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Waterfront park design needs a dose of reality

The skies are blue, people are smiling, everything is beautiful on Seattle's new waterfront. Mirage alert!
Artists' conception of the Seattle waterfront.

Artists' conception of the Seattle waterfront. City of Seattle

What is it with architects and designers? When it comes to art, they all turn into propagandists of the worst type. It seems to be impossible for them to give the public a realistic idea of how their concepts will actually look and feel. Everything comes bathed in the glowing light and vivid colors of a Thomas Kinkade painting — or worse, the triumphal "art" we associate with places like North Korea.

I think of North Korea's pavilion at the world's fair in Shanghai in 2010. It's slogan: "Paradise of People." The country was portrayed as a place where the fountains were filled — I kid you not — with dancing cherubs. Everyone is pink, plump and happy.

Frankly, it's not unlike the view we have from images of the proposed Seattle waterfront makeover. On the new Seattle waterfront, it's always sunny, t-shirt weather. The skies are blue, the winds gentle, every day is Bumbershoot.

The new public waterfront teems with life. People are dancing, musicians play in the plazas, we're even swimming and hot-tubbing on a floating party barge. The people are plastic too — cutouts or place-holders walking, sitting or having fun under the orders of the invisible hand of the master designer. There is no surprise, little real diversity. The streets are expunged of street people, panhandlers, fat people, troublemakers, Wal-Mart shoppers, Ducks. At the new waterfront, it's always San Diego in Seattle.

Everything is new, new, new. History had been polished away. So too the natural environment, which seems composed mostly of non-native trees plucked from the nearest City People's.

Such pictures are standard practice, but they edge toward malpractice. Our designers should create places that will work on our worst days — or at least on the normal rainy, chilly days. Windy, rainy, cloudy is our most frequent weather trio. What will the waterfront look like in January, or Juneuary?

Reality, I think, is important to portray. Get beyond the sales job. The waterfront is too important to be a real estate ad.

This makeover is going to cost (insert Carl Sagan’s voice here) millions and millions of dollars and require ongoing public subsidies. Give us a realistic glimpse of how things might look as it ages out a bit — easily done with computers — so we can see what it looks like in maturity. That's important because not everything ages well. Sure, paint a great vision, but bring us back to earth too.

If I were waterfront czar, I’d demand a realistic portrayal of the design, as well as one of the huge makeover it will inevitably need in 25 years — everything that went wrong and how we’ll fix it.

Freeway Park is an example. Considered by many to be an international gem of landscape architecture, it has experienced the inevitable problems that come with age: The waterfalls were turned off, the trees overgrew, some parts of the park became dark and downright scary. Freeway Park was a brilliant idea, but any park must be judged by its worst days as well as its best, how it meets the challenges of reality and time.

Seattle Center has been a constant work in progress. Westlake needs help, we all know that. The struggle to keep urban public spaces vital, safe and appealing, rather than appalling is really hard work. I think it might be less hard if we designed spaces that we didn’t  fall in love with because of the brochure.

I understand that we're easily delighted by new ideas and distracted by shiny baubles (a gondola!). But, we can also deal with facts. Designers need to stop giving us sun-soaked cherubs and show us some Rain City citizens; convey the scent of sea and mildew, not just cotton candy. Show us a public waterfront that feels like it was made for where we really live and the people who really live here.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:03 a.m. Inappropriate

My thought exactly, except more gently phrased. Thank you, sir!

mspat

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:51 a.m. Inappropriate

These renderings are another example of the ongoing Disney-fication of downtown Seattle, the devolution from a raucous cauldron of racial, ethnic, and class diversity to a Amazonian cubicle workers' paradise, from a core with grit under its fingernails to a hotel conference center with antiseptic gel dispensers near all the doors. In the rendering, I noticed that the young girl sitting on the bench by herself stares at the ground, depressed. She's disappointed by this sanitized dream.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

What, you think syphilis is fun?

Simon

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 11:37 p.m. Inappropriate

The girl is not depressed by this sanitized dream; she's depressed because reality is that no one talks to her, they all have cell phones or netbooks their eyes are glued to. The girl simply craves human contact, and she's not finding it at Disney-Seattle either.

Sad.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:51 a.m. Inappropriate

The last sentence is my biggest concern about this project. After seeing Seattle Center being transformed from a gathering place for the people of Seattle to a tourist-oriented destination, what are the odds that the new waterfront will be made for the people who live here?

talisker

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Answer: Zero

mspat

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

More beach, less development!

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure what I think overall. But some basics:

It's smart to capitalize on the existing strengths. Improve pedestrian flow from the Market and to the ferry terminal for example.

But people don't walk to ends of piers much. We have views everywhere. If there's a cafe or ferris wheel, sure, but not for the view or bland open space. Manhattan has plenty of underused park piers.

