Urban Design: Civic Dinners

Local governments are always seeking to engage the public in the city-planning process to better address community needs and establish a deeper sense of public ownership. Many cities, however, find themselves struggling to develop effective civic engagement strategies that attract a diverse audience to public meetings.

This week, our Project Manager Josh introduced us to Civic Dinners, and explained how this organization is helping city and regional governments bring community members together to engage in valuable community conversations.  

Written by Josh Janet, Project Manager | PE:

City and regional planners often struggle with attendance at public meetings. Anecdotally, Seattle seems to achieve better numbers than other cities I’ve lived in, but it still struggles with reaching a diverse clientele. These meetings attract predominantly retired homeowners, whose voices deserve to be heard but only represent a fraction of the population.

“Civic engagement isn’t rocket science, but it does require thoughtful design and careful implementation.” This opening statement appears in a guide produced by Civic Dinners, a company that serves to build civic-minded conversations in communities over home cooked meals. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Civic Dinners aims to supplement traditional public meetings and online feedback portals by providing a platform for communities to organize smaller get-togethers that are more likely to be attended, allow for deeper and more diverse conversations to take place, and collect feedback on whatever subject or plan the community is looking for input on.

CIVIC DINNERS STRIVE TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER OVER FOOD TO DISCUSS IMPORTANT ISSUES.   |   IMAGE VIA CIVC DINNERS.

CIVIC DINNERS STRIVE TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER OVER FOOD TO DISCUSS IMPORTANT ISSUES.   |   IMAGE VIA CIVC DINNERS.

The way it works is that Civic Dinners works with an organization to prepare a toolkit for marketing, hosting, and engaging the public. These toolkits include:

  • Branding, naming, and conversation framing for public outreach;
  • Conversation and facilitation design work for 4-10 stakeholders;
  • Final question designs; and
  • One page overviews and invitations.

Next, Civic Dinners and the contracting organization engage the community to find hosts for these events. Hosts are provided training resources, technical support, and the prepared toolkits for each event. The hosts prepare the dinners, and the only real guideline is that guests be provided equal time to share their opinions, one voice at a time. Finally, the feedback is collected from the host (or through social media) at the end of the dinner and evaluated by Civic Dinner staff to identify key takeaways and common threads from the conversations.

Civic Dinners has tested its platform through a number of successful projects, including:

  • ARC Millennial Advisory Panel: The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) used Civic Dinners to engage 300 participants across 35 dinners over 9 weeks for input on their proposed Regions Plan. Civic Dinners identified eight key themes from the dinners and used those to help organize eight Action Teams for preparing formal recommendations to regional leaders. All eight teams “had two months to formulate a point of view on their topic, co-write an op-ed, interview stakeholders, and prepare recommendations” to ARC. Two teams have since formed non-profits.
     
  • The Gr8 Exchange on Transportation: Over a one week period in Gwinnett County, Georgia, more than 4,000 surveys were completed and just under 40,000 individual responses collected for a public input initiative on transportation. Eighty-three (83) events were held; not all were dinners, but many still included small gatherings to engage citizens and community leaders.
     
  • #ourATLriver: Imagining the future: A single dinner with 100 guests among 10 tables was organized for the non-profit Chattahoochee Now to discuss the future of the Chattahoochee River and the 53 mile stretch that runs through the Atlanta Region. The top ideas collected from each table were shared with the group, along with individual ideas from guests that were collected and implemented into a Chattahoochee River master plan.
#OURATLRIVER PROVIDES THE PUBLIC AN OPPRTUNITY TO DISCUSS THE FUTURE DEVELOPMWENT OF THE CHATTAHOOCHEE CORRIDOR   |   IMAGE VIA CIVIC DINNERS

#OURATLRIVER PROVIDES THE PUBLIC AN OPPRTUNITY TO DISCUSS THE FUTURE DEVELOPMWENT OF THE CHATTAHOOCHEE CORRIDOR   |   IMAGE VIA CIVIC DINNERS

This type of event obviously requires more planning than renting a space in a community center, preparing a PowerPoint presentation, and providing a box of coffee and some store-bought cookies. It has decidedly greater potential to reach more people and collect better feedback, though. Civic Dinners is currently seeking six cities beyond Atlanta to pilot a “Year of Dialogue” program to launch a dozen “essential conversations facing the future of cities.” The only real question I have now is: how can this be introduced into Seattle?

Merrill Gardens at Anthem is now opened!

Our first senior housing project in Arizona, Merrill Gardens at Anthem, is now completed!

This community is located in a suburb right outside of Phoenix, with close proximity to cities such as Peoria, Glendale, and Scottsdale. The design concept behind this senior housing development is to create a resort-like community that complements the existing architecture and landscape in the desert setting. To blend with the desert landscape, the overall architectural details of this building are particularly rich with earthy accents, colors and texture, which combines to create a warm and inviting living environment for residents. 

