The down and dirty Viaduct

If we're never going to figure out what to do with it, maybe we should turn the Viaduct District into a funky, low-rent zone of urban grit?
Crosscut archive image.

Under the Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle's waterfront. (Chuck Taylor)

If we're never going to figure out what to do with it, maybe we should turn the Viaduct District into a funky, low-rent zone of urban grit?

Ready for another Viaduct solution? This one comes from a story in The New York Times, called "Vital Signs under the Viaduct." It's about the New Hot Thing in Manhattan, a "fertile nightlife microclimate" under the Riverside Drive viaduct in West Harlem. One name for the derelict warehouse district is ViVa, for Viaduct Valley.

Nightlife entrepreneurs, many Dominican-American in this case, have been drawn to the district because of low rents. The want to "make downtown come uptown," an old wish in New York, and the trendies naturally want to find, hang out in, and tell clueless friends about the new district. (That's what happened years ago in transforming the meatpacking district, now the liveliest nightclub neighborhood.) The new ViVa is on 12th Avenue, near 135th Street, with the viaduct's rounded steel arches rattling overhead and doing its continuing best to blight the area and keep rents low.

Meanwhile, Seattle is having problems with noisy nightclubs in Belltown and Pioneer Square, where residents have moved in and want to get a decent night's sleep. Why not use the Viaduct zone to draw new nightlife? True, the expectation of a big fix and a big new waterfront park is driving up speculative rents, but that could all be fixed if the City and the state declare an impasse, fix up and brace the battered old highway for 10 years or so, and declare a victory for enlighted urban planning and affordability.

The other semi-serious point in all this is that large cities tend to embrace the big urban scale of highway structures, gasplant towers, and bridge approaches. In Vancouver, overhead hghway ramps are used as rain-protected spaces for urban basketball and other sports. New York is turning an abandoned elevated railway into the High Line, inserting galleries and cool architecture into the clunky old steel beams, with a grassy walkway on top. A trendy district in Brooklyn is dubbed Dumbo, it being down under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge approaches.

Aside from our Gas Works Park and the Fremont troll under I-5, Seattle seems to want to turn all its urban grit into space for condos and arts parks. The Va in our ViVa stands for "vanished."


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