Weather protection, yes! In Seattle we like awnings to walk under. Personally I'll avoid it like the plague on sunny days unless there's a lot of shade along the way, so add a lot of big trees.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes; none of the drawings show any protection from the weather other than trees. None.

Also, the new Alaskan Way as a street is minimized in many of the drawings. And how many lanes are there going to be? One drawing shows only two lanes each direction; is that accurate?

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Amen.

The city is being crushed now by the costs of light rail, streetcars, the Mercer Project, and the Big Bertha-induced costs of the 99 tunnel
Then there is the cost of the seawall repair. Only the latter is necessary. The others were optional. We almost bought into the crazy monorail project.

Real people live in Seattle. They go to work daily, have kids in public schools, meet mortgage and rent payments, depend on bus service, and expect the city to provide public safety to their neighborhoods. They also pay regressive taxes at a high rate and cannot afford more.

These are the people whose elected officials have let them down by
approving huge, cost-inefficient capital projects. The situation will be remedied somewhat, one hopes, with future city council elections by district rather than at large---making candidates responsive to the neighborhoods they serve rather than well financed downtown special interests.

Let's fix the seawall for now and see whether the 99 tunnel is affordable and practical, once Bertha is or is not returned to duty.
Enough blue-sky drawings which please the eye but have no basis in
reality.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Real people live and work downtown. The waterfront is a vital part of downtown livability and a good design and implementation is necessary for long term downtown livability.

You are right to say Seattle's finances are stretched with existing projects. However to not have a good plan for the waterfront will lead to haphazard development and reduce the chances of doing something good when we do have the funds.

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 11:41 p.m. Inappropriate

This is not a 'good' plan, Pragmatic. It's horrible. Where are you from? Definitely you are not a homegrown Seattleite.

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 5:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't say a word about the plan in this post. No comment on whether it's good or bad since there's only pretty renderings and no actual plan. I'm just commenting on the need for a plan and how I think it's important to downtown. I hope that clarifies this for you.

pragmatic

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

"We almost bought into the crazy monorail project." If we hadn't let the downtown establishment (see "Richard Conlin") kill the monorail by pushing it into untenable financing, and thus a crippled design, it would be running now.

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:24 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm gonna give it to this article, my best effort,
as honestly as I can edit in these next few days,
you know me, to eXplain agin how BERTHA is WRONG.
Simplification enuf 4-Ya? BERTHA IS WRONG
exclamation point! exclamation point!

Seattler Super-eee-waterfronty
playgroundee, over-run boulevard car highwayee,
a large dark underpass/bridge/walkway thingy.
Is this real design at human scale?
The full design without such fails or falls short addressing concerns on most if not all segments.
The undeniable, regretable truth:
The Drill-Fill SEA-FENCE sub-standard engineering. Period.
Don't let DOTheads again do cheap work based upon absurd reasoning.
(even habitat not reaching higher potential with drill-fill sea-fence)
(other ports build & recommend mostly more sturdy waterfront seawalls)

Waterfront design 'follows' seawall design. The oft-questioned here,
drill-fill sea-fence method, is bogus, many now admit. Uh- huh? ahem,
a bore tunnel in mud?
under buildings?
NEED I/we/us question this nonsense further?
ForgeT IT! !BERTHA MUST BORE NO MORE!

(erk! copysave that)

Wells

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted:

Over 20 percent of Seattle residents (myself included) use the mass transit system. Guess what, that number is growing as more younger families move into the metro area and ultimately favor mass transit over private vehicles. Don't believe me, check the King County Transit website for it's annual numbers.

Bus service is actually pretty decent in this town, but I won't lie--it isn't as good or efficient as the light rail and the more light rail we can lay down, the easier transportation will be over-all.

As for the waterfront, the seawall repair was long-overdue and needed--so I don't see anything wrong with wanting to modernize 99, and put it underground for easier waterfront access for pedestrians, and a more aesthetic view to boot over-all. Heck, I'm even for the gondola, as it will attract more people, tourists, and jobs to the area.

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 3:36 p.m. Inappropriate

You cannot take Metro NUMBERS at face value, They do all sorts
of shuffling to produce the numbers they need for that particular moment.

chapala21

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 10:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted -

Not everything is the fault of light rail. (sigh) This super tunnel project wasn't the dream of the elected officials of Seattle. It was the intelligent design of the Discovery Institute. They hatched this idea and had wine and cheese parties for years to sell it over the years. And it worked. From their web site in 2009:

http://www.discovery.org/a/12991

How did the Tunnel+Transit alternative emerge as a viable solution? In early December 2008, a state, county and city project team tasked with making recommendations to the region's three executives about replacing the viaduct had identified two final choices: either an elevated replacement or a surface street option.

