What's good for preservation is good for the greens

This year will be challenging for historic preservation in Seattle, but there are great opportunities and new initiatives ahead, too. Here's a breakdown of six front-burner issues for 2009. Second of 2 parts
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The Pike Place Market has a well-established hold on the city's soul, but it's also a reminder of how easily it can slip away

This year will be challenging for historic preservation in Seattle, but there are great opportunities and new initiatives ahead, too. Here's a breakdown of six front-burner issues for 2009. Second of 2 parts

Part 2

4. National Trust Green Lab

Perhaps the biggest deal happening in Seattle this year is the announced launching of a National Trust for Historic Preservation "Green Lab" here. The National Trust has grabbed onto the sustainability mantra and sees Seattle as an ideal place to link sustainability principles with historic preservation. Said National Trust president Richard Moe last spring:

As the keystone of this new Initiative, we'll establish the National Trust Green Lab in Seattle, the hub of the region that leads the nation in green thinking. This office will collaborate with selected cities to develop and implement zoning ordinances, building codes and other plans that support the reuse and retrofit of existing buildings.

Seattle is seen as green-friendly (thanks in part to Mayor Greg Nickels' PR efforts) and history-friendly, as our crusades in the 1960s and '70s to preserve Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market have given us a national preservation profile. However, the Green Lab's director (see job posting) will also have to do missionary work here because many greens, including Seattle's, have been slow to pick up on the preservation-equals-sustainability message. As Moe has previously noted, "Still, too many people just don't see the connection. They don't yet understand that preservation must be an integral part of any effort to encourage environmental responsibility and sustainable development. They don't yet realize that our buildings are renewable 'ꀓ not disposable 'ꀓ resources."

As preservationist and architect Peter Steinbrueck has pointed out, the city could do a much better job coordinating its policies and straightening out development rules and regulations to help encourage adaptive re-use and saving older, though not necessarily landmark, structures. Seattle sends mixed signals with a healthy and proactive landmarks process on the one hand, yet the city also facilitates the destruction of older buildings in the name of being green. In other words, Seattle is ripe for reform.

Kevin Daniels, one of the principals of Nitze-Stagen, the group behind saving downtown's First United Methodist Church sanctuary and historic re-developments like Union Station and Starbucks Center, is excited because the Green Lab's national funding will give visibility to experiments and success stories undertaken here in the Pacific Northwest. The Trust hopes to have the office open in the next couple of months.

5. Saving the Pike Place Market, Again!!?

Fresh after its centennial and a "yes" vote for funds to repair and improve infrastructure, we're once again faced with a potential threat to Seattle's greatest urban gem.

The latest Pike Place Market alert is being sounded by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, professor of architecture at the University of Washington and associate dean of the UW's College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He says that the compromise surface solution being touted as an alternative to the Alaskan Way Viaduct turns downtown's Western Avenue into a traffic-choked, three-lane, pedestrian-hostile northbound street that would destroy the Market as we know it. The plan would cut off truck access, parking, and the flow of foot traffic from the waterfront side of the Market. In a Seattle Times op/ed in late December, he wrote:

Should the state go forward with three lanes of heavy northbound traffic on Western Avenue, we must resist. We have come too far in the creation of a successful pedestrian environment in our downtown, and we have such an irreplaceable treasure in Pike Place Market, that we cannot allow the state to proceed with such a destructive plan.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has delayed a decision on which Viaduct option to endorse; meanwhile, there's some momentum for a bored tunnel under downtown. But the fact that this surface option is a finalist should serve as a reminder that the area where the Viaduct and seawall mess is focused runs through and adjacent to some of the city's most important, historic, and pedestrian-reliant parts, such as Pike Place, the central waterfront, the piers, Pioneer Square, First Avenue, and the converted warehouse district in the so-called West Edge. While any option will likely take a toll on existing structures (at the very least the current final options all assume the destruction of the historic Viaduct itself), it is important to keep an eye on the details of plans drawn up by traffic engineers for their potential ripple effects throughout downtown on street life and the broader cultural landscape.

6. Preserving the preservationists.

A significant issue is the budget proposal from Gov. Gregoire to eliminate the State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation as a separate agency and merge it with Parks and Recreation Commission. Budget analysts say this will allow a few employee positions to be cut. Some grant programs managed by the agency would also be farmed out to the Washington State Historical Society. Preservation advocates are already lobbying against the plan.

The agency's independence is critical, they argue, since it regulates other agencies (including Parks and Rec). Gregoire is said to be happy with agency head Dr. Allyson Brooks and is friendly to preservation efforts (grant funding for saving old barns and historic country courthouses is proposed to stay at current levels, which pleases the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, the Seattle-based, state-wide advocacy group). However, Washington Trust isn't convinced the merger with Parks would actually save money. They worry consolidation would be less efficient, less productive, and require more administrative overview.

That argument will be hashed out in the upcoming legislative session. Negotiations will take place under the gun of unprecedented budget cuts. Gregoire has predicted the over-all budget picture will likely be "ugly."

So, 2009 begins with a budget battle to preserve a preservation program. Let's hope the rest of the year isn't devoted to spending time fixing what isn't broken but rather to restoring things that need to be fixed, and saving things that deserve to be saved.

Part 1: Endangered landmarks, the upside of the recession, and Obama's role  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.