of the kind of high-density the monorail was intended to generate. So that's one reason it was on my mind: it was a good example of greens and preservationists talking past each other.

Also, I deny trying to pit greens and preservationists against each other: my intention is exactly the opposite, to help them find common cause. It's true, there are shades of difference among greens--important ones. My point is that sustainability is inseparable from preservation, but that some "green" policies work against that, including many enabled by the city.

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Great comments: I am learning a lot from this comment thread--thank you and keep it coming. I see "Unsustainable Seattle" as the opening of a conversation about these topics. I come at this as someone who has been writing a lot about historic preservation and cultural heritage this last year, and during that time I've stumbled across a number of things that look like disconnects--people and organizations that should be working together but are at odds, talk that doesn't match the walk (among greens, policy makers and preservationists).

I'm hearing a lot (via email) from preservationists and others about how things could be improved, and I plan to write more about that in the weeks ahead. Some get into the details and suggest possible problem areas under the surface. Art Skolnik, the city's first preservation officer who often has a different take on current preservation strategies, wrote in with the following observation which I'll share:

"The ONLY way to get the point across to everyone is to attack the backwards thinking of the Lending institutions, since they make all construction/preservation happen, not city governments of preservationists.

"My term for the expended energy of an already built structure is "IN-PLACE-VALUE". This should be used to address the CONSERVATION of ALL built structures. One must follow the process of construction financing to see that the industry is flawed by not recognizing this in-place-value in determining the financial packaging of a project. Today, they give NO value to an existing structure other that the cost of demolition. The part of this valuing process is at the appraiser level. If you get their attention, you have the necessary course correction for a conservation ethic."

Interesting stuff. So please, keep the feedback coming.

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

IN-PLACE-VALUE: Knute, (and Art) what makes you think that the IPV is not reflected in the price of the property?

A 10 unit building near downtown, a few parking stalls; let's say it grosses $100,000 per year in rent which, in today's market might (MIGHT) just make the building worth $800,000
(AS A RENTAL INVESTMENT, IGNORING THE DEVELOPMENT POTENTIAL).

So when a developer relocate the tenants, demolishes the bulding and disposes of the all the materials he is giving up that $800K in addition to the other expenses. Why is that not a sufficient motive to retain the property as it is , or even upgrade it slightly (raising rents)? or completely restore it (really raising rents)? is there some other concealed value that I cannot see in this?

There is the value of a handsome (if it is handsome), modestly sized bulding as a neighbor. There is the value of neighborhood stability.... the comfort of the familiar but I don't think that's what you are really talking about.

You seem to be saying that the demolition/construction event is so calamitous environmentally that there should be an ADDITIONAL tax/fee/surcharge (maybe a reward to those of us who leave our small houses intact? I like that) that should be levied to punish demolish-and-build development.

I think a policy like that would make things worse.
kieth

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

took from 1861 about 100 years to turn lake washington: let's see now. it took the settlers from 1861 about 100 years to turn lake washington
into the kind of toilet where Sticklebacks lost their armor because no trout could see them; the Duwamish and many other areas into super fund sites; people keep pouring into the region because, comparatively, it is still nicer than most of this city on a shining hill of beetle dung that reveals how ramshackle it is when a tornado hits and all the crap pours out, to do a small riff on Grandpa Ronnie's feel good sales job. However, there are certain European cities, such as Hamburg, that have managed to combine growth with an abatement of energy usage; recycling varieties; but have great public transportation; undergrounds above grounds; buses; here they tore down the street car tracks when the automobile and cement and rubber industry took over after world war ii... in Europe gasoline is about 8 bucks a gallon; cars are teensy; let's see what happens when it is $ 150 a barrel and $ 250 when the Iran war starts this fall! faithfully and bloodymindedly yours.
mikerol

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Comparing apples-to-apples: One of the major pieces missing from all the "sustainable" or "green building" discussions is a comprehensive apples-to-apples comparison of what sustainability means. How many tons of CO2 equivalent emissions balances a 100 ppm of dioxin emissions? How does a 5% increase in food production compare with a 5% reduction in transportation costs? Mostly we have a shouting match rather than a dialogue, because people have not bothered to search the internet for a holistic framework of analysis. . .naturally, there is not a pat answer, because the analysis is laden with values, scientific uncertain, and many assumptions. However, by making our values and assumptions explicit, we can compare one policy alternative against another. We may also find some productive dialogue about values. Or we can stick with the shouting match, that's fun too.

http://lcinitiative.unep.fr/
jk

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Yes and no: Ah, the monorail. :)

We may have to agree to disagree on that one. Killing the whole project because of incompetence of the then board was foolish, tragic.

