I posted recently about our trip to Denver and the positive steps they’re taking on public transit and urban residential construction. If we had returned home from there without visiting Seattle, I’d probably still be blabbering about how much Denver is doing to promote smart growth and transit-oriented development that attracts skilled younger residents. In my opinion this is key to a city’s economic well-being, but in San Diego, my generation (X) continues to flee as our increasingly older population opposes increased density that could address our city’s housing unaffordability crisis. Yet for some, a city composed of only rich, old people “will be great”:
Instead, I’ve been blabbering to anyone who’ll listen about the density increase we witnessed in Seattle, from the Amazon-induced construction-on-every-block in South Lake Union just north of downtown, to the five-to-eight story buildings going up in every near-urban neighborhood. And it’s not anything new – Seattle has been building multi-unit housing at a rate twice that of San Diego for years (more data here).
We took the new-ish light rail line from the airport into downtown Seattle, which was only $2.75 for the smooth 15-mile trip. It shares the downtown bus tunnel to avoid street-level congestion (at a recent SANDAG meeting, the MTS head stressed the need for San Diego’s first tunnel, downtown):
The first night we stayed in the formerly-blighted Denny Triangle neighborhood, amidst cranes on nearly every block. The parking lot next door to our hotel was set for a 38-story tower; Amazon had just bought the fading Hurricane Cafe across the street, and the crater for the new Amazon headquarters on 7th Street was well underway (full Seattle construction photo set):
Amazon’s paying for cycle tracks to be built on 7th St and installing 1200 bike stalls as they encourage bicycling to their downtown location. Conversely, in San Diego, Qualcomm complains about the I-805 traffic they created, spends millions on an exit ramp, and lobbied Wednesday for the widening of I-5. But it was the South Lake Union neighborhood just to the east that was undergoing an even greater transformation. On the workday we visited, the streets were full of young tech workers amidst the office buildings, residential housing, and restaurants.
We managed to grab a table at this awesome biscuit spot before the worker hordes moved in:
These pictures don’t do justice to the scale of the mixed-use projects, some of which took up entire city blocks. This banner shows the area’s walk score, something we saw in other places around the city as a public marketing tool. And the workers at this site said they’ve been having difficulty finding employees due to the area’s construction boom.
More new construction nearby:
The South Lake Union Streetcar runs through the area:
Up the hill in Capitol Hill, there’s a new light rail station and tunnel under construction, along with a ton of new housing. While Seattle’s historic gay neighborhood can change, Hillcrest was declared off-limits to development precisely because of its gay history by Uptown Planner chair Leo Wilson. New buildings in Capitol Hill routinely exceeded the 30 foot height limit promoted by the anti-density community activists at HillQuest.
Protected bike lanes even grace the main street of Broadway in Capitol Hill (another flashpoint in our gayborhood):
Seattle’s public bike share isn’t online yet, so I rented a bike for the day and hit the Burke-Gillman trail, where cars actually stop for bikes when they cross the road:
It was a beautiful, heavily-used facility. Compare that to the sparsely-used Mission Valley bike trail, where you’re required to dismount, walk your bike to the (far) nearest intersection, wait to cross, walk back to the path on the other side, and get back on your bike. And that occurs at multiple points along the trail:
Another night we had a fantastic dinner at the Korean fusion spot Revel in Fremont, where we enjoyed pork belly pancakes, short rib dumplings, sausage and shrimp dumplings, and lemongrass beef noodles. Everything was as tasty as it sounds…
After that we headed over to Ballard where I enjoyed my first of two excellent vegan desserts at Hot Cakes (the second was vegan cherry chunk ice cream at Molly Moon’s):
While there’s also construction going on in Fremont, it seemed much more so in Ballard, especially as we headed east from there:
There was also some residential construction around the University of Washington, which I passed through on a detour from the Burke-Gillman trail. And we stayed a couple of days with friends in West Seattle, where there was a new 7-story mixed-use building going in.
