My immediate reaction is that this concept (and it’s only a concept) has far too much greenery for a center-city location, even though this is light-years better than what’s there currently. It’s outrageous that the concept includes 16 acres of parkland (out of 30 acres on-site!), but the true affront is the lawn that seems to be in front of just about every building, annihilating the possibility of active uses on most ground floors. Contrary to what the narrator tells you (4:10), “lush plantings” are not “pedestrian-friendly,”  but the enemy of walkability.

If any of these features are result of zoning laws, the City Council should fix it immediately. In fact, actively prohibiting a lot of the features shown here would be a substantial improvement,while improving the city’s fiscal position by bringing more residents and businesses.

141 Replies to “Yesler Terrace Visualization”

  1. Wow, “far too much greenery for a center-city location”.

    You are so wrong that our center cities can’t be very green, while still being very walkable, supporting commerce, etc. etc. You need to get out more. If you can’t imagine it, go look for it in many urban settings around the world.

    We don’t have to settle for what we’ve done in the past, we can instead create the built environment we want.

    1. This is almost exactly what we’ve done in the past – nature band-aids around buildings. They become unsafe quickly.

    2. we can instead create the built environment we want.

      I agree. I want storefronts built right up to the sidewalk, so they attract foot traffic, not hidden behind a muddy grassy median, or a parking lot, or worse yet an impenetrable barrier of bushes.

      A neighborhood that dedicates over 50% of its area to “open space” is not an “urban setting.” These lawns and plantings are contributing to the destruction of real forests out on the periphery, because real activity could be happening here instead.

      1. I don’t see anything wrong with having a median or grass strip between sidewalk and the street. I think that actually enhances walkability as it shields pedestrians from street traffic and noise. What I saw in the video didn’t seem bad although the area around the park seemed purposefully sparse.

        What makes Seattle special compared to places like San Francisco or NYC is its preservation of greenspace in the urban environment. I like seeing houses among the trees.

        We can have store fronts fronting some buildings but not every residential street needs to have them even if the residential streets are mostly multi-unit buildings. So far as I can see, we have a glut of store front space with no takers. Developers are building them but are refusing to lower rents to “market rates”, which creates its own sort of blight.

      2. What about a spatial arrangement in which nothing is near anything else and walking is largely dull and monotonous (and empty and dark) and people mostly choose to drive everywhere and the transit sucks donkeys makes us “special” in the least.

        San Francisco and New York are among the outliers in making functional American cities busy and appealing.

        Seattle is downright average.

      3. A neighborhood that dedicates over 50% of its area to “open space” is not an “urban setting.”

        So by this definition, Central Park West isn’t an urban setting. This is an extraordinarily lazy bromide.

        These lawns and plantings are contributing to the destruction of real forests out on the periphery, because real activity could be happening here instead.

        This is actually nonsensical. Ceterus paribus, a bit of extra green space doesn’t change anything if FAR isn’t changed. That is completely obvious, isn’t it?

      4. A lawn is not a park. The park spaces in the video are shown as lawns–a park needs to be useful and have a purpose. Hopefully the final product will be more than just lawns. I lived in YT as a kid and the park spaces were always popular with kids; but the parks weren’t just big soggy lawns. There were swings, sandboxes and open spaces where kids could play and parents could chat.

        I think the big central park looks like it has too much concrete, but creating an open and inviting connection to Jackson Street is an excellent ideas. Most of the retail property should be nearer to Jackson Street than Harborview. The pocket parks may need to be better designed, but overall the design is a big improvement over the neighborhood I used to call “home”.

      5. To further clarify my point: if you hold a model of what an “urban setting” in your mind that doesn’t allow parks, you’ve got a broken model and need to adjust it.

        There’s no way to rationalise ‘A neighborhood that dedicates over 50% of its area to “open space” is not an “urban setting.”’ with a view that parks are acceptable. Maybe you’d like to clarify, Martin?

      6. Oh, Andrew, please.

        Don’t be one of those people who travel to New York or to Europe, who gravitates to Central Park or a grand Italian piazza, who marvels at the human activation, and who comes home and says:

        “You know what Seattle should do to replicate this: add more open space!”

        When you haven’t the density, haven’t the people, haven’t the OTHER USES packed into every inch of space surrounding the park or square that make those cities hum, then your “open space” will be vapid.

      7. d.p., you are completely missing my point. I’m not saying the parks space here is good or not, but I’m saying the rhetoric is clearly off. If your argument is clearly incorrect, you can’t convince anyone. Hand-waving me aside “Oh, Andrew, please” will never make the 16 out of 30 acre argument correct (which is ridiculous when you consider that YT is not an island, but part of a neighborhood without a lot of parks).

        You make the correct point, the one Martin should have made, which is “where are the other uses”, not “the percentage of land devoted to open space is not compatible with an urban environment”.

      8. You will not find any functional place anywhere with 53% of the land devoted to green.

        The “other stuff” doesn’t exist BECAUSE of that 53%.

        Central Park cannot exist without the city that surrounds it. Martin’s base argument is quite correct.

      9. I can’t tell if you are arguing for its own sake or not, d.p. Pick a park, that park is likely more than 53% “green”, right?

        Pick a park and the building next to it, that’s likely more than 53% green right? This is true for basically every park on earth. At some point you expand your area until that stops being true. YT is not an island, it’s not a snowglobe, it’s not a prison with a fence, armed guards and gates. It is a part of a larger place. It can make sense to build 53% of a place to parkland if it’s part of a place that doesn’t have a lot of parkland around it. Saying otherwise very quickly reduces to “Parks are incompatible with urban settings”, which surely you understand cannot be true?

