UW’s Red Square (photo by Oran)

[UPDATE: As commenter bellevueguru points out, this subject is on the agenda at Thursday’s board meeting. If you’re living a life of leisure, it’d be a good idea to show up and comment in person.]

Sound Transit is trying to do the right thing and have dense uses put up right above the University District Station. Naturally, some vocal people want “open space” instead:

The U District Station site — south of the Neptune Theatre on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between about Northeast 43rd and 45th streets — is uniquely located for a public square, says Philip Thiel, a UW professor emeritus of architecture.

His model shows a brick piazza three-quarters of a block long, with a new east-west pedestrian walkway connecting the station stop to University Way Northeast…

Former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck is assisting Thiel. They say the transit-friendly high-rises ought to go on other lots nearby.

“With density you need open space, green space, you need vitality and life, surface activity,” Steinbrueck said.

The 46th District Democrats passed a resolution asking Sound Transit to give Thiel’s plaza a fair hearing…

I imagine that both Peter Steinbruck and I both self-identify as advocates for sustainability, transit, and perhaps even urbanism. But I continue to be amazed at how deeply I disagree with his instincts about what cities are.

I agree that parks and open space are an important part of urban living, particularly when activated with year-round activity generators like small-scale commerce and playgrounds. What I haven’t seen is any statement of how much is enough. A city can certainly have too many parks and public squares, when they start to dramatically affect the number of people and businesses that can locate near transit, and increase the distances between the necessities of life. And nowhere is it more costly – in the broadest sense – to put a park or square then directly on top of one of a handful of subway stations this region is building.

Moreover, I feel deep skepticism about a public square in this particular location. Red Square is mere blocks away and as often used as a public space, albeit with some constraints potentially placed by the University. Moreover, the key determinant of a public square’s success is not its size, but what surrounds it. The U District is better at putting retail and cafes on the sidewalk than most places, but Seattle’s track record on activating open space is not good.

Lastly, I have no idea what’s in the heart of the people quoted in the article, or anyone else, but my sense is that a call for a park is often just an astute way of objecting to density. After all, parks seem green, and by replacing a potential apartment building with a park, neighbors remove the traffic, parking, criminal element, or whatever other hassles they fear the density might bring. Of course, that perspective also ignores the potential benefits to local small businesses and their customers, the sunk cost of high-capacity infrastructure, broad impacts on sprawl and affordability, and the interests of residents who would have lived in the new building. But that’s just another day in Seattle politics.

Anyhow, it always pays to let whichever Sound Transit Board members count you as a constituent know what you think about this issue.

141 Replies to “Does the U-District Need Another Plaza?”

  1. The prof pushing that idea can go jump in the lake. The board will decide what happens there, as it should be.

    1. It would help if the board knew that people felt strongly that the plaza is not a good option.

  2. “With density you need open space, green space, you need vitality and life, surface activity”

    The first two are completely opposed to the last three items in this list. The Ave isn’t lively, active, and vital because of open space – quite the opposite. There’s a high density of attactive retail, a high density of residents nearby, and people are corralled onto a very narrow public space called a sidewalk. Plazas, open space, and green space have the exact opposite effect – they distribute people, bring little attraction, and in this case lower residential density.

    1. Corralling people into a narrow sidewalk isn’t the only way to do it. A plaza or public square can be really cool — when it’s surrounded by things to do. Think of European plazas and public squares, lined with buildings; college quads and lawns, lined with academic buildings; “old cities”, resort towns, and shopping malls (yes, malls do certain things well — where in car-centric suburbia do more people walk between stores?), where people walk freely down the middle of streets lined with shops. And how about the parts of New York’s Broadway closed to general traffic, still with lots of things facing out onto the street?

      Open space works fine in many places. It only has a bad name in US cities because in all our examples someone decided there had to be big roads between them and everything else, so there’s no reason to be there except to be there.

      1. Right, but I’m not hearing a call to close roads at this project – those bollards next to the road show they’ll keep this road open.

        Martin’s main point stands – we have too much open space here. Piazza San Marco works because it’s the only open space in all of Venice. Even if they found enough activation for this space to make it successful, it would just be pulling activity from other areas.

      2. This plaza will never be surrounded by things to do. It will simply be a windswept homeless camp.

      3. I probably agree that in this context the sort of park we’d be likely to build would be awful. My beef is with the idea that they’re bad generally. Lots of cities have places where people walking aren’t corralled into the narrowest space possible just so it feels crowded.

      4. Yes. I’ve seen great ones all over the world. We have examples right here of plazas that work. Harbor Steps. Ok, make that one example that I can think of.

        I think Occidental Park could be a good plaza if someone built up the parking lot side, added cafes with outdoor seating, and we added more density to Pioneer Square. And Piazza San Marco style dueling bands wouldn’t hurt.

      5. An open space specifically intended to encourage vendors wouldn’t be a bad thing, density-wise. Look at Washington, DC and imagine if each vendor near Metro stations had to occupy an entire storefront. This style of commerce centered around transit stops is useful to commuters, makes travel more efficient.

        Maybe it’s sentimentality talking here. I was saved twice by street vendors adjacent to Metro stops in DC when I forgot to bring a tie to work. Not Hermes but they’ll do in a pinch. Same deal with sunglasses and other sundries; you know they’ll be near the station, if it’s a weekday.

  3. Seems like every time I’m up in that area, I see tons of empty or nearly empty surface parking lots. Isn’t that enough open space? Not to mention the other park-like open space at UW besides red square.

    1. There’s also the University Playground up at 50th and 9th NE, the already successful Farmers’ Market at University Heights, the Burke-Gilman Trail to the south of this area, and Cowen Park further north.

      1. Came across this this morning too http://daily.sightline.org/2012/08/21/the-myth-of-post-racialism/ haven’t read anything in the article but this graphic caught my eye: http://daily.sightline.org/files/2012/08/King-County-open-space-equity-546×550.gif where the u-district per se looks good, but if you go further north there is perhaps a lack of open space/parks/etc. west seattle is another area that i’m familiar with that has tons of open parking lots, but apparently not enough actual “plazas” or “parks”

      2. What I learned from the first link is that they no longer count Asians as minorities because they go to college and get better jobs. The Asian population has improved in almost every category and is even ahead of whites in most categories.

    2. A lot of that parking is controlled by UDPA. They wouldn’t be too interested in converting their lots to “open space”, but they are very interested in developing them — just take a gander at what is going on at their former property on 11th.

  4. I understand where the folks behind this are coming from but I couldn’t disagree with them more. I’d much rather see density on top of the new station and retail along the streets.

  5. The new west campus dorms on NE Campus Pkwy have big open-space plazas in front of them which are always almost completely empty. They feel sad and scary.

  6. I imagine Steinbreuck, like many architects, are prone to suffering openspacephilia. This is the biggest challenge that planners have when working with designers.

  7. No, God, no. 43rd and Brooklyn is not a destination. It’s somewhere people go when trying to get somewhere else. Open space in a place like that is just forbidding. Build more housing instead; housing is always short in the U-District.

    1. Even better housing with ground-floor retail will do more to “activate” the station site and surrounding streets than a barren windswept plaza.

  8. I’d rather have apartments there.

    But the U District would benefit from a small park in the business district. Something with a coffee kiosk maybe, but chairs open to everyone.

    One problem with a park at this site is that it would probably have limited tree sizes due to being a roof, and not spending a big premium on extra structure.

