10 Questions for Chuck Wolfe

Chuck Wolfe is an author, environmental land use lawyer, consultant and prior guest on the Parksify Podcast. When I asked him if he wanted to participate in Parksify’s ‘10 Questions for…’ series, he quickly obliged.

10 Questions for… is a new series we’re launching here at Parksify, which offers an inside look at authors, planners and urbanists. I’m happy Chuck was first to answer my questions.

Here’s Chuck’s response.


Thank you again, Ash, for checking in. I very much enjoyed our Parksify podcast together about Seeing the Better City, which alerted me that you and Parksify are doing something that is critically important — helping to translate the sometime esoteric language of urban policy wonks and practitioners like me into accessible and empowering language.

1. Who has been most influential in your legal and writing/consulting careers?

That would be my father, Myer R. Wolfe ,who was the founder of the modern urban planning program at the University of Washington in 1949. He influenced not only my love for human settlements — from villages to cities — but also the importance of examining them in an interdisciplinary fashion with attention to how they visually reflect their sociocultural underpinnings. He was also very practical, and that is why I became a land use and environmental lawyer and, much later, began to write about cities in a way intended to help expand the dry approaches of our regulatory processes. And it’s also why I have recently supplemented my law practice with the Seeing Better Cities Group to try and implement some of the messages in my new book.

2. What inspired you to both practice law and write about cities?

On top of the inspiration from my father mentioned above, I have been fortunate to travel, particularly in Europe, Australia, Africa and the Middle East, and so much of what I have seen has reminded me that law and regulation are just a part of the influences on urban form and function. I wanted to try and put it all together — human traditions, the role of individual rights and perceptions v. “evidence” and technology.

3. What is your favorite place to visit in Seattle or any city you have visited?

That is a very good question. In Seattle, anywhere with a view of our accessible natural resources, e.g. Puget Sound, Lake Washington, the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. Also, I really enjoy finding some of the smallest Seattle parks buried in neighborhoods, often over 100 years old and forgotten to many. Internationally, I have several favorite cities where the layers of history are plainly visible — I have written about some of them in CityLab, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post: Split, Croatia, here; Matera, Italy, here, and Edinburgh, Scotland, in “Why Urban History Matters,” here. Also, I love to dissect public spaces like the Place des Vosges in Paris; I did that as part of the narrative on the urban diary “LENS Method” in Seeing the Better City. Finally, there are notable streets, like the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France, that put autos in their place and prioritize pedestrian and “complete street” examples for the taking from the likes of Karlavägen in Stockholm, Sweden.

4. What urban policy news sources do you tend to read most often?

Planetizen, Citiscope, CityLab, Next City, Governing, and, of course Parksify!

5. What books would you most recommend to someone at this moment?

I would go back in time a few years and recommend How Paris Became Paris, by Joan DeJean, and farther back, The Necessity for Ruins, by J.B. Jackson, Close Up: How to Read the American City, by Grady Clay, and The City in History by Lewis Mumford.

6. What has been the most defining moment in your life?

In 1979, I lived in Palo Alto and had a great job at Stanford University. I was all set to get a Master’s in Education as a short-term thing to do. With a couple of weeks to go I changed my mind, and decided to come back to Seattle, and then get a Master’s in Urban Planning at Cornell.

7. How do you spend your Sundays?

With family, or photographing or writing, then a workout. Sometimes all four!

8. If you could meet three people, living or dead, who would they be?

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain

9. If you could travel anywhere in the world right now that you have not yet visited, where would you go and why?

The Azores, because I like to immerse myself in island nations, colonies and cultures to understand their their roots and historical influences (I’ve done that in Malta, Iceland, Corsica, and Hawaii), and really anywhere in Asia or the Indian subcontinent, where I have spent next to no time.

10. Coffee or tea?

Coffee, totally and completely.