“Re-imagining Cities”

Date: Tuesday, April 20, from 7 to 9 pm

Admission is free. Tell your friends.

This roundtable conversation series happens at Vermillion, a wine bar and art gallery at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle (http://www.vermillionseattle.com/). For more information on the series, call John Boylan at 206-601-9848. (News Flash: Vermillion, while still a wine bar, has begun serving excellent spirits as well. Check it out.)

If you want to link to this announcement, you can do so at https://boylanconversation.wordpress.com/

This month we’ll be looking at cities and the way we think of them, how we dream them, how we redesign them, how we rebuild them. What are some of the models we use for rethinking our cities? And what sort of thinking and dreaming is more like to lead to action, is more likely to lead to better cities?

The Guests (see guest bios below)

Sarah Bergmann, artist, illustrator, garden activist

Ray Gastil, city planner, urban designer

Kurt Kiefer, artist, curator, arts consultant

Alex Steffen, writer, editor, activist, lecturer

The Story

We start with a simple question: What are the ways in which we re-imagine a city? In Seattle, there has been a lot of talk about remaking our town, at many levels. Most of that talk lately seems to revolve around the need to move people: the mayor’s talk of more mass transit, the push for a new waterfront tunnel and a new 520 bridge, the affect of Sound Transit’s new stations on Capitol Hill and the University District.

But can we rethink our city outside of that focus on big transit projects? Simply, how do we rethink what a city can be? Often it starts with a simple “what if?” question that leads to a huge project: “What if we had a monorail, or a big new park in the Cascade neighborhood?” Or sometimes it’s more fantastic, as in, “What if civilization were to fall apart? Would Seattle become a series of villages? And what would they look like?” But is “what if?” the best way to re-imagine a city? What else is there? And most important, what sort of imaginings can actually lead to a re-imagined city?

For this conversation I’ve invited four guests who loosely represent four ways of re-imagining cities. For me Sarah Bergmann represents a viral and activist approach: think through a small project, execute it, and then work on ways to grow it and spread it across a city. Transformation grows from a small kernel. Ray Gastil is a city planner and urban designer, and brings to the conversation a background in architecture, formal city planning, and a rigor of urban design. I asked Kurt Kiefer to join the discussion as well, in part because of a thought experiment he ran not long ago. He took an artist’s eye to the idea of what would happen if global warming were to turn Queen Anne hill into an island. How would the hill change? Would the new island be able to sustain itself? Finally, Alex Steffen rounds out the list. As a writer, editor, and international lecturer, Alex has been doing a lot of observing and thinking about how cities work and how they need to change. At a set of lectures at Town Hall in February, he called for Seattle to reach citywide carbon neutrality by 2030.

Come and talk about how you would re-imagine your city.


Honk Fest West is happening this weekend. This year it moves out of the bars and into the streets of Fremont, the Central District, Georgetown, and West Seattle, in a series of block parties. There are 26 bands this year from all over the US and Canada. Think of second line bands, high school bands gone wild, crazed costume bands, and bands that provide a joyous soundtrack to progressive politics. Think lots of horns and lots of drums. They’re guaranteed to make you smile, clap, and even shake a leg here and there. And the amazing thing is that this year, the whole thing is free, with donations gladly accepted. This is not to be missed. http://honkfestwest.com/

Finally, I’m still publishing away at my online adventure serial, “Ship—a weekly adventure serial, a space opera, a romance, a small diversion in trying times.” I’ll be putting up Episode Thirty-Four shortly (http://jcpboylan.wordpress.com/). For latecomers, the “story thus far” links are on the right.

The Guests in Detail

Sarah Bergmann started the Pollinator Pathway, a plan to create a mile-long series of pollinator-friendly gardens along Seattle’s Columbia Street from 12th to 29th avenues. The project replaces grass with more ecologically useful plants, emphasizing native species. The website for the project is at: http://www.pollinatorpathway.com/. Sarah also creates visual projects for clients such as Climate Counts, the Believer, McSweeney’s, Workman Books, and Little, Brown and Co.