Upon learning that the project team had not included the deep bored tunnel as an option, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, a group of local civic, business and labor leaders created by the governor in 2007 to study viaduct replacement options, announced that, based on the cost-benefit analysis they had seen from Cascadia Center, Arup and other tunneling experts, the deep bored tunnel should be under consideration.

In response, a critical December 16 workshop was convened where tunneling experts emphasized that tunnel costs could be under $2 billion and completed in five years or fewer. The data was compelling enough that the governor postponed the decision about the viaduct replacement to allow for several more weeks of study and consideration. Several weeks later, on January 13, Governor Gregoire, then-County Executive Sims and Mayor Nickels announced their decision to select the deep bored tunnel option.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Hit it right square again Knute; give the guys some sandwiches and send him to one of the piers for a few days wit his sketch pad to do some reality checking...

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Terrific article, Knute. Thx so much.
I am so glad that you are speaking up against this anti-urban anti-city design.

Unfortunately, the same City Council which gave us the Tunnel is the same one which will decide on this misguided park.

The only good news is that we can't afford it.
Oh, I forgot -- cost is no object when government can tax.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Seriously, I am so pleased to hear (Knute and others here) that I am not alone at this well-meaning but totally mix-guided effort.
(I am trying to be upbeat and positive.)

The whole concept of the park is all wrong. James Corner's dream is for open space _on land_ when we have all the open space we need _on water_.

It's so depressing. Really. Are all citiy governments as screwed up as Seattle's?

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 11:42 p.m. Inappropriate

No kidding - our best open space is the water. Thank you for saying that.

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 12:28 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree that it's refreshing to hear others voice concerns, and that we're not alone! I don't watch TV, but from what I can tell the major media outlets (Seattle Times, PI) seem to be covering this affair like it's a done deal... What I can't tell is whether there is any credible opposition taking place outside of Knute's Mossback readers, and whether or not funding for this would ultimately require a public vote, or if it could get pushed through without public input.

watsi

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 10:18 p.m. Inappropriate

David. No they are not as screwed up as Seattle's. The problem with Seattle politics is that everyone wants to achieve some kind of complete consensus on everything. Something that is mathematically impossible.

I don't agree with everything that the NYC city Council does but at least they do what they're paid to do. Make decisions! I'll never forget the day I woke up one day and they announced that the city government decided to close 1 lane of traffic through Times Square. Naturally, the car drivers and especially the cabs raised hell. But the Council and Mayor didn't budge. Today, 3 years later, the lanes are still closed and they are resurfacing them to make the changes permanent.

In Seattle they would have yanked the idea and voted for a 'study' for the next 2 years.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Knute. You are absolutely right. Our out of town designers don't really understand the challenges of our waterfront.
I spent 18 years working on and walking the waterfront as a Seattle Port Commissioner. Two or three months of the year it is warm and sunny--maybe. Most of the time it is gray, chilly, and (unlike the protected South Lake Union Park) very windy.
Where is the shelter from the wind? What will activate the space in winter? The one thing that we locals loved most, all year long, was George Benson's quirky trolley. It provided a fun and easy way to travel the long linear waterfront. Where is it in this new multi-million dollar design?
I am in New Orleans this week, staying right on the St. Charles trolley line. Runners, walkers, locals, tourists all love the old trolleys. They create community for the length of the ride--and they do not cost gazillions of dollars.
Why are we turning our backs on what already works elsewhere and worked for us?

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Excellent idea--Can you help move the Port to make the waterfront trolley reappear?

louploup

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Dose of reality? Take a picture of the Victor Steinbrueck Park and just make it BIGGER for your conceptual drawing. That is reality for Seattle. Homeless is big business for people that run the charities. Until the environment changes to disperse the homeless to places where they can get help and are not concentrated in an area that holds them in a relatively stable state of helplessness for convenience this will not change.

2wheeler

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

2Wheeler:

It's not as easy as giving homeless people a place to live and stay. Many times they have mental issues and/or chemical dependency issues which must be addressed in tandem with providing housing.

Long story short, how can you trust somebody to maintain a home when they aren't maintaining their own mind or body in the first place.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 10:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for this article. Right on! Steve Scher tried to make the same point about the weather to Mr. Corner and he clearly did not "get it". No doubt he's being paid a pretty penny to come up with this misguided plan so he has no reason not to appeal to the people with money in this town, i.e. developers for whom the tunnel was rammed down our collective throats.

