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I think this comment about development near the viaduct needs to be interrogated a little more:

No one anticipates the old buildings will be replaced en masse by a wall of gleaming, high-rise condos. The constraints on development are too numerous.

Many buildings are protected by historic-preservation rules. Zoning limits building heights to 160 feet, tops — much shorter than just a block or two inland — and city officials don’t seem inclined to change it.

That’s unfortunate, says Hugh Hotson. His family has owned the Maritime Building, between Marion and Madison streets, since the 1960s.

“You could have a whole new city down there,” he says. If left to his own devices, Hotson says, he’d build tall — “something between Hong Kong and Vancouver, but built for Seattle.”

I’m curious what possible objection there could be to Mr. Hotson’s plans. I think the concepts of neighborhood scale and character are deeply flawed — most of the world’s great buildings are out of scale and out of character with their surroundings — but if there’s anywhere tall buildings would fit in, it’s in the shadow of downtown. So what is the city’s problem?

Are we going to run out of historic architectural examples in that area?

Is it the construction jobs new development would bring?

Is it the increased tax revenue from more property value and more people living and working in the city?

Is it the greater number of activities accessible from nearby transit hubs?

Or is it the greater number of people year-round on the waterfront, preventing it from being dead space on a dreary mid-November weekday? What is the objection, unnamed “city officials?”

More broadly, the fact that there are serious development plans in this corridor makes me feel better about the general trajectory of the waterfront. I’d be very happy if my initial skepticism proves wrong.

71 Replies to “Waterfront Development”

  1. Keeping old buildings around is a good idea, and not just as “examples” of historical buildings. If you don’t think so, compare the new fours seasons on 1st to any of the older buildings there. Also compare energy usage, etc.

    Even allowing that, that area actually has a ton of surface parking lots!

      1. What does that even mean? You cannot say the reason development isn’t happening/profitable/possible is because of historical landmark preservation when half the space in the area is parking lots. Same thing is true of downtown (especially first and second) proper.

        The same thing is true of belltown, SLU, etc. and the same thing is even true here in pioneer square where I work. Accross the street from my office is a parking lot, on the block next to it is another surface lot, and next surface lots cover all the blocks to the east and the west toward the viaduct.

        You want to tear down old buildings, fine. But why do that while there are still are parking lots?

      2. Because the market is messy and things don’t happen in order?

        Are we going to hold redevelopment hostage until the most profitable parking lot in the area is built on?

      3. That’s not what I said. Have you actually read the article you’ve linked to? They say they have parking lots that they don’t want to develop because they are supremely profitable. The problem there isn’t historical buildings.

        Anyway, the main point is still the one I made below: You are conflating height and density inappropriately. Most of the historical buildings are extremely dense, at or more dense than most high rise (though obviously not skyscrapers themselves).

        By advocating “height” (whatever that is) you are the one making the plea for aesthetics, though I suspect you wouldn’t frame it as such. Still, that’s what it is.

      4. Build garages that surpass previous parking availability under every new structure. Problem solved. Look at 505 First Ave S. Brilliant design. Consolidated block, huge garage.

  2. Just from an architectural perspective I personally don’t think it would look good to have extremely tall buildings right up against the waterfront. If the objective is to create a lively pedestrian environment, redevelopment of the parking lots in the area as well as aggressive adaptive reuse of the first 1-2 floors of the historic/existing buildings would probably do more than additional office buildings.

    1. To what extent are you willing to subordinate the strong imperatives for density to your aesthetic preference?

      1. I don’t think aesthetics matter at all, except politically. But what Adam is saying about lively pedestrian environment and adaptive reuse is not an aesthetic point. It’s worth pointing out that those elements are largely independent of building size. However, tall buildings do contribute to bad street design in a couple of ways. First, unless street-level retail is required by regulations, tall buildings encourage designs that serve cars rather than people at ground level. If there’s any commitment to provide parking, the more floors you add the larger the parking space has to be, and with current regulations I believe there are legal requirements to add that parking. Big buildings also have to reserve space for big elevators, leaving less for street-level uses. They also tend to have more uniform street-level retail spaces even when they have them, so that not as many uses can be accommodated. Often they have setbacks with blank and unused plazas. Tall buildings can be done right but they very often aren’t.

