Aurora’s Dawn: A New Aurora Avenue
Seventy years ago Aurora redesigned itself around the car and gave reason to rip up miles of streetcars that connected North Seattle to Downtown. The competition of this parallel urban highway was too much to withstand for this mass transit network. After the 1962 World’s Fair left town and I-5 took all the vehicular traffic, North Aurora was forgotten, and fell into the state you see it today. A stretch of low rise, low rent motels, commercial spaces for the auto, parking lots, and vacant or abandoned lots begging for a change. Aurora has the foundation to add thousands of housing units. We can add state of the art transit, make it safer, more pleasant, sustainable, and create a new asset for Seattle.
Aurora’s Problem is Seattle’s Problem
From 2010 to 2017, Seattle added over 100,000 people. The 50 years prior, through boom and bust, the city only gained 50,000 people. Our population has lapped our pace of housing construction. In the 1990’s Seattle created urban villages, from Crown Hill to Columbia City, pockets of density that allowed housing construction to maintain pace with the population changes. But as we can see, even our urban villages can’t keep up. Aurora is part of four North Seattle urban villages (Wallingford, Fremont, Aurora-Licton Springs, and Bitter Lake). But like Seattle’s single family neighborhoods, Aurora lacks an adequate supply of housing. These four urban villages are growing, but housing on Aurora isn’t.
Seattle’s Solution is Aurora’s Solution
Seattle gets a lot out of it’s urban villages. They take up 18% of Seattle’s developable land and contributed 88% of Seattle’s housing growth. That’s impressive! Seattle has passed a citywide upzone to these urban villages, meaning the density well will be tapped again. So this time, let’s flip the identity of Aurora, let’s improve it, let’s live on it.
Aurora’s Opportunity: Housing
Aurora rezoned itself from auto oriented, light industrial to residential mixed use. To give you a sense of what Aurora can do, I’m only going to talk about one small piece of it. A 1-mile stretch north of Greenlake. My neighborhood. The Aurora Licton Springs Urban Village, known as ALUV, has paved the way for 8,000 new housing units. 8,000 new units on 50 acres. This is the type of density urban planners dream of. And with vacant or underutilized lots willing to sell, ALUV is ready for revitalization. Aurora’s image is already changing. From auto-row to the most utilized bus route in the city. The Rapid Ride E line, which runs on Aurora, carries 18,000 daily riders. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because this is the State of Washington’s most ridden bus. This is exactly where housing should be.
Aurora’s Other Problem: Cars
We hear rightful complaints about thorougfares. They’re loud, they’re polluted, and they’re unsafe. Why is that? Cars. The number of dedicated lanes, and space, given to the right of way, push the sidewalks to the limit for safety, which creates no safety at all. Aurora’s design is underutilized, but we can solve this. Whether we eliminate a lane, a median, or simply plant trees, development can be done to make this corridor more pleasant and safer.
What if we added light rail? Unlike I-5’s corridor, Aurora touches the street level with housing and business adjacency. The E Line buses are crowded. A lot of people live in neighborhoods adjacent to this corridor. Light rail carries twice the capacity of a bus, and at a higher speed and frequency. Removing cars, planting trees, landscape buffers, wider sidewalks, can you imagine what Aurora could be?
Aurora’s Other Opportunity: Sustainability
ALUV is ready to supply housing on a great transit line, which is a sustainable practice. The E Line’s success is paramount to the bus only lanes, which illustrate the opportunity sustainability brings to an otherwise car-centric road. With the tallest building heights in the neighborhood, Aurora’s rooftops have a huge solar opportunity.
With 1.4 million square feet of rooftop, this can power half of the new units created here, which will lower the power needs from the city’s electrical grid. The next opportunity is mass timber. Mid rise projects are ripe for this construction and timber is a carbon negative practice. Each cubic meter of wood stores one metric ton of carbon dioxide. Also, unlike concrete or steel, it doesn’t need to be manufactured. It manufactures itself.
The natural growing process consumes carbon dioxide where as concrete and steel production exhaust carbon dioxide. These buildings of Aurora as timber would sequester 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of 875 million miles traveled by car. This 1-mile stretch can plant 2,000 trees which would sequester 500 tons of carbon dioxide each decade. As our summers get hotter, trees lower temperatures by 6 to 7 degrees, this could make Aurora a place to spend a hot summer day. Solar roofs, timber, planted street, Aurora’s new identity would be a sustainable shift in a once forgotten car-stretch of the city.
A New Aurora Avenue
This could be the new Aurora Avenue. Housing, sustainability, solar roofs, high frequency transit, fewer cars, neighborhood servicing businesses, and trees. Aurora is ripe for development and for density done right. Employment would increase, housing would increase, safety would increase, and the only thing that would decrease is carbon dioxide. So let’s utilize Aurora. Let’s build a community here, let’s build a quality street here, and let’s supply a lot of housing and help Seattle solve this major issue.
If this is what 1 mile of Aurora can do, imagine what the rest of Aurora can do. Imagine what your neighborhood can do. Or what a whole city buying into these philosophies can do. Aurora is one of the biggest opportunities this city has. And it’s begging for it’s chance. The forgotten stretch of auto oriented identity is gone. And, with it, a new dawn is here. A new Aurora.
This presentation was part of AIA’s Housing Transformations: Density Done Right Lightning Talk sessions. For more information: https://www.aiaseattle.org/event/housingdesign2019/