Until it can be demonstrated that we can maintain our infrastructure including existing parks, water, sewer, roads and care for the disadvantaged among us we have no business spending precious tax dollars on things like this developers' dream.

nwcitizen

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

Totally agree. And the council is considering creating a special entity to collect more taxes just to care for the parks we already have. And no accountability for all the money we're already spending--on what? Parks should be part of the City's responsibility with the funds they are already allowed to take from us. The water utility has just asked for -- or received, I'm not sure -- another raise in rates. The City collects taxes on everything already. I don't want to give them more when my streets are a mess, a police officer can't respond in less than an hour to a report of a hit and run, and they're wasting all our funds on extravagances like streetcars and rail lines. These are NOT necessary; they're vanity projects to keep the developers happy. Enough!

mspat

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

This article and the comments give me hope that sanity could still prevail in this town. All these benches and "gathering places" will not be used as intended - count on it. What's wrong with extending the grid, selling the land under the viaduct, and letting buildings fill in new blocks along Alaskan Way under some thoughtful zoning parameters, and having a simple divided boulevard along the waterfront - see Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc. Scrap the "lingering" (a.k.a. loitering) and let private development infill create the interest, the "destinations" over time, instead of trying to conjure it up in this shiny happy landscape that will never exist as depicted.

stan

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:24 p.m. Inappropriate

@Stan.

You are so very very right.
Seattle is trying far too hard.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Some parts are reasonably busy year-round...people walking to the ferry terminal, the Aquarium, and so on. But only along the sidewalk. Heading out onto a pier will only happen in good weather or if some specific attraction exists. A cafe with a mix of indoor and outdoor open/covered seating and takeout would go a long way, but keep it close to the sidewalk.

mhays

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe it is because I'm relatively a newcomer to this city of transplants(moved here about three years ago), but I think putting the viaduct underground in order to make access easier to the waterfront area for pedestrians is a great idea.

This is not only to improve the aesthetic look of the waterfront for tourists (which will be the main draw and is Seattle's bread and butter so to speak), but it can also a place for locals to want to hang out at again for events (much like the Seattle Center).

I'll be honest I don't currently hang out downtown much past business hours, mostly because of all the transients --but improving the waterfront would help revitalize the area for locals and make me want to hang out more there again, especially once you get all the current transients out of there and make a place locals will actually want to visit and hang out at.

It seems residents who have been living in Seattle a long time always find something to whine and moan about, or get all 'NIMBY' about some big change to a neighborhood. They don't realize that it will likely improve it for the better long term.

A great example even referenced in this article was SLU where I work being 'gentrified' or made over and all the Amazon haters. About three years ago it was mostly just run-down, graffiti-prone warehouses and a den for transients, drug-dealers, and prostitutes.

In the span of three years of development, the warehouses are now brand-new apartments and shops, restaurants, and a thriving community.

Sure, the gentrification process is making rents go higher in the area, but to be honest, I'll take a working-class yuppie over a shady drug-dealer any day in my neighborhood where I work.

No construction, beautification, or gentrification effort is going to be without its detractors, but to nit-pick an artists aesthetic conception for the waterfront because of what sounds like deeper-seated issues of not liking other things about it, just makes you look and sound like a pompous ass.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

What a breath of freash air! Thank you. I am long term resident (since 1966) and I totally agree with you.

As for the plan, I would include more businesses ala pike street market. In fact, just extend the market down to the waterfront and have them run the new stalls/spaces there.

The last thing we need is more wind swept plazas.

andy

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 10:27 p.m. Inappropriate

" a den for transients, drug-dealers, and prostitutes."

In Seattle we call those folks members of one of our "underserved communities" or maybe "vulnerable communities".

Simon

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 11:45 p.m. Inappropriate

What makes you think Seattle "will get all the current transients out of there"?

I was born in Seattle, and since the late 1970's transients have become more and more prevelant, and frankly, more and more dangerous. Not one has been "gotten rid of", unless you count "gotten rid of" as they no longer are transient, because they have moved on to that big home beyond.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

These draft blue print schematics are taken at face value by the engineers building the plans. The trees dropped in here and there and everywhere in order to help sell a project visually are translated by the builders at 100%. Thus all over the city we have failed retail/developments where trees block the signage of the shops, usually small mom and pop shops where somebodies life savings is committed. Soon there is repeated turnover at a location and then the storefront won't rent, the homeless and the drug dealers set up shop in the entry way. The block begins to decline.

I'M not anti-tree! I'm saying more thought must be given to the impact of trees on retail, on residential, on public safety. The heaviest gathering of drug dealers in Belltown is often on the blocks with the bushiest trees. I assume that's where the term "shady" got its start.

Why not start using hedges and lower to the ground greenery that doesn't block signage, safety sight lines, or break the concrete when roots expand.
We know our micro-climates best.

Also note how the trees in the waterfront drawings is being used to obscure the major highway being planned for the waterfront. And these trees block the view.

chapala21

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Berger knocked this one out of the park. Here's a proposal: Do this in stages. Clear away the debris first. Lease out a few patches. See what goes up organically. Add features over the course of years, not months. Don't get locked into a "Five Year Plan" of the type tyrants are so fond of. Establish the barest framework and let this develop naturally. Otherwise, it will be a disaster.