        It’s possible to get really high densities with buildings at the current zoned height (140′ according to the article). I think we should encourage exemptions for taller buildings if they meet design standards that will improve the neighborhood over time. Maybe even provide a limited number of permits for towers (with no absolute height limit) over a five-year period (say, 10% of lots) and auction them off. That prevents the transformation of the neighborhood overnight but allows for gradual and thorough redevelopment over a 50-year period. I want to see quick development but if there’s a rush of development in a brief period you can lock in a lot of mistakes that won’t be clear at the time but will require complete simultaneous redevelopment of the same neighborhood at some later date. Gradual but constant redevelopment means that a neighborhood is constantly renewing itself without the boom and bust that is otherwise typical.

      2. I think that aesthetics are hugely important. Martin, have you seen the four seasons on first? You’d be happy if that’s what we ended up with?

      3. Seconded, aesthetics are not just fluff but one essential ingredient. The death of public spaces has coincided with the rise of the ‘aesthetics of empty swimming pools’. Allow all the height they want but under some aesthetic bargain.

      4. There are two distinct issues here. The first is skyline aesthetics – the shape of the city and whether it looks better to have tall buildings on the waterfront or short ones. This issue matters about zero to me.

        The second issue is street-level design. I think that’s important to everyone here. I also wouldn’t call it aesthetics – street-level design is very much functional.

      5. That comment makes little sense, Mobilitor. Height is not the same thing as density. Height IS aesthetics. Certainly it’s tough to make a 1 story building super dense, but the columbia tower, for example, is 73 stories and 1.53 million sq feet of office space. However, it’s on a 61440 foot lot, and thus has a 24:1 floor-area-ratio.

        http://info.kingcounty.gov/Assessor/eRealProperty/Dashboard.aspx?ParcelNbr=0942000470

        http://www.showcase.com/property/701-5th-Avenue/Seattle/Washington/470587

        You could make a building that large 24 stories tall if you built to the lot line (ridiculous, sure) but you could certain get away with a 48 story building that size. You build 73 stories because of aesthetics.

        My point is, make the rules about density, however that happens, if that’s what you care about. Don’t make it height unless all you care about is aesethics.

      6. Facade design is not as important as street level design but the bad-to-mediocre pattern language of the Northwest doesn’t help. There are currently three types: bunker, cheese grater, aquarium. The last one is the default for skyscrapers.

      7. Yeah, just wanted to point out that aesthetics is not necessarily a height issue just as much as density is not necessarily a height issue. I don’t care about the height.

      8. Andrew,

        Obviously, I’d prefer a pretty building to an ugly one, all else being equal, and I hope the code encourages people to build beautiful buildings.

        But I spend a lot time thinking and writing about how density is a supremely important issue that can correct a large number of urban ills, and that it has to be elevated above neighborhood aesthetic preferences for single-family lots or whatever. It’d be pretty hypocritical of me to say “oops, I think that small building is pretty” and all of a sudden become anti-density over my aesthetic preference.

        Now if the new construction is actually resulting in fewer units than the old construction, that’s another issue entirely.

      9. That all makes sense (though unit # may not be a better measure than total sq ft, # bedrooms or whatever).

        But the sin you make here is to conflate height and density which are positively correlated in aggregate but not correct in this case old buildings are almost always more dense.

        When you are arguing for “height” you are arguing for aesthetics. Flat out. If you had a 200′ limit and a 5 FAR or a 70″ limit and a 5 FAR, though are equivalent in density. If you want a 200′ building, that’s aesthetics. When you favor one sort of aesthetics (height) over another (age), you are being hypocritical by definition.

      10. (I assume you mean 70′? You can’t get more than a FAR of 1 with a 1-story building)

        Height is argued as a proxy for density. It’s true you can build a pencil on a park and get almost no density at all. But when we argue for height we’re generally arguing to remove barriers. If the barrier is a maximum FAR of 5, I’d fight to remove that as well. But often the barrier is a maximum height, as is mentioned in this article, which is why height is mentioned in the comments.

      11. Matt, height is a fine proxy for density somewhere else. With these old buildings it’s not the case, because they are built to the lot-line. That argument is all fine, take it to belltown and SLU.

        It makes no sense here.

      12. Are we talking about the same buildings? Looking from the ferry dock to the aquarium I see a 4-on-1 building that takes up the whole block, two 3-on-1 buildings that share a block, and a block-wide parking lot. The only reasonably tall building is new – 9 stories on 2 stories of parking and 1 retail. And the only two buildings that really fit your description as dense are two half-block 6-on-1 buildings.

        But this is downtown. Absolutely any other street within a quarter mile has a few dozen times that density.