And some other day I will dissect your statement that the monorail issue was "an example of where public policy pitted many green-minded people against some preservation-minded people who were concerned about the monorail's impact on Seattle Center, Pioneer Square, 2nd Ave., and the planned demolition of the old, landmark Alweg Monorail."

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Comparing apples-to-apples: http://www.iere.org/index.html

afreeman

Posted Wed, Jun 11, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Reconciling various policies ...: We have an economic policy in this state which promotes growth, for the purpose of providing revenue for government services AND well-paying jobs for citizens. Our land use policy, as so compellingly illustrated here, tries to accomplish multiple ends ... some of which are clearly in conflict!

A starting point for sorting this out might be to attempt to reconcile ECONOMIC policy with our LAND USE/TRANSPORTATION policy. Some of the ideas for recognizing externalities would require an adjustment in our economic policy, an acceptance of slower growth.

As an aside ... "sustainability" is a term that, in the final analysis, must be global in scope, not just regional to Washington state.
Deb Eddy

Posted Thu, Jun 12, 3:06 a.m. Inappropriate

one vote for preservation and sustainability: I couldn't agree more. It's a shame to see old buildings come down in service of newer, bigger stuff--and often for the sake of saying we're doing the right thing. I am a Seattlite living in Copenhagen and just made a trip to Berlin while researching for Master's Thesis on Seattle's new policy, Seattle Green Factor. The number of adaptive reuse projects that include innumerable sustainable and energy reducing elements is quite impressive and something to strive for. As a student of landscape architecture I have been focusing on the spaces between buildings quite a bit but my current project deals directly with a building code that has the potential to effect the whole site design (building, envelope, and streetscape). As I read your article I realized that one recommendation I had not thought of including in my thesis (I am formulating recommendations for improving the code) is advocating for preservation as a partner to ecological health. Seattle Green Factor is based on a building code from Berlin where they have thought to include renovations of historic buildings as part of the code structure in a very thoughtful way. The requirements are a bit different but the outcomes regarding ecological health and livability are virtually identical. This policy shows that preservation and sustainability are complementary, symbiotic activities, if approached in a thoughtful way.

I am glad to hear another voice calling Seattle's sustainable agenda into question because from the ecological perspective, and that of quality of urban life, it is looking more like a shopping mall initiative to allow Seattle inhabitants to be in debt on eco-condos and indulge in retail therapy to ease their troublin' minds. I for one will never be able to afford to lay my head in one of those sustainably built condos that is putting Seattle on the LEED map, but I think I can be happy holding out in a tiny apartment with no dishwasher, a lot of character and no chip on it's shoulder.

Thanks for a thought-provoking article and a rich thread of comments.
susielou

Posted Fri, Jun 13, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

preserving old buildings doesn't always make economic sense: over and above the sustainability discussion, there are often practical prohibitions that prevent re-using existing buildings, unless one is preserving the existing building for some other reason than income generation. Building codes have become so much more rigorous even in the past 30 years that its generally not cost effective to work with an existing building, especially if the spaces are small and the floor to floor height is restricted. from the building owner's perspective, two options make the most sense: keep the existing building as it is, do general maintenance only, and make sure that the total expenditure does not exceed the financial limit that will kick in a full scale renovation. -- or, tear down and replace. Many smaller buildings in Pioneer Square are handled that way -- the preservation district buildings are small enough that the income generated from them cannot really afford to pay for elevators or multiple upgrades, so the building are kept roofed, and painted, and carpeted, and that's about it.

In the past 30 years, our building codes and inspections have mandated public safety improvements that very few people are now willing to give up. They include fire and smoke alarms; accessibility improvments (typically involving elevators); fire restrictive materials, and improved seismic resistance. In addition, most current tenants want better climate control (which often includes air conditioning and better insulation) and better electrical and plumbing systems than an older building can accommodate.

Its extremely expensive -- often on the order of two or three times the cost -- to retrofit an old building to accommodate new services. Loft and warehouse buildings, because of their greater floor to floor height, fewer internal walls, and fewer services to begin with, are the most feasible for retrofit; an existing apartment house is very time consuming and expensive to do in this manner.

We often see examples of retrofit in hospitals and university campus buildings since these campus enviroments are usually owner-occupied and the owner can amortize their improvements over 40 years of ownership. Another (not so recent) example was the renovation of the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle, which occurred about 30 years ago. Even at that time, it was extremely difficult stuffing new mechanical and electrical systems into an overhead ceiling space that was originally devised in the 1920's.

I agree that in districts of the city with older housing and building stock, the scale of the development can be very pleasing. In cities such as Philadelphia and Alexandria, those older portions of the city are desirable and expensive to live in and maintain. the embodied energy calculations cannot simply tell the whole story about preservation/demolition.

(disclaimer: I have worked in commercial/institutional architecture for 30 years and only recently moved from the northwest.)
awhitacre

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