        In fact, sometimes it’s okay to build parks by themselves and devote 100% of a project to parkland! If that doesn’t make sense to you, then you are going to make sense to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

      10. p.s. First Hill to the north of Yesler Terrace is surprisingly underutilized, full of dead space and surface parking. The C.D. to the east is sprawl city. There just isn’t much there there!

      11. I would wager that the surrounding First Hill/C.D. areas are so sparse that they represent AT LEAST 53% unbuilt space, not even counting the streets.

        Central Park encompasses just under 6% of Manhattan and not even 20% of the lateral space between 59th and 110th.

        The rest of the city is built out. Fully.

        53% is an unprecedented waste. It’s just dumb.

      12. I would wager that the surrounding First Hill/C.D. areas are so sparse that they represent AT LEAST 53% unbuilt space, not even counting the streets.

        That’s awesome, because parking lots can be developed.

        We agree that 53% is probably too much, but I bet you agree that one, continuous 16-acre park is better than a bit of wasted space here, and a bit of wasted space there. That’s another message we need them to get.

      13. Look again: gaps, setbacks, unbuilt lots, parking spaces. And planting strips.

        As a regular Frye-goer, I spend a lot of time in this area. It’s sparse, empty, and dead.

      14. These lawns and plantings are contributing to the destruction of real forests out on the periphery,

        You don’t need to make that abstraction. They are choking the planting of “urban forests” that can simultaneously enhance a pedestrian sense of place. Instead of curb +3′ mud strip with 6′ sidewalk +3′ garbage planter everywhere imagine most streets being just streets with 6′ sidewalks and everywhere else, separate from parking and traffic nicely planted pedestrian access which since it doesn’t have to be stripped for cars can vary in width from it’s 12′ average; like a river instead of an irrigation canal.

      15. d.p. unbuilt lots and parking lots get built all the time. It’s dead today, who knows about 2020 (or whenever YT will open) or 2030.

      16. If they get built the way Seattle tends to build things — crappy frontage, garages, “open space” — then they’ll stay dead forever.

      17. It sounds like you don’t actually disagree, but d.p. and Martin are talking about aggregate percentages while Andrew is hiding behind “but Central Park is 100% open space”. Both arguments lead to the same conclusion: sprinkling a ton of open space throughout the area isn’t the best way to go. I’m sure none of you would want all of Yesler Terrace converted to a park.

      18. I’m not hiding behind anything. I am very correctly pointing out that 16/30 or 53% or whatever are both bad ways of making an argument for less open space.

      19. Green Lake is in the middle of a mostly single family neighborhood and yet, on most days, there are throngs of people in the areas around the lake. The same is true for Volunteer Park.

      20. And the Green Lake parking lots have lines of cars waiting for spots to open.

        Green Lake is Seattle’s Santa Monica Beach: where people DRIVE to recreate.

        Which is fine for Green Lake, but is not infinitely replicable and hardly evidence of overwhelming locally-based demand.

    3. I’m with Andrew on this one. This post and (often) this blog have an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction against green space. Too often there is the rather lazy assumption that all green space will be desolate and dangerous, as if there isn’t a successful park in the whole wide world.

      Arguing that there is some one-to-one relationship between new urban parks and lost green space on the periphery is kinda cheap, as is suggesting a given percentage of green space is “anti-urban.” And claiming lush plantings are “the enemy of walkability” is frankly a “did-I-really-just-read-that?” line.

      The video shows multiple streets with buildings fronting the sidewalk, and even if didn’t the world overflows with examples of small planting strips that don’t “annihilate the possibility” of ground floor activity. Suggesting otherwise is New Urbanist orthodoxy gone haywire.

      Focusing on the percentage of green space in the new development is misdirected anyway. New Yesler won’t exist in isolation, but in a larger urban context. More interesting is what percentage of land will be green space in Pioneer Square, Yesler, Little Saigon, the ID, and that part of First Hill as a whole. Anyone who’s wandered around looking for a decent place to sit and enjoy that Salumi sammy or anything from Uwajimaya or Little Saigon knows what I mean.

      Yes, we need a denser, more walkable city. But central parks, pocket parks, and green space are an essential part of good urban fabric as well.

      1. And to follow-up to myself, I’d be very interested to know what percentage of that 16 acres the four parks consume.

    4. “The C.D. to the east is sprawl city. There just isn’t much there there!”

      My house is there, along with my garden. Touch it, and I’ll kick you in the shins.

      1. Good for you, being part of the boring-ass-space problem.

        Nobody threatened to take away your precious garden, big man. We just refuse to tolerate building ADDITIONAL dead zones where only junkies will ever have reason to be.

        But nice persecution complex mixed with violent-threat-based trolling, dick.

      2. ” where only junkies will ever have reason to be”

        My 4 and 7 yr olds are hardly junkies and the boy in particular is happy we have a big enough lawn to throw a pig skin around on. You should try it, it might help loosen that stick you’re sitting on.

        “We just refuse to tolerate building ”

        Who is “we”? You? Because last time I checked “we’ aren’y anywhere near a majority in my fine city.

    5. Sorry Martin, but people do not want to live around solid concrete. People want green space in their neighborhoods. People also want the ability to walk to a park, rather than need to drive to one, especially people in multi-family housing who don’t have yards of their own.

      1. Exactly. The key is making sure that the green space is in forms that enhance the walkability of the neighborhood rather than forms that hurt it.

        Good green space: Large, centrally located parks. Viewpoints in busy areas. Narrow planting strips between sidewalk and curb. Small private gardens, without high fences, where there are ground-level residence entrances. Lawns and landscaping in areas where you can’t help but have tons of pedestrians anyway.

