German Urban Planner Thomas Sieverts Wows Over 100 With “Zwischenstadt” Thursday Night

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by Scott Schaefer

Late Thursday afternoon (July 2nd), renowned German urban planner Thomas Sieverts walked around Burien on a perfect summer day in an effort to study its unique “Zwischenstadt.”

The term “Zwischenstadt” has become popularized to mean an “in–between city,” or the city between the old historical centers and open countryside, which is how he views Burien. Sieverts previously taught urban planning at the University of Visual Arts in Berlin and the Technical University in Darmstadt.

Sieverts was on a three-day visit to the Seattle area, which included a town hall meeting Wednesday night, and an appearance on KUOW’s Weekday. In addition to Mayor Joan McGilton and Councilmember Gordon Shaw, he was followed around by a four-camera film crew, which is producing a documentary on Burien that will be released later in the summer.

After several different groups did walking tours that began at the Burien Interim Art Space, the entire crowd re-grouped for a lively discussion lead by author Matthew Stadler, along with B-Town Blog Publisher Scott Schaefer and Sieverts himself.

Sieverts spoke about things he noticed on his walking tour, including a strip of Hispanic businesses on SW 153rd, which he recommended nurturing into a sort of “hispanic market strip” as opposed to making it “another main street” to encourage diversity and as a place for like-minded folks to gather and appreciate their culture.

“This is a huge deal for Burien,” said Mark Kearns, owner of nearby coffee shop Burien Press. “Not many know about Sieverts, but there are people here who have followed him up from Portland, or have come down from Vancouver just to see him speak. His appearance here could put Burien on the international map!”

Author Matthew Stadler, BTB Publisher Scott Schaefer, and Urban Planner Thomas Sieverts at B/ IAS Thursday night. Photo by Rebecca Dare.

Highlights of the outdoor discussion included:

  • Members of the crowd shared their observations of their walking tour, including concerns over possible vandalism in Dottie Harper Park to some carved faces in a tree stump. Later, resident Guy Harper (no relation to Dottie) explained that the artwork had actually been removed for restoration and had not been vandalized. Host Stadler noted how each interesting space in a city can inspire different stories for different people.
  • Mayor Joan McGilton spoke about the effectiveness of temporary art, and proposed doing a mural on the large rear exterior wall of Grocery Outlet across the street. Later, Stadler proposed projecting images on the wall as a solution. Sieverts concurred, and spoke briefly about “softly breaking the law” as a way to revitalize a neighborhood.
  • Sieverts’ son, Boris, got up and spoke about discovering the hidden gem nearby known as Lake Burien. He wondered aloud why there was no public access to the private lake, and encouraged residents to demand it. Schaefer then explained about how a small group of residents is trying to gain public access, but have had no success due to much resistance from protective lake residents.
  • Near the end of the evening, Boris encouraged everyone to “march down to the lake together.” Schaefer then added “…and go skinny dipping!” Unfortunately for the film crew present, the march and nude swim prank never materialized.

Over 100 people stayed to the end of the evening, even helping “strike the set” by putting chairs and tables away.


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9 Responses to “German Urban Planner Thomas Sieverts Wows Over 100 With “Zwischenstadt” Thursday Night”
  1. Rich Jensen says:

    Great gathering in Burien tonight. Bravo for BIAS and the warm spirits of Burien. I live in Seattle but I’m looking forward to following progress on opening Lake Burien to the community. What a jewel your city would be to the region! Go for it!

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  2. Tcb says:

    Pretty cool. Don’t think Lake Burien will be opened up though. I expect that since the public access was closed off so long ago that there will be lawsuits to keep it from happening to someone’s property. btw the spell check always highlights “Burien”.

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  3. Brian says:

    The salient point made by Boris Seiferts was that providing public access to Lake Burien is far more important to the positive development of Burien than all of the other development projects being contemplated for Town Square. He pointed out that leaving Lake Burien walled off to the public could affect the area for a thousand years, and that all of the other Town Square projects could wait.

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  4. sally nelson, says:

    The importance of sharing stories about Burien that Mr Seiferts talked about during his day in our fair city could be carried on at the BIAS site where we gathered to share our days experiences. What a wonderful way to meet people and learn more about their experiences, memories, observations, etc. We could make it an annual event or meet more frequently if there is a positive response to the idea. I’d also like to propose that we sponsor a writing/visualizing month where the community is asked to write a narrative about what they would like to have painted, drawn, on the Grocery Outlet blank wall facing 4th SW.

