Signs of livability in Seattle and that other place

More thoughts from the Seattle and Vancouver urban debaters on what makes their cities livable, or not.
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Terra Breads in Vancouver

More thoughts from the Seattle and Vancouver urban debaters on what makes their cities livable, or not.

I'm going through my notes from the Vancouver/Seattle debate and have found a number of interesting tidbits that weren't in my original story. Here's a notebook dump of some odds and ends.

Call it the Lady Godiva Rule

Seattle's Peter Steinbrueck criticized his home town for allowing high-rises to be built too close together, which ruins views, blocks light, and enrages tenants. He noted that Vancouver had done a better job of tower separation. Vancouver's Gordon Price weighed in saying his test was that towers should be spaced such that residents should be able to walk from the bathroom to the living room to the kitchen naked, with the blinds open, and not have to worry about being seen. Surely there will be keen competition to be the city's tower inspector using this criteria.

The slow train to White Rock

Asked about high-speed rail in the Seattle-Vancouver corridor, the debaters were asked where they thought the stations ought to be. Steinbrueck said the Seattle line should originate at the newly refurbished historic King Street Station, a major transit hub. Price said he thought the Vancouver station should not be in the city but suburban Surrey City Centre, where passengers could link up with SkyTrain for the ride downtown. He questioned, though, whether high speed rail would ever be built in the corridor and pleaded for better, more reliable Amtrak service.

Go to Seattle, young green!

One questioner wondered which city, Seattle or Vancouver, would be the best place to start an innovative, green company. Steinbrueck said Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland are all equally supportive for greenies. Price said he'd do it in Seattle because it's "where the money is." He noted that green start-ups in BC often get bought out and moved to Seattle anyway. Price also made the point that Seattle's impact on America generally has been huge. "You are part of the American identity," he said.

How dense are city builders?

Steinbrueck praised Vancouver's ability to plan new communities from top to bottom, from transportation to playground equipment. He said Seattle's efforts to build new neighborhoods are incomplete. He cited South Lake Union, for which there is no overall, integrated plan, and Belltown, a place "the city left behind." He said it is now the densest neighborhood in the state. Steinbrueck repeatedly called for stronger, more integrated and more consistent planning in the city, clearly not wanting to rely on "the market" to get it right. Price warned there was a downside to entrenched bureaucrats.

Pretty, but empty

Everyone loves Stanley Park in Vancouver, and it would be great if Seattle had something similar, but we traded an urban park for Skid Road. But while Price acknowledged that Stanley Park and its trees might be a spiritual place, it's not used much (that might be one reason it feels spiritual!). He noted that while the perimeter waterfront walkway and seawall are loved by many, it would never be built today: Who's going to approve paving all that shoreline? He said his experience is that very few people actually use the park's interior. An audience member referred to the park as wilderness, but Price corrected them saying that Stanley Park had been logged over more than once and that whatever it is, it's not wilderness.

NOTE: I just got the schedule from the Seattle Channel on the airing of the debate on TV (see below). It will be available on their website on the morning of July 3rd (

Vancouver/Seattle debate broadcast (Seattle Cable Channel 21):

Thursday, July 02, 2009 5:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 04, 2009 2:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 05, 2009 11:00 a.m.

Monday, July 06, 2009 3:00 a.m.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009 10:30 p.m.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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