        Bad green space: Pointless strips between building and sidewalks. Planting strips more than 6 feet wide. Pocket parks. “Open space” plazas in any place most pedestrians have no need to go. Large private front yards. Private yards behind high fences.

        “Green space is bad” is just as simplistic as “we need open space.”

      2. What David L is saying is correct. It applies even in small towns. It starts being obvious when you start looking.

      3. “Small private gardens, without high fences,”

        But low fences or other symbolic boundaries are good. People like being in small spaces, and when they’re in large spaces they gravitate to the edges of it. That’s impossible if there are no edges. A lawn meeting a sidewalk just isn’t enough edge, although a 4-foot tall row of flowers might be. That’s why all these open spaces and front lawns are empty: they aren’t intimate enough to make people want to be there.

    1. Martin’s right. Why are all those people in the visualization there? Many appear to be standing, not walking, but there’s no “there” there. If you look to the right and left, the buildings have at most one or two neutered entrances from the plazas; there are no shops to serve the pedestrians.

      That’s what he means by “lush plantings are the enemy of walkability”. It’s not that having greenery within the walkable area is bad. It’s that having a solid walls behind a vanity strip of greenery is bad.

    2. I’m not sure which plantings Martin is talking about. Certainly calling the the trees between the road and the sidewalk the enemy might be basically hysterical, especially when the image shows street parking (there may be more than one enemy).

      But I suspect he means all the random bits of open space between the buildings and the sidewalks, which is a bad thing.

      1. The gap in between building and sidewalk is definitely the worst abomination in the video.

      2. I think those plazas are crappy too, but I think the on-street parking is the worst part. I’d rather have planting strips than on-street parking.

      3. Why is street parking so terrible? Doesn’t it generally slow down traffic and provide a buffer between pedestrians and traffic?

      4. And a planting strip isn’t a buffer between pedestrians and street traffic?

        Now I’m confused, you can’t be for on-street parking and against planting strips.

      5. Planting strips should be narrow and are between sidewalk and curb. Good.

        The thing in the video is wide and is between building and sidewalk. Bad.

      6. In the Northeast, we call those gaps between building and sidewalk “places to pile snow”.

        I don’t think you need ’em in Seattle. They generally have no other value.

        The gap between sidewalk and road is the “storm drain zone”, in areas which don’t have buried pipes for storm drains. It’s also a place to pile snow. It also has some value in preventing crazed drivers from driving on the sidewalk.

      7. I’m late in coming back to this conversation, but [David] stepped in nicely. Go walk by a few streetfronts with plantings next to the building and see how bored you get on your walk, then try it at night and see how isolated it feels. Now do the same with even residential doors on the street, or ideally storefronts. I think I’d prefer a wider sidewalk and blank walls to building-side plantings.

        But planting strips between the sidewalk and the street I’m fine with.

  2. Open space should be productive space.

    Current Yesler Terrace lawns are full of vegetable gardens and children’s playthings. The central park and pocket parks needs to be extremely child-friendly – Yesler Terrace houses currently houses more children than adults – with good swingsets and places for kids to ride bikes and so-on. Go to the current development and you see the existing open spaces being well-used by kids. But lush landscaped greenery doesn’t exactly fit that use, and the video’s depiction of the parks doesn’t look quite like a proper playground. It looks like it your typical deserted Seattle open space for the sake of open space. Nor is it something that will accomodate family gardens. Numbered rooftop gardens or something, maybe P-patch plots in some of those 16 acres, that would be nice and better serve to replace what’s currently there.

    1. I agree with Lack. If the city really does step up and push roof top gardens, green roofs, that would be fantastic. Given that YT will be housing a lot more people after the do over I don’t know that 16 acres of park is sinful. Keep in mind that this concept is not a park master plan. I can see soccer fields, which would have to be turf not lawn getting near constant use. Demand for pea patch type gardens is huge in Seattle and steep hill sides are ideal; as long as tall buildings don’t block out all the light. I agree about the planting strips. They should have rendered in all the needles and fast food packaging that will collect in the mud. Not only bad for pedestrian use but awful for parking. Which BTW was LOS A+ in the video which means Seattle has completely depopulated by the time this gets built :=

    2. I totally agree. The reason downtown isn’t great for families isn’t because of lack of open space. It’s because of lack of play space. When my kids go to the park by our house, we don’t spend our time in the big muddy field, we spend it at the playground.

  3. The animation is quite nice. However, there’s not much shown for commercial activity within the buildings. I assume there will be something, otherwise where will people go for their food and services? Not everyone wants to eat and shop in the ID. I’ll be really surprised if the triangle block at 12th/boren/yesler isn’t redeveloped as well. That would make a nice bridge to the businesses on 12th South of Yesler.

    I assume that the “lawns” are a visualization shortcut. There’s no reason they couldn’t be more sustainably planted areas, perhaps with pavers for businesses to extend out from the buildings, like cafe patios.

    I would be really happy to see better pedestrian connections from Jackson to Yesler around 9th.

    1. not much shown for commercial activity within the buildings…
      I assume that the “lawns” are a visualization shortcut.

      The “blank” commercial activity is a shortcut. It’s way to time intensive to render all the new salons and dry cleaners := I’m more concerned with the streetscape though as that shortcut is likely to extend to the actual construction and we’re stuck with that for 100 years.

  4. You’re very wrong about the park (a big, central park will be very popular) but right on the rest. That green strip along Yesler serves little purpose and makes the whole area less walkable. Standard planting strips serve a good function (separating pedestrians from traffic and adding a little green), but that strip is much too big.