  9. I can certainly understand a pocket plaza surrounded by retail for the purposes of giving space to crowds entering and exiting the station (something similar to a mini Westlake Park), but until the area gets the foot traffic from TOD in the surrounding parking lots, it’s not going to make much sense. Regardless, the space needs to establish a firm sense of purpose for itself, lest it become the ugly hybrid of 3rd/Pike and the 50th street Jack in the Box.

    1. And it’s never going to make any sense to have two thirds of a long, thin block be a plaza.

      1. This is a part of Chicago that actually was at a loss for open-space-per-capita.

        One of the reasons this pocket-plaza works is that it is situated on a small, triangular block, with plenty of air and visibility in all directions. It sells itself to passersby, and its safety is a fait accompli.

        The U-District site, hemmed in and out of sight of the area’s main street… not so much.

  10. I don’t think its so cut and dry either way. Urban open space for the sake of open space isn’t needed, we have plenty of failed examples of that. However, lively and active urban open space is always an assent and something that should be encouraged.

    In that regard station entrances at high ridership stops are ideally studied to be successful because of the shear number of people moving through them throughout the day. Few places in Seattle will have this concentration of people. The density benefit that 6 stories on 1/3 of a block will have on this is negligible. As I have said before TOD isn’t one buildings, it’s created by many buildings.

    With that said, I think this space is oddly shaped (too narrow) and the active facade of all the adjacent buildings are turned away from it. Moreover, the entrances are on the far north and south of the site, so few riders would actually enter or pass through the plaza and the mid-block connection is only useful for people traveling between the UW tower and the UW Bookstore.

    I would much rather see some level of pedestrianization of NE 43 or Brooklyn like the “festival street” at Beacon Hill. This would give you activity when it could be supported (e.g. farmers market), all day utility and activation (NE 43rd is primary connection to campus) but wouldn’t suffer from WSPD (Wind Swept Plaza Disorder) outside of school hours.

    1. A station site doesn’t a successful plaza make. See Convention Place Station, Prefontane Pl. in Pioneer Square or International District Station.

      True in the latter case the private plaza to the South of the station is well used, but that is due to a good design and the businesses (Tully’s, Starbuck’s, and Specialty’s) fronting it. Note that space further South is poorly utilized as well.

    2. There is no way I am aware of that an open space that abuts the *backs* of businesses on two sides could be activated effectively.

      1. I don’t think those would continue to be the backs. One of tohse business, Kais, I think, has its main entrance in the alley.

        Most of the businesses have alley entrances, and would have more if there were a plaza and a station.

        I’m not saying we should build a plaza, but this is a weak argument.

      2. “Behind” the library.

        “Directly located” at the intersection of 42nd Street and 6th Ave, and facing the main entrances of a few of the city’s most prominent skyscrapers.

        Same diff!

        Also, you might be intrigued to know that Bryant Park was wholly owned and operated by drug dealers and prostitution rings in the 1970s, until it was the target of a well-funded, deliberate, zero-tolerance reclamation effort of the sort that makes Seattleites uniquely apoplectic!

  11. Here’s a copy of the email I just sent to the four members of the Sound Transit board who count me as a constituent:

    Dear Sound Transit Board Members:

    It has recently come to my attention that certain political agents wish to disrupt Sound Transit’s plan to permit the University of Washington to build Transit-Oriented Development atop the U District Station site:

    To allow these agents _any_ say in this matter would an anti-urban travesty. These actors are attempting to use the tried-and-true method of “killing it with process” in order to prevent ecologically- and economically-sound development from occurring in one of the densest neighborhoods in the region.

    Quite simply, we don’t need yet another vacant, windswept plaza in the middle of a dense urban neighborhood. Empty plazas make people feel vulnerable, and they make architecture feel sterile and disconnected. Look at all the eternally-vacant public space surrounding large skyscrapers in Seattle’s Central Business District for all the evidence you need. Empty space does not follow the “build it and they will come” mantra.

    The station itself does not and should not encourage people hanging about outside. That’s how muggings happen, and anyone who has ridden a rapid transit system anywhere else in the world instinctively feels on edge when attempting to navigate through a shiftless crowd idling outside a system access point. Even if a vacant plaza were to somehow magically attract a crowd (which it won’t), that would only serve to make people feel ill-at-ease with using the subway station already suffering from being tucked on a side street in a statistically less-safe neighborhood.

    The U District is suffering a serious housing crunch, with rents constantly ratcheting upwards. The entire City of Seattle desperately needs more rental housing to keep up with demand and thus put downward pressure on rents. All the wishful thinking in John Fox’s world won’t suppress basic economics from playing out in the rental market.

    I cannot think of any other city that would for a second entertain the idea of paving a flat concrete plaza over a rapid-transit station in a residential neighborhood. Peter Steinbrueck is simply wrong. He is wrong about what makes a city livable, he is wrong about what attracts people to a location, and he is wrong about what belongs atop the U District Station. If he wants a vision of his proposed Windswept Barren U District Desert, he should look at the constant police presence at the downtown park that bears his father’s name.

    Please do not allow these anti-urban activists to smother TOD with process.

    –Kyle S.
    Seattle Resident

    1. I’d also encourage people to show up to the ST Board meeting on Thursday. It sounds like these open space people are fairly organized and they’ll want to snatch any chance they can get to comment on the issue.

      1. Good point!

        For what it’s worth, I also sent the same message to the E-mail address for the entire ST board (boardadministration [at] soundtransit [dot] org) as well as Joni Earl (joni [dot] earl [at] soundtransit [dot] org).

        Someone at ST replied very quickly to let me know she’d forwarded the message on to the relevant project staff. Not sure if that’s a form response or not, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

  12. Put public wifi there and a few trees, some benches and the coffee kiosk mentioned above and the plaza will fill with vibrant human activity. Local residents will need a place outside of their apodment. Travelers to and through the district will have a place to relax. Towns in the south west and in Europe make good use of their plazas. Allow the builders to “build with open space” and they’ll privatize it, making it a dead zone.

    1. If by “vibrant human activity” you mean people sleeping on park benches and selling weed, yes.

    2. The reason European plazas work so well is that they are located in the centers of activity, and surrounded by residences and businesses. 43rd and Brooklyn will never be a center of activity, having a parking lot on one side, the backs of businesses on another, and a high-rise commercial tower on the third. Like it or not, the centers of activity in the area are the UW quads/squares and University Way.

      1. You don’t think business will re-orient themselves to have welcoming sides facing the plaza? I think they might, especially since the stations is going to have thousands of people coming through it.

        I don’t know if a plaza is the right thing or not, but this is a weak argument to me.

        Where is the parking lot it’s going to face?

      2. I hadn’t actually looked at the model when I made the comment… they did replace the parking lot that’s currently midblock with more plaza space. But my criticism still applies; now it’s a high-rise tower on one side and the backs of businesses on two.

      3. European plazas work because they have *the front entrances* to buildings on all sides, and because people *have to walk through the plaza* to get to the buildings. There are no roads between the plazas and the buildings.

        That sort of thing can work. That bears no resemblance to putting a “plaza” over the top of a subway station.

        What would be similar to a European “plaza” would be to have a somewhat wide all-pedestrian space at the station entrance, surrounded by buildings, which people had to walk through to get from the road to the station. That would mean a very different design for the station and is out of the question at this point, since it’s not a good idea to cut off the ‘through traffic’ character of any of the streets in the grid.

        Yes, build an east-west walk-through passage. An “arcade”. With direct building entrances on the north and south side of the arcade, so that people *have* to walk through the arcade to get into the tall buildings. Now *that* would be a functioning public open space.

      4. This story is inconsistent. We all believe in the ability of transit to redevelop neighborhoods, but we don’t believe that transit can make the backs of businesses that already have alley entrances open up and become more welcome?

