Category Archives: Seattle

Seeing Nature

A recent exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum compiles a range of works from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection.  From the program on the site: Seeing Nature features 39 historically significant European and American landscape paintings from the past 400 years. These diverse works offer a unique opportunity for visitors to see the natural world through the eyes of great artists.”

I’ve been looking forward to checking this out, so finally had a chance this weekend to visit.  The first thing one notices is the amazing John Grade’s installation ‘Middle Fork’ , a painstaking reproduction of a ‘140-year-old western hemlock tree’ floating above you in the lobby.  More on this in a later post as it’s worth a deeper dive.  My quick snap from the upper level.

Seeing Nature has three main sections to organize the works, according to the website, including Admiring Nature, Shaping Nature, and Composing Nature.  The gallery show was not really structured overtly, making a meandering wander. Each has a write up, for instance, the description for Admiring Nature below, which includes the idea of both the subtle beauty and the spectacle of nature, from the picturesque to the sublime:

“Nature impresses us. Its color, complexity, and vastness are inspiring. Thomas Cole and Thomas Moran, who were moved by majestic views, saw in the landscape a language for sharing heartfelt emotions and addressing the profound questions of life. Georgia O’Keeffe also responded to beauty and spirituality in nature, but she looked instead to quiet experiences on an intimate scale, painting the delicate petals of an iris. There are many ways to admire nature. The Impressionists responded not just to their physical surroundings but also to the qualities of light and atmosphere that colored them. In his painting of Vesuvius erupting, Pierre-Jacques Volaire offered another perspective from which to celebrate the spectacle of nature: with a fearful respect for its uncontrollable power.”

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius with the Ponte della Maddalena in the Distance (Volaire, ca. 1770)
Ruins in the Campagna di Roma, Morning (Thomas Cole, 1842)

The section on Shaping Nature delves more into the architectural, referencing “humanity’s long history intervening in nature” and includes a range of artists from Manet to Canaletto‘s depiction of the Grand Canal to Thomas Hart Benton‘s agricultural landscapes, encompassing a diversity of styles of depicting landscapes and cities.  Canaletto’s architecturual precision next to the smeary impressionism makes for interesting juxtapositions.

View in Venice – The Grand Canal (Eduoard Manet – 1874)
The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Southeast from San Stae to the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto (Cannaletto – ca. 1738)
Spring Ploughing (Thomas Hart Benton – ca. 1940)

The final set of works under the theme Composing Nature looks more abstractly at the artistic approach to scenes “communicated in nature’s visual language, creatively altering and arranging it to share a personal vision.”  This engages with the works of more well-known artists such as Klimt and Cézanne,  as well as lesser known (to me) work of Pointillist Paul Signac and the surreal work of Yves Tanguy.  The Klimt work ‘Birch Forest’ (1903), like so much art, is so impressive and has a depth that makes it feel like you can walk into the painting itself.

Birch Forest (Gustav Klimt, 1903)
Mount Sainte-Victoire (Paul Cézanne – 1888-90)
Morning Calm, Concarneau, Opus 219 (Larghetto, Paul Signac, 1891)
A Large Picture that Represents a Landscape (Yves Tanguy, 1927)

Maybe one of my favorites of the whole exhibition was ‘Rio San Trovaso, Venice’ by Henri-Edmond Cross (1903-04) – an amazingly rich pointillist waterscape that digital reproduction does not do justice.

While there are plenty of landscapes available for viewing in regular collections, it’s a rare opportunity to see the range of works all in one place at the same time.   The known mixed with the lesser known, and spanning a broad range of styles and centuries to time, all woven together with a broad loom of landscape, makes for some interesting viewing.  Plus, while digital imagery is an amazing resource, the ability to see works in person, close-proximity, in an actual gallery, is compelling whatever the subject. Those in the Seattle area should definitely check it out.




Google Timelapse

The announcement Google Earth Timelapse has created a bit of a stir, with a number of videos exploring landscape change of natural and urban systems.  From their site:

“Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.”

I’m a bit disappointed with the resolution – as it is not able to zoom in to a district level at a scale that provides appropriate level of detail.  That may be surmountable by using Google Earth Engine and delving into the API and programming tools.

There’s also a series of Datasets that are available from the Google Earth Engine that would be interesting to explore also, including maps for aerial imagery, geophysical data, climate/weather and demographics.

I used the Timelapse Tour Editor to quickly make a few maps of Seattle and Portland – with an eye towards  For Seattle, I wanted to focus on the development of South Lake Union, where Amazon and other development has been most pronounced in the past decade or so.  It shows how much redevelopment has occurred there, as well as throughout the downtown core (mostly visible with white roofs).

These are better by clicking the title and viewing in full size, as the grain for urban areas is pretty bad. 