    Still, you’re just going to alienate people by making the greenery, rather than the wasted space, the focus of your complaint. People like green.

    1. I don’t object to the presence of a park in Yesler Terrace, although its size should be dictated by the extent that various uses will activate it. I object to the sheer volume of open space, which is anti-urban in every sense.

      I agree that people like green. I think it’s one of the major unexamined prejudices that leads to massive environmental destruction, and this post is part of a campaign to fix that.

      1. If they achieve the level of density they’re planning, the park will be activated just by people enjoying the outdoors, throwing frisbees and kicking soccer balls around. Once parks get beyond the useless “pocket park” size they are exceedingly well-used.

        I think it’s more productive to educate people about which green spaces work and don’t work than to try to convince them green is wrong. Medium to large parks work. Small planting strips work. Landscaping can work where it doesn’t interfere with ground-floor uses (just see any university campus). Pocket parks and “open space” don’t work.

      2. I wonder if what people really need around here is enclosed “open spaces”. Like big geodesic glass domes that enclose nature but let people enjoy it without necessary all the rain etc. Put on some big arena style lights, heat it up in the winter. Imagine if you had this neighborhood, where the front door opened into a complete climate controlled park, complete with facilities for sports, eating and so on. In fact, imagine a combination enclosed park, shopping mall and housing all totally integrated so you wouldn’t have to take a car to go to either. And then from the back side of the house you could exit and get on transit, get in a taxi and so on.

      3. John: people *DIG* indoor, glass-covered park space where it exists. I’m having trouble thinking of examples, it’s so rare; needs a lot of maintenance.

      4. Volunteer Park’s Conservatory, for one. This would be very popular in our long Seattle winters. I would visit frequently, especially if they had a cafe.

      5. In Michigan we called those sorts of enclosed, park-like spaces “winter gardens.” They’re lovely, but expensive to build and maintain. I suspect the energy usage to heat/ventilate such a large volume would be hard to justify, too.

      6. I think maintenance is certainly an issue, and I’d guess it would be expensive. I’m less afraid of the heating issue – use double or triple pane glass and radiant heat. For cooling, have the glass roof open up.

  5. In my view, the Yesler Terrace project is one of the most well designed projects Seattle has ever seen. It emphasizes a walkable, safe neigborhood where families can thrive, at densities that exceed 98% of Seattle’s land area. not every street is designed to have commercial storefronts, but there are enough to provide basic services. It is designed to connect better with the commercial area on Jackson for a broader range of goods and services. Streets would be re-arranged to make the open space and circulation work. If you have not been following this design process and are just now catching on, I suggest you look a little depper before you express your aversion to open space.

    1. If all the commercial areas are going to be on Jackson then you’re conceding there will be no such uses in the development, which is unconscionable given the streetcar stop and major arterials. It will lead to people driving to take care of their basic needs.

      The “towers in the park” concept — which is what this video is — has been widely discredited as a form for public housing projects, one that Seattle has thankfully avoided until now. Why we’re keen to start these, I don’t know.

      1. Didn’t most cities just get done tearing down “Towers in the Park” style Le Corbusier inspired housing, because it was terrible as public housing?

      2. It’s a stretch to call this towers in the park, especially if the boulevard really is made pedestrian friendly. A true tower in the park would be a highrise accessible only by car, or at least it would take five or ten minutes walking from the road to reach it, on a path that’s either unsafe for pedestrians or at least just lawn and roads. Something similar to a cloverleaf freeway interchange, or a huge parking lot in front of Fred Meyer (although the latter is probably not as bad).

      3. The visualization looks extremely “towers in a park”, and that really does have an appallingly awful record.

    2. Mark — too much green/open space in the wrong locations reduces walkability by increasing the distance between useful places, without providing any benefit.

      For example, the endless strips of green between the buildings and the sidewalks are absolutely terrible. That’s not useful open space. You can’t use it as a park to kick a ball around or have a picnic, nor does it doesn’t protect you from traffic. It adds up to longer walking distances, smaller buildings, narrower sidewalks and, in my experience, tends to be a place that collects garbage.

      The green space needs to be very targeted, like as a buffer between traffic or as a playground or park. The problem is that in the video the green space appears to be arbitrarily “spread out” to get an even dose everywhere, without any real rhyme or reason.

      We should be counting the steps it takes to get from an apartment to the nearest (useful) park, grocery store, transit stop, etc. Anything that increases the number of steps it takes without providing function should be questioned. Open space is important, but it should be targeted and not simply spread around as appears to be the case in the video.

  6. People who don’t want to live in dense neighborhoods usually don’t want to because they want to live in a greener, quieter area. If we can create dense development around green space, we can persuade those people that dense living is a good thing.

    Vancouver has this kind of urban design everywhere in downtown, and a lot more families live in Vancouver’s downtown than Seattle’s.

    1. Setbacks don’t equal quiet – noise has no problem making it through a dozen feet of space – I recommend better windows.

      See every tower-in-a-park public housing project ever as to why this is a bad idea. This isn’t as bad as many of them, but relies on the same concepts.

      What people like more than planter strips is people. Planter strips remove active space. Let’s take an extreme: Go take a walk through Freeway Park in the middle of the night and see how safe you feel. That’s the largest set of planter strips in the city.

      1. All the measures to create quiet on the outside don’t do a thing to prevent noise in adjacent apartments, though supposedly construction these days is better at insulation.

    2. The West End has an interrupted automobile grid (w/ permeable bike/pedestrian grid) for the sake of quiet. This does mean fewer eyes on the street, though, which may only work because the area as a whole is so amazingly safe.

