i-SUSTAIN Testimonial - Kamuron Gurol
i-SUSTAIN Testimonial - Mayor Lynne Robinson
i-SUSTAIN Testimonial - Arthur Chang
i-SUSTAIN Testimonial - Anna O’Connell
Marko Liias, Washington State Senator
In fifteen years of representing Snohomish County’s 21st district, first in the House and then the State Senate, Marko Iliaas’s focus on transportation, clean energy and sustainable development has paid off in improving the way Washingtonians across the state move. As Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee he shepherded a $17 billion Move Ahead Washington transportation package through the Legislature in the 2022 session with $1.5 billion of it earmarked for creating new and improving existing dedicated pedestrian and biking lanes and trails. On his first trip with i-Sustain to Denmark, he was struck by the country’s goal of not just limiting but entirely eliminating carbon emissions, and saw how its network of world-class walking and biking trails, not just in the major cities but also the smaller suburban areas, was a key element of its plan. On his second trip, biking all over Copenhagen alone or with other i-Sustainers, he got a close-up look at how Danes of all ages use the system, whether they’re commuting to school, work or just enjoying the safer streets, cleaner air and slower pace of the city’s neighborhoods. “You see some of the things they’re doing there and think, what if we could do that here,” he said, pointing to the inclusion of bike safety programs and the provision of loaner bikes for kids in Washington schools in the multiyear 2022 transportation bill. “We’ll get around $250 million in federal infrastructure funds, but our own investment is seven times that. And it will be transformative.”
The informal but universal consensus among i-Sustainers is, If you can imagine it, you can create it. “One thing we all have in common, whether we’re designers, developers, legislators, architects, city planners or builders is that we’re all interested in finding climate-positive, energy-efficient solutions to similar problems, whether it’s greening a new building, moving people from place, or erecting civic structures with aesthetic as well as utilitarian value, even those that serve only one purpose.” They don’t have to be ugly, Marko adds, pointing out an attractive new power substation at Denny and Boren Streets in Seattle. “It shouldn’t just be our grand public buildings like our museums and libraries and civic spaces where we prioritize design as well as functionality. Sometimes there’s an attitude of, if you add Art with a capital A to it, the taxpayers will think you’re wasting money. In fact innovative design doesn’t necessarily cost more. We’re all aware of the need to focus on policies and projects that further clean energy and sustainable development. But adding to the beauty of the built environment, that’s part of the equation too.” He mentions a waste-treatment plant that was in the planning stage in 2015 on his first i-Sustain trip.. Seven years later, he got a chance to see the finished project, a plant camouflaged by a year-round ski slope. “Imagine burning garbage to power the city,!” he marvels. “It’s the real advantage of seeing what might be possible if you let your imagination lead you.”
Marshall Foster, Director of the City of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects
Marshall Foster has been planning how to reconnect Seattle to its waterfront since 2010, a year before he and his team helped the Mayor and the city council establish the guiding principles involved in doing it. Together they led the program through its first design milestone, when the concept, framework and strategic plan were finalized and the city’s nonprofit partner, the Friends of Waterfront Seattle, took ownership of programming, fundraising, and community involvement. Now, with the completion of the fifteen year, multibillion dollar project in sight, he looks back at the i-Sustain trips he took during that time and realizes anew how much they expanded his knowledge about how a waterfront creates new neighborhoods in cities, by encouraging pedestrian and bike movement between and among them as well as championing the establishment of local businesses, restaurants, cafes and retail shops.
“It was a formative experience on those trips, meeting people from other city departments who had different styles of leadership and networking with them as well as politicians, community and neighborhood organizers and people in the private sector; people who could see it, imagine it happening here, and actually make it happen “he says. He remembers walking around Copenhagen streets with city engineer Bob Powers, along pedestrian pathways safely set off from beautifully landscaped bike trails and vehicular traffic and saying to Bob, Why can’t we do more than we’re doing now – why can’t we do this? And biking with city councilman Mike O’Brien to meet the people who made things like that happen in their offices in Malmo, and reflecting later on how they could do it practically and affordably in Seattle.