      5. Look at Google Street View, Andrew. Those businesses don’t have alley entrances; they have loading docks.

        A cut-through directly from the station entrance to The Ave is a good idea. But don’t go expecting businesses to reorient themselves away from the areas primary pedestrian thoroughfare onto a square brick hobo magnet.

        p.s. Some Pioneer Square businesses already have entrances facing both 1st Ave S and Occidental Park. Hasn’t improved Occidental one iota. On which side of those buildings would YOU rather be?

      6. But don’t go expecting businesses to reorient themselves away from the areas primary pedestrian thoroughfare onto a square brick hobo magnet.

        Hobos aside, if the space is good, the business will reorient themselves. We all believe in the trans formative power of TOD, right? Either TOD is a really phenomenon or it isn’t. We can’t pick and choose when we think market forces will provide TOD.

    3. Yes public wifi and a few trees and benches and a coffee kiosk (ok starbucks) were tried in columbia city. imho this did not bring a flood of people to the area. the people were coming regardless. I’ve never seen the park by the library (2-3 blocks from light rail) and mostly covered by the now defunct wifi full of people w/o some festival.

    4. There’s a square-mile of beautiful open space, tree-lined boulevards, and plazas two blocks from here, the UW campus. The U-District doesn’t need more open space, it needs housing, retail, and jobs for students.

  13. You just laid out the reasons why I’m very glad the Commons never got past planning stages.

    Obviously the answer here is a compromise. Green space and development can both be involved.

    1. The Commons could have worked, as it would have served as its own destination. Central Park works because people want to go there.

      Nobody will ever want to hang out in a concrete plaza on a side street, facing the UW tower.

      1. The Commons would have completely eradicated Westlake Ave N, which is presently the best example of mixed-scale, mixed-use urban activation in the area.

        The Commons would have been desolate and stupid.

      2. The Commons would have required serious high-rise development on its periphery to function as an urban space. I don’t doubt that Seattle would’ve screwed that up, but it would be nice to have a freaking park somewhere in this city that wasn’t linear or the size of a postage stamp.

  14. A terrible idea for this location. As mentioned above, the area would be better served by more mixed-use dense development. Any “open space” will quickly be taken over by the homeless and drug addicts and will be a deterrent to using light rail. Look at the two BART stations in the Mission District of San Francisco for a glimpse into what any such plaza would look like.

  15. Yes, this is a perfect place for another plaza.
    Imagine, getting up at 7:45 from your Pioneer Square Station squat, and being ready for the 8am shift in U-Dist Plaza. Zipping home for a quick bite and back for the afternoon shift of panhandling will be a breeze.

  16. Adam, thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience in Europe, where like sex, wine, brandy, espresso and streetcars, public open space and close-quarters living are old and comfortable facts of life.

    Among all classes, coffee and cognac are two sides of the same pleasure.

    On the plaza between City Hall and the harbor in Oslo, the Route 12 carline runs 60′ trains through a flagstone park without a single warning sign- grooved rail and catenary is notice enough. Year-long word to the Waterfront Project, finally being heard.

    Idea of turning Brooklyn pedestrian is long overdue- and wouldn’t face any ideological quarrel like this one. Could even be a namesake recreational activity where hordes of kids rent sticks and hoops, and chase each other all over the place, like in the old pictures.

    Screams of “In ya dreams!” and “Gidaddaheah!” will also make it difficult to either to sleep on benches or sell weed, except with a pushcart license and a broken-down horse.

    After a short while, everybody will start referring to “Brooklyn Station.”

    Mark Dublin

    1. If it were possible and popular to pedestrianize Brooklyn Avenue, then you really *could* create “public plazas”.

  17. A city can certainly have too many parks and public squares, when they start to dramatically affect the number of people and businesses that can locate near transit, and increase the distances between the necessities of life.

    Yes, but we’re no where near that. Seattle is pretty average when it comes to park land, and the majority of that space is in rather large parks in the city’s corners: Lincoln park, Magnuson, Carkeek, Sewerd, Discovery, etc.

    In the urban areas, Seattle has much, much less parks than other large cities. There’s no equivalent of Central Park or Golden Gate Park.

    1. I think the anecdotal utilization rate of our a
      parks is an indicator we have enough. Yards are common enough in this city to make parks less of an imperative.

      1. Yards in the U-District? I dunno, this whole argument sounds like another blind adherence to the faith of “density” without really considering what density is or why it’s desirable.

        Its seems like the whole comment section believes a subway station can sprout 10,000 apartments but can’t make a single business re-orient itself to the station. Done right, a plaza there can be awesome. The fact that I have a yard in my house in Wallingford really has nothing to do with that.

      2. You mentioned the overall prevalence of parks in the city, I countered by talking about yards. The widespread presence of large yards reduces the demand and need for public parks compared to other cities.

      3. No, I didn’t say overall prevalence of parks “full stop”. I was mentioning the over all prevalence of parks (relatively average) vis-a-vis urban parks (relatively few). The same urban neighborhoods with few parks (like the udistrict!!!) are the ones with few yards.

        It doesn’t matter that West Seattle and Wallingford have great yards and great parks (the center for the good shepherd is a few dozen feet from my awesome yard, nothing to do with urban areas). It doesn’t matter that there are loads of parks in Broadmoor (arboretum), Windermere (magnuson), Blue Ridge (carkeek) or Magnolia (discovery) where there are awesome yards, awesome driveways, awesome carports, etc. That part of the U-District has few open spaces other than the campus, and that place is for the much of the day a large pedestrian walkway. Or at least was when I was a student there 8 years ago.

        I sort of hope they do put a plaza and it’s the success it likely will be so the naive “density uber alles” urban plan that is often put forward here has a counter point that livability is the real end. We can have both.

      4. If they put in a plaza over the station I’m nearly 100% certain one of two fates will befall it (or some combination of the two). One is it will be windswept and barren with LINK riders scurrying through it as quickly as possible. The other is it will become a homeless encampment and open-air drug market.

        If there really is demand for urban public space then let’s turn 43rd between Brooklyn and Uniiversity Way into a plaza.

      5. “That part of the U-District has few open spaces other than the campus, and that place is for the much of the day a large pedestrian walkway.”

        You may be confused about what a plaza is.

        A plaza IS a large pedestrian walkway.

        Perhaps you don’t have any actual plazas in Seattle.

    2. I see this mistake made every time the “open space” debate rears its ugly head.

      “Parkland as a % of total area” is not an important statistic most of the time. The important one is “parkland per capita”, conveniently found on pages 4-6 of your link. And 4 and 9 acres/1,000 residents is about the correct range. Seattle is already above that.

      If you really want to see the “more open space” mantra taken to an extreme, look at Jacksonville. Do you think anyone really uses those 20,819 acres of parks? Do you think those are places you’d ever want to be after dark? (Amusingly, all that Jacksonville parkland still represents a smaller percent/total area than Seattle has. That’s what happens to the numbers when you’re a sprawling hellhole.

      Whenever anyone suggests that Seattle has too little “open space”, they need to be told point-blank: Those setbacks, those parking spaces, those gaps between all those cute little houses that they think define “neighborhood character” — all that is open space! And they’re city is full of it already/

      1. That’s not the same thing, and you didn’t address my main point. We don’t have a ton of urban parks: we have giant golf courses and huge wilderness areas on the periphery.

        Outside of Cowen park, Cal Anderson and Volunteer, there really just aren’t a whole lot of them.

