Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Howling

The proposals were made and james corner field operations chosen to develop plans for a new park on the central waterfront of Seattle. In the fullness of time, and about four years of public participation, plans well be developed- and what plans these will be!

The central waterfront is, quite literally, the central waterfront. It's visible as such if you look down from a plane, arrive by ship, gaze from a skyscraper or hill, or look westwards from a downtown sidewalk. It is our early history of Puget Sound commerce in steamers, and our later history of purse seiners unloading and freighters loading at the wharves. It is our future history to the extent that it dignifies the future while reconnecting Seattleites to the watery world of the Sound, our pleasure in actively using our parks, and our window on the Olympics- in a place many downtown workers can reach in a short walk at lunchtime. To some extent, in some way or another, most Seattleites will want this park to be a success.

And at every step of the process howls will be heard from Seattle's radical urbanologists. The self-proclaimed high priests of Jane Jacobism will tell us what Jane Jacobs said about parks (or, at least, the parts they agree with) and will decry the inclusion of any greenery where it would be possible to build low-rise (but not low-income) housing and shops. This, they say, will be so darn much fun that people will realize what a mistake they made in moving to the suburbs and come flooding back into the city, thus ending sprawl and reducing our dependence on the automobile.

They're a little vague on how all this fun will fit into 9 acres. It's as though you went to the dentist to get a tooth replaced and he offered to give you the incisors of a lion and the molars of a hippo- as much fun as that might be, you couldn't help but wonder how it would all ft in your mouth.

Let's be plain here- for a variety of reasons, Seattle will be a more attractive city once this whole mess on the waterfront gets properly sorted. Weak people that we are, we delight in cleanliness and order, like to visit the Aquarium once in a while with our children, and want to get out of the office and eat lunch amid greenery on sunny days. A 'new' central waterfront would be exactly the kind of place the suburbs can never match, and might actually make people think about moving back into town.

Listening to 'the howling' is just part of the price we pay for getting it right.

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