      The West End absolutely does not have 53% green space!!

      1. The West End has 45,000 people living in it.

        This MUCH more sparsely populated area (even after the redevelopment) need exponentially more internal open space because why?

    3. Vancouver has this kind of urban design everywhere in downtown, and a lot more families live in Vancouver’s downtown than Seattle’s.

      This is spot on. This looks a lot like Coal Harbour or Yaletown (though the buildings in YT seem to be a bit taller than what they have in Vancouver).

      1. Yaletown has UNINTERRUPTED street frontage thanks to its warehouse-with-railroad-sidings history. Coal Harbor had WAY less open space than this.

      2. To be fair, Coal Harbour is basically next door to Stanley Park (so less need for a park). I agree with the frontage thing.

        The important thing is to see the difference between useless “open space” and a new park. A new park is not a terrible idea. A bunch of tiny “pocket” parks is not totally obvious either way (though probably not good either). But bits of open space strewn about and massive planting strips we can all agree is terrible.

        That’s a different argument from the nonsensical one that “53% is never a good number” (or “16 out of 30 is too much”), as if every project lives in isolation and there’s some magic formula that’s correct in all cases.

      3. We agree that a concentrated, dedicated, activate-able space is better than a bunch of random setbacks and “openness”.

        But I’m sorry, Martin is right: 53% open is never a good number. You can’t have a city that’s only 47% city.

      4. Christ, d.p. Yesler Terrace isn’t a city!!! It’s a tiny, tiny part of a much larger thing. That’s basically all we’re in disagreement about it seems.

        Like I said, obviously a park and the building next to it could be above 53% (or whatever the magic number) and be fine.

      5. We’ve been over this. Seattle is the great “open space” city. I would be shocked if more than 47% of nearly any section of this city is truly built-up.

        I’m sorry you think I just “like to argue”, but Martin is correct to be on this crusade. The “open space is the answer” fetish is not valid in a city whose main fault is misuse of space.

        The vast majority of this city is unwalkable — not technically, but in practice — because it’s empty and monotonous. Downtown, that means towers with plazas and setbacks and nothing facing the street. In the neighborhoods, that means endless rows of bungalows with yards and four-packs with high fences.

        In the daytime, emptiness repels walking because it’s so boring that distances seem further than they really are. At night, emptiness means darkness and fear.

        People don’t even want to walk 2 extra blocks to a bus in our “city” environment, to the point of breaking out the pitchforks.

        This is not subjective, Andrew. Open space is killing this city for non-automobile users.

        People still whine about the failure of the Seattle Commons plan, which would have erased Westlake Ave North (the only street in SLU that currently works) from the map!

        Those who would pine for such wanton destruction have no business taking part in discussions about how to move Seattle forward.

      6. You just made such a better argument d.p. than “53%” or “16/30”, which is “Seattle already has too much open space, and we don’t need open more space there, what we need is more walkable places, and we’ll get that with …” That’s an argument that understands context, and that magic formulas aren’t the problem.

        I actually think a park there might be nice.

      7. d.p.: that was hilarious.


        I’ve gotten to the point where if someone complains that something, anything, will cause traffic and parking problems, I have a knee-jerk reaction in support of it.

  7. I think there isn’t too much green space. There really is a lack of parkland in that area, so it’s not the amount, but the layout: there should be one central park, not just “green space” spread everywhere.

    1. Agreed wholeheartedly. A central park provides a gathering place; a dozen parks littered about are just more space to traverse between you and your destination.

  8. I wonder about the pocket parks and lack of retail/activity on the sidewalks. (Also, the planting strips do look ridiculously big, although this is just a model). Pocket parks can become magnets for crime, drug dealing, encampments, etc. If there’s no reason for non-resident folks to be in the neighborhood, these pocket parks could quickly decline and create unsafe spaces.

    Seems like it would be better to create retail, etc., that would encourage more usage of the streets.

    1. Use the pocket park space to enlarge the central park. Pocket parks have always been useless. If they’re central, they turn into havens of drug activity; if they’re peripheral, they just sit empty.

      1. The pocket parks are north of Yesler and the central park is south of Yesler. We can’t move Yesler given its narrow hillside, so adding the pocket parks to the center park would mean eliminating a building next to the park. That may or may not be OK, but we’d have to see how it would change the area south of Yesler.

    1. Tory, check yourself. We’re complaining about poor implementations of proposed park space. Open space is not a noble goal in and of itself.

    2. Ok Tory,

      Then what’s the right percentage of park space in this city? Do we keep going till we’re 98% parkland?

      1. 98%, as we both know, would be nearly impossible. What about 35%? Rather than imagine a city as an urban continuum, let’s imagine it as a city built on land that gives us dictates. Should a major shopping and commerce core be located on a hilltop? I think Downtown, and Rainier Valley do a better job as gathering points. It’s nice to fantasize about overlaying a neighborhood that belongs in Brooklyn onto Seattle, but it doesn’t quite reflect the conditions of the site; a relatively hard to reach, yet central residential area.

        I can think of excellent examples of developers integrating parkland, commercial space and residential space. The new residences hall on West Campus at UW and Thornton Place, in Northgate should be models.
        Can’t there be density built in context with the landscape?

  9. I think its very important to remember that this project is not supposed to be all “main streets”. This is an essentially residential neighborhood. Not really planning on shops on the bottom stories.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly what’s wrong with it! It’s the shops on the bottom stories that make a place worth walking around in, and it’s people walking around in a place that make it feel alive, and it’s feeling alive that makes people want to live there.