      2. Between 4 and 9 acres/1,000 residents” … “And this city is full of it already.”

      3. Anyway, no one is talking about littering the city with plazas, right? It’s one specific plaza. I don’t think it’s a great idea, but let’s get the facts straight.

      4. Yes, placement is important.

        No, there really are a whole lot of them.

        You forgot classics like Denny Park (that one’s a well-inhabited winner!)
        Or pocket parks and plazas like Occidental and Prefontaine Place (yum! hobos!)

        And what’s that urban park on 9th NE and 50th? Does anybody use that thing?

        You’re missing not only the crux of my post, but also what Martin and Adam and David L and Kyle S are collectively saying: you can’t make urban parks work without the “urban”. People are simply too widely distributed and won’t walk to recreational areas because the walks are long and monotonous thanks to the excess of the wasteful kinds of “open spaces” that go unrecognized as such!

      5. Andrew, Maple Leaf is about to get a huge new park, then there is Greenlake, Woodland Park, Gasworks, the Seattle Center, Lake Union, Myrtle Edwards and many others.

        Besides for many things people want to use a park for the UW campus serves the purpose in the U-District.

      6. And what’s that urban park on 9th NE and 50th?

        My daughter loves that park.

        I am not missing your point, I just don’t agree with your point. “We need more ‘urban’ so don’t put a plaza here” just isn’t convincing to me. Neither is “we have lots of bad open space”. Why are we sure this is bad open space?

        I will say this, a bad plaza is worse than nothing. But sometimes plazas work, like Union Square in San Francisco or Hachiko Square in Shibuya. 12,000 passengers a day sounds more like those places than most of the bad “open spaces”.

      7. Why are we sure this is bad open space?

        Which are you referring to? All of the designated “public spaces” that are handed over wholesale to vagrants 365 days a year? Or all of the setbacks, patios by condo entrances that no one ever uses, and other hallmarks of aggressively pedestrian-repelling design that deter people from walking down this city’s endless miles of dull street frontage?

      8. Which are you referring to?

        This specific plaza, obviously. The fact that other opens space is bad realy doesn’t have anything to do with this plaza.

      9. Fine.

        This plaza faces the blank rear brick facade of the Neptune building, a single medium-rise residential structure, and the loading docks of business on The Ave. None of which are going anywhere.

        And it will be a guaranteed magnet for transients.

        The excess of terrible open space that no one elects to use is in fact a very strong indicator that no one will elect to use this terrible open space.

      10. I’m very confused. There’s already kai’s entrance facing the alley TODAY. Now. Not the future. Now.

        So at least one business… which is certainly not “no one”. That demonstrably not a possibility today, before the plaza has even been built, approved, etc.

      11. I don’t know how to explain Kai’s, nor is it really important to. My guess is that a historical accident of the building’s architecture and the pub’s spatial arrangement made it worthwhile to them to sign and treat their alley door as a second public entrance.

        I would be shocked if any of the public have ever used it that way.

        And Kai’s second door wouldn’t face this hypothetical plaza, anyway. It would be about five feet from the back wall of the station headhouse.

        Conversely, it would be relevant for you to address my question about the businesses that open up to Occidental Park and yet have failed to keep that place from becoming a vortex.

      12. Occidental park is a victim of precisely the problem I am describing. There are far too few urban parks around, so the tiny number we have become hobo hangouts. More parks wouldn’t mean more hobos, it would mean a lower hobo/park ratio. But we have so few urban parks we get them full of hobos.

      13. East Coast, Andrew.
        East Coast.

        When the normal people/park ratio is high, and when the parks are correctly located and appealing, the normal people vastly outnumber the hobos, and so the normal people set the mood for the space. It is when there is a dearth of normal people that the hobos take over.

        Occidental and Prefontaine and Westlake and Peter Steinbrueck and Ballard Commons are hobo zones because we have actively handed them to hobos, not because we haven’t spread the hobos thin enough.

        Per your logic, perhaps you would like to found a hobo resettlement program to actively shuttle hobos to, say Counterbalance Park. Lord knows they’d be the first human beings ever to enter the place!

      14. d.p., first, I don’t know what purported “logic” of mine you are referring to. Second, just because those places suck doesn’t mean this will suck. That’s completely defeatist.

      15. There’s nothing inherently unpleasant about Counterbalance Park, Andrew. In fact, its design is pretty dramatic.

        It’s just utterly unnecessary. And therefore vacant.

    3. p.s. Most people would consider Golden Gate Park to be in one of S.F.’s “corners”. It’s better used than Magnuson because it’s better park with better stuff to do in a city with better transit!

      1. I think you are confusing Golden gate park and the presidio. Haight & Ashbury is two blocks from Golden Gate park, for example.

      2. No, I’m referring to Golden Gate Park, the long, skinny strip contained entirely within the city’s sprawling western half, and the majority of which is many miles from the city’s primary centers of activity.

      3. Once again d.p.’s historical ignorance dwarfs the non-Bailo field. You’d think this blog’s pet Masshole would know more about the past, but apparently not.

      4. Not sure I understand your objection, Bootlick.

        I am aware of the history of Golden Gate Park, and I am aware that it is a well-utilized destination park.

        I am also aware that it is no more “centrally located” within its city than the Washington Park Arboretum is within ours.

      5. d.p. Comparing golden gate park to Magnuson or the Arboretum is ridiculous. This is Haight and Cole, two blocks from the park in two directions. Two blocks from magnuson is nothing.

        It is true that a part of that large part abuts the ocean, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an urban park in the eastern part in the middle of a dense, urban neighborhood.

        By your same argument, the majority of Central park is miles away from the centers of activity in mid town and downtown.

        There’s no point in continuing this conversation if you truly believe that the park two blocks from the place in that link is like the arboretum or magnuson park. There’s no convincing someone who is willing to deny all evidence.

      6. You’re making my point for me!

        San Francisco is teeming with urbanity!! Vibrant centers of activity, including ones worthy of destination travel, exist well outside of the city center. Residential density is consistently high, even as the city starts to sprawl down toward the Pacific. The park becomes a useful destination because there are lots of people around to use it, and miles of stuff on the way to and from.

        The Arboretum is four blocks east of Capitol Hill, which as people love to mention on this blog, is among “the densest neighborhoods in the American Northwest”. SF comparisons can’t help but illuminate just what a pathetic statement that is! But your solution isn’t “more stuff” — it’s more plazas and parks!?!?

        The Arboretum is also barely 2 miles from downtown Seattle! Golden Gate Park starts 2.5 miles from SF’s Civic Center, and 4 miles from the Financial District. But that’s just the entrance: it’s at least another mile to most of Golden Gate’s centerpiece attractions.

        So, yeah, the Arboretum is more of a “centrally located urban park” by pretty much any reasonably geographic measure. You just wouldn’t know it, because the walk there is vapid and our transit is terrible!

      7. I think you may be confused precisely what your point is. We do need more urbanism, but urbanism can include parks and plazas. The “# of miles from an the core urban center” statistic is pointless, it matters what’s in walking distance, not what’s within many miles walk. There’s a large, continuous urban area within walking distance of Golden gate park, the panhandle is within walking distance of many neighborhoods.

        Again, by your definition, Central Park is a failed urban park, because it’s many miles away from the financial district.

        I’m done arguing with you, because you are confusing several issues and it’s difficult to even understand exactly what you mean. Whether or not the arborteum is nearer to downtown Seattle than Golden Gate park is to Downtown San Francisco (while both are sort of far!) really has no bearing on whether a plaza here is a good idea or not.

