20-Minute City: Ballard


In Seattle, bridges, lakes and interstates separate each neighborhood just enough to create room for diversity to flourish. Each month, we'll be taking a look at each of these unique communities, and profiling the local destinations helping to make each its own microcosm of sustainability.

In this series, we will review the amenities helping to shape Seattle, neighborhood by neighborhood, into a 20-minute city -- a term to describe a place where a person can access all the places they'd like (or need) to go in no more than a 20 minute walk. These 20-minute cities already exist. By recording these developments, we aim to chronicle local community efforts to create a more dense and sustainable city.


When it comes to getting around Ballard, alternative transportation seems to be king. Driving a car to this neighborhood will cost you time and money. Luckily, you don't have to. From downtown Ballard, almost everything you need is a quick hop, skip and jump away.

Driving around Ballard can be more time consuming than using alternate modes of transportation. Trying to find that rock star parking spot only adds more time -- as well as frustration -- to our lives. Perhaps thats why many Ballard (as well as Seattle) residents have registered to become an “undriver” and have obtained their Undriver's License. Since implementation of this program in 2007, more than 70 percent of participants have reported that they have started using alternate modes of transportation instead of driving solo -- a great accomplishment resulting in less traffic, less oil consumption, and less air pollution which improves the overall health within the neighborhood.

But sometimes cars do come in handy. Enter Zipcar, which offers 8 cars (including hybrids!) within a 2-mile radius of downtown Ballard. Priced from about $10 an hour, with gas, insurance and maintenance included, car sharing is a great alternative that allows you to own the trip, not the vehicle.

Because the neighborhood is chock full of bike lanes and trails, living in Ballard makes jumping on your bike very easy, practical and enjoyable. One drawback, however, is the lack of parking spots for bicycles. I’ve had to lock up my set of wheels to numerous garbage cans, as they were the only “spots” open. However, the City of Seattle is looking into locations to install on-street bike parking -- although no specific areas have yet to be cited, if you know of one that would work, email the Department of Transportation and they will send out a representative to assess the location and make the final decision.

Walking / Bus
Falling just three points shy of being crowned a “walkers paradise,” Ballard scored 87 points on Walk Score -- ranking 13th (out of 77) for most walkable neighborhoods in Seattle. (Living in a walkable city looks good on you! Read this recent Worldchanging article to find out more.)

But walking can't, of course, get you everywhere. That's where public transit comes in. With seven major bus lines, accessing other major parts of Seattle is reasonably easy. But though seven bus lines may sound like a lot, considering how many people live and are projected to live in this densely packed neighborhood, Ballard desperately needs more mass transit options. The light rail will arrive in Ballard in 2030, but until then the City will encourage residents to use a new Bus Rapid Transit initiative to move from Ballard to Downtown. A repaving project is now underway along Elliot and 15th Avenues NW to create peak-only bus lanes. The Ballard RapidRide will open in 2012 and is expected to carry nearly 10,000 passengers a day.


“Local” and “Ballard” go together in the same way that Seattle and rain are often associated. From sidewalk gardens to farmers markets, eating in Ballard offers tons of options for enjoying fresh, local, seasonal treats - food that perhaps you have grown on your own front steps.

growing.jpg The Edible Learning Garden at Loyal Heights Community Center has space for up to 20 participants to help turn a small plot of land into a garden brimming with potatoes and peas. Participants can use the first-hand experience they gain at the Community Center to begin growing food in their own back (or front) yards. Garden party, anyone?

P-Patches give community members the chance to garden even if they don't have their own space. Currently, Ballard is home to 2 of the 68 community gardens spread throughout Seattle: Greg’s Garden and Thyme Patch. Although the wait for a plot of land can be as long as two years, there is no time like the present to sign up. In the meantime, a stroll through the p-patches on a sunny afternoon can provide a dose of inspiration ... and be a great way to meet your green-thumb neighbors.

Farmers Markets
produce.jpg Every Sunday from 10 AM to 3 PM (rain or shine), the Ballard Farmers Market is one of the best places in the city to stock up on the freshest, tastiest food from local farms. Literally an example of farm-to-plate food systems, the Market offers some of the best seasonal foods to take home and get your cook on. This location has been serving Ballard residents year round since 1999, one of only two all-weather neighborhood markets in the city (Pike Place excluded).

Grocery Stores
Though people often equate farmers' markets with sustainability, even traditional bricks-and-mortar grocery stores play an important neighborhood role. Although products purchased through some of these outlets may not be as local as other options, proximity to a grocery store makes a big difference in terms of planetary and personal health. Ballard has numerous nearby options, including the Ballard Market, Safeway, the Green Market and even the new Trader Joe’s. And don't miss Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods, where you can pick up delicious homemade, traditional Scandinavian treats.


cheese.jpgEating and shopping locally helps improve local economies. Known as the multiplier effect, this theory on local economics states that we have the power to help rebuild our local economy during a time of recession: for every $1 spent at a local business, 45 cents is reinvested locally. By using this model we can see that the bigger percentage of local purchases, a bigger percentage of dollars will flow back into our local economy.

