Folke Nyberg Passes Away at Age 76: His contribution to our city's character should be remembered!
Last week Professor Emeritus, Architect, Planner, and longtime "Neighborhood Activist" Folke Nyberg passed away from prostrate cancer at the age of 76.  While he was not so visible in recent years on the political scene, for at least four decades Folke's writings as well as his actions had a profound, albeit more often behind-the-scenes, impact on Seattle's physical, social, and political landscape. He also was a force whose inquiries into these arenas had a great impact on the way I personally understand and respond to these things.  
olke was for a time in the 70's and 80's a regular columnist for the Times critiquing Seattle's architecture. He is credited with designing several buildings in the area, notably some very unique dorms on campus at Western Washington University, when he worked for a time for noted architect Henry Klein.  In recent years in the architectural realm he contented himself designing and working on homes for those in his family.
Folke staffed the Planning Commission back when that body had real power over land use decisions (In the 60's and early 70's that body was pretty darn radical and not the complacent status quo advisory body it is today).  Folke was a confidant and extremely close friend to Victor Steinbrueck and worked closely with him during the days of saving the Pike Market and Pioneer Square.  
Art Skolnik, noted community activist and historic preservationist who worked back then in the city's planning office next to Folke's office sent me these recollections of his association with Folke in that era:

"Folke was a driving force with strong opinions and a great sense of humor. What a laugh!!! His wife, Lisa, worked in the City Architect's Office as well, before they got married, so we saw a lot of Folke coming over to see her. His partnership with Victor was like Twiddle De and Twiddle Dum. Their successful work to get Pioneer Square designated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places resulted in the City ultimately passing it's own designation ordinance, thwarting the DSA's (Downtown Seattle Association) campaign to have it all demolished for perimeter parking for the balance of Downtown. It was the birth of Historic Preservation policy for the City . If it weren't for the two of them, I would have not had my career in preservation. Folke and Victor were mentors par excellence." 