      8. You’re right, Andrew. It doesn’t matter how far (within reason) a major urban park is from the precise city center. It matters whether or not there’s some actual damned city around to justify its existence. And no matter where in Seattle you tried to plonk down the facility that you and other “open space” advocates so deeply believe is missing, you will fail to find the necessary demand.

        BTW, if you knew the slightest thing about New York’s history or geography, you would know that Upper Manhattan was literally the boondocks when Central Park was plotted, and that — contrary to the Midtown-and-above bias of most first-time tourists — it’s not particularly central to the city’s centers of gravity today!

        Of course, such a massive reshaping of the urban landscape as seen in late-19th-century New York is never going to happen here, because “neighborhood character”… and because “open space!!!!”

        Seattle needs more “open space” like it needs a civic sundial. Try taking a trip to Seattle Center any of the 356 days that Bumbershoot, Folklife, or Bite of Seattle aren’t taking place. Mile from downtown. Flanked by mid-rise districts that are (sadly) about as dense as Seattle gets. Is there fucking anybody there?

      9. I do go to the Seattle Center all the time with my kid. Children’s museum, science center, etc. are great kids activities. I’m there with lots of over parents. Probably it’s not a good use of space, but just because you never go there doesn’t meant it’s empty.

        you knew the slightest thing about New York’s history or geography

        Making friends and winning people over. Yes, I’ve never posted here about the history of “upper” manhattan.

        Come off it, being rude to me doesn’t make you remotely correct.

      10. Really, you might want to pay attention to the fact that Martin and Adam and Matt and Kyle S. and Chris Stefan and even Zed agree with me 100% that this is a ridiculous and wasteful proposal that seeks to solve “open space” problem Seattle does not actually have.

        It’s not like I’m exactly Martin or Matt’s favorite ally. And when was the last time that Zed and I agreed on anything?

        Andrew, you started this thread by posting a chart to suggest that Seattle was lacking in the “parks as a percentage of square mileage” department. When I explained why that was an irrelevant (and in many ways counterproductive) metric, you claimed that I was missing your point, which had more to do with the location of parks within the cities (something not actually addressed in your prior link).

        Others have since itemized for you the copious urban parkland we already have, and demonstrated how grossly underutilized and neglected it is. Yet you continue to compare our lackluster parks to the shining examples in San Francisco and New York. It doesn’t take an erudite Urban Sociologist to point out the difference between those cities and this one, and yet you continue to deny that our lackluster urban landscape could in any way contribute to the diminished returns on our “open space”.

        So forgive me for thinking that you continue to just not get it. It is hard to think otherwise.

      11. I have not read anything convincing here that says that plaza would be a failure. Maybe you’re right I just don’t get it, but being a dick to me doesn’t make you right.

        1) The link was to show that Seattle was pretty average in the parks area over all. This was addressing Martin’s line here:

        What I haven’t seen is any statement of how much is enough. A city can certainly have too many parks and public squares, when they start to dramatically affect the number of people and businesses that can locate near transit, and increase the distances between the necessities of life

        I don’t know how much is enough either, but when you are fairly average, you certainly can’t be in the “too much” category.

        2) Next, I went to point out that the majority of the park space we have are very far away from urban centers. Which is I admit is anecdotal, but fairly obvious if you look at a map of seattle’s parks. So we are average when it comes to parks, and the majority of these are no where near the urban centers. Which suggests we are way below average when it comes to urban parks.

        3) Then we had an admittedly confusing argument about golden gate park, which you think for some reason isn’t urban even though it’s a couple blocks from hays valley, the haight, north park, etc. We can agree to disagree on that.

        4) I think I said somewhere else it’s demostrably false that this plaza would be next to only the backs of buildings, because there are already entrances there today. I also said elsewhere that just because there is lots of bad open space around (including most of the UW campus, which is not a welcoming place for a large part of the population) doesn’t mean we don’t want good open space.

        5) Then I finally said nothing here has convinced me that this plaza would not work, and you called me nasty names.

        6) I think the majority of the above has not been even discussed, other than the confusing argument about 3, and Martin’s non sequitur that we don’t need parks in Seattle because some people have yards. I think that’s backwards: you want more parks in the places people don’t have yards, like the U-District.

        As for your last point, I think Martin, Matt and Adam can be wrong all the time. I think the “density uber alles” argument is extremely naive and should not be considered a first principles of for a comprehensive philosophy of urban planning, though Martin et al start from that. In their naive philosophy, more density is always good and that’s where you start, so anything that adds density is good. I think that makes little sense: density is an end to something else you want (ie, livable urbanism, sustainability, whatever is your fancy). I think I’ve fairly convincingly proven parts of that wrong before, and I think this is another of those cases.

      12. 1)

        Using your very own link as my source, I pointed out that we are already above average in the truly vital measurement of park space per capita. Above by at least a couple of percentage points!


        The STB community (not just me) responded with a barrage of counterexamples — parks and plazas, good and bad, near and far and everywhere in between.


        You insisted — as knee-jerk “open space is the answer” proponents often do — that Seattle lacks a Central Park or Golden Gate-like centerpiece, mistakenly attributing the success of those cities to their parks, when the truth is the other way around! It is also wholly irrelevant to a discussion of a plaza at a subway station. (And yes, you overstate the geographic centrality and gravitational pull of both examples.)

        4) and 5)

        This proposal has every hallmark of bad urban space, and if Occidental and Westlake aren’t enough to convince you, I dare you to hang out in the 1975s Mission District plazas that BART built.


        It’s not necessarily that the option of playing in yards is discouraging trips to parks. It’s that the preponderance of really dull street frontage in this city — be it s.f. with yards or weird townhouse four-packs or ugly condos with cellphone stores and garage ramps — demonstrably keeps people from walking, and parks are places that people tend to access on foot. When people don’t walk, they don’t use parks.

        That our city is sprawling and spread-out — the other point Martin makes — is partly the result of the same pathological obsession with “open space” that you have been parroting here!


        Obviously you know that I agree with you here, being from a very old city, living in a 107-year-old building in Ballard, and having expressed a strong instinct toward preservation and human scale in your linked post.

        But there’s a fine line. It drove me nuts when Seattleites couldn’t distinguish preserving the successful functions of the Bauhaus Block from preserving some perceived-as-sacrosanct “view” to and from Roosevelt High. It also drives me nuts when people try to freeze entire portions of a city — use, scale, buildings of questionable merit or vitality, overall level of density — in time. The greatest cities have emerged from evolution, and never from formaldehyde.

        I agree with you that Martin et al are wrong to put too much faith in the free market. The free market built a lot of great things a century ago, but its instincts in the present day are demonstrably flawed.

        But today’s Seattle was built not by the free market, but by anti-urban codes. And those codes have left us with a lot of unpleasant, unwalkable, underutilized space. Where Martin is right is in his desire to knock the pendulum back in the other direction. And the obsession with “open space” that continues to interrupt new street frontage, continues to hobble FAR, continues to suppress supply, and doesn’t ever seem to provide any identifiable civic improvements (again, see Counterbalance Park) cannot possibly be the answer to our “livable urbanism” problems about which you are so rightly concerned!

        We don’t lack for places to gather. That is not our problem.

      13. 1) Seattle is not above average in this regard.
        That was probably not the best link.

        2) I did not find any especially convincing. Mostly people are talking about other types of open space that is bad.

        3) My argument was different from that; it’s good to see you finally admit you were arguing with a strawman and not with what I wrote.

        4+5) Those places are awesome, are you kidding?!?! Everyone one of those bart plazas is great, except 16th and mission which is too small. The best place to get tamales in the united states is the 24th and mission plaza (the 16th and mission one is worse). If that’s what you don’t want, then I can see why we disagree.