Just look at Broadway Plaza in Tacoma. Broadway was Tacoma's shopping district. Rhodes Brothers, Sears, The Bon Marche, the major movie houses, shoe stores, jewelers. In the mid 60s the Tacoma Mall opened and half those stores decamped. Many of the rest slowly filtered away. (Sears was the final hold-out, hanging on until the late 70s.) Then, in the mid-70s, the city had a master, all-encompassing plan: Broadway Plaza Pedestrian Mall! The streets were shut off, ugly chunky benches, planters and fountains were put in (oh, but it looked great in the watercolor treatments!), and within two years the only businesses remaining were the ones fortunate enough to be on the occasional corners that allowed cross-traffic to pass by, for the simple reason that nobody wanted to get out of their cars and walk into the commercial ghost towns between those intersections. Forty years later, the area is still struggling for survival. Broadway Plaza was not organic. The Seattle waterfront needs organic. All the really great urban spaces have grown up over generations. You can't do that with a Five Year Plan.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 3:33 p.m. Inappropriate

"Doing it in stages" may be the best suggestion on here. And you're right: organic is the best way. Pike Place wasn't built in a day either.

Aside from that, here are my initial thoughts on the current design:
Pro-I like the Union Pier; the 1970s Waterfront Park was a fail.
Pro-The seasonal pool and hot tubs. I know it sounds gimmicky, but then so did the wheel.
Pro-All the green, particularly the seagrass. In my opinion, downtown can't get green enough.

Con-But why is the green so uniform? Why not a natural feel, like the wooded area at Matthews Beach Park, next to the B-G trail?
Con-The bike path is ridiculous. It's way too narrow given A)the amount of use, and B) the diversity of use that it's going to get. The little striping down the middle makes me laugh...and while I'm definitely kid-friendly, the tyke that takes up an entire lane makes me angry. The designers apparently have never ridden the B-G from Shilshole to Redmond P&R;, or the Centennial Trail from Snohomish to the Nak Heritage Barn. Do that and you'll understand how we use our trails out here. If anything, have two, separate, one-way bike paths.
Con-What happened with the beaches? One of the pleasant surprises in the initial draft was the restoration of a Northwest beach setting, with sand and rocks and tree trunks strewn aimlessly...like Golden Gardens or Carkeek or Edmonds or Mukilteo and numerous hidden neighborhood beaches in between. I thought that was a real win...a proven success...something authentic to the town, that would appeal to everyone, and would be accessible/affordable to everyone.

Like you said, piecemeal is probably better, and with no five-stage master plan. As it is, this picture is built for the summer, yet looks as lifeless as the Baltimore waterfront.

Zach

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 4:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, thank you and I hope this is the beginning of some serious pushback against this grandiose plan. I think our city planners have taken the idea of 'the removal of the viaduct as an opportunity of a lifetime and a legacy to future generations' to an extreme.
This generation has already taken on fixing the seawall, removing the viaduct and replacing it with a tunnel, and throw in the 520 bridge project too. Those may not be flashy but they are big projects that need to be done that we can be proud of doing. It would be enough to put a grass and tree lined park in the footprint of the viaduct and let the new waterfront develop organically over time rather than trying to turn it into someone's vision of....what exactly?

steve

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Tired of the architects' drawings with all the shiny baubles.... just you wait...

If you haven't noticed, the City is rolling out the idea of the Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) with permanent taxing authority the same way... lots of shiny new baubles (maybe for tourists rather than residents). The Council, Mayor and Parks Dept are presenting an MPD as the "do all end all" way to pay for our parks and rec. They want a yes vote in August. It's not the answer!!! Levies have kept us in the top 5 list of Parks systems in the country. And make no mistake, a levy could provide sufficient funds needed to address the justified top priorities in the long list of initiatives including new acquisitions that they are proposing.

The MPD would be granted taxing authority (beyond RE taxes and instead of a levy). With no real accountability to the voter, no rules or no binding plans for Parks, an MPD Board (and the City Council has decided they themselves will be the Board) could choose to invest our tax dollars on the baubles instead of the $257M backlog of maintenance that has been allowed to build up. They could decide the Waterfront frills are more important than parks and recreation programs that would benefit you and me.

When queried about the lack of accountability in an MPD, CM Bagshaw has confirmed that under state statute nothing they "promise" can be binding and we should just trust the Council and the Parks Dept to set the annual tax rate based on availability of sufficient general fund monies and *their* priorities. There will be no need to ask for citizen input ever again on anything related to Parks and Rec. This of course differs significantly from a levy that defines specific projects and requires citizen involvement and approval, has a timeline, specifies an amount, creates an oversight committee, etc. And unlike a time-limited levy, once an MPD is approved by a simple majority, it cannot be undone unless the Board decides to dissolve itself and forgo income for their projects...

