For the record, although I wouldn’t endorse every statement in it, I broadly agree with Fnarf’s prescription for the waterfront. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the winning presentation, which seemed to acknowledge that Seattle is a city and that we’re unlikely to transition to wilderness over two blocks.
Perhaps I merely heard what I wanted to hear. All of the presentations were vague enough that it could happen. However, Bertolet is right that there should be some private purposes on the waterfront, and that it’s not the architects but the City’s guidance that might cause problems.
What’s frustrating is that the anti-density rhetoric is frustratingly vague about what the real problems would be, instead relying on ambiguous analogy. First, City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw:
“I’ve heard many people ask, ‘Are you going to allow giant condominiums and hotels along the waterfront?’ The answer is, no, and that is something I’ve been working to prevent, frankly, for years,” Bagshaw said. “We believe the [existing buildings that now face the viaduct] will turn toward the waterfront. … We do not want this to become Miami Beach. This is Seattle: We want to see the water and touch the water.”
Also, People’s Waterfront Coalition leader Cary Moon, who did a lot of good work on behalf of the surface/transit/I-5 option:
If we don’t give this opportunity the attention it deserves, staying focused on the public interest, our worst tendencies for laissez-faire development will likely prevail. The result could come out feeling like downtown Bellevue or a new subdivision in Dallas.
Leaving aside the “Dallas subdivision” example, which strikes me as silly, I don’t see any problem with hotels and condos. Having people live on the waterfront is better than alternative places for them to live, and guarantees that people are there year-round. Hotels, of course, generate jobs and tax revenue. And of course, the City profits from the sale of land in the first place.
As for Downtown Bellevue, for all its faults it’s much better for the region than another Enumclaw, and here in Seattle we know how to do better. And of course the most obvious urbanist critique of Bellevue — that the blocks are too large — is the single thing most easily controlled by the city.
It is true that this is not a terribly large piece of land. A bad decision here will not fatally wound the city. But we are spending $700m to build this space, in effect, and it makes sense to make the most out of this investment that we can.