      13. Martin I just don’t see there being significant opportunities for a large amount of redevelopment. This discussion really only applies to a few block. Areas in First Hill, SLU, Denny Triangle, and the ID have much more potential for redevelopment, the institutional support for them, won’t block views for all buildings behind it, don’t involve historic structures (on poor soil btw), etc.

        I guess what I’m focusing on is what should the objective of zoning along the waterfront be? In my opinion the primary objective should be creating an active downtown district. I don’t see how enough new housing and employment can be added to the neighborhood to get there, just isn’t enough room. I think the only way you’ll get that is to create places and activities that draw people in from other places, thus an emphasis on creating active ground floor uses, public open space, and new activity destinations.

      14. But this is downtown. Absolutely any other street within a quarter mile has a few dozen times that density.

        Matt, you are absolutely incorrect! Read what I wrote below,

        It mentions the market square building, which is on a 9800 sq ft lot, and is 50,000 sq ft, meaning it’s built to a 5 floor-area-ratio. Denser than the 160 foot apartments going up down the street (here are the maximum FAR’s in that area.

        A FAR of 5, is 1/5 of the Columbia Tower. The Columbia tower is by a good measure the tallest building. That’s not even half a dozen, much less a single dozen and not “a few” dozen.

      15. And Matt, all these old buildings are like that. The one I work in is build right to the property line and is six stories tall. A FAR of 6.

      16. Areas in First Hill, SLU, Denny Triangle, and the ID have much more potential for redevelopment, the institutional support for them, won’t block views for all buildings behind it, don’t involve historic structures (on poor soil btw), etc.

        Bingo, and the areas mentioned already have extensive transit begging for more ridership. Instead of adding more transit to areas that don’t need it (i.e. TOD) build on the existing corridors. Waterfront nirvana was a clever way to push through billions of dollars in State investment handouts to unions and the politically connected construction industry.

      17. Andrew,

        I agree that density matters, not height. And if the proposed buildings reduced density I’d oppose them. Unfortunately, the article talks height, not FAR, so we use the proxy we have.

        It’s possible a low height limit deters projects that would reduce actual density, although that’s certainly not the intent of the height limit. It will certainly reduce the density of what does get built. We don’t have any data, but I have my suspicions this is a net minus.

        As the post says, I’d like to know the City’s reasoning, and I’m guessing it’s a lot less sophisticated than the point you’re making. If you’re for an upzone that ensures more units, we’re in agreement.

      18. They’re saying height because the developers can make more money of a tall building, for any given FAR. That’s not density, and we should not be advocating for that on their behalf.

    2. I am not sure about that, Adam. 160 feet buildings there would be barely noticeable. The buildings downtown are on top of a hill, so they will loom much larger in shadows and dominate the sky much much more than even 400′ tall buildings would in that area.

  3. Issues of scale are relevant, but not in simple terms of building height. The valid concerns as I see them are:

    * Changing the neighborhood too quickly. If a large building replaces an entire block that previously had a mix of smaller buildings, it can kill building diversity and create an economic and architectural monoculture.

    * Overshooting the market for what’s built. If you build a tower that exceeds the local demand for the offices or homes in that tower, and raises rents on street-level retail, you might actually end up with fewer net residents and economic activity. Even if the building pencils out in the long run for the developer it might not be good for the neighborhood.

    * Skyscraper architecture trends often ignore street level, so that a tall building hurts pedestrian scale. For example, many of the otherwise beneficial condos and apartments built recently in Belltown present the street with windowless walls punctuated by a single lobby entrance, usually so they can fit in underground parking with entrances at ground level. They’re not great additions to the streets and discourage walking and shopping. Belltown is improved by these buildings overall but it could have been a lot better with some more care.

    For the waterfront, the second point really isn’t relevant. This is prime real estate, and just about anything built there will scale economically. But I would hate to see every older building demolished for a line of condos, each a full block, with no street-level retail. The incentives should encourage some rehabilitation of existing buildings, reoriented toward the west, with some new development designed to improve the streetscape and bring in new residents and shoppers, so that the place develops primarily as a neighborhood and not just a tourist stop.

    But I was encouraged by this article. The more we focus on neighborhood development instead of parks the better the outcome will be. Parks are fine, but only if they serve and extend the neighborhood and the city rather than looking outward from the city, both actually and metaphorically.

    1. For example, many of the otherwise beneficial condos and apartments built recently in Belltown present the street with windowless walls punctuated by a single lobby entrance, usually so they can fit in underground parking with entrances at ground level.

      Which buildings are you referring to? Presenting blank facades to the sidewalk is a huge no-no under citywide design guidelines, and the design guidelines specifically for Belltown place a huge emphasis on pedestrian-friendly construction. Parking entrances are almost always built in the alley.