Main Entrance

Main Entrance

The main entrance features a grand porte-cochere, which greets residents and guests upon arrival at the community. One unique design feature of this building is the incorporation of Sedona red sandstone, which is a material native to Arizona. Sedona sandstone is used throughout the exteriors to blend with the desert setting, creating a welcoming and yet familiar visual character for the community.

Courtyard

Courtyard

Swimming pool 

Swimming pool 

Courtyard

Courtyard

Memory Care Courtyard

Memory Care Courtyard

The 98,240-square-foot community offers a total of 93 residential units with the options of studio, one- and two-bedroom units. Residents have a convenient access to a broad array of services, as well as both indoor and outdoor amenities, such as library, tech room, bistro, theater, beauty salon, outdoor swimming pool, and trellis patio. The large variety of common amenities encourages residents to engage in activities and also gives them the opportunity to meet new friends within the community.

Lobby

Lobby

Library

Library

Bistro

Bistro

Check out our gallery for Merrill Gardens at Anthem to see more photos of this new community!

Urban Design: The Future of Integrated Transportations

To accommodate high population growth and control traffic congestion in Seattle, the city is seeking solutions that will provide better mobility and integrated transportation choices for the public. Establishing a network of shared mobility hubs in partnership with transit agencies and private mobility services is one of the potential solutions that the city is currently looking into. This week, our Project Manager Josh discussed the potentials of implementing shared mobility hubs and autonomic vehicles in Seattle, and shared his thoughts on how these integrated transportation choices might transform travel experience in the future.

Written by Josh Janet, Project Manager | PE:

The passage of the Sound Transit 3 (“ST3”) package last September by a majority of King, Pierce, and Snohomish County voters will substantially expand light rail, bus, and other public transit systems to provide better connections throughout the region. Although the staff at Urbal have been generally supportive of the package, we joke from time to time about the timeline associated with these new connections. My coworker Kendra and her husband Tyler celebrated the birth of their first child, Arlo Oester, at the end of 2016; he will be at least 13 years old by the time the light rail extension opens near his home in West Seattle (assuming this schedule is accurate).

I thought about ST3 during a few panels at the 25th annual convention for the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) this past week. CNU is a non-profit organization of architects, urban planners, engineers, developers, and others interested in improving the quality of the built environment “to build vibrant communities where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, and get around”. These panels discussed mobility and how technology can address the first and last mile problem (i.e. the problem of how users get to and from bus and light rail stations when they are not located near them in the first place).

Shared Mobility Hubs

An example of a shared mobility hub.   |   IMAGE BY SOPHIA VON BERG VIA SHARED-USE MOBILITY.

An example of a shared mobility hub.   |   IMAGE BY SOPHIA VON BERG VIA SHARED-USE MOBILITY.

Shared mobility hubs (“Hubs”), or integrated mobility hubs, are central locations in neighborhoods that provide a variety of transportation options and services. These Hubs are intended to encourage a greater reliance on alternative transportation options beyond car ownership, and may include features like the following:

  • Access to bike lanes and bike infrastructure;
  • Bike-share, bike storage, and bike repair services;
  • Changing rooms;
  • Electric vehicle charging stations;
  • Ride-share parking (like Car2Go and Zipcar);
  • Drop-off and pick-up areas; and
  • Bus stops.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is currently planning a network of these hubs around the city, and has even hired a team of dedicated staff members to lead the efforts. The criteria they are using for the development of these hubs include:

  • Hubs to be built around or near transit stops;
  • Street space will be dedicated only if necessary;
  • Hubs need to be located near users;
  • Hubs need to incorporate quality wayfinding, lighting, and cohesive branding to integrate them; and
  • Fare integration needs to be incorporated where possible.

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether these will actually be implemented or planned to death, but I’m curious to see where SDOT is thinking of locating these. I’m on the fence as to how often these will be used and if they’ll make any dent in changing the paradigm for vehicle ownership at all.

Autonomous Vehicles

 Seattle will be the first place to test BMW ReachNow's Autonomous Cars.   |   image by bmw via the drive

 Seattle will be the first place to test BMW ReachNow's Autonomous Cars.   |   image by bmw via the drive

Autonomic Vehicles (“AVs”) are the elephant in the room when it comes to the future of transportation in America. Everyone seems to expect these to be on the market “soon,” but it remains to be seen in what form and under what kind of operations and regulations they will be allowed on the road.

The biggest question in my mind, beyond how AVs will share the road with normally-operated vehicles, is whether or not AVs will be allowed for purchase by private citizens. Personal AV ownership has the potential for two huge impacts to our environment. The first is that, under normal circumstances, an individual will drive to work and drive home, resulting in two (2) trips generated on any given day. With personal AV ownership, does that car get parked in a parking lot or garage during the work day or does the owner send the car home? Many planners and techies seem to be expecting that AVs will reduce the need for parking in urban centers, but this scenario would effectively double the amount of trips being taken per day and worsening congestion.