UPDATE: Here’s a map from the 2030 Seattle transit master plan document (I cut the area south of Seattle out) which shows the neighborhoods above. Notice how 91% of population growth is set for urban centers. In San Diego, our leading growth area has been the South Bay, sending tens of thousands of cars onto our freeways daily:
Imagine if we had hundreds, if not thousands, of new units going into Hillcrest, North Park, Golden Hill and Mission Hills. Because that’s exactly what was happening in the similar neighborhoods of Seattle. And this rainy city is priming itself for the future after years of high unemployment by building the housing that its tech workforce requires. How is Seattle able to overcome NIMBY opposition to smart growth, while San Diego isn’t?
Seattle’s also building the mass transit and bike facilities younger workers seek, while raising its minimum wage to $15 as our mayor vetoes our much smaller increase. The Seattle metro’s unemployment rate is the nation’s lowest, at 5.9%. It’s the fastest-growing large metro in the country. I wonder where our city’s economy will be 20 years from now versus Seattle, as our skilled workers move away in search of affordable housing, our aging population continues to fight development, our hourglass economy worsens, and we continue to expand our freeways for ‘boomers in the ‘burbs.
Well, on that cheery note I leave you with a picture of Bell Street in Belltown (near downtown), where they took a 3-lane one-way street and put in bioswales and seating on two of the lanes. It looks great, and yet it’s awfully hard to imagine it ever happening in San Diego.
These pictures were taken last month before we headed out on vacation, so they’re a bit out of date, but I wanted to follow up on a San Diego twitter discussion a while back about architecture “fitting in” to a neighborhood. Specifically, a North Park resident (and/or patron) was saying the Orchid-nominated North Parker didn’t fit in to the Craftsman-dominated neighborhood:
Personally, I think the North Parker’s (“beautiful“) modern design and clean lines look great. Sure, it’s different than the surrounding architecture, but there isn’t a lot of exemplary architecture along 30th to begin with. It’s not a house, so why should it look like the Craftsmans on the adjacent residential streets?
I’m not an architecture critic, nor is the aforementioned North Park resident as far as I know. North Parker architect Jonathan Segal is probably a bit more knowledgeable in this department, and he addressed the issue in a U-T article:
“My hope is that people start understanding that modern architecture can nestle into a neighborhood rather than being afraid of it,” said developer-architect Jonathan Segal.
(I missed a gem of a quote from Segal the first time I read that article – “I find that community people tend to be interested in venting some anger and I’m not interested in being a recipient of that.” While I’m guilty of this, I can’t help but think of the North Park community meetings’ venter-in-chief, Don Leichtling.)
Taken to an extreme, if architecture always has to “fit in”, every block of every city would look like it did at its founding. That doesn’t make for a very interesting urban landscape.
Here in Kensington, Kensington Commons is nearing completion (San Diego Streets has a good writeup and much better pictures), and it definitely fits in to the neighborhood’s existing architecture more than the North Parker:
While we’re excited about finally having some new mixed-use development in what’s been a stagnant stretch of Adams (including the Stehly Farms grocery store, set to open in October), the project’s design doesn’t exactly set the heart racing. Considering the age of the average Kensington heart, that’s probably a good thing, but I’d gladly take the North Parker’s more adventurous design in that space instead. With a third floor, of course.
We spent several days in Denver recently and really enjoyed our visit to this rapidly changing city. It has a similar feel to San Diego – laid-back, brewpubs, outdoor-oriented – but is further along in building a robust public transit system and near-transit development. And as this banner at the 16th pedestrian mall downtown shows, there’s a big push to promote bicycling in the city. We spent a full day riding the B-Cycle bike share around town and it offered plenty to see in its coverage zone, from downtown to Capitol Hill, to Cheeseman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens, to a packed City Park full of people watching a free jazz show on a beautiful summer evening.
We stayed in Wheatridge with my stepbrother, just west of many of the “hot” neighborhoods on that side of downtown. That put us relatively close to Tennyson Street in the Berkeley neighborhood, where new cafes, restaurants and mixed-use development dotted this main drag. But it’s further east in Highlands where things are really getting interesting. Connected to downtown via the Millenium bridge over I-25 and 15th St. pedestrian gateway, there’s lots of new residential development and restaurants/bars going in. It’s also home to Little Man Ice Cream, where I had the most delicious vegan ice cream of my life (named “Munchies”, which was rather appropriate at the time).