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    • Maxine says:

      As for a mural on the side of Grocery Outlet, how about a painting of Lake Burien? I know that may sound snarky, but the reality is that most people who live in Burien have never seen the lake other than tiny glimpses one gets when driving around it. I have lived here for over 40 years and I had not ever really seen the lake from the shoreline until the Highline Garden Tour about 3 years ago featured one of the waterfront homes on the lake.

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  5. Bibi says:

    Having open access to the Lake Burien does seem to be way more beneficial to ALL Burien residents than any other sculpture or drawing anywhere in the town.
    I know that lake residents are rich and influential, I know that most of the elected officials are afraid to take a stand on this issue, but there should be something done about this.

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  6. Matt Briggs says:

    It was a great experience listening to the various civic leaders in Burien and Kent as well as developers talk to Thomas Sieverts and Matthew Stadler. I am among a lot of people who have moved into the area in the last five or six years from Seattle. I lived in Burien in the early 1990s near First Avenue S and I was kind of dreading moving from Seattle back to the south. However, as I’ve lived here and discovered the parks (such as Des Moines Creek Park and the Trail), used bookstores, and locally owned shops in Burien, Sea-Tac, Kent, and Auburn, I’m mystified now by older perceptions of the area.’s translation of Sieverts book, “Where We Live Now” provided insight into why I had seen the area the way I had — namely I was experiencing a densely populated essentially urban area that in no way conformed to what we understand what a city is supposed to look like. Many of the terms that are used to describe the communities in the drainage basin of the Green River (and those areas along the Sound) are pejoratives: i.e., vacant lot, sprawl, big box store, strip mall. Sieverts challenges this perception. I am less taken with Sieverts bias against residential lot size and the automobile. (To try to remove the car from our lives is to go against the grain of our distributed culture. Likely cars will become greener, but will not go away. It is akin, in my mind to the vegan argument that meat uses too many resources. It does.) Furthermore, Sieverts didn’t address in his talk some of the changes and ideas in community that are resulting from virtual communities and virtual work. (I recall in the work he mentioned some changes from telecommuting.) It was interesting to me in the community meeting that someone involved in the SOS Arts group (South-of-Seattle) mentioned that people who actually live in Burien don’t really think of the city itself but rather they live in an area and associate with people who have similar interests. The council and mayor seemed a bit antagonist to anything outside of the boundaries of Burien. In point of fact, Burien is occupied by groups and visited by people that do not recognize the city of Burien as a viable entity. Burien I think is more of a node with strong connections to Renton, South Center, Highline, White Center, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, and Auburn. I understand from a practical nature that civic leader need to think in terms of zip codes, but even corporations are slowly losing a zip-code centric point of view as they begin to understand people as occupying both physical space but also virtual space. An older form of virtual space might be thought of as social or religious groups. Anyway, it was a great event and makes me, personally, very hopeful that Burien would be receptive to and conversely that would be receptive to Burien.

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  7. Maxine says:

    I have lived here since the 1960s and have always wished there was public access to Lake Burien. The lake itself doesn’t not belong to the people who own waterfront property surrounding it. It is my understanding that all bodies of water belong to the state. Yes, the waterfront property owners seem to think it is their private lake. I’ve heard many of their “concerns” about public accesss, such as that the public access could harm the lake, but their arguments don’t hold water (pun intended).

    I’m pretty appalled that many of the Lake Burien property owners fertillize their lawns and the pump gallons and gallons of water out of the lake to water their lawns/yards every year, and of course, use all this water for free and seem to be doing this without any real govt. oversight as to the chemicals that may be ending up in this lake.. They seem to think it is just fine. If there was public access, more people would likely know they are doing this and start asking questions about this practice.

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  8. Robbie Howell says:

    This is a reply to Sally Nelson’s comment concerning the Grocery Outlet blank wall.
    If you recall nearby 4th Ave SW was named (Fir) by the Developers who originally named the streets in downtown Burien because the area was covered with tall fir trees. The trees remaining in the down town area from that time period are on on 4th Ave SW at Dottie Harper Park and a little further south towards 160th Street and near the police station. When the streets were named, there were still deer, bears and other wild life and birds living in that area. I can imagine a beautiful painting of a forest of fir trees with wild life living in that forest to show this earlier time in Burien. The colors used in a painting like that would be restful and soothing to those passing by.
    Robbie Howell

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