Commentary: Unreal city planning is hurting a real Seattle neighborhood

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A man outside the entrance to the neighborhood QFC.

Walk with me through my Seattle neighborhood, and I’ll show you the unintended consequences of what happens when ideologues capture local government.

I live in a 35-year-old, middle-class, First Hill condo: no sauna, no exercise room, no concierge. Check out our landscaping, and help me pick up the needles that junkies leave. Earlier this year, we spent nearly $10,000 to enclose a rear corner that was a favorite shoot-up spot. Make sure the garage door closes before we leave: Transients have broken into cars there.

Up the street from my place is First Hill Park, largely unmaintained and un-policed, judging by the cigarette butts on the ground and people drinking on the benches. Less than two blocks down the street, where Union, University and Boylston meet, the city will unilaterally install (by a director’s rule with no formal hearing or Council approval) a “test” park and partial street closure this summer. It’s a top-down design based on the ideological First Hill Realm Action Plan. (Isn’t it nice that our neighborhood has become a “realm”?) The city designed the “test” park before developing criteria by which to measure success or failure. It doesn’t know if the test will be there one year or three years.

But there will be a bike lane.

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A developer is planning to build 106 units here. Not having parking will put additional pressure on contractors and business people trying to find temporary parking, as well neighborhood residents who currently can’t find parking for their visitors.

Nearby, a developer has applied to build a 106-unit, seven-story building of quasi-pods and studios — with no parking, not even a loading zone. This meets the city’s standards for urban villages, but it will destroy the neighborhood’s character by towering over half-a-dozen National Register and city-designated landmark buildings.

Although we’re on the sidewalk, look at Union Street between Broadway and Harvard Avenue. So many utilities have dug into the road so many times that it’s more like a rutted Forest Service road that bicyclists and cars alike try to avoid.

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East Pike Street and 10th: Booming business for restaurants but is the city on top of services?

Look! There’s a rat crossing Harvard. We never used to see rats during the day, but now, with so many new bars and restaurants — The Seattle Times reported they have the capacity for 19,000 people — weekend drunks and homeless people dump a lot of garbage. There are too few public garbage cans that the city doesn’t empty often enough, and the restaurants themselves have no place for their dumpsters, which are left on public sidewalks 24/7.

Businesses can’t the cope with influx. At the QFC, an outer staircase often serves as a urinal. Customers are besieged at each entrance by panhandlers who day-camp there. Many sleep at nearby Cal Anderson Park, which the city inadequately polices and maintains.

It will only get worse as downtown’s crackdown on drugs and panhandlers forces the activity into our nearby neighborhood.

We’ve reached Broadway where, too late, the city concluded that the new streetcar line should have been built on a grade separated from traffic. But there’s a bike lane on Broadway whose year-old green paint job is already fading, and the city is building more without studying whether the existing lanes are a cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money.

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At Seattle Central College, this poster notes that 20,000 people live within five blocks of Broadway, and their least favorite thing is the weekend crowds of bar hoppers and diners.

Here’s Seattle Central College, which has trouble keeping its many storefront properties clean of graffiti. Unlike nearby Seattle University, which decided to go smoke free effective July 1, the college trustees refuse to ban smoking on campus; the result is a gauntlet of unhealthy students chain-smoking along the college’s three-block Broadway sidewalk.

Data-free politicians and government officials are sending the message that Seattle is no place for children, no place for families or the elderly, no place for the middle class, no place for those who simply want clean, non-intimidating streets and parks.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Don Glickstein

Don Glickstein has lived on Capitol Hill, then First Hill, for more than 20 years. He's a native of Boston and New York and loves urban density—if it's done right with mixed uses that appeal to a wide swath of demographics.