Up here, we call it Pike/Pine. But Wednesday morning in downtown Seattle, they were calling the lower reaches of the two critically important connective streets a golden opportunity for reinventing — and redesigning — the city’s central core.
The Downtown Seattle Association hosted business and community leaders at the unveiling of its Pike-Pine Renaissance initiative to rethink and better structure the public spaces and infrastructure of downtown. Many of the concepts would find a welcome home up the Hill, too. Clean, safe-to-walk through alleyways, anyone?
The initiative vision is described in surprisingly urbanist language: “To move Downtown incrementally toward higher quality, more consistent pedestrian space through upgraded standards for sidewalks and intersections.”
The Seattle Times notes that the area’s recent attempts at reinvention haven’t met with much success:
The area’s last major transformation was in the 1990s, when developer Matt Griffin and a group of investors raised $175 million to create Pacific Place at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Pine Street. Griffin and his partners also struck a deal to have Nordstrom open its flagship store in the historic Frederick & Nelson building next door.
Since then, despite numerous studies and piecemeal efforts, the Pike-Pine area’s streets and buildings have yet to blossom into a coherent, harmonious whole. There are blocks of prominent retail space such as Pacific Place and the renovated Westlake Center followed by blocks of mediocrity.
While the design initiative may inspire projects off the Hill, some see a growing connection between the opportunities and problems in the downtown core and Capitol Hill. East Precinct officials have publicly acknowledged that crime issues around Cal Anderson, for example, increasingly mirror those found downtown. It follows, then, that some of the public infrastructure discussions and initiatives could drift up the Hill.
Meanwhile, with less fanfare than Wednesday’s focus on the most urban of Seattle’s spaces, another “urbanist vision” unveiled on the day presents a look at possible change for Capitol Hill’s single-family home dominated areas:
The real meat of the report, though, is an overall recommendation to up-zone Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods. This is controversial, but important. Discussions of where new development should go tend to be narrowly constrained to a few urban villages, while the vast majority of Seattle – something like 2/3 of the land – is considered off-limits (the yellow stuff in the map at right). So we argue about whether to allow 5 stories or 6 in a narrow sliver of Capitol Hill, meanwhile acres and acres of the city’s neighborhoods remain locked at absurdly low density levels.
To add insult to injury, as single family houses get more expensive, they become even more out of reach to larger families, resulting in a spiral whereby only small, wealthy families can afford them, thereby decreasing density even further.
The City of Seattle hosts its affordable housing public forum on Thursday.
The full Pike-Pine Renaissance design report is below.