Bottomline: State statute allows for the creation of an MPD with permanent taxing authority with no requirement for accountability. We voted for Council districts because we wanted more accountability. What makes them think we will pass their first major piece of legislation following Districts, that dilutes accountability? We love our Parks and have always passed levies...

As for me, I am not in favor of a totally paternalistic system that takes citizen voice out of the process.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

You know it would be cool if there was a way to accommodate a 100,000 or so commuters a day with a handy bypass for downtown along with off ramps for the core, Ballard and West Seattle. And if it could also handle commercial traffic and provide ways to carry bikes and provide cover for pedestrians and tourists by giving them some unique wynds and warrens to explore shops and carts and whatever during 7-8 months of rain. You could have Bensons Trolley running a SF schedule to shuttle people up and down the Waterfront. You could even have some p-a-r-k-i-n-g. And you could…Oh, I forgot. You need the viaduct to do all that.

I’ve been to a few cities and they all have a unique look and gristle to them that you take away with you. When I think of Seattle, I still think of the Space Needle, the Fremont Troll and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It’s too bad that Frank Chopp didn’t fight harder for his version of the waterfront.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I thought Albert Speer was dead, but it seems he works for the City of Seattle now.

DTNelson

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute: what's wrong with you? Introducing reality? :)
I couldn't agree more.
Plus, I'm worried about the proposed park district as a way of funding parks ... how much of the capital costs and upkeep costs of this will be shifted to that entity? Until that's made clear, I'm voting NO on the parks district proposal.

elbegewa

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Great article. Follows up on this one from Knute a few years ago: http://crosscut.com/2010/06/02/mossback/19851/How-Utopian-thinking-leads-Seattles-gridlock/?page=single

We should step back and look for "minimalistic idealistic" solutions, rooted on the history and experience of Seattle's waterfront, dearing but above all practical.

fjs6

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:03 p.m. Inappropriate

The thing that is missing are the cars and trucks on Alaskan Way heading to and from Magnolia and Ballard. I don't see Alaskan Way in the scenes. Where did it go? With the tunnel carrying only 2/3 of the viaduct traffic and no exits to Seneca and Western a third of the volume is going to hit the surface streets. What are the plans for the new surface street traffic?

noblard

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:21 p.m. Inappropriate

What makes Greenlake a four season destination is a running and biking lane. So get rid of some of the pavers and lay some black top for biking and roller blading. Make a dirt, better yet, rubberized running lane. You will get lots of runners from the office towers at lunch, providing some eye candy or at least some dynamism in what would otherwise be 9 months of uncomfortably cold and wet weather. No reason to pound your knees on pavers if you plan now. The same would work for the Jungle and Seward Park, the latter being so broken up you can't use it like you do Greenlake. Seattle could have some amazing runs if a just a little thought were applied.

TrollTown

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with plenty of the comments, and the desire for there to be some realistic depiction of what is possible.

I invite everyone to stand outside in the rain this weekend for an hour and think about how much this will cost.

Also, the infrastructure inequality in this city is bad enough, and the Waterfront for All (tm) concepts are just insulting to the rest of us that will be expected to pick up a big chunk of the tab.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 12:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute-

I couldn't agree more with your comments. However, outside of your Crosscut readers, is there any organized opposition in the Seattle 'establishment' to some of this silliness?

The Overlook walk in particular is my pet peeve. It seems like a weak copy/paste of the Sculpture Park.... Having lived 1/2 decade next to the Pike Place Hill Climb, I can pretty much guarantee that very few tourists will be interested in taking a LONGER route between the waterfront and the Market. Most already complain about having to take two elevators!

The overlook's views will be no better than from Steinbrueck Park, it dead ends at a pier that is going to be torn down, its only protection from the elements is a narrow glass canopy that will be covered in seagull poop and does nothing for Seattle's side-blown rains... but I could go on.... Freeway Park is the perfect analogy for good intentions gone bad!

This week's announcement re: plans to move forward with the Pike Place 'feeder' into the waterfront redesign makes me worried that this project may move forward as someone's pet project with little input from the public...