South Lake Union and Downtown Seattle

For Portland, I wanted to zoom in on the inner Southeast area, around Division Street, which was been subject to a fair amount of density in recent years.  The inability to zoom into that level of detail makes this a bit less instructive, but does show the level of development north of downtown, and across the river the ‘fingers’ of density on transit mixed-use streets (which is what provides for vibrant, walkable urban neighborhoods that make Portland, well… Portland.


Lots of fun exploration planned for this.



Catch while Catch Can – car2go

Like many urban dwellers, I often rely on the service car2go for short trips around the city.  This is often helpful for hopping over for a quick happy hour, doctor’s appointment or meeting during the day.  It also provides a means for getting to the night meeting/workshop.  It’s a great augmentation of other modes of transportation where either timing or logistics don’t fit a bus ride.


In Seattle, I often heard about (or witnessed) a mad scramble around 4:30 to 5:00pm to lock in a car2go in the downtown core.  I never thought of it much until a few experiences trying to get a car within reasonable walking distance late in the day (i’m talking max 1/2 mile – 15 min walk tops).  The rub of course is you can only reserve the car for half an hour – so it becomes a ‘how early can you leave’ in order to ensure there’s a car available.   How long can you wait for that last car to be snatched up – and can you make it to the car in 30 minutes?  For something that supposed to make life easier, it can get a bit stressful.

I’ve looked at it periodically, but finally did a quick ‘snapshot’ of the available car drain – specially centered around my office in the north part of downtown.  I took snapshots of the cars in proximity to the downtown core – from late morning to early evening.  Starting around 4pm, there’s a significant dropoff in available cars, and they tend to stay away for the entire commuter time.  Few if any cars are heading from outside to into the core at this time.  I took the increments and made them into a looped gif – so you can see the dynamic.

I’m sure this is pretty common in other cities, but it’s an interesting phenomenon to these car sharing services.  I long to see the animation of the internal car2go data stream that shows 24/7 movements (do they share their data and has anyone animated that yet?) through major cites.  Someone please do this.

Obviously, some of these cars would return back downtown for the later night crowd, but it’s a sizable gap during the end of workday, and i’ve seen some days where the closest car is easily a half an hour from the office.  The takeaway, book early, be ready to walk, or take the bus.


Islands of Seattle

This map of Seattle by UW Planner Jeffrey Linn via a post on The Whole U, features a speculation on sea level change in the Seattle region. The result is dramatic when taken to the level of complete world ice-sheets melting resulting in a 240′ sea level rise.  Particularly is you live in certain parts of town.  I think we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.


While obviously turning the volume up to 11 on the flood potential (a total rise of 240 feet), it interesting is this city of hills to see the sort of archipelago-like flavor to the region.   As Linn mentions:

“This map is based on real-world information—I created the Seattle sea levels from publicly-available LiDAR data, rendering the rise of the seas in 10-foot increments for the animation, starting at the current shoreline, and ending with the 240-foot level. The Islands of Seattle poster was rendered at 240 feet of rise, which is roughly what would happen if all the world’s ice sheets melted”

The animation and a closeup detail.

islandsofseattle_smaller2   20140104detail3_streets

See more details, see the animation, buy posters? and check out Linn’s very new blog Spatialities for more. One thing I didn’t realize until i looked at the comments on his blog, was that some of the taller downtown buildings above the water would be sticking out, such as a half-submerged Space Needle perhaps?  I’d love to see this rendered over some aerial shots to get the full potential, and identify some current upland property that might be a nice shoreline property someday in the distant future.

While the references to the horror of “The Road or Blade Runner or Metropolis.” are evoked, i’d say it’s indicative of a much worse post-apocalyptic vision.  Enjoy.

Get Shaking

One thing of note in Seattle is that it is a city of varied topography, and that this obviously guided the evolution of where settlement occurred, while creating districts and landmark areas (many ending with ‘Hill’).  An interesting post related to this topographic urbanism is the seismic stability of my new city.  From the Seattle Times, ‘When Seattle shakes from quakes, it’s going to slide, too’ provides a good snapshot of the impact of an earthquake on hillsides and the buildings dotting them.

University of Washington researchers performed a study which used simulation on a ‘fault rupture’ that transects the City of Seattle to see the impact.  The results are summarized in the caption from the Seattle Times:


The issue is not just the damage, but the impact of these slides, as lead researcher Kate Allstadt mentions, in addition to “…widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure caused by the quake itself, landslides would compound the city’s problems and slow its recovery.”

This is a common issue in many cities on the West Coast, and a history of seismic activity coupled with slides is prevalent throughout the region:

The Puget Sound-area landscape is pocked with scars from slides triggered by ground shaking, but the worst of them occurred long before cities existed here. The last quake on the Seattle Fault, about 1,100 years ago, shook the ground so hard that entire hillsides slumped into Lake Washington, carrying intact swaths of forest with them.