Across the freeway near Confluence Park there’s some high-rise development going in:
And plenty more development further east, near the current Union Station light rail station and 16th St pedestrian mall bus terminus (this picture doesn’t show more high-rises to the right):
Lots of bicyclists use this pedestrian path to get between west Denver and downtown, so the city incorporated these neat bike rails so you don’t have to carry your bike down the stairs:
Moving further east, the new Union Station rail stop canopy has been built, and this station will open in 2016. There was a grand opening at Union Station the weekend after we visited, with various new restaurants (including a Snooze AM) and a hotel in the building:
Denver’s FasTraks program, funded by a voter-approved 2004 0.4 cent sales tax increase, is in the midst of adding 122 miles of rail lines (and 18 miles of BRT), one of which will connect to their distant airport in 2016. We rode the line from west of Denver to downtown to catch a Rockies game and it was a convenient car-free experience. Meanwhile, the city’s innovative Transit Oriented Development Fund invests in sensible development near public transit:
The Fund is capitalized at $15 million, but is evolving now to $30 million in total loan capital. This revolving loan fund will make capital available to purchase and hold sites for up to five years along current and future rails and high frequency bus corridors. The $30 million investment will leverage over $500 million in local economic development activity, serving many economically challenged neighborhoods in Metro Denver with construction and permanent job creation. The Fund will also directly benefit low-income households that on average spend 60% of their gross income on housing and transportation expenses combined. By controlling these expenses and providing access to quality, environmentally-sustainable housing, the TOD Fund will make it possible for families to build wealth and access employment and educational opportunities. It will also provide employers with access to an expanded workforce.
There’s very frequent bus service along the 16th St. pedestrian street, which was bustling both on a Friday afternoon and on Saturday, when the street was closed to buses for a ped/bike event:
As one of the cities with the greatest millennial in-migration, Denver’s new urban residential construction isn’t limited to just west Denver and downtown. We noticed several streets where single homes had been replaced by duplexes:
While they do change the character of the street, they’re certainly a better option than the cheaply-built Huffman six-packs and their large curb-cuts that have negatively impacted Uptown.
The Five Points neighborhood northeast of downtown was also full of new residential projects, and we ate our best meal of the trip on the inviting back patio of The Populist restaurant there. Another dining highlight was lunch at Steubens in Capitol Hill:
Capitol Hill is the city’s gay center, but the vibrancy of their gay community is one area where Denver lags San Diego, in my opinion. We did enjoy our time on the patio at X Bar, which is owned by a San Diegan. And Capitol Hill, like many other neighborhoods, contained several establishments that sold marijuana to both in- and out-of-state customers. Purchasing and intaking cannabis, free of the guilt of doing something illegal – what a concept! Follow that up with a visit to the surreal Chihuly glass exhibits at the Denver Botanical Gardens (more in the Denver flickr set):
It was eye-opening to experience a city that’s applying smart principles to growth, considering the benefits growth can bring to a region’s economy. Denver’s public transit expansion and nearby development was a sharp contrast to San Diego, where established residents oppose any new urban development outside of downtown, and millennials depart at one of the highest rates in the nation. Every new housing unit that Denver builds near downtown is one less resource-intensive suburban home contributing to sprawl – something we appreciated during our amazing hike at Three Sisters Park high in the hills.
Panama 66 has soft-opened in the Sculpture Garden cafe space with a decent selection of local craft beers, some interesting cocktails, and a menu not too different from their sister restaurant Tiger Tiger. They even do coconut-glazed donut and beer pairings as part of their weekend brunch. But my favorite part is just being able to bike to a spot in Balboa Park that serves craft beer in a laid-back setting. We have places like this in our neighborhoods, but why has the Park always felt like a tourist The Prado skews a bit too upscale to pop into after a sweaty ride (and usually has some event going on), but that’s not the case at Panama 66, which seems geared toward both locals and tourists.