Seriously, Knute, right now you seem to be the only visible voice of reason on this topic - and based on the comments here there is a lot of support for your concerns on where things are headed. But where do we go from here? Are there any leaders calling for a reality check that we could rally around? What can we do to put the brakes on this nonsense?

watsi

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Good beginning Knute. Here's some more reality:

It is just ignorant to build a seawall/waterfront at the same elevation as the old one. With Sea level rise, high tide and storm surges combined, we are setting ourselves up for a marine park that will flood all the way back to second Ave.
Hurricane Sandy is the most recent example of ignoring these oncoming events and their related destruction.
Originally, the City tried to get WSDOT to pay $500,000 to replace the seawall as part of a cut and cover tunnel. But, the Tunnel idea moved inland and separated from the seawall, requiring the City to replace the seawall at it's own expense. The city claimed that it NOW only cost $200,000. HA! And, where is the money for the pipe dream waterfront Park. WORLD CLASS? Compared to Chicago's 30 mile of waterfront Park, Seattle is not even a blip on the world scene. Improving and connecting the horseshoe shaped shoreline of the Elliott Bay Harbor Front, now that wouild be world class.
In an attempt to dissuade the public from believing that the Viaduct could be retrofitted rather than replaced, WSDOT claimed that the seawall is holding up the Viaduct. Bullshit! The fill behind the seawall is random fill and not structural. That's why the Viaduct was originally designed to be held up by an independent piling scheme, not dependent on the fill or seawall. But, guess what? Everyone wanting the tunnel solution bought this lie.
And now the seawall money and waterfront park improvements have to come out of the citizens of Seattle pocketbook. Bummer!
And now the Bertha Bungle. More money,time and greater risk. If an earthquake would occur before the Tunnel is usable, and it damages the un-retrofitted Viaduct for an indefinite period of time, where do the 110,000 vehicle trips go. Forget the construction-related decrease in traffic. It will return when the barricades come down. Not I-5, that's already a parking lot. Not the City streets, they are already clogged. So where? Buses? Good luck!
And when the traffic overflow backs up onto the two bridges, I-405, and more, will we see businesses moving out of the traffic jammed region in order to keep their businesses alive? And, a rebirth of suburban sprawl? Things to ponder! Transportation Armageddon!
Shouldn't we, NOW, ex-appropriate Tunnel funds that haven't been spent (about $1 Billion)to INSTANTLY retrofit the viaduct, so we reduce the risk of losing the only corridor through the downtown? DA! And, it can be retrofitted without closing it down.

And finally, shouldn't we set a drop dead date to completely rethink the tunnel decision before all the money is gone? With only 1/9th of the tunnel dug and the possibility that another breakdown is possible in a more remote location, shouldn't we ask the voters whether or not to continue this folly? Shades of Wooops!

These are all real concerns Knute. Hopefully you can help expand the discussion and protect the public's exposure on this out of control boondoggle.

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Bravo Knute! Yes, yes and yes.

"Why are we turning our backs on what already works elsewhere and worked for us?"

Ditto.

Stages?

Ditto

Space for runners/exercise?

Ditto

Want year-round use of the waterfront? Be realistic about who will be using it the MOST, not just in the summer months.

Lastly, this is the SEATTLE waterfront and should be designed for residents, not tourists. That's what they did for the Highline Park in NYC and residents and tourists both love it.

westello

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

I live on the waterfront, and the current plans propose to put a wall around half of our building, cutting off access to the waterfront and to the Market, as well as sunlight. Essentially, this development plan is putting me in a ghetto; particularly distressing as I am disabled. Highly inappropriate, all they care about is the grand plan for the waterfront tourists, not about the people who actually invested in downtown Seattle and live here.

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 3:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattler Super-eee-waterfronty
playgroundee, over-run boulevard car highwayee,
a large dark underpass/bridge/walkway thingy.
Is this real design at human scale?
The full design without such fails and/or falls short of
addressing concerns on most if not all segments.
The undeniable, regretable truth:
The Drill-Fill SEA-FENCE sub-standard engineering. Period.
Waterfront design 'follows' seawall design.
(even habitat not reaching higher potential with drill-fill sea-fence)
(other ports build & recommend mostly more sturdy waterfront seawalls)

The oft-questioned here, drill-fill sea-fence method, is bogus, admit it.
Don't let DOTheads again do cheap work based on absurd reasoning.
Uh-huh? ahem,
a bore tunnel in mud?
under buildings?
NEED I/we/us question this nonsense further?
ForgeT IT! !BERTHA MUST BORE NO MORE!

Wells

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Plan B:
Direct DBT bore to Box Cut-Cover/Seawall, finish at Pike.

North Portal:
Extend BST (Battery Street Tunnel) to Harrison (DEIS).
Retain BSU (Broad Street Underpass) A+ access to new BST.

Aurora/Mercer Overpass:
Retain 4-lanes. NO Turns for SR99 access. Widen sidewalks.

Lower Belltown:
TWO-intersections with stoplights (or)
Rebuild SR99 'beneath' Elliott/Western.
South entrance downhill ramp.
North exit uphill ramp.

Too complicated?
Try city center collapse for complicated.
Oh wait, that's what your bores are trying.
So sure of themselves, they don't admit risk.

