When urban-design guru Jan Gehl looks at Seattle, he sees a thriving city with world-class potential, held back by unfriendly streetscapes...
When urban-design guru Jan Gehl looks at Seattle, he sees a thriving city with world-class potential, held back by unfriendly streetscapes, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and view-blocking stockpiles of shipping containers.
Gehl, a Danish architect and author, has been hired by dozens of cities, from London to Melbourne, Australia, to help redesign downtowns. He’s in Seattle this week at the city’s invitation for a series of lectures and public events, including a street party in Pioneer Square last night.
Gehl said if Seattle makes the right moves, it might someday rate a chapter in his book of the world’s most livable cities. Here are some highlights from an interview:
What Seattle has to do
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I’m quite sure when I come back 10 years from now, this city will finally have found out how to link to its water. Because you have this fantastic asset of being a waterfront city, and you have done nearly everything … to make the connection difficult and awkward.
Why the bay matters so much
As lifestyles are changing, and people have traveled and seen wonderful places, people are much more interested in amenities where they live and work. Waterfronts around the world are being developed. … If you can have a view over the ocean or a mountain or a stream or a forest — you like to see something beyond the next-door neighbor’s house.
Melbourne’s granite sidewalks
I have seen a fabulous turnaround in Melbourne, which used to be called the doughnut; in the middle it was dull and empty. They have made a fabulous, concerted effort to make the city attractive. They say, “We are a city of streets, and people in this city will walk the streets. We will have nice white sidewalks. We will have granite on all sidewalks. We should really show people that they’re welcome. We will have trees, we will have high-class furniture, good art, good crossing facilities.”
And what has happened is now they have about twice the number of people in the streets day and night compared to 10 years ago. It’s now got quite an ambience, almost a Parisian ambience.
“Awful” parking lot
at Seahawks Stadium
The city could benefit more from linking the stadiums and downtown. In some ways, [the stadiums] could just as well be over in Bellevue. I see an area of very valuable development in that area, when the stadiums and the exhibition places are linked better to the city. [Now] this sort of a sea of asphalt is delineating the city from the stadium. A lot of things could happen there, and you could still have parking somewhere.
Empty containers block the waterfront
Having the container harbor next to the stadiums, that’s far too valuable a location to house containers. I think one will find some other places for the containers. If something is done to the viaduct with all the noise and visual barriers, suddenly the whole harbor front will come alive in a fantastic way, and you’ll not recognize the city, and everybody will rave about it and say Seattle is the best city in the United States.
Encouraging a residential downtown
It’s very typical of cities that have done well that they have done quite a bit to invite more people to settle in the downtown after a period when they did everything to chase them away. It brings the ambiance of the 24-hour cities. It brings back the supermarkets and the corner stores and the number of other facilities that go with residences.
Rating North American cities
There are enormous differences. If you go from Houston and Dallas and Atlanta, and you go to Portland and Seattle and San Francisco and Manhattan, it’s completely different ballgames. In this end of the country, you find the best cities, with Vancouver [B.C.] and Portland a bit higher on my list than Seattle, because I think they started out earlier and have done more to be very charming and comfortable, people-oriented cities.