They’re still in pre-grand opening mode, so hours are limited, but the bar shown above is temporary and they’ll be adding more taps. Bartender “Pete” said they’re installing a roof to provide shade for patrons who don’t score an umbrella-covered seat. I like the architecture of the cafe’s patio, so hopefully it’s not a permanent structure. Panama 66 is also providing drinks for events, like Film in the Garden and the recent Culture and Cocktails event at the Museum of Art, which Pete said was very busy.
I’d really like to see the restaurant’s seating extend out into the car-free Plaza de Panama. Plazas throughout Europe are ringed by cafes with such seating. Why can’t that be done here – because of San Diego’s restrictive alcohol laws? There are actually spaces in the Park that allow for (non-glass) drinking, so maybe that’s not the reason.
Earlier in the day we joined the thousands of people on 30th in North Park watching the World Cup final on a giant screen:
It was awesome to see this public space briefly reclaimed from cars and given to all people, not just drivers. If Mexico City can close down a main boulevard every Sunday morning for pedestrians and bicyclists, why not North Park? There can’t be many deliveries at this time, and there’s a giant parking garage just down the street. While we were there, our friend Christopher told us about the two places going in just up the block at Lincoln. One will be Milk Bar and the other Streetcar Donuts, the latter serving “specialty donuts and waffle-battered fried chicken”.
A new open air fish market opens near the Chesapeake Seafood spot just north of Seaport Village on Saturdays starting August 2nd… Moosie’s Ice Cream had their grand opening in Kensington this past weekend, great addition to the neighborhood… Bake Sale bakery has opened in East Village, from the owner of Bankers Hill Bar and Grill… Architect/developer Jonathan Segal has an unspecified project going in at Robinson and Park. If it lines up commercial tenants on the order of his North Parker, that would be a big boost for the burgeoning Egyptian district in Hillcrest. Will the anti-growth sentiments prevalent among many established Hillcrest residents be voiced against this project too?
- Speaking of NIMBYs, they’re still going wild: A Clairemont “planner” says her neighborhood is “built out” and shouldn’t have to accept any of the estimated 1.2 million new residents projected for our region by 2050… Street parking for established Ocean Beach residents justifies blocking new development that would remove blight… A Linda Vista mortgage broker says his neighborhood is “absolutely against” the trolley and opposes any new development to address the region’s housing crisis… No major objections were voiced against the eastern end of the proposed Mid-City Bike Corridor at an Eastern Community planning meeting last week, but planner Mario Ingrasi has exhibited a “motorists own the road” perspective in the past.
Mario: Suggestion has been raised to enforce an ordinance to limit and further enforce riding on sidewalks and tax bicycles, perhaps levee a tax on purchase of bicycle components. Licensing may also be an option. The problem lies in a conflict between auto drivers and bicyclists over who is entitled to be on the road. Motorists do not sense that bicyclists are putting in their fair share due to not paying licensing or registration fees. Bicyclists feel by keeping an auto off the road they have contributed. Motorists feel there should be some way for bicyclists to pay for the impacts the addition of bike lanes and bicyclist ROW over motorists that are being given to cyclists
- Circulate SD published a San Diego pedestrian collision analysis showing more than half of pedestrian/auto collisions were drivers “at fault” and that 60% of motorists fail to yield to pedestrians at intersections… University and 4th Avenue in Hillcrest made the list of intersections with the most pedestrian injuries, yet a Hillcrest nightclub promoter continues to rail against the University Avenue street-calming bike lanes because parking… A Long Beach study found protected bike lanes there increased bike ridership by 33%, reduced bike crashes by 80%, reduced vehicle crashes by 50%, and increased pedestrian use by 15%… A recent meeting on the Meade Avenue bicycle boulevard was well-received by attendees… Phoenix has approved a Complete Streets Ordinance… The California Bicycle Coalition is throwing a better bikeways party at Jakes on 6th Wine Bar this Friday from 6-9 pm.