        It goes to what I suspect is an undertone to this argument. If you are the sort of person that is welcome on the UW campus, then you have all the parks in the UDistrict you want. If you are the proverbial tamale vendor who would clearly not be welcome there, or the mariachi band that was always at 24th and mission when I lived there, or anyone who might be confused for a hobo, we don’t have a spot for you.

        6) I have not made any obsession with open spaces, I think you are arguing with an idea someone else may have said to you. I am saying that plaza here could be good. Nothing more than that. The problem isn’t the amount of open space, it’s where it is. If you don’t have parks where people can already walk (like the UD) people won’t walk to parks. Cal Anderson is the best urban park in the city, for example.

        7) I think we’re in violent agreement on this.

      14. I think we’ve fleshed this disagreement out pretty well, so there’s no need to go through every bullet point. Let’s start at


        Because actually agreeing on how urbanism should feel to its urbanites is not such a bad start!


        I’m all about the tamale vendors! Though I’m surprised you are, given your past expressed phobia of people eating in public places.

        Those BART plazas, however, are pretty huge for just a couple of food carts. And they are unrestricted open-air drug markets for much of the day.

        I openly admit that I think Seattle’s quasi-democratic laissez-faire approach to junkies and transients is misguided and counterproductive. It doesn’t actually democratize the space; it hands it over to the lowest common denominator, and it pushes “choice” urban residents — not as in “preferable”, but as in those who “choose” to live here, like those who “choose” transit — toward privatized spaces! Why is it that Northeasterners congregate in parks, while we congregate in bars and restaurants? There’s plenty of harsh weather back East! To a not insignificant degree, it’s because those cities have demanded and enforced a minimum level of decorum in public that quasi-liberal Seattle has abandoned.

        Throwing food scraps at junkies, letting them shoot up in porta-potties, and responding to their overdoses by filling 3rd and Virginia with ambulances six times a day is not actually progressive. Gravitating towards interior space because we’ve let the outside world go feral is not actually progressive either!

        Anyway, my aversion to subway plazas is not just about the sketch factor. The zeal for sweeping plazas at subway entrances also infected the D.C. Metro and L.A.’s Red Line, with much less sketch, and I still hate them. They just make it feel so much further to the train! I want subway access to and from and as part of the urban system; I don’t want it to be artificially detached from the places it is supposed to serve. That is what plaza stations do!


        Not sure what you think I misread. You brought up Golden Gate Park and treated it as evidence that this city is remiss in offering urban park-age. You definitely did “put the cart before the horse” in suggesting that those parks have fostered successful urbanity, when in truth it’s the urbanity that has provided what those parks need to succeed!


        This new chart still places Seattle higher than any urban area you’d want to mimic. Pittsburgh had decades of population decline (it’s just now bouncing back). Denver is quite sprawling. D.C.’s statistic is skewed by all the government property, and Portland’s is skewed by the massive (and mostly inaccessible) Forest Park reserve. Do I even need to explain why Phoenix, Raleigh, and Houston are problems?

        All of the cities you’d want to be: Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Boston — all those places with beautiful, busy urban parks big and small, with plazas that are actual community spaces, with urbanity and breathing room complementing each other well — they all have less parkland than we already do. Quantity is simply not our problem!

      15. I was mostly joking about the phobia. I just don’t want people eating on buses and trains. Eat in the park all you want!

        The disagreement we are having is that it’s not the quantity of parks, it’s where the parks are. Having awesome parks at Magneson, Lincoln Park, Carkeek, etc. don’t really matter because they are so far away. On bus they may as well be Tacoma. We’re fairly average when it comes to parks, and we’re below average when it comes to parks that matter.

        San Francisco has way more parks in it’s urban areas than Seattle does. It doesn’t matter whether or not Carkeek is huge and awesome. Parks may promote urbanism because they let you go outside even if you don’t have a yard.

        In Seattle, the same places that don’t have yards don’t have parks with the few exceptions (Cal Anderson, etc.). We need parks in those places.

        Saying “we have loads of parks, just go to Magnuson and Carkeek” is not good urbanism.

      16. San Francisco has way more parks in it’s urban areas than Seattle does.

        As I’ve tried to explain, this simply isn’t true.

        Sam Francisco has way more urban areas in its urban areas than Seattle does!

      17. I think we’re just spinning in circles now.

        You’re simply wrong about the dearth. Counterbalance and Hing Hay and Steinbrueck and Denny and all the pocket parks required in Capitol Hill condo projects and all the downtown FAR-based plazas are all there and are never cited as examples, because they’re largely underutilized and suck. If you’re willing to travel less than a mile, you’ve got José Rizal and Myrtle Edwards and yes, Seattle Center. The Arboretum borders Capitol Hill. Cowen/Ravenna borders the U-District. Woodland and Gas Works flank Wallingford.

        The fact that only Cal Anderson has emerged as a year-round urban living room can be attributed partly to its successful redesign, but mostly it exists as proof that you must have demonstrated demand — and not just tepidly expressed desire — for these things to work.

        The failure of all others is not a failure of availability or a failure of placement or a failure of placemaking. It’s a failure of the surrounding city.

        Can’t fix failure with failure.

      18. I’m still stunned anyone in their right mind would advocate any sort of plaza at U-District station. It is as if they are entirely ignorant of both the geographic challenges of this particular site and of the social issues in the U-District.

        Again this site will have a problem with wind due to the way the UW Tower channels winds up Brooklyn. The wall of the Neptune will never open out on the plaza due to the interior layout of the building. While some businesses might at some point put alley entrances out onto the plaza, they aren’t going to be there from day 1 which is going to make it unlikely they ever will because the plaza won’t be seen as a desirable place.

        I see people talking about food trucks and espresso carts. Sure those are nice, but what makes you think Sound Transit will ever allow them on the plaza? Has Sound Transit put any sort of vending at any of its station sites or allowed a food truck to park at a station? Not that I’ve seen. Sure that may change in the future, but do you really want to risk getting yet another poorly executed urban plaza on the hope that someday there might be a decent taco truck parking there? I’ll note that in spite of many private parking lots where a food truck could locate today there currently are none in the University District. Perhaps there are issues other than lack of suitable parking that keep there from being food trucks in the University District?

        Finally there are the social issues. The U-District has such a problem with homeless people hanging out that often the police, Metro, and the merchants can’t keep them from turning the sidewalks, crosswalk bulbs, and bus bulbs into homeless camps. See the small plaza in front of Key Bank where the bank has installed a lot of very bright lighting, removed the benches, and fenced off the planter/fountain to discourage people from hanging out there. See also the Jack-in-the-Box parking lot that has pretty much been a gang hang-out and open air drug market since I first came to Seattle in 1987. While I dislike using the “lets not build urban public space because it will just fill with homeless people and drug dealers” argument it is a reality that must be dealt with in the University District. It WILL happen to any public space built near the Ave unless the space is very carefully designed, programmed, and policed.

        Past that there are many better opportunities for public space in the University District. Everything from closing 43rd next to the station and turning it into a public plaza to building a park/plaza on the Southern portion of the University Heights site.

      19. A further thought, I really fail to see how this station site once Sound Transit puts in the station entrances, mechanical rooms, and vent stacks required is going to have much “public space” left for a plaza. I hear people mention Cal Anderson park, but any public space here is going to be much smaller, maybe 1/2 of the station site if we’re lucky. To me that looks a lot more like “crack park” at 3rd & Bell in Belltown than it does Cal Anderson.

