urban planning

Urban Planning 101: Shops Give Away Bags


The effectiveness of advertising, endorses marketing strategists’ efforts further to strengthen the sustainable distribution of their bags through unusual design, (hopefully) sustainable, waterproof materials, and the potential for re use. From global brand labels to the local baker and food store, everyone is trying to communicate his or her particular advertising message via unusual bags.

For those looking for stimulating cocktail stories, this from the history of shopping bags.

Walter H. Deubner ran a small grocery store in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was looking for a way to give his business a boost.

By Careful observation, he noticed that his customer’s purchases were limited by what they could conveniently carry. So he set about devising a way to help them buy more purchases at one time. It took him four years to develop the right solution: a prefabricated package, inexpensive, easy to use and strong enough to carry up to seventy-five pounds worth of groceries.

Damn him.

Then, in 1852, Francis Wolle and his brother invented the first paper bag in Jacobsburg PA. By 1870, the invention was enhanced and the paper bag found its way to retail, creating the first game changer. Paper bags remained the standard for carrying groceries for over 100 years, through the growth of the cities and the development of suburban grocery chains. 

The next great game changer was developed in 1975. At that time, the first plastic bags were introduced at retail, beginning with industry pioneers such as JC Penney, Sears, and Kroger. Plastic was a great solution to the challenges and opportunities of the time: Wood pulp was now expensive, oil was cheap. Plastic was considered the technology of the future! Making plastic bags required less energy, less water, the finished bags took up less space, was more durable for customers, and cost about 1/3 the cost of paper bags.

Around 2000, the world recognized that we had to do something to dispose of these durable bags which were staring to pile up in our environment and were killing our marine and wild life. We realized that over 4 billion bags are littered per year, enough to circle the earth 63 times! Infrastructure was developed for recycling bags, which had the potential to be a great solution to the bag problem. However, only about 7% of the 400 billion bags produced per year in the US alone actually make it to recycling. 

Environmentalists began lobbying their legislatures around 2005 to begin banning the use of plastic bags at retail. Over 63 communities have now embarked down this path. 




Urban Planning 101: More people are out when it’s sunny

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Couple enjoying sun in Occidental Park.

Man’s relationship with the sun is primal—especially in Seattle. People will find chairs and places to sit or stand to enjoy its warmth. Every day/all day, chairs in cafes are turned according to the sun. Pedestrians follow sunny sidewalks and well lit public squares. They alternate between sun and shade. When there’s a farmer’s market out, vendors will try to keep the vegetables in the shade. Pedestrians will put on sunglasses—we are rumored to buy more here than anywhere else.

The sun helps sales. Sometimes customers come in to a shop to escape the sun, other times the shops lose customers to street vendors—who have more spatial flexibility. Interesting examples from Tapai and LA include roaming performance troupes that travel on a truck bed while disseminating sounds of their performance in the streets. Notice the loudspeaker that’s mounted on top of the mobile mini shrine.


Another interesting thing to consider is what people buy when it’s sunny compared to when it’s raining. A team of IBM analytics experts noticed that on rainy days customers were more likely to purchase cakes, while on sunny days the choice food was paninis. Small businesses can’t guess the success of their inventory by looking at the weather and sales reports separately, but together, they can uncover a new outcome. Now the bakery knows what to bake based on the weather forecast.


Check out their meeting notes and find out.


Urban Planning 101: Small businesses put their trash bags on the street


Back Alley, Washington & 1st Ave.

There are some logical reasons for trash lying on the streets. In an ideal world, all trash would be placed in an out of the way location where we didn’t have to see it. It stinks, it is unsightly, it is unhygienic, and it reminds us of our disproportional consumption. However, there are some advantages to having trash on the street. It is, in fact, an important prop on the theater of the street. The shop owner takes it out, often several bags of it, to the edge of the sidewalk or the back alleys. Over the course of the day homeless people rummage through it for bottles, cans, or other potential reusable items. By the next day the bags are taken by trash collection. The streetscape is activated an involved in the processes of the everyday. To many who live here, trash is an eyesore. To others, it is a transparent example of the functions of the people that live there.

What is it to you?


If you’re passionate about zero waste, sign up to receive their meeting minutes, and provide them some suggestions.


Urban Planning 101: Neighborhood Literacy


Photocredit: doodlebugsteaching.blogspot.com

Neighborhoods speak. The citizens that live in them need to understand their language.

Considering the urban background not from the abstract perspective of an urban planner but from the viewpoint of an attentive observer, I’m going to try to learn more about my neighborhood from sayings, observations, and bite-size truths. I’ll try to do short essays as I learn how to read the neighborhood.

I’m curious about the topic of neighborhood literacy, from a pedestrian’s perspective. With these Urban Planning 101 posts, I want to learn what to notice if I want to understand the neighborhood. Over time, we can learn to detect patterns in the relationships between people and the neighborhood environment.

98104: Transition


This project has piqued a lot of interest with folks. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting people with which I ordinarily would not have crossed paths. Most surprising (to me), only one person has declined to have his photograph taken but still spoke to me. Everyone has been incredibly supportive and very interested in learning along with me.

Just last week, someone stopped me on the street to thank me for the blog. He said that two instances came to mind where he thought of the blog before engaging someone in line at his coffee shop, and again with someone on the street. It’s gratifying to know this project has provided someone with an engagement model for communicating with others. I hope there’s more of that happening everywhere. We can’t leave things to a small group of concerned citizens. We all have to be in that group.

This site is an opportunity to share perceptions. Two come to mind this month. One was of a couple just arrived from LA, and under the impression that everyone in Bellingham was happy. The other one was of a person in Capitol Hill whom felt that Pioneer Square captures the bottom layer of tourism for Seattle. Both had points I thought were interesting and valid.