Raymond Gastil is a city planner and urban designer active in practice, education, and research on public space, waterfronts, and urban design. He is the former City Planning Director for Seattle Washington, where he led the City’s long range planning efforts for neighborhoods, center city, and citywide. Major recent initiatives included Livable South Downtown, a plan for a major district immediately south of downtown, as well as the planning and urban design for South Lake Union, a mixed-use district immediately to then north. He led the City’s Neighborhood Planning Update process, which incorporated both conventional tools for public engagement of public meetings and an innovative approach of Planning Outreach Liaisons, also known as trusted advocates, who directly engaged groups historically underrepresented in the planning process. Major recent sustainability efforts included implementation of environmental performance-based zoning initiatives, coordinating new approaches to the public realm including more “green” streets and sidewalks from storm water to pedestrian access, and better incorporating public health into planning goals and civic engagement.

Gastil’s recent professional career includes serving as Director of the Manhattan Office for the New York City Department of City Planning, where he led projects ranging from the planning of Central Harlem (125th Street Corridor), which incorporated innovated arts/culture incentives, to the City’s coordinated role in the planning of Manhattanville in West Harlem (incorporating Columbia University’s campus expansion), as well as serving a leadership role for major mixed use projects including the West Side Yards, West Chelsea/Highline, the East River waterfront, Lower East Side/East Village, and the revitalization of the World Trade Center site. The role of major institutions in the City – universities, hospitals, museums – and their relationship to their neighborhoods was a consistent challenge. Before that, Gastil served as the founding director of Van Alen Institute: Projects in Public Architecture, where he led a groundbreaking program of ideas competitions, exhibitions, publications, and fellowships committed to improving the discourse on and realization of the transformative role of design in the public realm. His fellowships include Dumbarton Oaks in landscape studies (leading to his contribution to the “The Italian Garden: art, design and culture,” Cambridge University Press, 1996) and a MacDowell Colony residency in architecture. Professionally trained in architecture, an educator in urban design and landscape architecture, and a professional city planner, Gastil brings this interdisciplinary approach to the issues that challenge cities today, from the role of work and leisure to the role of culture in sustaining and preserving generative urban identities.

While a senior in college, Kurt Kiefer was offered an opportunity to learn traditional adobe construction from a pair of pioneers in the sustainable architecture movement. When that project fell through, he instead fell into work as a stone carver at the National Cathedral, a preparator at the Washington Project for the Arts (DC) and the Capp Street Project (San Francisco), the curator of the University of Washington’s campus art collection and now private art consulting, all the while tinkering with his own art projects.

Kurt has been keenly interested in the health of the local arts community, and in the past has served on the boards of Reflex Magazine, Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange, and was chair of the Seattle Arts Commission’s Public Art Advisory Committee. He also served as the president of his kid’s elementary school PTA and has the scars to prove it. Kurt currently sits on the board of 911 Seattle Media Arts and is the community representative to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs Public Art Committee.

In an attempt to return to his early passions, Kurt has given himself the task of making art about only his Seattle neighborhood, Queen Anne. He also really wants to sell you a t-shirt.

Alex Steffen has been the Executive Editor of Worldchanging (http://www.worldchanging.com) since he co-founded the organization in 2003, as the next phase in a lifetime of work exploring ways of building a better future. In a very short time, Worldchanging has become the most widely read sustainability-related publication on the Internet, with an archive of over 10,000 articles by leading thinkers around the world. It has played an important role in revealing formerly obscure innovations and groundbreaking ideas, thereby pushing forward the sustainability movement and assisting in the growth of its network. Worldchanging has also been integral in garnering major support for important causes, such as the post-Tsunami relief effort, for which Worldchanging raised $150,000 in partnership with Architecture for Humanity. The critically acclaimed site won the Utne Independent Press Award in 2004, and was nominated for Webby’s (the Oscars of the Net) for Best Blog and Best Magazine, as well as for Bloggies for Best Writing and Best Group Weblog.

Steffen also edited of Worldchanging’s wildly successful first book, “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century” (Abrams, 2006), a 600-page compendium of leading solutions from around the world, with a foreword by Al Gore, an introduction by Bruce Sterling, and design by Stefan Sagmeister (winner of the 2005 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award). Worldchanging (the book) has been an Amazon bestseller in the U.S. and Canada, won the Green Prize for sustainable literature and has gleaned wide acclaim, including being named as one of the books of the year by BusinessWeek. The book has been translated into French, German and Korean, and will soon be available in several other languages.


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