      20. Are you saying that the UD is not a good example of “urbanity”? If that’s the case we should just give up. That’s one of the best examples we have, at very least in the top five if not #2 after Capitol Hill.

        As for 24th and mission, the fact that it’s ugly doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. In the photo I could like 50 people between the two plazas.

      21. Sorry to be a bubble-buster, but no, the U-District is not a particularly shining example of urbanity, and that it might be one of the “best examples” we have to aspire to would be a sad, sad statement.

        If you truly think that it is, then you will find yourself among a tiny minority.

        The Ave itself possesses that vital ingredient of lots of skinny retail in buildings of variable form, but that’s about where the positive ends.

        Uses in the U-District are startlingly segregated (not just between commercial and other, but between retail and all other commercial). The University is so dominant in the area that most of what is around caters only to a tiny slice of the regional population. Aside from a concentration of movie theaters (an historical accident) and any sort of UW-specific event (symposia, etc.), there is little reason for anyone over 25 and unaffiliated with the University to come to the area.

        That single, aforementioned strip of retail density is comically oblong — over a mile long and barely half a block wide — and is surrounded by conditions that approach sprawl, or at least an incomplete urban form. The blocks directly to the north and west of the coming station are littered with empty lots and automotive uses. Just two blocks west is the Roosevelt/11th couplet, which operates like a near-urban freeway and is less than inviting to cross.

        Capitol Hill, beacon of hope that it may be for young hipster migrants from the suburban Upper Midwest, is slightly better without being great. At least the uses on Capitol Hill truly are mixed, the activity truly diverse, and the patchwork of residential/retail/entertainment/other extends unbroken in many directions. But the “greatness” of Capitol Hill urbanity is hobbled by the hugeness of its blocks, the uniformly excessive width of its rights-of-way (frontage to frontage), and the monotony of its blocky architecture. The first two problems ensure that stuff is generally further from other stuff, and further from more people, than it needs to or should be. The latter problem ensures that stuff feels even further away than that.

        This is a problem that the U-District and Capitol Hill share New Western cities from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. (L.A. is a particular shame, because that city actually is quite dense; if it weren’t for the gargantuan streets and sidewalks, it might actually feel and function that way: http://narrowstreetsla.blogspot.com/)

        If you’ve lived in San Francisco, I’m surprised I need to explain any of this to you. About 60% of that city operates as more of a mixed-media environment than either the U-District or Capitol Hill, ensuring that pretty much any place you can name is within easy reach of lots of stuff that begets lots of other stuff, and is available to/a magnet for lots of people. Bad urbanity isolates; good urbanity compounds.

        Nevertheless, even busy San Francisco can’t polish the turd that is an ill-conceived, poorly-executed, fundamentally-unnecessary open space.

        With only 9 exceptions (by my count), every single person pictured in that plaza is desperately trying to get the hell out of there by train or by bus. The remaining nine… well, let’s just say that none of them look like they have many other good options of where to be.

        It’s ludicrous to call that a place “that works”!

  18. A European style square with outdoor seating space for cafes would be awesome. Red Square is great for students but it doesn’t feel like an open Seattle space because it is part of the university. By preserving open spaces we expand public access to publicly funded areas and create landmarks that will last generations. If you don’t create the plaza in the very beginning you lose your opportunity to have it forever. We can always expand density around public spaces by increasing building height limits. It is much easier to convince developers to tear down buildings and put up taller ones up than it is to convince them to tear down buildings and make space for parks or public plazas.

    1. Barcelona has way more public plazas than Seattle does. While I was living there I never remember anyone complaining that they had too many plazas. These opens spaces improve the quality of life for the people who live and work around them and create a more social and interactive living environment for everyone in the community. Seattle needs that desperately.

      1. Were they ever at subway stations? My favorite ones are surrounded by beautiful buildings, have no cars, have plenty of outdoor cafes, and I can’t think of one connected with public transit. It seems like there’s just too many people trying to get somewhere else. A good piazza is a destination. I can imagine Occidental Park working well for this, if we build interesting buildings on the other side and add cafes.

      2. Matt, some of my favorite plazas in Barcelona were in dense commercial and urban hubs right above busy metro stops like the Placa de Catalunya. I agree that we definitely need to increase density around metro stops to increase access to light rail. However, we can easily accomplish both by creating the plaza and also significantly increasing building height limits in the area around the plaza. This would maximize the number of people who would benefit from both the light rail and the new public space while also drawing more visitors from downtown, South Seattle, and other areas who will have another reason to visit the U District. It would also be a great venue for food carts, a farmer’s market etc. allowing for more diverse commercial and cultural uses in the space.

      3. “However, we can easily accomplish both by creating the plaza and also significantly increasing building height limits in the area around the plaza…”

        Sorry, that fight was lost already. Look back in STB archives for the push to prevent more tall buildings from being built anywhere near the U-District station…

    2. It would be awesome, but it has to be in the right place. 43rd and Brooklyn is not the right place and won’t ever be unless the center of gravity in the U-District shifts very dramatically. An open space at 43rd and Brooklyn would be empty except for transients and hurried commuters walking past.

      If you wanted to replace something with open space in that area, it would ideally be the post office.

    3. Ahh, yes, a vantage from which to enjoy the rumble of traffic on 45th and to watch stressed humans mostly trying to be anywhere else at all. Already possible from, say, Trabant Coffee and Chai, which has the benefit of a roof to stave off the obvious consequences of the nine soggy months–empty wet brick plastered with thin leaves–and random howling winds created off the adjacent tower.

  19. Martin is right on this. But, he’s still cery wrong about the stadium. Both of tese issues come down to proper and sustainable planning. Martin and Peter are both 1 for 2. I wouldn’t go around condeming Peter fully for when he is right and you’re wrong.

    1. To be clear, I don’t condemn Steinbruck for opposing the arena, I condemn him for asserting that people coming to an attraction, thus creating traffic and parking hassles, is a reason for opposing the attraction.

  20. Wallingford, Greenwood, West Seattle, and Lake City called. They said they need plazas more than the U-district does. Plazas need to be sited as part of a neighborhood master plan, not ad hoc built because one person sees an opportunity at an arbitrary Link station. You have to balance the neighborhood’s need for a gathering place, and how central it will be, and the lost opportunity of mid-rise housing. Yes, nearby mid-rise housing blocks will be developed, but we need both them and this station parcel, not one or the other. The abundance of open space two blocks away has been mentioned, and the way the plaza would be surrounded by buildings that separate it from the Ave has also been mentioned. Meanwhile up the street there’s another place that could be made into a plaza: the University Heights parking lot (or rather part of it).

    1. Lake City’s got a plaza (SW corner of 125th and Lake City Way, where the Seattle First National Bank (before it was SeaFirst) was for you old-timers–but it’s small, no building faces it and there is only one transit stop immediately adjacent. If the owners of the building immediately to the south had designed their building/tenant space to open onto the plaza instead of onto Lake City Way, the space would have been better activated.

      When they were clearing the NW corner of 125th and LCW for that gawd-awful Bartell’s complex (you know, the one with NO HOUSING), that space looked like a perfect spot for a park/plaza. Surround it with 5/6 story residential/commercial, and it would’ve worked. Add high-capacity transit (as hopefully will arrive someday), and you’ve got something. Alas.

      1. What is sad about the plaza in Lake City is it was revamped a few years back to make it LESS inviting to the public. Seems like they have a bit of a problem with transients hanging out there.

      2. That “plaza” went in around the time or shortly after I moved away from Lake City. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it’s never really worked out. In fact I think you’d have to call it a fail even though I loved the concept where they kept a piece of the neighborhood history and created space in what seemed like a great spot to reinvigorate the neighborhood.