      1. There are several buildings like this on Elliott, between Lenora and Broad. I walk this stretch daily on the way to work and can give a detailed critique of each one.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I spent some time looking through the James Corner Field Operations waterfront presentation, and what I saw were unrealistic depictions of sunny waterfront parks magically filled with crowds of people.
    a) This is Seattle. It rains a lot. Try designing a public space that’s designed to accommodate what Seattle is, not what it ideally is for 3 months of the year.
    b) Public space doesn’t magically attract crowds of people. The city seems optimistic that the water will be enough to get people down there. I’m not so sure.

  5. I meant to also say that my main concern with any new development or redevelopment of existing buildings is what happens on the street level and the first 3-4 stories that affect the street-level experience. The goal should be new neighborhood residents, thriving and diverse businesses, abundant windows and entrances, a mix of building ages and types, and awnings. Buildings need awnings. Little things like that matter, a lot.

    Above the first 4-5 floors? I don’t care what it looks like or how high or low any single building goes, so long as average density is high.

  6. I seem to remember that the folks who did the first developments on 1st. Ave had secured some kind of view right of way for their buildings – Watermark Tower, 98 Union, the apartments north of Harbor Steps.
    The “permanently protected view” was a selling point then. Maybe it was a faux claim?

  7. I’d be interested to hear Roger Valdez’s take on the specific regulatory impediments to development in this area.

    Also, I work on 2nd and Columbia. I expect that the area beginning with the intersection 1st and Columbia stretching to the waterfront will see a great deal of change. There, you have several parcels that could see development or redevelopment. Specifically, on both sides of 1st immediately south of Columbia are parking garages. There should be no impediment to redeveloping these properties as mixed use and raising the building heights.

    The entrance ramp to SR 99 will be demolished, opening up the area between 1st and Alaskan way on Columbia. There is already a new apartment/mixed-use building being constructed there. In addition, on the north side of Columbia between Alaskan and Western, there lie a surface parking lot and a parking garage (converted from an older building). If there is anything other than market forces preventing the redevelopment of those parcels after the teardown, I cannot see the justification for it.

  8. 160 feet is hardly short. If the current zoning was built out without any changes then all the brick buildings in the area could be torn down.

    You’re pretty much down to dense or denser depending which part of the argument you’re on. And there is no provision to protect anything that is there on top of it so any talk of historic preservation is mostly a straw argument.

    I’d be curious from a technical standpoint if there would be issues with both water and foundations that close to the water’s edge and built on top of fill.

    Ben

  9. As I recall the discussion, building heights step down nearer the waterfront in order to protect views from the bigger/taller buildings uphill. Sort of the classic wedding-cake scenario; don’t allow a wall of tall buildings along the water blocking (consuming, really) the water views.

    I thought at the time that it made sense, and I still do. Too many well-intentioned smart-growthers seem to be advocating for highest-possible densities in every possible location — but the market won’t support that, and it’s not necessary to enliven the waterfront (or urban villages, and rail station areas [Roger!])

    1. If the market won’t support it, then a few developers will lose their shirts and we won’t have any more problem.

      1. So we can have busted developers leaving empty 40-story shells on the waterfront, and eliminate the value of the apartments three streets inland? Well, sign me up! /s

  10. One of my comments to the design committee is that it shouldn’t be too modern. Seattle has already lost more 19th-century red-brick buildings than its neighbors (Tacoma, Spokane, Portland), and it’s a permanent loss. Anything new should reflect the entirety of Seattle’s history. The project’s logo — a semicircircle and a dot — is too abstract, for instance. It’s fine if it’s painted on one pier, or is on a small corner of signs, but I don’t want any large-scale installation looking like that. It screams of “World-class city” and throwing out the old — two things that have been detrimental the past two decades and century. Let the waterfront become an elegant mix of old and new.

    And do include the pockets of forest and native-plant “gardens” shown in the presentation. That kind of open space is not “dead”, it brings birds and mammals back into downtown. In San Francisco I saw thirty seals sleeping on a pier they had adopted, and a flock of seagulls next to them, and it has become an unintended amenity.

  11. I’ll say it for the 1 millionth time: subarea study and masterplan. If we’re interested in knowing what should and can be developed on the waterfront, that’s the way to go about it to identify historic buildings, view corridors, overshadowing, vacant properties, neighbourhood facility needs, and what the overall potential of the area is. Then and only then, draft NEW zoning districts for the neighbourhood. Obviously, the Times’s article is spot on when saying the area is very constrained, it is. Especially if public land will not go for sale.

