My last post on Seattle’s process to select a design team to remake the downtown waterfront attracted a lot of great comments and discussion. Here’s more.
Now that the design team has been selected—james corner field operations was chosen—I would suggest that they not only read fnarf’s post that I wrote about, but that they also take a trip to Portland to learn all they can about that city’s South Waterfront neighborhood.
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The team should spend a few days figuring out how the City of Portland took the 140 acres of land and 6500 feet of Willamette waterfront and converted it from derelict industrial use to a growing mixed use residential neighborhood with green buildings, swales, transit access, a possible district energy project, and, yes, a park. Let’s take a look at the South Waterfront neighborhood with help from fnarf.
Boulevards—South Waterfront doesn’t have any. But it does have street car access and a street grid packed into the area between the Willamette River to the east, the I-5 corridor to the west, the Marquam Bridge and River Place community to the north, and the John’s Landing community to the south. Street grids make for walkable neighborhoods which is a big part of creating human connections with a vibrant hustle and bustle rather than treacherous boulevards which divide people from each other.
Parks—A park is on its way, and any visit to the South Waterfront neighborhood will get a distinctly park feel. In fact one might even feel like it’s a park with buildings mixed in. The flashy South Waterfront website claims 40 acres of land is saved by living vertically—land which could be habitat, farmland, or open space.
Commerce-Free Zones—The South Waterfront is a mixed use neighborhood with a growing number of businesses and retail tenants. There are parts of the neighborhood that aren’t built out yet and feel vacant. And in today’s real estate market the whole area can feel kind of apocalyptically overbuilt. Will new people ever move into the neighborhood? Whether more businesses and residents move into the area will be determined by a number of variables. But the room to grow retail and commercial businesses is there.
Yes, there are lot of differences between the existing conditions of the area and Seattle’s waterfront. For example, Portland’s use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) certainly helped get the infrastructure that made the new development possible. Seattle doesn’t have TIF but it can use its power to use zoning to create incentives for dense and appropriate development of the waterfront.
I have to say that I find it amusing that Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she doesn’t want the Seattle waterfront to become like Miami Beach. I’ve never been, but based on a YouTube tour it looks like an ideal waterfront based on historic preservation, slowing cars down to a crawl, and lots of hustle and bustle. Note to Councilmember Bagshaw: Miami Beach doesn’t look so bad.
Portland and Seattle are different cities; one has a river and the other a sound. But the basic principles are the same. Seattle already has beachy waterfront access at Myrtle Edwards downtown, Alki in West Seattle, and Golden Gardens in Ballard. Do we really need more beachy, parky, waterfront? Shouldn’t we aspire to make our waterfront a green neighborhood on an even bigger scale than the South Waterfront? This is Seattle’s opportunity to catch up, tunnel or no tunnel.