  21. If open space is so important, why not close the street to traffic and have a place for people to walk between the new and old businesses on either side? That would be visionary. That would be a destination.

  22. Anyone who thinks the Brooklyn station site hasn’t a clue about the realities of this particular site, that underutilized open space often becomes a homeless camp, and what makes open space work in general.

    In particular:
    1. This site is already very windswept as anyone who has walked down Brooklyn between 43rd and 45th on a breezy day can attest.
    2. This site doesn’t have much in the way of “eyes on the street” and is unlikely to get them.
    3. In case anyone hasn’t noticed the U-District already has a problem with homeless, panhandlers, and drug dealers hanging about. Any street furniture in the plaza will attract a permanent population of such characters (which makes it unattractive to anyone else) unless it is heavily and constantly policed.
    4. If people are so desperate for a public plaza in the University District there are any number of locations that would be better suited.

  23. http://www.mission-base.com/pedal-power/pp_main.html

    Presuming this is the same Philip Thiel (his address is a bungalow facing I-5 in the U-District), he is a 92-year-old “naval architect” with a charming affection for Boston’s Swan Boats.

    His extensive mid-century experience as both a student and a professor, however, places him squarely in the middle of “every bad idea about human-scaled space” that ever tore apart the American urban fabric. And that is what he is bringing to this “unique location”.

    Buyer beware.

    1. I won’t defend the plaza idea, but your notion that “His extensive mid-century experience as both a student and a professor, however, places him squarely in the middle of “every bad idea about human-scaled space” is one of the more shallow opinions I’ve seen in a long time.

      Jane Jacobs shares a similar time frame in her life – would you dismiss her for the same reasons?

      1. Jane Jacobs specifically railed against the standards of her time. That’s a little bit different from the average person of the time, as you know.

      2. Thank you, Nathanael.

        Desolate plazas outside of transit hubs were part and parcel the design ethos of the time in which this Thiel guy worked and taught.

        Clearly this rubbed off on him, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

        As Nathanael says, Jane Jacobs was inspired by the mistakes she saw being made around her, and came to study and defend the principles of scale and and activation that her contemporaries had neglected to such disastrous effect.

  24. Tear down a few of the buildings along the Ave, Integrate a 3rd entrance in a plaza on the Ave and then redevelop around it.

  25. I don’t care a rip about any so-called ‘plaza.’ But, a previous blog entry was complaining about a narrow entrance to the underground LINK stop. Instead of just building a ‘plaza’, how about we make a really grand, beautiful entrance to the LINK station? How about something that looks like the entrance to Union Station? I love the look of that entrance, with the old brick and multiple doorways. That way, when lots of people at the same time exit and enter, it won’t be so crowded.

  26. One of the most gentile urban settings I had the pleasure of living in was center city Philadelphia. As you know the height restriction was the hat of William Penn on the City Hall building. The Philly skyline was famous for its “buzzcut” skyscrapers that seemed to end in mid ascent.

    Where I lived it was 3 story townhomes in a row. Very much like the upper west side of NYC. However, ever so often, they would take a whole block (and they were not enourmous) and make a “square” or a little park to break it up. The streets were also narrow and many were one-way.

    1. Yes, empty, green blocks can work very well as open space if they’re surrounded by residents and businesses. Rittenhouse Square is one of the best urban parks in the country. (The trouble with Center City is that it doesn’t have enough of those blocks!)

      43rd and Brooklyn is not fortunate enough to be in that sort of setting.

    2. John Bailo. I loved that description of Phillie. That is one of my favorite cities in America for that reason- the humble Quaker underpinnings and the arrangement of neighborhoods around a series of squares, not to mention its seemingly perfect level of density.

      I think having a plaza by bustling transit stations is a great idea, but not at the proposed location. It makes a ton more sense to use the road. Seattle should lead the way on this and turn 43rd into a pedestrian dominated plaza (and/or why not Brooklyn as Mark Dublin said?). Cars could have a narrow strip for loading or slowly passing through, but no parking. Businesses can have outdoor seating, perhaps the brick campus can spill out onto the ave, in a way that will break down the feeling of separation others ascribe to campus. It will make a much better pedestrian route than 45th which is already spilling over the sidewalks at rush hour. This idea has been kicked around a bit already and I think if you could get U District businesses to support less parking, it could have legs.

      1. I just found this after posting. This is a perfect example of what this could be, in Philadelphia of all places.

      2. For that matter, you should visit Kent Station. Even at 11 pm on a weekend there are people hanging around outside at the outdoor table’s at Duke’s and there are plenty of free space tables, benches and grass areas as well.

  27. The litmus test of whether there should be a plaza or not is this: Will it help eliminate the hopelessly underutilized excess capacity of of the DSTT and newly built tubes connecting them? Link needs riders, and trees don’t buy ORCA cards. Anything that doesn’t build ridership should be ignored.

  28. Not only is there open space all around this site (the U’s campus has a lot of open space, in case no one ever noticed), but my own feeling has always been that transit entrances don’t need anything except the entrance. When I exit a transit station, I am far more comfortable and feel far more integrated into the community if I am immediately in the throng of the city than if I’m in some windswept plaza somewhere. Dense cities (London, New York, Toronto) simply have holes for their subway stops. You head down the stairs or the escalator. And when you’re out, you’re at your destination. There were reasons for this when the subways were developed, but the fact is, it works. The destination is not the stop, the destination is the destination. When I come up from University St. station on the DSTT, I’m right at a streetscape and totally forget I was on transit. I’m in the city and that’s where I came to. On the other hand, when I’ve taken some transit that opens onto some concrete plaza (I can think of one in Barcelona, for instance), I come up and feel both disoriented and disconnected. I’d much rather come up on the Ave. than to some plaza on Brooklyn.

  29. Someone may have already mentioned this in the comments section, but it’s worth noting that there are already TWO plazas – one covered and one partially so – across the street at the UW Tower. One can easily imagine the northern plaza – which is situated directly across from the Station’s northern entrance – being used as a cut-through for people traveling to the Station eastbound along 45th (not to mention folks accessing and leaving the Tower), as well as a semi-public-private plaza gathering space for Station-bound travelers.

  30. most STB bloggers are too young to remember, but before he was a councilmember, Steinbrueck was the leader of the CAP initiative,that limited the height of buildings in the Seattle CBD. some thought it a reaction to the turmoil of the DSTT construction. To his credit, he worked with Mayor Nickels and the rest of the council to remove the CAP as a councilmember.

    1. Hi eddiew,

      I certainly wasn’t there at the time, but I had heard that before. I just have never found a definitive source, and so wasn’t sure if it was an urban legend.

  31. It seems that the public dialogue on issue is an all or nothing discussion. The University District could use a public plaza for events, restaurants and cafe’s. I understand the concerns about the transient and panhandling population that seems to be drawn to the U-District. As a property owner and employee of the University of Washington, I am very aware of this burden on our community. Panhandlers tend to prey upon the naiveté of good natured students and make use the social services that are provided in our neighborhood.

    Our community would benefit from a “center” that is designed and focused for the working / professional community that resides & works here. The plaza could be designed in such a way meets the needs of all concerned, housing, commerce and public space. To suggest that Red Square serves as a public plaza for the U-District is reaching at best. Red Square serves the campus community. The campus is not the heart of the community. The University District needs a center, a heart. It’s important to take advantage of this opportunity to provide a public space. I’m certain there will be ample hosing added to the neighborhood by the time the rail is complete. As of now there are several housing projects already in progress, some of which are massive projects that take up a city blocks.

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