Virtually everyone I came across this month was coming from somewhere and on their way to somewhere else. Populations in transition (homeless, people who work here but live somewhere else, or tourists) are a big part of the personality of this neighborhood. Lately though there is a growing voice of more permanent residents who really appreciate the advent of businesses that in turn, care about them. Those are the ones that are open on the weekends, when the residents are actually around (Zeitgeist, The Mercantile, Rainshadow Meats to name a few). Pioneer Square needs more places like this where people can meet and hang out.

This month, the theme of Transitions seemed appropriate.

Last month I noted:

Winston Churchill argued that we shape our buildings which then they shape us. The same is true of our digital technologies. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram played a major role in the ability to connect and share local events as they unfolded. But what of our neighborhoods? How does Pioneer Square shape those who live in it?

That really impacted my perspective as I heard people’s responses. I think it’s true. Pioneer Square was a main supply stop for those on route to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and 1898. The buildings and zoning reflect that with saloons, card rooms, hotels, and supply mercantiles.

No one is headed to Alaska for gold now. The new gold is in software code and the many start ups making their home in Pioneer Square. And there are many new stores ready to help supply them.

What do People of Pioneer Square appreciate most?

This month I asked folks what they liked most about Pioneer Square. Without hesitation, most everyone replied that they are passionate about old buildings and like to see them preserved. A most unscientific survey, this appeared to be universal across the homeless, people here on business, tourists, and residents.

People are moved by nice architecture. Good design illicits affect and emotion.

Austin A. Bell building af23f8427fe3d5848dd81cf9695fa06a f735f1e58ee5c93d3c3dd2a8a0d9cc27
PhotoCredit: Dan Haneckow Photo Credit: W D Honan Photo Credit: Bob Cerelli

The residents and businesses of Pioneer Square of have had to fight to be heard on the topic of preservation. So when you look at those buildings, know that it took a group of concerned citizens and businesses to save them. 

And, they are intimidated by the homeless, the drugs, the violence, and the perception of a lack of safety and order.

What is a vice-district?

It’s a red-light district. It’s where the homeless, the prostitutes, the drugs, the violence, and the generally unsavorable congregate (or are relagated to reside).

This is some of what people think of when they think of the underbelly of a red-light district.

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Frequent car theft on I5 bridge Violence (Photo Credit: Komo News) Jail bond shops

Political Choices

It’s not easy to boost your neighborhood with a red-light district stigma. It wasn’t that long ago (2006), when a federal judge left Seattle Officials with two politically distasteful choices when he tossed out the city’s 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs:

  • Carve out one “red light district” and anger nearby residents, or
  • Risk a citywide backlash by authorizing clubs throughout Seattle

Pioneer Square is not alone in its desire to clean up and repair its image. Columbia City, Georgetown and Beacon Hill have all had their share of pain in this regard. All have exciting revitalization projects underway.

Most municipalities with sex workers or dancers opt for a “red light district” as a form of containment. The claim is to regulate the commercial sex industry and contain the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The question then becomes, Do we want to regulate it, control it and contain it for the health benefits of our citizens and our visitors? The thinking is, if we don’t control it, we’re going to have rampant infestation of all sorts of health issues.

In 2006, city councilman Peter Steinbrueck, who chairs the planning committee, said he hoped to quickly pass the Sodo proposal and move on. But then dozens of neighbors and the local media attended an April hearing where residents of the nearby Georgetown and Beacon Hill communities complained that their areas are too often chosen for undesirable uses, such as sex offender housing and a proposed garbage station.

A goal toward vibrancy.

The goal of revitalization is a goal toward a very subjective concept called “vibrancy.” Vibrancy means a buzz of people interacting and transacting in mutually beneficial exchanges – positive interdependecy (both economic and social). Jane Jacobs, infamous urban planner of the 60s, imagined people on the street and sidewalks, jostling and bumping as they went about their daily businesses, often in street-level retail establishments just off the sidewalk.

Cars don’t help. In the car-based world, that vibrancy is more hidden. Sure, you can see the cars (sometimes way, way too many cars in congested traffic), but you don’t really see the people or the interactions as they hide inside the cars, strip centers, and office buildings. They’re there, but we don’t “feel” them as much as we do in a classic Jane Jacobs walkable neighborhood.

Vibrancy is about pull. Vibrancy creates a very simple decision for people: is there some interesting or necessary activity that draws me out of my home? Work? Shopping? Socializing? Whether I’m in a walk-up apartment or a house in the suburbs, the question is the same. More options increases the likelihood of drawing me out. And I have to weigh-up those interesting options against the barriers to going out, particularly mobility: how much time, effort, and money is required to go do this activity? A good, cheap restaurant is an easy choice when it’s right down the street, but a harder one in heavy traffic with unpredictable parking or with some long walks and subway rides in possibly unpleasant weather. There’s always leftovers in the fridge and something on TV, the mortal enemies of “vibrancy”.

In the car-based city, density tends to stay in a reasonably narrow and low range because of the need to accommodate cars and parking but mobility is variable: average trip speed is very dependent on the availability of high-capacity, smoothly-running arterials and freeways.

Here is where you can track and participate in Pioneer Square’s revitalization planning.

Question: Is this Pioneer Square’s problem, or everyone’s problem?

Catch Me On The Corner,




“Emerge” was created by Seattle-based artist Jeff Jacobson, aka #Weirdo.

He received two grants from the Alliance of Pioneer Square

and Kickstarter.com to fund the aerosol project.

Standing at approximately 17 feet tall and 120 feet wide,

this piece of art took four weeks to complete.

Take a walk downtown. You can’t miss it.”