    As a matter of practice as an urban planner, I would object to many tall buildings, particularly to those over 20 storeys. While there may be *capacity and demand* for that, does not inherently justify that in light of other overarching planning concerns. Additionally, keeping the “wedding cake” zoning/gradient would be preferable, although that could be altered to be anchored from Pioneer Square or closer to Belltown, but not both. In reality, only a few sites are likely to be practical for honest redevelopment of super density. Which, is inded disappointing. But I don’t think you’ll find many planners willing to go all in and radically change things like Martin is suggesting.

    1. I don’t think that’s all the article says. It says this, for example:

      Columbia West Properties of Bellevue, for instance, owns a 35-stall parking lot at Yesler Way. The site’s too small to build on, President Michelle Foreman Barnet says, the parking income too attractive.

      and it says this:

      Self-storage giant Public Storage rents out mini-warehouse space in the century-old building next door, at Union Street, and a spokesman says it’s too profitable to be redeveloped or sold.

      It mentions the market square building, which is on a 9800 sq ft lot, and is 50,000 sq ft, meaning it’s built to a 5 floor-area-ratio. Denser than the 160 foot apartments going up down the street (here are the maximum FAR’s in that area. Similar ratios exist for all the rest of that area. Those builds are built to the lot lines and are mostly 5-6 stories tall. They are all at or above the maximum density allowed in that area: even for 160′ tall buildings.

      My point is this: You do not get density by tearing down old buildings.

      1. I agree with your point. Old buildings have been constructed much more efficiently to maximise their plots and purpose. They also maintain a strong sense of place, which is important.
        Like I said, there are plenty of other overarching planning issues out there that don’t make this a simple raze-and-rebuild solution just to maximise an area of current mid-density and somewhat ignored buildings. I know people want to make good use of infrastructure and transit investments, but that doesn’t always create a recipe for success or build an attractive sense of place. It can be done “smaller” and better.

  12. They haven’t even torn down the Viaduct and the economy is soft. Who do you expect to be pushing for zoning to build very expensive high rises? The costs to support any tall building in the type of soil conditions found at the bottom of the bluff would probably be prohibitive.

    1. The vindictive part of me says to not let the property developers that massively gamed the Deep Bore Tunnel profit from a rezone. But ultimately, the planning process should be devoid of such politics.

  13. There are a few benefits to keeping old buildings. There are the architectural details – the brickwork, stone work, etc. that used to be done much better than current buildings. But there’s also the basic design elements: narrow storefronts, narrow buildings, and small units. The first two make for lively, interesting areas to walk and live, and the third adds density with a small amount of space (since you can fit a good 10 old apartments in one modern 2,000 sf condo). These three have all but dissapeared in modern buildings, but there is no reason they need to. We can either fix this through the building code, or simply offer height increases in exchange for building what we want developers to build.

    I’m all for keeping old buildings. But that’s what our historic buildings code is for. The ones that aren’t interesting enough to be protected should be fair game for redevelopment, as long as we’re redeveloping right.

    1. Re older buildings being more beautiful, there’s an interesting photo display in the Bartell’s on University Way in the pharmacy section. It shows four different Bartell’s facades at that corner over the past century. Each one is uglier than its predecessor. The first one is artistic and inviting, with decorations around the windows and a unique sign. The second is simpler, the third looks like a plain suburban store, and the fourth has the red-and-white Bartell’s sign that stands out like a sore thumb compared to the earlier beautiful signs.

  14. The physical limitations are not trivial. Not only is that area all unstable fill, but there will be a tunnel under part of it, and the foundations of the buildings are dependent on the failing seawall. The Four Seasons was build half on that fill, and it settled half an inch on the western side during construction. It was a big problem. To add to that, it’s 6 stories down and 22 stories up, and those 6 stories down are all actually above ground on the Western Ave side, because you can’t really do an excavated parking garage that close to the water. That is not enough parking space for the hotel and condos in the building, and so they have an agreement with a nearby garage. The Four Seasons gets to have street-level retail on the the east side because it straddles that hill (6 stories worth!), but for a building to the west of it, that wouldn’t be possible- it’s either have an above-ground garage (hideous, problematic to provide street-level retail), or go garage-less (also problematic, maybe against code). I worked a job down further south in Sodo, in a one-story warehouse building, adding reinforcing to the floor, and it was scary what was underneath. The building is built in pilings, and the owner said every time there’s an earthquake, a few more of them slither down out of sight. The commuter building, mentioned in the story- thats’ a lovely, renovated old brick building with actually two levels of “street level” retail due to the elevated walkway to the ferry. If they replaced it with a 15-story residential tower, I think that would be a big loss of amenity to the city (5 block-faces of active retail plus the historical charm and density of an old building) and then it would be a residential building without parking. I’m all for that, actually, but I don’t think either the developers or the city would allow it. So unless they have a way of (safely) building a below-sea-level parking garage, that would mean garage at the street AND ferry-walkway level. Not a plus.