Like Victor, Folke also had an enormous influence on a generation of progressive architects who took his design studios and excellent seminars which covered a broad range of subjects particularly urban design, regionalism, and Scandinavian Architecture.   He instilled in his students a people's or populist perspective on architecture, and especially city planning.  A number of them are at work now out there in our city and region.  
He also was an intellectual, trained as an undergraduate at Yale in philosophy and classical rhetoric, who had a unique ability to critique the local political landscape.  It was a mix of postmodernism, anti-globalization (You should read his critique of WTO-the best I've ever read), populism, and especially a celebration of neighborhood and family. That's where ones' loyalties should lie.  There was a smattering of marxism in their too (Although he would vigorously deny that as someone who shunned overarching meta-theories and unifying analysis of any kind).  The best archeologies for him were those dug up in ones own back yard or by understanding as well as one could and borrowing from out-of-the-way localities first hand and from other unique corners of the world.  
Soon after the Khomeini forces toppled the Shah's dictatorship in Iran at the end of the Jimmy Carter era, Folke was one of the first if not the first American academic (joining academics from dozens of other nations) to fly into Iran. He told me he wanted to see for himself on the ground what was really going on there behind the tv images - what that sea change really meant for the people of that country . The rise of emerging non-european sometimes religiously or locally based communities to challenge the dominant liberal, european, and global capitalist ethos was of continuing interest to him. He sought an understanding of those movements both their attributes and their excesses.  In that vain, he was an ardent supporter of the Palestinians struggle for self-determination.
Closer to home, Folke was a thorn in the side of the U of W also and their plans for campus and off-campus expansion. He fought unsuccessfully to block construction of the new Law Building because of it's impacts on the campus setting, open space and tree canopy.
If you google the Seattle Times website you'll also see some of his columns for the Times.  They literally  go back decades.  He also wrote a number of brilliant essays for Column V, an architectural journal published by the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Folke's emphasis on the importance of localism, regionalism, community, and it's scale as the basis for good planning and especially urban design led to my hooking up with him and Victor Steinbrueck in the late 70's early 80's.  Folke, some of his and Victor's former and current students like Jennifer Dee and Ann Hirschi, Victor himself, Attorney Peter Eglick, myself, Joe Martin, David Bloom et all - we formed what was called the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance and challenged several highrise office and/or condominium projects including Paul Schells' Waterfront Center Project along first avenue.  
The latter was a fight that eventually led to a settlement guaranteeing relocation assistance to three dozen displaced businesses forced off First Avenue.  Schell also contributed dollars to help us save over a hundred units of low income housing elsewhere in downtown. As the former head of the City's Dept of Community Development, later to become our Mayor, he agreed to at least do that much in mitigation but not before accusing Victor, Folke, and the rest of us of standing in the way of progress (or at least his vision of it for downtown).  Walt Crowley a friend of Schell's writing in the Weekly at that time, called us a bunch of marxists "with a small 'm'".  I never did get a chance to ask Walt what the heck he meant by that.  
These efforts were not just battle's for preservation of the physical character of our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, it also was a fight over what would remain of the city's social character and its soul.  What would carry over, guide, and be the basis for future planning decisions? Only a fraction of the old SRO's, shops, working waterfront, the storefronts and historic character would be left at the end of the 80's office boom - a product of our city leaders shameless blind promotion of runaway growth during that era. (Over 5000 low cost housing units were wiped out in downtown alone as were dozens of historic structures)
But what did remain - and a number of buildings and structures fortunately were saved - was thanks to people like Folke and Victor, a number of their students, and people who followed in their footsteps. I was privileged to be a part of all that. (There also were others making their contribution to the cause including Allied Arts, Historic Seattle, the League of Women Voters, David Brewster, others from the Weekly including Rebecca Boren, Walt Crowley (despite differences over the Schell project we often agreed with Walt's perspective on the future of downtown), writer/activist Peter Staten, and Grace Jansen's and others from the neighborhood movement. Later in the decade Victor's son Peter and Margaret Pageler launched their effort to "CAP" runaway growth.  We all were immersed in this struggle to save at least a bit of Seattle's character.  We all owe debt to Folke (and Victor) course.
Until very recently, and for decades, Folke could be found in the mornings before class and in retirement at the Allegro Coffee House socializing, writing, discussing and sometimes arguing with students, activists, and fellow academics. The Allegro - the oldest remaining coffee house in the city - is still there in the alley just off the 'Ave' in the U-District at 43rd where many of its longtime denizens still hang out.  There's news though that ownership has changed. And recently a garish '65 foot tall building went up across the alley blocking views from the Allegro of "hippie hill" across 15th on the edge of campus.  
More often by increments, but sometimes in a crashing instant, things change.  Folke fought to preserve the best of our history in the face of changes eating away at our city's character. He resisted that, not change itself. We'll remember him for his enormous contribution.
A service will be held in Folke's honor on Sunday, October 24th from 4-7 PM at the University of Washington Faculty Club

Displacement Coalition responds:
Mercer Corridor Groundbreaking Sept 8th: 

South Park Bridge was sacrificed for Paul Allen’s Mercer Plan - Sen. Murray shares responsibility along with our past and current Mayor and most of our City Council”

They still need $100 million for Mercer West Phase II – what other critical needs in our city will be sacrificed to cover that cost?

Patty Murray, Mayor McGinn, and other local elected officials were on hand Sept 8th for the official groundbreaking of the Mercer Corridor Project in South Lake Union.  They will be there to pat themselves on the back for finding the funds needed to complete the $170 million plus first phase of that project now estimated in total to cost over $300 million for both phases.  (Costs for phase I were as high at 195 million but the winning bid came in at 170 million - by the time phase I is finished were betting that phase will easily top the 195 million)

What these elected officials won’t be telling you and hoping you will conveniently forget is that in order secure federal stimulus funds needed to complete phase I of Mercer, these same elected leaders had to turn their back on the residents of South Park and allow closure of the South Park Bridge.  The roughly 40 million dollars in federal stimulus and other federal funding dedicated in 2009 for Mercer (including 10 million funneled through the regional council), came at the direct expense of the necessary federal funding needed to repair and keep the South Park Bridge open.