From the best grilled cheese in the neighborhood at Green Go! to fancy French pancakes at Anita’s Crepes, many Ballard based restaurants not only source local products but are locally owned. And even better? Organic ingredients are a staple. Green Go!, for example, provides farm information so you know exactly where the bread, cheese and potatoes that make up your grilled cheese came from -- letting you know exactly where and how far your food traveled. Others to consider: ’zaw pizza, Senor Moose Cafe, Ocho, and La Carta de Oaxaca. For a sweet treat,Cupcake Royale pleases crowds with bite-size cakes topped with swirls of delectable buttercream frosting.

venue.jpg Ballard offers boutique shopping galore, from toy stores to natural pet care, and from clothing to vintage furniture. Retail outlet Venue helps add local artists into the mix. Venue offers artists studio space to work on anything from painting to photography to jewelry making, provides them a space to sell their work as well.


Alternative Business
If you’re trying to cut back on spending money on stuff, then perhaps spending a day at the Saturday House is the right way to spend, well, a Saturday afternoon. Locations and activities change, but the core idea around this is to make “a weekly gathering of several people who meet and do ... whatever they want! People work on projects, people talk about ideas, people conspire and hatch plans, and people play games with each other.” Sounds good to us!

Sustainable Ballard, a network of local neighbors interested in furthering sustainability driven issues in Ballard, runs a website -- which they call a “blueprint for EveryTown, USA" -- which includes information, event listings and everything else you would need to know about building a bright green Ballard. This project has been so successful, almost all Seattle-area neighborhoods now have their own chapter (see: SCALLOPS).

To catch up on the neighborhood news, check out the Ballard News Tribune, the community newspaper that addresses many issues relating to the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Community blogs/guides also exist online, such as the Ballard Blog, My Ballard and inBallard.


Access to parks and other green spaces is not only essential for our peace of mind, but is also essential to improving our health And other places, like public squares, plazas and community centers, gives neighborhoods third places where neighbors can meet, mingle and even generate scenius.

Parks & Community Centers
sunpark.jpg The Ballard Community Center offers events and activities year-round. Ballard also offers a variety of recreational options, including the Ballard Pool, Golden Gardens, the Ballard Commons Park, and the Botanical Garden at the locks (where you're sure to have a close encounter of the squirrel kind).

Museums & Libraries
Ballard is home to the Nordic Heritage Museum, which offers exhibitions, events, language classes and even cooking courses from multiple Scandinavian countries. If you’ve ever wanted to learn the Icelandic language or cook a meal from the Viking era, this is the place to do it.

Since fire remains a big part of our history as a city (see: Seattle’s Great Fire), it is only natural we have a museum to preserve the history of the Seattle Fire Department. A non-profit organization aimed at showcasing the many ways we’ve fought fires over the years, The Last Resort Fire Department has an impressive collection of fire fighting vehicles dating from as far back as 1913.
Right in the center of downtown is the Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library. With three study rooms and a meeting room, the branch not only offers a great space for studies and community meetings, but it also offers events such as children's story times, author meet and greets and it even hosts morning book discussion groups. And to top it off, the Ballard Branch is capped with a green roof, which includes vegetation and solar panels, which reduce stormwater runoff and provide energy savings, respectively.


Hi All,

While visiting my sister who lives just south of Frankfurt, Germany I saw and experienced this idea of a 20 minute city first hand. And my wife and I are still talking about it 2 years later. It was just fantastic the way they have choosen to live, work, and play in and around Germany. The community had the small town, close community feel about it. And we also found MOST Germans, young and old, are use to walking in their communities to get things done. Cars do alot of sitting in the driveway in Germany. Not an evening past during the summer days we were there that the community was not alive with people walking here and there to get things from the local grocery, to the pharmacy, to the flower shop, getting their hair done, even fast food to them meant walking and picking up a sub, hamburger, or pita burrito, along with a bottle of wine or beer and carrying it home for the family. Or they headed to the local park to eat, sit, chat, play games, etc.

It was absolutely wonderful, then during the work days, they all walked to the train platform which were placed strategically along the main corridors of the community. The entire two weeks we were there was mostly done by walking and train into the big city of Frankfurt to walk the city. But the car was used more in that two weeks to go sight seeing for us in distant places than the entire half year up to that point.

That little trip to Germany to live among the natives really opened our eyes to the possibilties of a better way to live.

~Robert Grothe
TCM & Associates, Inc.

Providing Resources for a greener world!

Posted by: Robert Grothe on April 16, 2009 9:45 AM

Ballard is a great neighborhood. The one problem is that many or most residents work elsewhere. Ballard raised the most complaints over removal of the viaduct because so many use it to commute to work.

Posted by: Lydia on April 16, 2009 11:18 AM

I see no mention of child care facilities which are an essential component of livable communities for many working families of all income levels. Parents' need to add this stop twice a day to their home-to-work commute so child care options near home, transit and work should be planned for. There's a lot cities (and resident advocates)can do to support this.

Posted by: Kristen Anderson on April 16, 2009 11:57 AM

Great Idea!

Sustainable West Seattle would love to work with any authors on a sketch about West Seattle like this. Don't hesitate to contact us!


Posted by: Bill Reiswig on May 5, 2009 2:25 PM

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