When some dreamers proposed a grand central park for Seattle in the 1990s, the idea was attacked as elitist, a "broad lawn for the rich...
When some dreamers proposed a grand central park for Seattle in the 1990s, the idea was attacked as elitist, a “broad lawn for the rich.”
The sense was that a 42-acre Commons in South Lake Union would inevitably be ringed by yuppie condo towers and boutiques. Seattle voters nixed the idea — twice. Ten years later, Paul Allen has unveiled what we’re getting instead. Yuppie condo towers. Boutiques. No broad lawn.
This vision is displayed in mesmerizing detail at Vulcan’s South Lake Union Discovery Center — a marketing office built on what’s left of the Commons at Westlake and Denny.
Go visit, regardless of whether you’ve got half a mil for a 600-square-foot apartment. What’s happening in South Lake Union is history in the making, arguably the largest effort to remake a Seattle neighborhood since engineer R.H. Thomson leveled parts of downtown a century ago.
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Using a movie, virtual displays and a 200-square-foot model, the center paints the company picture of what Vulcanville will be like when Allen and us taxpayers are done pouring a billion dollars into it.
It’s intoxicating. I spent an hour there, and I’m pleased to report we’re all gonna be rich.
We’ll drink wine in black eveningwear on glittering balconies. Cruise leafy streets on Segways. Do tai chi at lunch.
I fit the yuppie profile. But even I found the elitist yuppie fantasy on display here dizzying. The shiny happy people of Vulcanville seem to have no cars, kids or cares beyond where to shop and whether their condo buildings have ecologically sustainable roofs.
The scale model reveals that this isn’t just meaningless marketing. It shows all of South Lake Union, and you can press buttons to see which buildings Vulcan plans to tear down and redevelop year by year. Suffice it to say that in five years, we won’t recognize the place.
Usually I like it when someone offers up bold ideas. It was in that spirit that I voted for the audacious, idealistic Commons (also backed by Allen).
And Allen’s latest includes some great features, such as a smaller park on Lake Union and the effort to attract scores of biotech businesses.
But his look into the future of this neighborhood’s soul makes me as curmudgeonly as late Seattle newspaper columnist Emmett Watson.
When William and Alfred Levitt built 17,000 tiny homes on Long Island in the 1940s and ’50s, no doubt their goal was making money. But Levittown also furthered a powerful egalitarian idea — that the little folks could own homes, too.
It seems Vulcanville aspires mostly to reward success. You’ve made it, otherwise you couldn’t afford to live here. So you have a right to a cosmopolitan and a five-star meal, without leaving your building.
If we’re going to give hundreds of millions in aid to help a billionaire rebuild a major part of the city, is this really the best we can do?
Go see Allen’s vision for yourself, then tell me what you think. The center’s open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Wednesdays until 9.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.