A recent earthquake in 2001, for instance, set off over 100 landslides, according to the article.  This continuing threat of instability has interesting dimensions, particularly based on how much moisture is present, as dry soils yield far less damaging slides, at least in the models.  Unfotunately, many of the areas that would be impacted aren’t shown on current landslide risk maps, including West Seattle, Beacon Hill and Mount Baker.  A map shows the major risk areas.


While it’s obvious why this matters, in terms of health and safety, most earthquake specific action focuses around the.  As mentioned in the Seattle Times article. “According to one scenario, a magnitude 6.7 quake on the Seattle Fault could kill 1,600 people and cause $33 billion in damage. That analysis glossed over the damage caused by landslides, but in major quakes, collapsing hillsides can cause as much — or more — destruction than the shaking itself, Allstadt pointed out.”

This additional cost and issues with access and cleanup mean serious study should be conducted related to how to deal with existing development in these areas, and what this means long-term for these areas of the city essentially waiting for the right event to collapse.

Another interesting article from The Atlantic Cities: “Seattle’s Hilly Neighborhoods Could Slide Into the Water During the Next Earthquake” delves into similar terrain looking at the UW study in more detail in areas of .  Writer John Metcalf looks at the smaller micro-impacts that the study (for instance see below), and the distinctions of the dry vs. wet scenarios.  The context is important, as in the case below, the impacts to major transportation routes in large landslide events could hinder response to areas of the City, in addition to the immediate damage.


The summary is, that we need to be aware and prepared – as a region, but also in specific areas we know are going to be impacted and those that are key elements of the response infrastructure system.  We don’t know when, but it could be sooner than we think.  As mentioned in the Atlantic Cities article:

That’s why it’s crucial to start prepping, says Allstadt – finding out what microregions are especially vulnerable, planning rapid responses in and out of these zones, predicting what sewerage and electric infrastructure could be knocked out, educating home-buyers on the risks of living on uncertain slopes. “It could be now or a couple thousand years,” she says. “We just don’t know.”

Portland | Seattle

Well, it’s finally here.  This month, starting early November, after 16+ years in Portland, I’m relocating to Seattle (which also explains my posting absence).  It’s a bittersweet moment, as i am attached to my adopted hometown (after fleeing the cold of North Dakota), but excited about opportunities in work and professional growth, as well as a change of scenery in my move the north.


The reasons are manifold, but i’ve checked out of school (my ongoing PhD at Portland State) and have joined forces with a great Northwest firm Herrera.  It’s a great professional and personal opportunity to expand my horizons and truly practice landscape architecture infused with science and an interdisciplinary team approach.

Portland, OR skyline

I love Portland for many ways (it’s simplicity, beauty, and spirit of community; the food, the Timbers, the accessibility, the 1/2 degree of separation) and why I’m excited to leave – (the over-nostalgic commitment to the weird, the passive aggressive do-gooder one-upsmanship, ; the smallness; the show Portlandia).


This was brought up recently in a HuffPost article “Love Letters: Portland” captured so beautifully the good and the grating of this fairest of large towns.  While most folks i know loved this tribute, i kind of felt it was so much self-delusion, much without knowing why i felt that way.  Again, it’s not without tears, but not without a bit of relief as well to move.

Seattle is a tough city to grasp, both geographically and in personality.  It’s bigger for sure – not just in population but in sprawling immensity and height.  While Portland has water running through it – Seattle is truly a town on the water – with visual and physical access at every corner.  Traffic is crappy, but their bus system and other transit options aren’t bad.  I’m curious to find out more – but this is far from many an unlivable metropolis – and pretty green both figuratively and literally.  And also, pretty weird itself.


While i take a cue from Tiebout and vote with my feet in this move northward for economic opportunities, it is not without a little bit of sadness and a fair amount of trepidation.  That said, they are both relatively liberal cities in the Pacific Northwest with similar climates, politics, and people – so it’s not like moving to Mars.

There have been no shortage of city comparisons (i.e. NPR; Travel & Leisure; SunsetCNN; City Data; GeekWire; on food, livability, hipsters, and of course, soccer.  Take a quick read, there’s a lot of civic pride, with tons of vitriol and humor in between.  We live where we do, and move to other places for a variety of reasons.  If i had my choice I’d probably live in Mexico and write books, but the lack of independent wealth leaves me with needs for fruitful and fulfilling work, and quality of life, amongst all other criteria.   As with most things, rating cities is kind of a pointless exercise.


But anyway, be prepared, not in a comparison of city v. city, but rather of a observational diary from time to time on the differences.  Maybe ranting, nostalgic, or pining… it will be interesting to note the differences