After finding my blog nearly a year ago, the Mount Vernon Downtown Association was kind enough to have me come talk to them today about my travels and take a look at their fine collection of alleys in the downtown. Poised to become a great center of culture in the Skagit Valley, the downtown, like many cities planned around the turn of the century in the region has a strong main street with a lot of small mom and pop retail shops and a few civic buildings. Mount Vernon has a slightly problematic relationship with the Skagit River that so beautifully winds through it. The river tends to flood, warranting the use of a flood wall and in the hopefully near future, a brand new waterfront sea wall design complete with stormwater filtration, an esplanade, and a new setting for their already vibrant farmers’ market.
The alleys here are quite thin – similar to those in Japan and are fortunate to have great sun access because of the lack of many buildings over one or two storeys. The soil condition is clearly a dynamic one with some buildings dipping and cracking due to the silty fill – and the alleys have their own unique topography due to this uneven settling. There are many unique conditions, circumstances, and parties involved and excited that could create a brand new layer of experience for this small town and really transform its urban identity.
I would like to thank Frank Bettendorf and the Downtown Association for a lovely day and I can’t wait to see what happens in the beautiful alleys of Mount Vernon!
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting my work in the International District’s Jamfest. This was the first alley site to be visited by the Tight Urbanism exhibit. For over a year now, the Wing Luke has been facilitating discussions regarding doing away with dumpsters in the historic Canton Alley and making it a model clean alley for the International District. The alleys in this neighborhood see an increible amount of dumping and food waste with the plethora of restaurants in the area. In addition to the latent problems, Canton alley posseses a very special history with it’s location between the two Kong Yick buildings. These buildings were built from funds pooled together by hundreds of individuals and families that reached the area during the turn of the century. Canton alley was not only a service alley like its’ other Seattle contemporaries, but actually housed a number of loft-style alley oriented apartments. These large apartments were almost like tenements in that multiple families shared each apartment and some had businesses in storefronts on the alley. These storefronts are still visible here and one of the apartments has been entirely refurbished to look like it would have at the turn of the century – you can organize a tour through the Wing Luke. I am excited to see the dumpsters come out of Canton Alley and for it to become a unique space for the neighborhood.
I would like to thank my friends Cameron Colpitts and Teddy Toyama for helping me move the exhibit around this weekend – pallets are heavy.
Last First Thursday in Pioneer Square, Firehouse Alley also had a great party where we had Irish folk music, hula hoopers, and marshmallow roasting in the alley! There was a great turn out and it is inspiring to think we started working on this alley a year ago and now it is seeing nearly 50-100 people come through every first thursday. Join us at the next party on August 3rd!
Tight Urbanism will continue to run at the AIA gallery in Belltown until next Friday before its move inot Canton Alley, behind the Wing Luke Asian Art Museum. Saturday, July 16, the exhibit will be a main feature of the very first Canton Alley Party! Please check this link for more info on Jamfest and the events to take place. This will be the exhibit’s first mobile outing into an alley and I hope to see you all there! The party will run from 6:30 to 9:30!
Map to Canton Alley
On another note, I will be posting the link to the final draft of my book, Tight Urbanism in the coming week and then the site may go silent for a bit as I have won another travel fellowship that will be taking me to Europe for 3.5 months starting August 21st. The link to my blog for this work is here. I will be building upon my research of the human scaled urban spaces of alleys with the evolution into general urbanism with an emphasis on climate responsive vernacular and medieval urbanism in Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. Please see the link above for my itineraries. If you have any advice or feedback, I would love to hear from you!
I hope you get a chance to check out the exhibit, and if you would like to have the exhibit temporarily somewhere, please let me know as it will be free to move after July 16, 2011!
PS- I hope you will stop by Firehouse and Nord Alley tonight for the Alley parties! I will be in Firehouse until 6:15, so stop by and say hello!
Let me know if you’d like the whole hour and fifteen minute long movie and I would be happy to make the file available to you.
Thank you to everyone who came to the opening of Tight Urbanism at AIA Seattle this last Wednesday. Thank you as well to those that sponsored, advised, and helped with this whole study. I would like to thank the AIA Fellows’ Committee for allowing me this great adventure. The exhibit will run until July 1st at the AIA gallery in Belltown from 10-5 weekdays. If you would like a private tour, please let me know ahead of time and I will block out times throughout the day.
Additionally, the exhibit will move to Maynard Alley behind the Wing Luke Asian Art Museum for an alley party in early July. I will be leading a walking tour Saturday, June 25th in conjunction with the gallery exhibit that you can buy tickets for through the Seattle Architectural Foundation here.
