Last week, the Seattle city council unanimously agreed to move forward on including a Dale Chihuly exhibit to replace the old Fun Forest as part of Seattle Center’s redevelopment plans. The move was praised by the Seattle Times along with numerous city leaders who felt warmly at what a Chihuly exhibit could do for the Center:
“The past sixteen months of negotiations have shown that good public process can lead to good public policy,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, chair of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee. “Seattle will have another world class attraction and Seattle Center will be further invigorated through art, music and a creative new family play space.”
I’m not convinced that Seattle Center’s problem is really the lack of a “world class attraction.” If anything, this rhetoric of revitalizing the area by luring in even more attractions seems to ignore the common failures often associated with public urban spaces. There’s much much more to the Center’s dearth of activity than just a “missing piece” or an obsolete amusement park.
More below the jump.
The problem with Seattle Center is that it’s too much of a tourist draw and too little of an attractive urban space useful to Seattlelites on a daily basis. Big events like Bumbershoot and the Bite are great for bringing in the occasional crowd but on any normal given day, the grounds are pathetically lackluster. It doesn’t help that transit in the area is shoddy; worse still is the fact that the monorail doesn’t take ORCA, which only perpetuates its novelty brand.
Two of the more common reasons I hear behind the Center’s fall by the wayside has been either a lack of open space or lack of attractions to bring in visitors. This is pretty contrived thinking, considering that Seattle Center is pretty much comprised of nothing but open space and attractions. The real issue, often ignored by politics and press, is the absence of diverse land uses, both within and without, to support a constant flow of activity that can even justify the amount of open space the Center currently has.
Two years ago, I blogged this for the Seattle P-I:
If the city wants to get serious about making Seattle Center the “center of Seattle,” then its time to rezone the infill areas, forget about buffer zoning, incentivize developers to build new mixed-use buildings, liven up the surrounding neighborhoods, and start giving tourists and visitors the option to walk between Downtown and the center.
Following that sentiment, I can see a few other things that would be useful in revamping the Center:
- Upzone surrounding neighborhoods. This includes Denny, which is famed for its parking lots and low-density land uses. Keeping the infill areas the way they are isn’t worth a pretty view of downtown from the Space Needle. And honestly, there are better views in the city.
- Less “attractions” and more everyday amenities. How often do you go watch a live basketball game, see an opera, visit a science center, ascend an observation tower, or walk inside a glass museum? Exactly.
- Reinstate the grid. Create pathways that line up and interconnect with the existing street grid. People should be able to get from Harrison to Harrison and from 4th to 4th with line of sight. One of the best ways to get people to come into the Center and use the space is to give them the ability to walk through it.
- Don’t make stupid transit decisions, like building a mega transportation hub that requires buses to meander into a garage, drastically compromising any quality of service. Incorporating the monorail into the ORCA partnership wouldn’t be a bad idea as well.
Ultimately, I don’t really see the value in bringing in an exhibit that likely won’t get the same visitor twice in a month. Twenty or thirty years down the road, we’ll just end up looking for a new attraction to grace Seattle Center with the same old talk of revitalization and reinvigoration.