Paul Fuesel Talks Place Making for Montlake
Meet Paul Fuesel, the Lead Consultant for KPG working with Montlake on its Business District Development Plan. Your Montlake
Community Club scored a grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods to support the hiring of consultants for this important work. Paul and the KPG team were the top pick of the MCC Project Committee. Paul recently sat down with your intrepid project reporter and here are just the highlights of what he had to say about his background, the design concepts that guide him, and what he hopes for Montlake.
When Paul Fuesel tells you he majored in Environmental Biology as an undergraduate back in Minnesota, it’s hard to figure out how he ended up planning community design projects for urban neighborhoods like Montlake. Biology? Really? Bouncing around the world after college on the look out for his true profession, he sampled jobs and listened to lots of career advice. He chatted up strangers in New York, Europe, Seattle, Jamaica, Alaska. Montana.
Ah, Montana, where Paul sat down to talk with yet another fellow about his artistic interests, love of the outdoors, and search for his life’s work. “You should be a landscape architect” opined the guy, who happened to be one himself. And that’s just what Paul did, finishing a 3-year Masters program in landscape architecture at the University of Illinois before hopping west to net a job in Seattle. Twenty-six years later, he says the work is a great combination of science and art, but also demands well-honed communication skills for “listening and cooperating with everyone in order to make it (community) happen.”
With successful past design projects from Hokaido, Japan to Bellevue, Burien, and Pasco, Paul has found continuing satisfaction in putting his knowledge to work to create successful urban designs with “places that people like to hang out.” And with that thought, he shifts easily from recounting his background to talk about the big ideas for community design. As a KPG Principal and our lead project consultant for the Montlake Business District Development Project, Paul offers up two big interrelated concepts that bring focus to his work: Place Making and Traffic Calming. Here’s a bit of what he has to say on each of these, especially as they relate to Montlake’s future.
PLACE MAKING As Paul sees it, place making can be thought of as the main goal for any community planning –or even home or back yard planning. It’s a concept popularized in the last ten years or so and essentially involves “creating spaces where people want to go to hang out.” Looking back, Paul says that the Puget Sound area was developed for automobiles from the 50’s on up, “but there really weren’t places to go to” and savor— “What developed was more like commercial strips. Place making is creating destinations with businesses of all types and places for people to gather and enjoy—to hang out.”
You create a place by asking “What do people want there that will excite and attract them after the festivals end? Like shops, restaurants and other kinds of regular activities ….” Now, Paul admits there is good hanging out and bad hanging out. “Good place making puts so many ‘eyes on the street’ that the bad hangers out don’t feel comfortable there. They will stay away from a place if there is a lot of vibrant life, comings and goings, and activity.” He and the KPG team are looking at Montlake with a goal of enhancing our already engaging businesses and activities, and ramping things up to appeal to Montlakers and draw others in.
Good place making does not mean that the places are exclusive, however. A good place should, in fact, be integrated and inclusive. Speaking of homelessness concerns, for example, Paul affirms, “People need to support each other. People living in tent cities are looking for a safe place too.” The concept of safety comes up often in Fuesel’s talk, and that brings us to the next big idea.
TRAFFIC CALMING. Without a doubt, Paul asserts that the number one challenge in any community is traffic as a safety issue and a detraction. Montlake is definitely no different. “Change the traffic and you’ll change the place.” He point to downtown Burien as a prime example of how calming the traffic by first putting it on a street diet (fewer traffic lanes) and then dressing the buildings, sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and plantings, slowed things down and “changed the vibe” Looking at our situation, Paul says, “We want the Montlake Business District to be a pedestrian place–attractive and safe too. Now you take your life in your hands crossing from the Bike shop to FUEL. If we can’t achieve something with the street traffic, then I’m not sure how far we can go with street dressing.”
Paul sees Montlake as having issues similar to many other communities with which he’s worked. “BUT because of its position in the City of Seattle—not only where it sits, but also its social fabric, its history, its topography, the current street layout—it does have particular issues.” Still, he says, they are mostly about the traffic. He is convinced that Montlake is “in the midst of an opportunity.” With all these infrastructure projects out there simultaneously (Greenways project, the link rail, the 23rd Ave project, 520 bridge, UW expansion) “Montlake can say, ‘Hey, you need to address us too.’ “ And he believes that the city representatives involved in those infrastructure project are “totally onboard. They see the district in the same way as the community does, and as the design team does. It’s wonderful.”
We still have a lot to learn from Paul Fuesel about place making, including good and bad hanging out, traffic calming, street diets and street dressing. And he has a lot to learn from us. He declares: “We get to educate the community about the bigger picture, while they educate us about their situation. It’s a two way street.”
You’ll be able to hear more from Paul and offer him your insights on-line and at our next community meeting. We’ll soon see some updated drawings of Montlake Uptown and Downtown that will have taken your earlier input into account. Keep the Montlake Business District Development Project on your radar, and be ready to offer more ideas. Let’s each do what we can to make Montlake a good place to hang out.