“Walking all the waterfronts we’ve explored in various countries, not just with the inspired mix of private and public folks on i-Sustain trip but with their local counterparts wherever we were, really expanded the vision,” Marshall adds. Some of his fellow travelers were people he knew, government and private sector developers, designers, planners and engineers, but it was the first time he’d met others. “We all found ourselves pulled in by the color and culture of the neighborhoods around the waterfront – the way the restaurants, bars, retail stores and work spaces anchored the areas, the easy flow of pedestrians, shoppers and diners and tourists and office workers,” he says. He mused that as Seattleites, we think of ourselves as being more like the Danes than the Spanish; in Copenhagen and Malmo, the public transportation network of water taxis, ferries. busses, and nearby pedestrian and bike lanes wall passers-by off from cars and transforms the waterfront into a virtual street, something the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct makes possible here. “But once you ramble along the Rambles, the tree-lined central artery of Barcelona that runs from the city center to the waterfront, you realize that what we need here is a little bit of the exuberance of Spain in order to pull people in from other parts of the city– a lively culture with places to let your hair down and have a great time in a public space.” It was Barcelona that ignited Marshall’s ambition for what Seattle’s waterfront could become and inspired him not to make the safer, more conservative and expected choice of a design team to lead the transformation but the more adventurous group that had already puts its innovative stamp on projects around the world as well as the country including Manhattan’s High Line. He took a lot of friendly ribbing from his companions on a trip to Denmark about choosing a safe designer over a more challenging one, but he also got a fresh perspective on moving out of his comfort zone. And everyone within hearing distance cheered when he announced the final selection on a Zoom call he made to Seattle on the last day of an i-Sustain trip that crystallized what he sees as the most important thing he learned from what he saws and who he saw it with, which is that it’s okay to be ambitious for our public spaces.
One of the things he’s noticed on i-Sustain trips is the restoration of what he calls “the virtuous cycle” among developers, some of whom, like Kevin Daniels, are among the most preservation-minded builders in the city.” What’s consistent wherever we go is the inspired mix of public and private sector people learning together. The topics are different now; sustainability is baked in to the dialogue and is relatively easy politically. But equitable growth, social and environmental concerns, diversity and inclusion, those are the new challenges,” he comments. “We need to look at places that are tackling these issues in innovative ways, maybe South America, Medellin perhaps, or other places that offer innovative models for affordable housing, with spaces for the intentional growth .of diverse communities. But first we have to work on growing leadership that’s more inclusive of gender, class and racial differences and give those people more access to their counterparts in other places. We've learned how important it is to work with non-governmental organizations in neighborhoods most affected by these problems and identify the people in them who are trusted in those communities, and bring them into the mix. And imagine how exposure to the i-Sustain experience could empower those people to transform their neighborhoods and enrich the entire city.”
Guy Michaelson, Partner Berger Partnership
“Learning something new and sharing that excitement with like-minded people, then reflecting on how that can lead to change – that’s the power of traveling with i-SUSTAIN,” according to landscape architect Guy Michaelson, who describes himself as a “long-winded imagineer of What Can Be. You always have to counter that attitude of, It can’t be done here, by changing the conversation to, how can we make it happen here.” An example of this is Seattle’s Green Factor (SGF), based on Malmo, Sweden’s Green Space Factor, which was itself based on Berlin’s Biotope Area Factor.
After I-SUSTAIN took several groups of real estate developers, architects, local politicians and department directors from Seattle to Malmo and Berlin in 2004 and 2005, including Diane Sugimura, the director of the planning department at that time, Seattle introduced the SGF in 2006 and expanded it in 2009. Seattle was was the first city in the US to have such a program.
The SGF is a score-based code requirement that increases the amount of and improves the quality of landscaping in new development. Developers have a range of landscaping options to choose from in order to achieve a required level of points, including green roofs, rain gardens, vegetated walls, permeable paving, native landscaping and more. Its success has been based on its widespread acceptance. The developers liked it right away because it gave them options rather than the city being prescriptive, and landscape architects like Michaelson like it because they are brought in much earlier in the development process and can have a bigger impact. “The value of the Green Factor is how adaptable it is to different areas of the city, to the character and culture of neighborhoods as well as the downtown core,” says Michaelson, a veteran of four I-SUSTAIN trips. “The informative aspects of traveling with peers who are all invested in promoting sustainability is a catalyst to the imagination, but it’s the shared thoughts and conversations with those who can make things happen that has lead to change such as SGF.”
Guy continues, “Sometimes it’s the experience itself that inspires you – the “wow factor” of standing 80 feet up in the air under Seville, Spain’s Metropole Parasol, the world’s biggest wooden structure, above a meandering city park, looking over the roof tops and feeling like you’re floating on a cloud.” That’s how he remembers the i-SUSTAIN trip to Spain; it led to the Berger Partnership’s innovative design for a similar structure in Spokane’s Riverfront Park, which has won every top national award.
