Peter and Gordon Peter Steinbrueck former Seattle city councilmember and Sightline board member Gordon Price got together for a lively debate last night in Seattle’s downtown library. The question: whose home town was the greatest city—Seattle or Vancouver, BC.  The premise, however, was that each advocate had to argue for the other guy’s hometown. 

Steinbrueck launched his argument noting the fact that Vancouver had accessible and safe bathrooms in public places. Seattle has had a struggle with this issue and just recently scrubbed an effort to put more pay toilets in high traffic areas. It’s a great point. How can a city be vibrant if people are concerned about what they are going to do if one of them has to “go,” especially families with children?

  • Steinbrueck also highlighted Vancouver’s consistent and comprehensive planning and the decision to not cut the city up with freeways. He said this makes Vancouver more livable than Seattle. He also pointed out that although Vancouver’s planners have tremendous decision-making power, performance based zoning—a system where land use decisions are negotiated project by project rather than driven solely by the code—has benefited land use over the decades. Performance based zoning is aimed at achieving good design and function while, in Steinbrueck’s view, our code is about preventing bad things from happening. Performance based zoning encourages projects that create good returns on investment for the developer and public benefits for the community.

    Defending Seattle, Canadian Gordon Price focused first on design and the materials used in Seattle’s housing, cleverly pointing out that because of glaciers pushing clay down from what is now Canada into the Seattle region thousands of years ago the more southern city “has great bricks.” He contrasted our brick and wood construction with the “Vancouver Special,” big lumbering vinyl sided homes that are built more for size than anything else.

    Price praised Seattle’s location as key and—interestingly—the city’s public art. The art, he suggested, is part of what lends Seattle its unique character, spirit and cohesiveness while maintaining diversity. He also insisted that because of the many wealthy philanthropists from the city, Seattle has been able to fund privately what Vancouver has only been able to do with government intervention. And, he said, it’s that “American private-sector can-do drive” that has enabled Seattle to thrive and become the great city that it is.

    All in all, everyone had a good time and both men found ways to lavish praise on the city they don’t call home.

    Which city came out on top at the end of the night? I thought the debate was a draw. Moderator C.R. Douglas called it for Steinbrueck and Vancouver. What I appreciated most was the depth of knowledge both Price and Steinbrueck had of each other’s city. It made me fantasize for a minute about an exchange program for elected officials from both cities (both Steinbrueck and Price were city councilmembers) that would allow sharing of ideas, talents and perspectives. As Price said we have a lot to learn from each other.

    You can watch both the Vancouver and Seattle debates at the VIA architecture blog.