Convergence on Aurora: a site visit, Part 1

On Thursday January 9 our class braved the rain to walk along Aurora, soaking in the atmosphere, sounds, and pungent smells of the street. Students reflected on what they experienced verbally and visually. Here are some thoughts on schools, signs, and pedestrian convergence:

Ian Schmidt

Convergence –

   Mathematics The property or manner of approaching a limit, such as a point, line, function, or value.

  Physiology The coordinated turning of the eyes inward to focus on an object at close range.

While traveling along Aurora Avenue, these two definitions became the most interesting concepts through which to view the public/private experience.

The first instance of convergence was noticing the widths and state of the sidewalks along Aurora while walking from 85th to 140th, and comparing that to a baseline value of the same avenue in Downtown Seattle. The sidewalks narrow, crack, and eventually disappear as a pedestrian goes north. This convergent “approach” to a limit as referenced in mathematics mirrors the transition from city to suburb to exburb.

The second interesting instance of convergence came while driving along Aurora from 120th, north through Shoreline.

The Physiological definition of convergence deals with a coordinated turning and focusing upon an object at close range. Aurora is not “best” viewed at driving speed – but its character is most commonly viewed by commuters passing through at speeds of 35-55 mph. Driving Aurora immediately after walking it completely changed the understanding of the street of an environment of long spaces and gaps in fabric to focusing the view into a series of sharp, staccato blasts of color, shrunken signs and spaces – a foreshortening by speed that draws out the intended character of the environment. Long empty spaces become “just right” sized for maneuvering at 45 miles per hour, signs that dwarf their landscape grow and shrink dynamically, responding to the speed and approach/withdrawal of an automobile. These automotive experiences reduce the long distances of Aurora into short moments in time – bringing it into focus at close range.

Convergent images of Aurora immerse the viewer in the simultaneous length and brevity of the environment. The businesses along Aurora all feel similar – car centric, parking lot fronted, demarcated by giant signs that are one-word sales pitches. Both the vastness and the brevity of aurora are true – converging into a unified image of the avenue’s authenticity.

Mark Bourne


The condition where two or more objects, forces, or currents move together and mix; also, the point or zone where this mixing occurs. Convergence zones are often characterized by turbulence, irregular flows, and co-occurrence of distinct conditions.

Aurora Avenue is a an artery trying to do everything, when the things that need to be done now were never anticipated. This demand upon the Aurora corridor is revealed in convergences

The first convergence that I notice is not an actual place, but is the layering of history over the landscape, the confluence of the distinct flows of history. Craftsman houses that predate the road; motels that followed the margin of the city north 50 years later, only to be eventually swallowed by the expanding city; businesses that lined the thoroughfare, a linear business district built in the heyday of the strip mall; and now, a road that attempts to still be all of these things, while adapting to an entirely new set of needs.

There is another process at work here, a process that is most clearly revealed by a school district map that leaves a 10-block long, 15-block wide gap between schools, centered on 95th Avenue/North. This is the gap where the visual condition of the street is the most striking: run-down motels, a junk-yard on the street frontage, mid-day pedestrian traffic of men and women who appear to be homeless, or ‘street-walkers’, although this superficial judgment leaves a bitter taste.

The condition of this section of Aurora presents another process, in addition to these historical convergences: Aurora is a convergence of margins.

Bourne 1

The convergence of disparity: pedestrian bridge with ramp at Core Power yoga, stairs at North End Grocery, with wall art visible at the back of top image. Looking across Aurora Avenue, refuse and a poorly kept alley are visible. Behind, a Craftsman-style cottage from the early 20th century likely pre-dates the development of Aurora as a highway.

bourne schools

The five schools that serve the northern part of Seattle adjacent, or near to, Aurora Avenue, clockwise from top left: 1. Broadview-Thomson Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘5’; 2. Northgate Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘2’; 3.Daniel Bagley Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘9’; 4. Greenwood Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘7’; 5. Whittier Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘10’.

School Attendance areas and ratings are accessed on Redfin, a real estate listing site.

Bourn school gap

This is the zone that is excluded from the maps above: it is recognized by the city of Seattle as a place that has no safe walking access to schools. The status of Kindergarten through 5th grade students living in this area is not immediately clear.

Cami Culbertson

Culbertson_Aurora Convergence_14Jan14

Kate Reef



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