A lesson Guy learned from his professional peers in Spain was that what looks impossible or difficult can ultimately be achieved, and this has empowered him when convincing doubters and nay-sayers in Spokane and on projects in other cities. He tells them,“We know you think we can‘t do this, but let’s try to figure out how we can.” He adds, “when you get them in that mind set, you move them from what seems at first to be unimaginable to a conversation about how you can make it happen.”
Liz Dunn, Civic Leader, Owner Dunn and Hobbes and The Cloud Room
To Liz Dunn, the most important aspect of sustainability is “good city making rather than green building technology.” Not that the latter doesn’t impress her, like Malmo’s district energy system fueled by cleanly burning household waste, or the highly functional public transit systems that are crafted to the needs of the neighborhoods and their residents, connecting themto each other and to the city center. But as a developer who focuses on urban infill, , she sees the incredible land, water and energy conservation gains to be made when people live together in shared, dense environments, and all of the i-Sustain trips she’s made have impressed her with striking examples of clever city design.
“I’ve incorporated so many of the elements of the things we saw in my work here in Seattle,” she says, citing the reclaimed alleys in Melbourne, Australia that have been converted to pedestrian café streets and the neighborhood markets in Shanghai that pack in hundreds of family-owned micro-businesses as direct influences on her work, particularly her Chophouse Row project on Capitol Hill: “It made me understand what could be done to create retail spaces in a narrow passageway with tall buildings on each side, and the way that old buildings are respected and preserved and even repurposed as part of the city fabric – they strengthened my belief that the most successful cities are granular cities in that they combine both robust planning with a respect for what the character of the past does to attract people to a neighborhood and make it more livable.”
The opportunity to discover what both the past and the present have to teach planners, designers, architects, developers and even politicians seeing, exploring, traveling and talking together as well as interacting with their counterparts in other cities has widened Liz’s circle of friends, colleagues ,mentors and mentees. “In a couple of cases, some of my traveling companions became investors in my projects” she adds. “When we talked about what we saw, and imagined how we could adapt or incorporate it in our own city, that enthusiasm came home with us and directly influenced what happened in my own work next.”
Sally Clark - Former Seattle City Council Member
“What i-Sustain does is get you out of your bubble, says former City Councilwoman and current UW administrator Sally Clark. “Sometimes \our horizon line dips down, but these trips remind you there’s a world of other people trying to do great things from environmental protection to urban development.”
According to Clark, going to Cuba just as the country was beginning to welcome Americans again was exciting, but going with i-Sustain, with a group of curious, motivated people from so many different aspects of urban policy, design, and development, led by Patricia and Jason with their unique ability to build bridges across disciplines and even ideological divides, was a fabulous experience, “It was an extraordinary to see how despite the environmental, political and economic challenges that had eaten away at living structures and degraded the housing stock, the ongoing focus on historic preservation, far from being an elitist concern, which is how we often look at preservation, had galvanized efforts to make Havana a city of living neighborhoods. The preservationists weren’t trying to capture them in amber but make them places where locals as well as tourists congregated. The informal restaurant economy, the music and club scene, attractions around the monuments and buildings in various states of restoration attested to the ingenuity of people determined to make their once proud city work with the same spirit that animated the cooperative farms, the health clinics and childcare centers in and around the city.”
The trips to Copenhagen and Stockholm were differently interesting to her: “We’re so complacent in Seattle about conservation and energy, and we also lean heavily on hydroelectric resources, but we’ve not been nearly as aggressive with alternative energy production,” she says. “The chance to see their waste to heat energy district concepts in action was fascinating to all of us, imagining the idea of a hot and cold water system adapted to connect to a new utility infrastructure in a waste to energy system .was thrilling; it made all of us reexamine our assumptions about what we’ll pay for. Because what if we’re wrong?”
“You can’t measure the intangible good of spending time with people like those i-Sustain brings together and seeing how they operate in the world. Now, if I have a question for a developer or an architect or transit expert, I know just who to call.” The habit she cultivated on those trips that continue to hold her in good stead? “I walk around and see and touch and think how do I build my own plan for the coming year or the next challenge and learn more of what I need to know to accomplish it? She remembers the first night in Stockholm, walking back from a bistro on sidewalks adjacent to great bike trails: “The street was dug up and you could see the hot and cold water pipes that have been servicing buildings since the 1600’s, while here the issue is how to convert legacy steam systems like those the University as well as the city have that run under rights of way that are very old and may have sources of fuel we’re no longer proud of – how do we do that? It’s not my bailiwick in my present role, but it’s one of the best holdovers from my i-Sustain travels – stepping out of whatever bubble you happen to be in at the moment and thinking about what could be, if we only had the will.”