In the fall of 2009, when the City submitted its application for stimulus funding, the County also submitted an application for the South Park Bridge.  Patty Murray, the King County Council, the Mayor (Nickels and then McGinn) and Seattle City Council all knew that only one stimulus grant application from this region was likely to get funded.  While Patty Murray was moving mountains for the Mercer Project, and members of the City Council were all cheerleading for Mercer especially Jan Drago (now ironically representing residents of S. Park), and two Mayor’s and even some county councilmembers there was dead silence from all these officials (other than a pro forma letter from some of them) on behalf of the S. Park application.)

After the 2009 State Legislature killed use of federal stimulus funds for Mercer, Mayor Nickels, Jan Drago, other city officials came right back in Sept of 2009 and reapplied for between $50 and $60 million of these dollars for Mercer in a second round funding – which includes about 10 million in federal dollars thru the Puget Sound Regional Council.  With only about $1.5 billion available nationally in that second round – enough to cover only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of applications it received nation-wide - it was a forgone conclusion that at most one local project would be approved for use of these precious funds (over and above monies likely to go to replacement of the 520 bridge). . 

Patty Murray, Mayor Nickels, Jan Drago and the rest of the Seattle City Council knew then that when they pushed for use of these limited federal dollars for Mercer it would result directly in denial of funding needed to repair/replace the South Park Bridge in a timely manner and without the need for any closure time. (McGinn during the election was also a big fan of Mercer and once elected backed the application for stimulus dollars for Mercer). 

Neither Patty Murray or any of these electeds have ever acknowledged their responsibility in this regard.  Without Murray’s towing the line for the Mercer project, without a doubt it would not have been considered. Had she and the bulk of the area’s local and county electeds backed instead stimulus funding in the Fall of 2009 for the South Park Bridge, it would not be closed today.  The residents would still have a bridge and a route into their own city.

We obviously are glad to see that these same officials now are seeking funding for a new South Park bridge. But we cannot help but cringe seeing all them back out at Mercer while at the same time now, after the fact, working so hard to curry favor with S. Park and make headlines demonstrating their support for that project – all after the fact  And it is interesting how fast they have found most of the needed funds, now that Mercer is out of the way.  But it begs the larger question – how many millions in limited transportation dollars are being wasted first on Mercer and then secondly on building a new South Park Bridge (when repairs could have saved the old one).  

Murray and these other electeds should acknowledge this and be held accountable by voters. At least three studies by the City have all said the Mercer Corridor project when completed will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion through South Lake Union and in some parts of the neighborhood actually make traffic worse.  Project costs in 2004 were estimated at 75 million for both phases. They’ve climbed to over 300 million. The 199 million pricetag for phase I required a redirection not only of stimulus dollars needed for the South Park Bridge, it drained another 70 million in limited city “Bridging the Gap” funding that was supposed to go out to our neighborhoods to address a half billion dollar backlog of ailing city-wide transportation needs. All these resources are being sacrificed for what is essentially a beautification project and an effort designed to move traffic off Valley street which fronts Paul Allen’s properties facing the lake (properties acquired through a slick deal with the City back in 2000 arranged by a former city official who now works for Paul Allen)

City officials are also pushing ahead with the second phase of mercer now estimated at about 100 million dollars. No funding has yet been found for that phase but some of the costs they are seeking to conceal/bury in the 3 billion downtown tunnel budget…….  More of our city’s limited transportation dollars will be wasted in this phase and this is before likely costly overruns drive the budget still higher.  All for a project that when finished will do nothing to relieve congestion in that area.

For more information contact 206-632-0668





[Hpn] The Seattle Bench Project

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Seattle Time Story on Undergrounding by Bob Young and its costs: