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A "D word" Seattle waterfront? Can't we at least vote?

Seattle's least-favorite descriptor has popped up again in discussions of our pending waterfront park.

Danny Westneat uttered the dreaded "D" word this week.

In respect to the waterfront redevelopment, the Seattle Times columnist said "Disney."

Westneat was critiquing various concepts unveiled in recent weeks, including a proposed tourist tram down Union Street. He accuses planners of "airbrushing" the city, turning the waterfront into an amusement park.

Then he used a fighting word, to Seattle ears.

In discussing the expansion plans for the Pike Place Market that will tie-in with the waterfront redevelopment, he used the "B" word. "The people running the Market say all the right things about 'preserving the authenticity' of what they correctly call the 'soul of the city.' But then there are these drawings of glass-fronted atriums that have the feel of ... Bellevue Square."

Ouch.

Some of these sentiments echo my own, which is that the emerging waterfront concepts are missing something. Something we can love. Trying too hard. Too sterile. Too sunny. Too phony.

The late Fred Bassetti, a Northwest architect who had a huge impact on our cityscape, once described the old Pike Place Market as "an honest place in a phony time." That was said in defense of preserving, rather than redeveloping, the Market.

But what Westneat is putting his finger on is that the plans for the waterfront by James Corner and others have exactly the opposite feel. A phony landscape in an honest place.

This isn't about historic preservation. This isn't about resisting change. This isn't about spending money. This isn't about being against parks, or tourists or commerce. This isn't anti-fun.

It's about designing something that feels as if it is us, as if it is ours. The waterfront has been described as our face to the world, our front porch, the project of a generation or two or three.

Not Disneyland. Not downtown Bellevue.

We've heard the "D" word before. Back in the 1980s, mayor Charles Royer wanted a makeover of Seattle Center and Disney's Imagineering was picked to consult on a major overhaul of the Center — perhaps even invest in its redevelopment. (That didn’t work out.)

Not all of Disney's ideas were bad, and some are still being discussed more than 25 years later: more green space, getting rid of Memorial Stadium, adding parking, more things for kids to do. And since we're in the Wayback Machine, at the same time Disney was redesigning the Center, there was a scheme afoot to build a new basketball arena near the Kingdome. The potential "loss" of the Sonics at the Center was part of an economic problem driving the Center's Disney redevelopment plans. A SoDo Sonics arena? Some dynamics never seem to change.

Disney's ideas were generally critiqued as being too commercial, too slick, too out of touch with local likes and habits. Disney's theme-park aesthetics were seen as out of touch with Seattle. And too expensive: The plan's budget was supposed to be about $60 million, but ended up coming in at a whopping $335 million.

The Disney Seattle episode became fodder for urban studies. In 1994, the Journal of Urban Affairs ran a paper titled “Disneyfication of the Metropolis: Popular Resistance in Seattle” by Stacy Warren. It described in detail what went wrong with the Disney plans for Seattle Center. “[T]he plans did not speak to Seattle’s unique character or to actual city residents, such as senior citizens or ethnic groups.”

As landscape architect Rich Haag observed at the time, the “tactic of bypassing public input does not work.” Seattle process finally defeated Disney’s arrogance.

The "B" word has also often been raised in conjunction with sterile- or artificial-seeming Seattle redevelopment. It's the go-to criticism for South Lake Union's Amazon architecture or Westlake's mall-centric mediocrity. It has also been raised in conjunction with downtown "renewals" like Pacific Place. Fair or not, it's a longtime pejorative.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 7:16 a.m. Inappropriate

B - word? What, he'd prefer something more authentically Seattle like Victor Steinbrueck Park with weekly stabbings, fights, drug dealing, hookers turning tricks in the bathrooms, muggings, murders and the occasional random shooting?

I'll take Bellevue or Disney over that.

Simon

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 7:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Authentically Seattle would be to design the waterfront as a port rather than a playground.

talisker

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Pier 86 docks ships loading grain and part of Myrtle Edwards Park extends under the grain elevator that loads the ships. This area is sometimes picturesque and active; not far away there is a salmon pen for immature salmon that is, I believe, operated by the Muckleshoot Tribe. Just south of the Galer St. overpass there is a section of Piers 90 and 91 that hosts fishing and utility vessels and an occasional mega yacht (overshadowed in summer by the cruise ships). I find this area interesting, more so than the tourist retail south of Pier 70. There is no way that container ships will ever enliven Alaska Way but I think you point is a good one; the waterfront was interesting for a reason and that reason was shipping and fishing and water transportation. The "Disney" tourist attractions connect to that only as a bit of nostalgia that might occasionally be referred to in a very indirect way.
Contemporary reality is not usually picturesque but it has an intrinsic value we should pursue..

kieth

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes. The waterfront should remain a mix of working and touristy.

Where did the concerts at the pier events go to? They were very popular. Did the new condo dwellers beat them back with a big stick because they were 'noisy'?

A working waterfront is noisy, day and night. And when good concerts can mix with diesel and engine noise, fine with me. Organic and beautiful.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 3:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Please. Anything but Bellevue-like. There's enough of that suburbia in the world already.

Treker

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle has one good example of an active waterfront strip - that along Alki. It isn't pretty but it works (more in summer, of course).

It provides lots of beach access. A long strip for people to stroll. A place for people to run, jog, blade, bike, and so on. And, through private enterprise, places for people to sit indoors and take in the scene.

The scene. Having shops behind the public space is good. A restaurant on a pier gives great views of the mountains but is isolated from activities on the shore. A café upland from the public space allows people to visually (and physically, if they get up) interact with the foreground. It's also more interesting, in my opinion, to view a water scene with a foreground rather than from a static "airplane" perspective.

The existing proposal (from the extent one can deduce from the renderings) does some of this. What are the main differences? I think the plan is over developed and lacking enough accessible beaches.

Let's make the plan more basic, save some money, and make it more "outdoorsy Seattle".

pragmatic

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

I wholeheartedly second your comments about Alki. During all the fair-weather months, we regularly visit there to stroll the walkway and take in the scene. And refresh at the Starbucks, Spud's, and Saigon Boat. All with million-dollar views out over the water. One of Seattle's greatest people-watching locations.

I suggest someone take Mr. Corner out to Alki for a look-see, next time he's in town.

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Alki is lifeless in the off-season.We need a place that is interesting and draws people year round. I am not in support of any of the grandiose schemes that are being shown for our waterfront. The waterfront is a humble place and should be redone to enhance its use without losing the humble character. A working waterfront mixed with more pedestrian and bike access makes sense, but not a place with too many wide open places with seasonal appeal only - it will be lifeless in the off-season or anytime the weather isn't nice, just like Alki and just like the Sculpture Park.

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

ALL of our waterfront parks are lifeless in the off-season. Find me one that is busy.

We have more than enough waterfront parks. We need more working class waterfront.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:12 p.m. Inappropriate

The Alki shops and restaurants suffer greatly from lack of people in the winter months.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

The waterfront redevelopment plans ought to be matured to the point where they can go before the public for a show of hands — just as the Alaskan Way Viaduct options, the seawall funding and the tunnel did.

I beg to differ. Knute Berger and Tim Eyman are the two loud voices around here calling for "Let the Voters Decide!" half-baked tax and spend proposals.

That kind of ballot measure is worse than useless. Just the three Berger cites proves it.

The 2007 AWV options vote was useless. An option not even presented was selected by WSDOT.

The DEIS for the seawall project wasn't submitted until two months after that vote, so nobody could have known material details about that megaproject when they filled in the scantron bubbles on the ballot.

Anyone want to argue the vote on "the tunnel" served the public's interest? Good luck with that . . . the results weren't binding on WSDOT and even if that measure had not been approved WSDOT could well be in exactly the fubar situation it now finds itself.

Hey Knute: big fan of votes are you? What would you think of the public having the power to vote for and against Sound Transit boardmembers (you know, the way the public votes for and against municipal policy-makers everywhere in the US where states' legislatures heed a limit on their powers the 14th Amendment imposes)?

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 2:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I knew we'd get to Sound Transit - somehow. Again. It's like finding that prize in the Crackerjacks. It's in there somewhere.

Treker

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip: I think that would be a good idea.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Yesterday Crosscut hosted an interesting evening of analysis of Seattle neighborhoods prompted by the move to district voting for all but two of the City Council seats. Knute Berger's encyclopedic knowledge of Seattle's political history contributed to the evening. What emerged is what most Seattleites know: the city is a political monoculture more so than any other city its size in the USA. And yet perversely this city has the ability to talk, argue, debate, delay and even paralyze most municipal projects and issues. The waterfront is a classic case. Yes there should be a variety of ideas and opinions expressed (preferably avoiding the adjectives to impugn those who disagree with your point of view). But then the elected and appointed officials need to do their jobs, make decisions and move on to the next issue and problem. Airing plans for the use of public space is a necessary part of the process. Are we to vote on each plan? How many plans and who decides which plans make the cut? Government by referendum can quickly become government paralyzed.

pherford

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

1. How do you structure a vote when there are elements to the Corner Plan which may indeed be fine? It is too complicated for an up and down vote.

2. Part of the problem is that Corner's fee (assumed budget) argues against a simple plan -- he has to justify his very substantial fee -- I think it is the millions. So the guy has to prove he's worth the money by over-thinking.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with you that the new Seattle Waterfront design and plan needs to include extensive public process and oversight.

Yet, I caution you against lumping the Pike Place Market expansion into the same category. I've personally participated in this public process for the last two years at Pike Place Market, an in-depth loop of ideas and feedback that continues today. If you look closer into the designs you will see many characteristics of today's Market that are carried through to the new designs. You should try attending a meeting to learn for yourself. Updates and public meetings calendars can be found here: http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/waterfront-entrance

On_a_roll

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, I'd agree.

We don't need to vote on every friggin' public process for Christ's sake. Show up at a meeting, volunteer to serve on an advisory committee, get off you duff and DO something rather than just spraying on another internet site.

Treker

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

Ummmm, no.

We do need to vote on every friggin' public expense. No more unskilled politicians and unskilled volunteers serving on advisory committees that back-door expensive projects into reality. We can't afford that kind whitewashing of our dollars in exchange for tepid things we didn't need or want in the first place.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Ummm. No we don't - IMO. The problem is that we don't have an engaged citizenry. Somehow, folks now think all they have to do is vote and by magical thinking politicians will follow the arc of their will.

News flash - it has never been and never will be that way. The only way change happens is when citizens show up, get involved, and actively participate. The problem these days is that folks want the easy way out - make the pencil mark on the ballot and your responsibility as a citizen is over and you can go back to watching the lasted Game of Thrones episode or some other mindless pursuit.

And usually there is a high correlation factor between the complainers and the amount of energy they put out participating to make a change.

Does it mean that you win every battle? Hell no. But if you ARE engaged in the process you can see that you CAN make a difference. Don't be afraid to get in the ring and throw a few punches. It may change your disposition as well!!!!

Treker

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Treker, it's nonsense to say this " Somehow, folks now think all they have to do is vote and by magical thinking politicians will follow the arc of their will." when in most elections, less than 40% of registered voters even bother to vote. And even when most voters are not voting, we can never relinquish the need and right to vote, on all the issues that cost us voters money.

Voter apathy is the killer drug in our midst.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

While I agree that more folks should vote, that percentage has't changed in decades. It is what it is. I believe it's the laziness of citizens and lack of engagement that allows politicians to in turn be lazy. I strongly believe (and act on it) that your privet age as a citizen is to be informed on what is going on in your community and that you then act on that information by volunteering in some capacity and push in the political arena where you think you have the skills, knowledge, or enthusiasm to contribute.

What I find more and more is a group of sheeple unwilling to engage with there fellow citizens for a common good. Yea, we're all busy -- often with mind-numbing activities that do little to build community. Even as a single parent I took my daughter to committees where I served or to visit representative's offices.

Stop whining and go DO something.

Treker

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't know why you guys don't do some follow-up on these earlier Crosscut articles to report the real story behind the phony tunnel/elevated vote and the tunnel horse trading that went on in Olympia that resulted in another "Disney" design for the 520 Bridge?

http://crosscut.com/2009/12/27/seattle-city-hall/18780/Best-2009-How-Jan-Drago-dragooned-Viaduct-solution/

http://crosscut.com/2009/03/26/crosscut-blog/18899/When-Chopp-speaks-parse-closely/

Save a few billions and just rescue the AWV...the tunnel is a huge congestion producing mistake. I think the "D word" may also be DUMB.

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 5:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's put a park on the viaduct. http://www.parkmyviaduct.org

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Stop it Kate. We got it the 100th time.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 6:09 p.m. Inappropriate

One thing that could make the redesign more authentically Seattle would be incorporation of the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar. Can we get a vote on that at least!?!

Look @ San Francisco: not only are the cable cars a tourist attraction on their own, but at off-peak times are used by locals as a viable transit option for getting around town.

Restoring the street cars would give tourists and locals alike a convenient way to get between two of our most popular downtown destinations (Pike Place and the stadiums) with stops in-between.

I suspect that one of the reasons Corner is excluding the streetcar (and avoids talking about it) because including a stop @ Pike street isn't possible due to the fact that the 'beloved' Overlook Fold is too much of a real-estate hog to accommodate one.

I am completely befuddled as to why the 'centerpiece' of this recreation is a half-baked copy of a landscape feature that's already available at Olympic Sculpture Park. Let's ditch the Overlook Walk with something more sensible in scale, history, and utility.

Can somebody please help me understand what is so compelling about this proposed 'centerpiece'? If the goal is to connect Pike Place with the Waterfront - guess what, we already have the Pike Place Hill Climb (which, by the way, was recently renovated/updated itself).

OUT WITH THE OVERLOOK, AND IN WITH THE STREETCAR! ;-)

watsi

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 12:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Sometime doing little or nothing is better than building the wrong things. I want a vote, and I will vote NO on any plan that does not include the Benson streetcar, or that gives up public land for new high rise building development.

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I think that many of the proposed ideas for the waterfront would probably be pretty great. I think the idea of voting on the plan has then same flaw as the plan itself, namely it is an attempt to create an "authentic" and "representative" place in one fell swoop. Authentic places do indeed feel different from Disneyland and do so precisely because they are the result of trial and error with all of its attendant idiosyncrasies (Space Needle, anyone?). I think we should simply ask for a waterfront with a variety of spaces few of which are dedicated to one activity of another. If we want extra frills let entrepreneurs and non-profits provide the activities and the Department of Neighborhoods provide the art and culture.

Posted Sat, Mar 15, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I am old enough to remember the waterfront before there was an Alaskan Way viaduct. It was a different kind of waterfront then, not dotted with supposed tourist attractions.

Why are we even entertaining Disney-like development on our waterfront?
The proposed swimming pool is ludicrous. I think of the Embarcadero in San Francisco which is entirely authentic, has passing traffic, and which also is good for walking. Can't we be comfortable with ourselves and let the waterfront develop naturally once the seawall restoration is complete? As a starter, put the waterfront streetcars back as Mayor Nickels promised a decade ago.

A bit skeptical about leaving the decision to a public vote. Ballot measures usually are carried by those who have the most money to invest in a short-duration public campaign (light rail) or have a quirky notion (monorail) which is momentarily appealing but which will not stand scrutiny. Our elected officials ought to be discerning enough to figure this one out.

Posted Sat, Mar 15, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"Why are we even entertaining Disney-like development on our waterfront?
The proposed swimming pool is ludicrous. I think of the Embarcadero in San Francisco which is entirely authentic, has passing traffic, and which also is good for walking."

Well said. Thank you.

kieth

Posted Sat, Mar 15, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

The reason why the Pike Place Market works so well is that the different parts were built by different owners for different uses. It is a quilt and not a blanket. What we should have done is hand the new expansion of the Market to five or six different architects. They should have gone to several different retailers and ask them what they need. Ask the seniors what their apartments should look like.

As for the waterfront, re-connect with the water! Tear apart that monstrosity of concrete and steel we call the Waterfront Park and build a series of wooden steps that lead right down into the water, so we can touch it. Wading pools (tidal pools, actually) could be incorporated. Then, north of the Aquarium, put in a dock where six, ten or fifteen fishing boats can pull in and sell their catch to the city and visitor alike. Add a few restaurants, ranging from fish-and-chip stands to full-service restaurants. Put in a place that will clean your fish, show you how to cook it and maybe another place to freeze it for you. A working, functioning fish market right on the waterfront where it belongs.

I got a lot more but the neighborhood kids want me to show them how to throw a Bowie knife and I can't keep them waiting...

Dick Falkenbury

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

While I don't think the tide pool idea will work well I do like the idea of a softer connection to the waterfront through some integrated design - it can and has been done.

Though not a Seattle native when I moved here there still was a fish market on the waterfront where boats unloaded their catch and you could walk up and purchase. Yea, I know there are marketing, health and safety regulations, but wouldn't this connection to part of our maritime industry be better than a floating-barge wading pool?

The maritime museum is just down the road - couldn't they wander over and give some talks about the fishing industry with the boat captains? Pull up one of the Foss tugs once in a while for a short talk about their industry. I don't know, just tossing ideas - but something connected to what some of us DO on the water, not just another Bellevue Square. Please.

Treker

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Once again it looks like Dick was able to both describe the current Market and offer a solution to any future Market additions with one simple sentence.
"It is a quilt and not a blanket."

MichaelQ

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Love the 'it is a quilt and not a blanket' statement.

It's an organic quilt, and not a mass merchandise blanket would be even better ...

Posted Sun, Mar 16, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

We are seeing "Disney" because the moneyed interests will have ahold of the ultimate decisions. There is too much to be made by current owners for the choice to be something sedate and tasteful. We will likely have our "public process", but that will have little influence on what gets picked.

A key item should, indeed, be the waterfront streetcar to connect the Olympic Sculture Park with at least the southern end of the waterfront or International District. Further, the price should be twenty-five cents, possibly fifty to allow easy transit by families from the Aquarium to park or I-District. Make it easy to get around. Go for volume and subsidize the rest. However, I am skeptical we will see the return of a people's streetcar because the powers-that-be demonstrated long ago that they have little desire for a streetcar.

If you want to have a neighborhood waterfront, people are going to have to participate in droves and speak loudly before the back room crystallizes control of the design elements that, of course, THEY know we all ACTULLY want.

slame

Posted Sun, Mar 16, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Beware any former Seattle Commons board members, financial contributors, supporting current and former politicos, and other civic wannabies. Do not let Commons 2 ever surface!!

animalal

Posted Sun, Mar 16, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Walt Disney took as his inspiration for Disneyland Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. There's no room for a full-blown amusement park at either the waterfront or the Seattle Center, but there's a lot to learn about planning an inviting urban park in that place. Tivoli Gardens is 170 years old, and it obviously wasn't planned and executed all at once. There's a lot to learn from that, too. If Seattle's waterfront is to be successful, the city should consider only doing 1/4 to 1/3 of the project now. Let it soak in for a while and then add something else. Take things away that prove, over time, not to work. That's a lesson that Walt applied to Disneyland as well. "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." Is there imagination left in Seattle?

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Mar 18, 2:57 p.m. Inappropriate

"Is there any imagination left in Seattle?"

I would say yes. Unfortunately 'we" hired out-of-towners with flash to develop this plan rather than making use of some excellent local talent - who I think would approach the design with a local/regional tilt.

Treker

Posted Sat, Mar 22, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

There seem to be 2 necessary elements to make the waterfront a fun place.

In New York, the Henry Hudson parkway is massively successfully because of 2 things:
1) Programmed spaces like basketball courts, skateboard parks, dog parks, kayak rental businesses. And in the Summer, they show movies on the waterfront.
2) Modes of transportation that allow easy access back and forth to the waterfront. Forget the trolley car. Put in something that connects the city in multiple spots, not just from Pioneer Square. How about a circular bus route that say goes all along the waterfront. Then connects say up into Seattle Center, downtown and Capitol Hill.

Don't worry about making the waterfront 'pretty'. Make it so people WANT to go there. The easiest way to do that is provide activities there that people are willing to travel to. If it's not attractive to the locals, it's not going to be successful.

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