Wells

Posted Sat, Mar 8, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

I second that bravo! I would never have thought to use this perspective and thank you, Knute, for having the common sense to see the lack of reality in the rendering. Now, is anybody going to do something about it?

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 5:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Lets talk about the polluted, contaminated tourist attraction called the waterfront.

We need action to stop the pollution from sewage and stormwater before we propose anymore idiotic grandiose boondoggles. When the seafood in the Puget Sound dies off so will our economy, and since Boeing isn't contributing to the state coffer. hopefully you know where I'm going with this?

Come on Crosscut, do a story that has some teeth and futuristic thinking that protects residents quality of life and sustainability.

salmonjim

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

My first impression...where are all the seagulls? (And crows and pigeons and rats...)

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 7:29 p.m. Inappropriate

The depressed girl in the image now has healthcare (as do all Americans). She should see her doctor. There are good medications available that will help her appreciate the beauty and vibrance of Seattle's new waterfront.

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

This sounds a little draconian/Orwellian ... 'She should see her doctor. There are good medications available that will help her appreciate the beauty and vibrance of Seattle's new waterfront'.

Poor girl must take drugs to conform to the new vision.

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Sure the imagery is idealized, but the design is not that bad.

The shortcomings are very clear upon both reading the comments and perusing the full-line of pictures on the project website.

Like many civic projects, the dichotomy of amenities for citizens versus tourists must reach a fine balance. I am sure there are features that would enhance the landscape for both.

There is no consensus on what makes a place Seattle-specific; it is one of those things that 'feels right' after the fact.

I agree more covered spaces would be nice, as well as more generous infrastructure for running, biking, etc.

I do not agree that an 'organic/phased' approach is the right one for this project. The details need to be hammered on and implemented as many aspects (plantings, etc,) will take years to mature.

The futuristic approach is very intriguing. Despite its accolades, Freeway park can be a downright scary place to be at many times. The waterfront park needs to ensure that 24 hour activity ensues for safety reasons alone.

jeffro

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, I'm pretty sure there'll be 24 hour activity down there. Impaired and homeless folks eating, drinking, using drugs, passing out, sleeping. Those who prey on them prowling. There's NOTHING down there for the most part that operates at night beyond Ivar's and the ferries, and maybe a couple of other restaurants that cater to tourists. After those close, who's going to go there and why? This outlandish design doesn't really offer anything for late night, or bad weather for that matter, and I don't think it will because that's not the point. The point is to extract more dollars from tourists by pandering to them in whatever way possible, and to create a nice front yard for the future condo dwellers, although I don't think they're going to like 6-12 lanes of traffic between them and their front yards. At late night this design will be just like the waterfront now, windswept, mostly rainy, dreary, and just plain unattractive. As soon as those that decide realize this, they'll be putting forward new taxing authorities, entities, plans to force us to redesign the mess they paid this Corner person to create.

mspat

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 9:07 p.m. Inappropriate

I suspect the planning and execution will proceed as smoothly as the "Big Bore". The trouble is that by the time a plan is decided on, the demographics will have changed and the plan will be obsolete and the process will start all over.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 5:34 a.m. Inappropriate

A dose of reality??? That's not how we sell things to Seattle's smugressives, Knute. Shiny, happy renderings of the waterfront is in line with "ending homelessness" by 2015, "saving the Sound" by 2020 and going "carbon neutral" by 2030.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Shades of the Bogue Plan aka Plan of Seattle.

afreeman

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

mspat,
they are already putting forward a new taxing authority... planned for the Aug ballot... an unrepealable permanent property tax for parks... the Metropolitan Parks District (MPD):
falls under the state law,
is not part of Seattle's home rule and City regulations and safeguards,
has total decision-making authority for taxing amounts and usage,
never has to go back to the voter for anything from priorities to tax increases,
provides no guarantees for listening to residents' priorities?
provides no guarantee our taxes will NOT go to grandiose projects such as the waterfront, while neglecting neighborhoods?
The Parks Legacy Cmte recommended an MPD and ignored the 81% of attendees who voted against the MPD at 3 public meetings in February.
City Council will hold a public hearing on the MPD on April 7 - time and place still undetermined

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 8:33 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree that is sure one up on the Bogue Plan. The swells have had 100 + years to gain experience, so too have the voters. Will history repeat itself?

afreeman

Posted Wed, Mar 12, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, parksadvocate. I did believe that to be the case and was aware of the non-accountable nature of it, but couldn't remember all the details that you correctly state so didn't want to wing it. I'll watch for the next hearings although I suspect that as always they will be scheduled at times and places that make it impossible for me to attend. By design, I'm sure

mspat

Posted Wed, Mar 12, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

by design is right, in this day of technology, you can't participate or be counted unless you are physically there, and the only ones getting paid to be there are the ones forcing it down our throats.

salmonjim

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