      1. I think you’re overestimating the appeal of busy streets and shops directly underneath you at all times. I personally love that. I like downtown life. But as a for instance, Capitol Hill is a very popular place to live, but not everyone who lives there would like to live on broadway. This plan has community gardens, a small retail corridor(along the SC), and groundfloor apartments that open to the street. That sounds like a place a lot of folks would like. Id say that you should really read the DPD material and not put much faith in the “rah rah” video. There is a lot of good legislation in there.

      2. @ John Cracolici:
        Capitol Hill, particularly the non-broadway portion, such as near group health, or Summit is not a fair comparison to these plans. First, those neighborhoods aren’t nearly as green as YT would be, with maybe 10-15% being park land. Moreover that park land is for the most part concentrated in larger parks that serve as destinations, such as Cal Anderson and Miller, as opposed to as an oversaturation of small pocket parks of which many will inevitably turn into wasted spaces.

        The second comparison error is that Capitol Hill is full of old buildings and a strong sense of character where as new YT would not be. Neighborhoods that work tend to continue working, while blighted neighborhoods tend to stay blighted. It’s important that new YT come out of the gates strong in this aspect. In turn that means that design must be careful to ensure that space feels activated and not desolate. It would be nice to a single block or half block be dedicated to a playground/pee patch style park like Cascade park, but the design choices and use of green space here are exceptionally poor.

      3. Summit has at least three pocket parks: Tashkent, that new P-patch thing or whatever near Starbucks, and at Thomas & Bellevue. The stairways above Melrose are kind of parks too, in that people sit on or around them. The Thomas & Bellevue park is probably the most useless because it’s a lawn on top of a mound so it’s hard to really use it for anything. If they’d just level the mound, the dog walkers and frisbee throwers and lawn wrestlers would use it more, and more picnickers and and book readers would use it.

    2. @Mars. I understand what youre getting at, and its totally valid. However I think its important to remember that not everyone is like us. My GF for instance. If i told her that we were moving to one of two condos, and CondoA has a coffee shop across the street and CondoB has a Peapatch across the street, she would REALLY want to move to CondoB. Im not saying that ground level retail is bad, Im just saying that there are definitely people who think that living in the city, with a little quiet and greenery, is the best of all worlds. They will not have trouble selling the units.

      @Alex. Dont understand your argument about Cap Hill v YT. YT is not blight, it is simply very old and in need of repairs, and the city is seizing a devopment opportunity. YT is working, so it will continue to work? Thats ok with me. Also, both Cap Hill and YT are full of old building. Especially Yt. Thats kinda the problem there. They also both have character, and a neighborhood feel. Basically I think we are disagreeing on the margins, how much retail v green? I dont think it matters all that much to get it perfectly right, because its a matter of opinion. I think YT will be fine 40-60, 50-50, 60-40 or whatever. There will be plenty of folks wanting to live in that location, with that view, with that commute, with SOME parks and SOME retail.

      1. @Jon,
        The issue with the YT design is not so much a general green-space vs. density argument but a critique of the low quality of most of the green-space proposed for the YT development.

        I certainly don’t have a problem with p-patches, parks, playgrounds, plazas, yards, or decks as long as those spaces are well-designed, useful, usable, and most importantly USED.

  10. It’s all very pretty but it just looks like the same old Le Corbusier towers-in-the-park silliness. Get rid of all those highrises and pack the whole place full of five-story apartments with retail on the ground floor: THAT’S how you make an urban village.

    1. There’s enough demand to fill those towers.

      But we don’t need to plant them in an ocean of green.

      1. Id say take a look at the actual plan. Theres more of what youre asking for than you think.

      2. I’m sure there’s plenty of demand, I just think they should waste less of the footprint on those oh-so-clever, destined-to-be-desolate “green spaces” and just build a normal, walkable neighborhood full of friendly street-level retail instead, and if they did that they might not have to stretch the towers up quite so high.

  11. Upon first read, I found Martin’s complaint to be ridiculous and missing the greater point. But then I watched the video and now humbly agree.

    All that open space gives it a soul-less suburban office park feel. Like Kent or Issaquah. Just wasted open space for the sake of open space.

    The initial scene of the video, with its tall rectangular towers surrounded by open space, reminded me of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. And we all know how that turned out.

    1. I hope we all realize that Pruitt-Igoe wasn’t doomed to failure solely by its architecture and landscaping any more than it could ever have succeeded solely by its architecture and landscaping as some of the more wide-eyed planners hoped. That isn’t to say much for its design, but let’s remember the limits of that.

      1. Pruitt-Igoe’s failure was caused by a chorus of poor decisions (no men allowed, no maintenance budget, etc). But It was a gigantic cluster of oversized generic buildings, with one intent: housing. While on the surface that seems great, it shows why these projects nearly always fail so spectacularly: healthy neighborhoods include mixed uses, on the same blocks including housing, retail, and office space.

        This is why neighborhoods that have grown organically always seem livelier and healthier than huge developments built all at once. South Lake Union is a perfect example of this: what a generic, soulless wasteland. When I’m down there I feel like I’m in the USSR, circa 1970.

        I just hope they don’t f*** up Yesler Terrace.

  12. Well, it certainly gives a reason for the FHSC to make the big jog to Broadway/Yesler, but I have to wonder about mode choice between taking the tram or just hopping on a 27 to 3rd.
    Beef up the 27 to arrive at the same time as FHSC and I’d bet 75% choose the bus. I’ll take in-direction travel any day over out of direction for that distance.

    1. For those going downtown, 27 is a good choice. But the streetcar connects to the ID, the CD, and light rail. The 27 won’t get you there (ok, light rail, but it’s probably faster and more direct on the streetcar).