The building that houses Fiesta Market near Adams and 30th has been sold:
- Down 30th in North Park, there’s a crazy amount of new restaurants opening. Borrowing heavily from the North Park facebook page: there’s a doughnut bar with fried chicken and milk coming to 30th and Lincoln, Wow Wow Waffles has opened in the converted garage behind the laundromat at 3519 30th, mac-and-cheese (including a vegan option, yay) spot Bazinga has soft-opened in the former Sea Rocket Bistro spot, The Safehouse - an izakaya joint – is coming to 30th and University, and Influx and Tacos Perla have opened in the North Parker. Meanwhile the North Park Theater is booking interesting indie acts like The New Pornographers and Lykke Li, meaning residents can actually walk to these types of concerts without having to drive to Chula Vista, SDSU or Solana Beach.
Speaking of the North Parker, Modern Times is having their one year anniversary party there at the Flavordome in a couple of weeks, and at their brewery in the Midway district.
- Downtown, two restaurant/market spaces are coming: San Diego Food Finds has a writeup on the nearly-open Bottega Americano in the Thomas Jefferson Law School building, which channels NYC’s Eataly, while Eater has the details on The Market Hall coming to Market and 9th – which also… channels Eataly. Having multiple food stands and eateries housed in one space is a great concept, so the more of these the better.
- What’s the deal with that Hanson’s Market that was supposed to open in Little Italy? Their website still says a September/October opening, but a picture up on San Diego Streets makes that date dubious.
- In Hillcrest, Tap and Press has opened in that high-turnover spot at 6th and University, complete with outdoor seating. But if there was one intersection on University that would benefit from some traffic calming to make outdoor dining more bearable, this might be it.
Bike SD has a signup form if you’d like to volunteer to help bring protected bike lanes and traffic calming to University Avenue. I attended a volunteer meeting recently and was pleased to meet David Lundin,
owner who has a financial interest in the success of Bamboo Lounge. Only later did I found out he’s the same person who exposed the financial waste of the Balboa Park Centennial folks. David’s helping put together a centennial celebration if you’d like to contribute. And with Jake’s on 6th hosting a recent Bike SD event, it’s great to see some Hillcrest businesses supporting complete streets. For more information, check out the Connect Hillcrest Facebook page.
Much of the opposition to the Uptown Bike Corridor is with respect to on-street parking impacts. As the makeover of Uptown Shopping Center into The Hub continues, there’s been some discussion between the Uptown Parking District folks and the property owners about making (paid) parking available to the public here after 9 PM. Demand for parking in the area peaks during clubbing hours, yet this is when most of the businesses in the Uptown plaza are closed. Why not make the largely empty lot available to drivers who are willing to pay for parking?
Tajima has opened a Ramen outpost in Hillcrest in the former Yakitori Yakudori spot on 6th. My boss and I are regulars at their Kearny Mesa sushi spot, Tajima 2.
- I work a couple days a week near Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa, but I’ve always been afraid to ride the bike-unfriendly roads of Mission Valley. The new MTS Rapid Bus route 235 takes me up to Clairemont Drive, and it’s a fairly easy ride from there (including through the tree-lined streets of The Spectrum, where more residential units are being built). But I’m proud to say I finally went door-to-door by bike last week via the steep incline of Mission Center Road, which will get your blood going at 8AM.
I’m bringing up Mission Valley because there’s a project underway at Friars and SR-163 that will bring bicyclist and pedestrian improvements to the former:
Safety improvements for bicyclist and pedestrians include the construction of a bike lane and sidewalk on both sides of Friars Road as well as on- and off-ramp realignment to eliminate the ’free right’ movements.
With the recent improvements to Texas Street, and next year’s planned build of the Adams-to-Camino Del Rio bike lane, things are beginning to look up in Mission Valley. Now if they can just tame Fairmont…
Finally, thanks to the Padres and the city/county of San Diego for putting on last week’s Tony Gwynn memorial. My dad met him a couple years ago in our hometown airport of Albany NY (where he was returning from Cooperstown) and spoke to him for 15 minutes. He said Tony was the nicest, most down-to-earth person you could meet.