    There aren’t very many physical limitations that you can’t overcome with engineering and money. But with all that heroic engineering it may not pan out. That’s not an argument against the city changing the zoning- I’d say allow taller buildings, and let the developers figure out if it’s worth their dime. But I wouldn’t vote for allowing more above-ground garages to displace buildings that actually have active uses at ground level, if it came to that.

    1. It sounds like many of these concerns could be addressed by eliminating the archaic mandatory parking requirements. However, “many” is not “all.”

  15. I’d echo most of the comments and concerns mentioned in the comments, but I also have a few additional concerns for redevelopment in the area. It seems to me that the logical location for most redevelopment is in the ROW of the viaduct itself. The land on the waterfront is simply too valuable to convert to a boulevard and some open plazas. Instead, Alaska Way should be connected to Western Ave at the Union at the North end and Yesler way at the south end with the entire Alaska Way/99 ROW converted the development, a street car and intermittent parks. There is almost 200 hundred feet of space between the buildings just east of 99 and the piers. This is more than ample space for buildings, a wide sidewalk adjacent to the piers and an alley way between new buildings and old buildings on Western Avenue. Then build a historic style streetcar on Western Ave, eliminating the on street parking and widening the sidewalks. In essence commit the space completely to people, keeping parking garages towards the northern or southern terminuses of the streetcar.

    This way, assuming good design and user friendly buildings, open spaces good be better framed, historic buildings could be better balanced with concerns for adding residential units and new development, extremely valuable property could be turned into tax revenue, and cars and parking could become secondary in the neighborhood to good transit and pedestrian facilities. Considering the fact that, currently, historic piers block most of the potential views from proposed parks, it makes more sense to focus open space in areas where there is either view potential or potential for a more substantial park (i.e. between Seneca and Spring were a larger park could easily be made by condemning the parking lot that sits between western, Seneca, Spring and 99).

    There isn’t enough space on the waterfront to create a truly central, massive park for Seattle. With that in mind it is better to use the space for a mix of development and parks then simply for open space.

  16. No offense but its not as if DT Seattle were full of the works of Burnham. Most of it is a garbage heap. Raze it down and build a retail business residential travel entertainment complex…San Diego style

  17. A bit extreme, but how about something along the lines of Downtown Disney? Parking at the north and south ends, then a streetcar running close to the waterfront with lots of fun businesses mixed in with the tourism businesses…

  18. People are required for a city to be vibrant. Build it high, build it dense, and you will create a vibrant downtown.

      1. Yes — because the average urban downtown is teeming with cars, while the average indoor suburban shopping mall is dedicated to the pedestrian.

        The best cities are ones that, like malls, devote the best spaces to people, not to vehicles. Sprawl is the problem, not the solution.

    1. 5th & Pine is so thick with pedestrians you sometimes have to slow down, in spite of the wide sidewalks. It happens nowadays pretty much every weekday, weekend, and evening. I’m continually stunned because there can’t be that many people going to the department stores. So the downtown “mall” is doing quite well, thank you. And Pike Place is as popular as ever.

      Lower downtown is always pretty empty on the sidewalks except at rush hour, but that’s because there’s little to go to unless you have business in one of the offices or you’re going to the library or art museum, and the steep hills and lack of all-day restaurants are anti-attractions.

      Typical malls may be more vibrant than typical American downtowns, but Seattle’s downtown is not a typical American downtown either. It’s one of the most successful downtowns, which escaped most of the white flight and freeway-destruction that decimated other downtowns.

  19. “…most of the world’s great buildings are out of scale and out of character with their surroundings.” Replace that great with famous. It’s not that the famous buildings aren’t also great buildings, but I’d argue that there are innumerable great buildings that blend into their neighborhoods, don’t stand out, but remain great buildings.

  20. Just being old doesn’t give a building historical significance or architectural merit. Generally, east of First Ave, things are okay, but west of that, esp south of Columbia, there isn’t much worth saving.

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