[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.