I long to hear someone speak of a vision for Seattle’s future that imagines the city as a place that preserves access to its outside beauty and maintains or even adds to what little remains inside it.
Seattle is not a beautiful city. Visitors who describe it that way mean Seattle’s physical surroundings — the mountains, the water, the fresh air. Downtown is cold, windy and unattractive to walk through. The most interesting architecture is in the older buildings that are being torn down or overpowered. If the Central Library is an exception you can’t tell, because you can’t see it through the surrounding buildings.
The nicest places are on the fringes of downtown — the Olympic Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards Park, and those parts of Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District that haven’t lost their charm to development. Seattle Center is pleasant, but it is almost shut off from the rest of the city, and construction has crept ever closer.
The views available to people walking, riding and sitting are disappearing. The unobstructed view from Capitol Hill down Pike Street to Elliott Bay — gone. The views of Lake Union from Aurora Avenue North — gone. Views of the Sound, the Cascades, the Space Needle and Mount Rainier as you walk downtown are going or gone. Before long these views may be blocked even from the city’s hills. When I see a space that has been leveled for construction I wish it could be left as open space.
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Outside downtown the most attractive parts of the city are our parks, which we have continued to support through special funding. Yet we risk losing them to construction and privatization.
The next nicest parts are the neighborhoods with trees, yards and interesting buildings. Through housing policies that promote height, width, volume and newness at the expense of grace, space and greenery we are making these neighborhoods unpleasant to walk through, shop in or be in. Many of our arterials are becoming walls of new buildings that allow you to see out only at a street corner.
I long to hear someone speak of a vision for Seattle’s future that imagines the city as a place that preserves access to its outside beauty and maintains or adds to what little remains inside it. Homelessness and housing can be discussed within this wider vision.
The city will be undertaking major projects on the central waterfront, at the Convention Center, at Seattle Center and possibly in the stadium area. The Chinatown ID is headed for taller buildings. The South Lake Union basketball court on Denny Way is going to disappear to high-rise development.
Does the city have the power to protect pedestrian views, greenery, space and what we call “livability” as we charge ahead with development? If yes, what are we doing? If not, why aren’t we giving ourselves that power?
The first time I crossed False Creek I thought Vancouver, B.C., surrounded by mountains and water, was the most beautiful city I had seen. Now as you enter downtown all you can see is tall buildings. You have to be in Stanley Park or on a beach to see the mountains and water. I was dumbfounded at the change. I am afraid that that will be us in 10 years.