      But this sounds off topic.

      1. (ok, light rail, but it’s probably faster and more direct on the streetcar)

        Scooting down to 3rd and Yesler on your butt would be faster and more direct than taking the streetcar.

      2. Oh, I think it’s quite ‘on-topic’. Yesler has the opportunity to become a great transit main-street, if the street is designed as such, and the project is oriented toward the main-street, and it focuses retail and activity along that corridor as such.
        The video is pretty, with all the trees and grass, but leaves much to be desired from a transit oriented development perspective.
        The streetcar is marginalized by it’s torturous routing, and Yesler is marginalized by the traffic calming measures and lack of core status trolley service to Link.
        So in the end, another well intentioned big mistake by Seattle pols.

  13. Lots of opinions here, many not well informed by reality though.

    Retail or commercial frontage is not the be all, end all of active urban streets. Seattle has required in a number of cases commercial ground floor space in new development that sits, rightfully, empty waiting for a market to appear for it that may never happen.

    The active, walkable commercial streets in NY for example are hardly every block, even in Manhattan. Commerce is concentrated usually on avenues and the numbered streets are frequently quiet. There is nothing worse than dispersing commerce to where it struggles from lack of activity. Even so, those quiet side streets can be walkable, and interesting. Many have small private open spaces or planting spaces between the curb and sidewalk and are very green.

    It is a fallacy to think that a green urban environment is a zero sum trade against activity, walkability, commerce and density. To think this is simply a lack of imagination, and/or a failure to observe and understand excellent urban examples throughout the world.

    1. Ostensibly agree but those neighborhoods are surrounded by said avenues and businesses, which buffer against problems of urban desolation. Moreover, what your describing is more like Summit, which is not 53% green nor filled with open spaces and already has a lot a neighborhood character to work with. That type of development is different (and better) than what’s being proposed here. It cannot be emphasized enough that a complete redevelopment of such a large space (as opposed to gradual change) limits the number of design errors that can be accommodated before the neighborhood faces real functionality problems.

      In this same vein the areas surrounding YT aren’t nearly functional urban spaces as the areas surrounding those Manhatten neighborhoods you speak of nor a neighborhood like summit, making design choices even more critical here.

    2. I’d go along with this if the new (or old) YT resembled a New York numbered street in the slightest. It does not. The streets don’t go through. They’re not connected to anything. There’s nothing outside of it, no reason to walk there. People don’t walk because they’re hopped up on goofballs; they walk because there are places to go. There are no places to go in YT.

      Every one of the numbered streets in Manhattan has something exciting at the end of it — and not just one thing, but a hundred things, the strands of which cross in a 100**2 ways.

      1. But we’re building a streetcar through it, Fnarf. A streetcar!

        They’re magic! It doesn’t even matter where they come from, or where they go, or how slow they move!

    3. There’s actually a glut of commercial space right now. Drive around any neighborhood outside the CBD and you’ll see a lot of storefronts with “FOR LEASE” signs in them, some of them pretty new. You can’t just throw three or four shops into a residential neighborhood and expect them to be successful — retail needs to be clustered to become a destination.

      1. “There’s actually a glut of commercial space right now.” I’ve frequently heard this claim, and although it could be true but I’m not convinced. The few places I know of with more than one or two empty storefronts have underlying real estate issues (building to be torn down soon or sold soon, for example). Yes, rents aren’t always what owners would like, but they’re not often cheap either.

  14. Isn’t the greenery concept exactly what much of Vancouver’s West End does? I think it’s completely valid to push for a quieter, neighborhoody feel even with larger, denser development. Walkability and livability take many forms.

  15. I understand the intuition to think more green is better. But it needs to be acknowledged that to much open space and other poor design choices can ruin a neighborhood. The “projects” are an example of this, but hardly the only one. Anyone and everyone who doesn’t understand and would like a robust explanation of this should watch this Ted talk, which clearly and elegantly explains why the green = good mentality doesn’t work, as well as what does.

  16. First Hill is dead because there’s no retail. All those people working in Harborview never come outside; on their lunch hours they go to the cafeteria.

    There is so much wrong with YT besides green space, though that is a part of it. The real problem is that it is wholly segregated from the city, and that looks to continue. The street grid in that area was ripped out in three successive waves — the Boren/Rainier extension, YT, and the freeway. That is what they should be putting back, but they’re not. All those streets still dead end, and all those spaces are still hidden from view — more hidden, in fact, in the new plan.

    YT needs retail and it needs it badly. Where are these people supposed to shop for groceries, or get sandwiches or coffee or candy bars? These blocks are just chopped out of the fabric of the city — which, in THIS city, is the default. Places to get through as quickly as possible, in your car, on your way to someplace else.

    I love it when people start gabbling on about Central Park. This isn’t Central Park; we already HAVE a Central Park, which is called Volunteer Park (Volunteer Park is twice as close to the Seattle CBD than Central Park is to Wall Street). And yeah, Central Park West is kind of a dead zone, by New York standards, lined with 8-figure apartments and large emptinesses. Compare the street life on CPW to nearby Broadway and tell me how critical park space is. Note also that CP was not dug out of the busy city; it was built out in the country, and the city grew around it, not the other way around.

    Nothing is going to grow around this new YT.

  17. A couple things to consider when attempting to figure out the golden ratio. First, redevelopment is going to happen over a fairly long period rather than over night like it has in places like Williston ND. If we cordon off 16 acres from development it forces more density in the available 14 than if you allowed it to spread chicken pox style everywhere. Second, it’s much easier to sell public land or build more public housing if you hang onto the property rather than try to buy it back later. The initial planing stage sets the upper limit for how much park space will be set aside but leaves open a miriad of opportunities for how that land can be used in the future. It’s not like we’re asking for it to be declared as federal wilderness area.