Thank you to Richard Tran, a friend of mine, for taking fantastic photos of the exhibit opening Wednesday. I would also like to thank people that came through Firehouse Alley last First Thursday to see what we were up to! There are a few more alley parties and activities that will take place in Pioneer Square alleys this summer. Stay tuned here and on the tweet feeds to the right for when and where they will be.
I have consolidated my travel sketches, photos, and writing into a little book titled Tight Urbanism that I will be selling on here on the next post.
Thank you again everyone for the opportunity and support with this work.
– Daniel Toole
Please keep your calendars marked for my exhibit on my travels.
The exhibit, “Tight Urbanism”, scheduled for its’ opening reception May 11, 2011 will showcase the findings of the AIA Seattle Emerging Professionals Travel Fellowship travel through several mediums including photographs, sketches, video, and physical models. The exhibit is slated to run from May11 to July 1st, with a potential move to the International District in July.
I will be at the Nord Alley to hand out invites to the exhibit on Thursday, May 5 at their alley party. I highly recommend everyone to come to this for the debut of their permanent art installation in the alley, food, music, and more. Please stay tuned.
Let me know if you have any questions, or if you’d like to schedule a private tour of the exhibit, I am happy to take groups, individuals, and organizations throughout May and June.
– Daniel Toole
Before returning to Kyoto from Tokyo, I met up with my friends Makoto, Taka, and Yosuke, whom I hadn’t seen in six years since studying with them in Eugene. After dinner I explored Nonbei Yokocho and Shonben Yokocho, two former post war ramshackle outdoor market turned alley bar and restaurant mini districts. Shomben Yokocho, or Pisser’s Lane was a working class drinking area during and after the war, now attempting to re-brand into Memory Lane. After meeting my friend Yosuke again, we took a trip through the final notorious alley spaces of Tokyo with Nonbei Yokocho, or drunkard’s alley, which was formerly an outdoor market very near Shibuya’s famous intersection.. This place is a small two lane strip full of two and three story alley bar and restaurants similar to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, yet more refined, and perhaps less notorious. We had a great night full of interesting conversations (of which I understood about a third of), drink, and food.
Tokyo is an incredible place and indescribable in image or word. It literally is a mega city- or a mega collection of towns shoved together, shaken up, and interlaced with rail lines. It is a fantastic mess.
Yesterday was primarily spent exploring the Akihabara neighbirhood of Tokyo. This place is the center of electronic supplies and video game culture in the city. There are many small through block arcades selling everything from CPUs to terabyte external hard drives as well as tools and chips. You can shop around market style for about seven square blocks and walk away with a computer.
The arcades, alleys, underside of train viaducts, and extremely narrow “pencil” buildings contain shops, arcades, and restaurants in every floor and basement. These myriad pencil buildings, ubiquitous through the major cities in the country, are apparently the result
of a hefty property tax placed upon those inheriting land. It makes more sense financially to most to split their land into a number of parcels for development, warranting the extra thin profile. I saw a hair salon and spa yesterday that was recently completed and maybe ten feet wide!
I finished the day by revisiting golden gai in kabukicho to see what the upstairs bars were like in these tiny two story buildings to be surprised by greatly efficient spaces like a submarine. I measured a plan for one with the gracious owner who was very curious about my “rare” interest in Roji (alley) spaces.
After a stroll around ginza, I explored a less classy side of Tokyo, that of kabukicho in shinjuku. This area has been tokyos redlight district since world war 2, and after meeting a Haitian businessman in the district, it became very clear how it thrives. The area is open 24 7 and takes in cash from every type if visitor to the city seeking seedier fun. This area was full of alleys bathed in neon containing all kinds of bars and clubs imaginable at every floor level imaginable up to 8 floors and down 2.
I then headed to my final destination,golden gai, the some 200 closet sized bars of every obscure theme imaginable where I made the acquaintances of a hair product magnate and a travel agent and was given a history in one of tokyos most hidden and notorious alley networks. The area continues to.operate under a majority if Japanese business owners, but due to its shed like construction and property values may not survive the next decade.
Tokyo is amazing. I have only seen a sliver of it, but it is like New York City, but encrusted with programs, primarily food and drink. Every alley, train viaduct, or blank wall for that matter, have some program. The train system here is far more advanced than new York or most anywhere, you cab get to many main things in 6 minutes which is remarkable for a city of this scale and magnitude.
Last night, after visiting the awesome notorious diagonal Shibuya intersection, I met up with my thesis professor from Oregon, Hajo Neis, and we were given a great tour and evening in Shimokitazawa, a neighbirhood full of alleys, energy, and activity, but threatened by a massive arterial road that could soon divide it. We were taken to a local karaoke bar the size of a small closet in a very interesting building that housed a public theater on top and about 15 of these tiny individual bars all around the bottom, it was a fantastic hybrid!