The second impact is that personal AV ownership may place pressure on increasing sprawl away from urban centers. There are generally limits to how long people are willing or interested in sitting in traffic, but if you no longer have to focus on driving in that space and can instead read a book, watch a movie, or even operate an easy bake oven, then the time it takes to get to work may be less of an impact on where people choose to live relative to their employment.

The only scenario I’m somewhat comfortable with right now is the use of AVs for ride-sharing services, but even that begs the question- where do those cars go between use? Do they just drive around the block aimlessly until they’ve been re-directed by an app service? Are they re-directed to the nearest shared mobility hub?

ST3 makes sense under today’s challenges with population growth throughout the region, but AVs have the potential to re-write the book on transportation, and I’m wary that it will be for the better.

Welcome Merrill Gardens at Rockridge!

Our senior housing project in Oakland, California — Merrill Gardens at Rockridge — is now opened! We are so excited to announce the opening of this beautifully-crafted, mixed-use senior housing community and can’t wait to share images of the completed project with you!

Located at the central hub of five major arterials, the design of Merrill Gardens at Rockridge strikes an intriguing balance between urban and residential architecture in the neighborhood. The east façade of the six-story building reflects a mix of architectural elements consistent with the neighboring downtown apartments and UC Berkeley to maintain a strong street presence along the major retail corridor. Conversely, in order to blend with the nearby residential neighborhood fabric, a distinctive color palette was selected for the west façade to reflect the vernacular style of the eclectic Temescal neighborhood, and provide a vibrant yet familiar visual character for the building.  

Northeast Corner

Northeast Corner

Designed to create a sense of transparency and connectivity, extensive glazing was used at street-level, making the amenity spaces a part of the street action. 

Northeast Street Corner

Northeast Street Corner

The 170,860-square-foot community offers a total of 127 residential units including studio, one- and two-bedroom units, along with a broad array of hospitality-inspired amenities, such as bistro, theater, wellness center and beauty salon. Designed to promote a sense of community, the building features both formal and casual common spaces to encourage social interaction between residents.

Living Room

Living Room

Activity Room

Activity Room

Theater

Theater

Beauty Salon

Beauty Salon

Bistro 

Bistro 

Along with modern indoor amenity spaces, the community provides a variety of outdoor spaces to promote a healthy lifestyle. Inside the courtyard, residents can take a leisurely stroll, or enjoy gardening and al fresco dinning with friends and families. 

Courtyard 

Courtyard 

To see more photos of this newly furnished community, visit our project page for Merrill Gardens at Rockridge!

A Fresh Look Into Our Two New Projects!

We are so excited to announce the openings of our two senior housing projects in Washington — Merrill Gardens at Burien, and Merrill Gardens at Auburn!

Located in downtown town center of Burien, Merrill Gardens at Burien reflects a blend of traditional main street characters and modern architectural elements that are designed in accordance to the design guidelines of Burien. This 166,320-square-foot community offers a total of 111 residential units including studio, one-, and two-bedroom units. The building features both formal and casual social spaces to encourage camaraderie among residents and promote a sense of community.

Living Lounge

Living Lounge

The interior of this community reflects classic main street characters, where details are rich with earthy accents, colors and textures. To create a more residential ambiance, soft lighting and furnishings with neutral colors are used throughout the amenity spaces. Large windows are also used to let the daylight comes through and fills the interior space with a soft, pleasing glow. 

Dining Room

Dining Room

Library

Library


On the other hand, Merrill Gardens at Auburn, located in the heart of downtown Auburn, was created to reinterpret the traditional old town main street architecture with a contemporary twist. This project features a highly-modern layout, along with a bright and airy interior feel. With convenient access to the Sounder Train Station and a variety of local retails, restaurants and other area amenities, this community is designed to meet the expectations of seniors who seek a modern and independent lifestyle. This 169, 310-square-foot community offers a total 129 residential units with a mix of studio, one-, and two-bedroom units.

Dining Room 

Dining Room 

The dining room of this project features extensive glazing and floor-to-ceiling windows, which flood the interior space with natural light and create a breath of openness. The open modern layout of the communal area allow residents to decide whether to participate fully in group activities or from the periphery. Short walking distances in between amenity spaces also provide an ease of access to common areas, allowing less-mobile residents to easily venture out and join in.

Dining Room / Bistro

Dining Room / Bistro

Emulating modern hospitality interiors, each residential unit has ample space and a private bath with shower where residents can receive guests.

One-bedroom Unit - Living room / kitchen 

One-bedroom Unit - Living room / kitchen 

To see more photos of these two newly furnished communities, check out our portfolio page for Merrill Gardens at Burien, and Merrill Gardens at Auburn. In addition to these two new communities, our apartment project in Burien, and senior housing project in Rockridge, California, are getting close to opening their doors. Stay tuned for more updates on our next new project!