  18. My issue is definitely with the towers/lack of permeability between the streets and the buildings. The the large park is a bit too large but could be a really nice feature if the rest of the space was done properly.

    What this should be is corner to corner development with plenty of retail and other street level interaction opportunities. We don’t have to invent this stuff – simply research the best/most walkable cities in the world and pick the best features of those places.

    It’s a great opportunity, lets not waste it by allowing building of an upscale cabrini green.

  19. The central park looks like it’s going to replace the empty concrete expanse next to the community center. That location at a T street, at the top of a steep hill with an expansive view, is worth making into a park, as a kind of center to the neighborhood. For one reason, so that the public can enjoy the view rather than just a few lucky residents or employees. And the pedestrian climb from the International District sounds promising if it cuts down all the detouring you have to do.

    The boulevard greenway could be made significantly narrower without losing its pedestrian-friendly, green quality. 16th Avenue East, for instance, is a nice tree-lined neighborhood street that many neighborhoods would like to have.

    There may be a use for one pocket park as a children’s play area next to the buildings rather than in the big park. Not sure about that. But then it should have significant play furniture and not look like a forbidding windswept lawn. Perhaps the number of pocket parks could be shrunk to one while still having enough space for the kids.

    1. Mike, I’d go one further and say it *should* be narrowed. That feels like a real opportunity for neighborhood-scale intimate streetscape to me.

      I’m also torn between the ‘for the kids’ argument. I know YT in its current incarnation is incredibly full of kids, and the current land use does a surprisingly good job of supporting that. The green spaces that are there now are *used*.

      But after you get done tearing it apart and rebuilding it, there’s little to no guarantee that any of those kids (or most of those kids) come back. It’ll be a very, very different place when all this is complete.

      As much as I disagree with Martin’s “green is the enemy of walkability” bromide, I’m also not a fan of ‘you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again’ planning.

  20. I would debate whether this is actually “light-years better” than current day Yesler Terrace. The area today has virtually everything that you want from a well functioning neighborhood: Streets safe enough for kids to play on, a strong community organization that actually cares about their neighborhood, diversity of people, languages, and cultures living together, human scale development, entrepreneurial enterprises, activated space like community gardens, and strong usage of the community center. The only thing that is missing is density and money.

    This redevelopment is going to destroy the neighborhood. Any talk about “right of return” is mostly hot air: You have to still be with the SHA, and many residents will either not be able to find housing withing SHA, will transition to voucher subsidized market rate housing, or simply move somewhere else. The video makes virtually no mention of low income housing, except that the high rises (with their views and balconies) will be market rate. I suppose that the low-income units will be shoved in the shadows with no views, no gardens, and nothing that actually makes Yesler Terrace successful today.

    Sure, this was inevitable. There is no way that such valuable property could remain simply a great community in the middle of the city that serves low-income residents forever, but the new development is not going to have anywhere near the strength of community that is there now. In that sense, I don’t really think this is “light-years” better at all and the fate of the low-income units is going to be telling: Will there be clusters throughout the community embedded in the market rate units? Or is the community just going to be segregated by height?

  21. It’s painfully clear that development concepts are designed solely to look pretty from the top-down elevation. Oooh, green. Ooh, curvy walkway, so pretty. Yes, even and orderly arrangement of trees and bushes. It’ll look so nice looking out your window down at all that stuff. Ah, the parking lot aisle loops are so enticing.

    With all the processing and imaging and modeling power we have today, you’d think that it would be a no-brainer to offer immersive models that show you just what it will be like to actually live a daily life in the developed structure and landscape. Or simulate the contrived circles you will have to drive when the parking lot is near full — and how hard it is to tell that until you’ve driven all the way through it. Or how when you’re trying to catch the morning bus, how you’ll be running through the grass next to the curvy walkway to save time. You’ll ask yourself “who the fuck thought this was a good idea?” and the answer is the people that a) had no plans to live/work there and b) only cared if it looked pretty from 100 feet up.

    The reason we don’t have those immersive models, of course, is that it would force designers and landscapers to make things that actually WORKED instead of just letting their squiggly creativity fly. Form over function is the order of the day.

    Up til recently this was solely a suburban phenomenon, but apparently the cities are no longer immune.

    1. The reason we don’t have those immersive models, of course, is

      Drum roll please… It would consume the budget of a block buster CGI Hollywood movie. A sketch is worth a thousand CGI animations. Unfortunately the current fetish with computer generated presentations results in architecture based more on Halo than da Vinci.

  22. A Ballard project tries a different shade of green, sacrificing development potential to leave half the site as open space.

    Tim Trohimovich, planning and law director for the anti-sprawl group Futurewise, says he has mixed feelings about the project.

    “On the one hand, we need to use our urban lands wisely,” he says. “But you don’t need to max out every site. You do need green spaces as well.”

    There was an article a few days ago about a SF home, Your city garden can go completely wild, that emphasized the importance of wildlife corridors. For a city to legitimately claim it is working toward sustainability it has to contribute rather than just claim it’s allowing the planet to be better somewhere else. And large disconnected parks are nothing more than tree museums.

  23. How much of this green space is mandated by the new stormwater retention rules? My understanding was you weren’t allowed to just pave over a site with impervious surfaces anymore.

  24. This proposal is awful. Zero functionality whatsoever. Neighborhoods in the heart of the city should not resemble an officer park in Lynnwood.

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