Of all the differences between Seattle and Vancouver, one thing is increasingly apparent: there are not many places to go for a stroll in Seattle. Read more »
I mean what the Italians call the passeggiata – the evening stroll, a slow walk, to see, to be seen, to eat ice cream.
We’re in Seattle for a weekend, arriving by train and without a car. With a day-long transit pass (only $2.50!) and taxi fare, it’s quite possible to get around. We choose a restaurant in Belltown (the Flying Fish – you won’t be disappointed) and then head out for a walk to work off the wine. And while there are places nearby, nothing is really connected. Yes, the Scuplture Park and a bit of seawall. The Bell Street Pier and the waterfront. The streets, of course, filled with activity.
But Seattle doesn’t link up. It doesn’t loop around. There’s nowhere, really, that says here is the place to stroll, and we place you, the pedestrian, as our highest priority.
The same with the parks: nice, but small. And nothing in the way of a major commitment to a great regional open space. No seawall.
That’s very deliberately Seattle. They’ve voted down that kind of thing for over a century: no to a civic centre, no to the Seattle Commons, no to anything that looks as though downtown might get favoured treatment over the neighbourhoods. It continues still: there’s yet another initiative for the ballot that would completely hamstring the legislature in the event they might want to raise taxes. The City cannot get it together to tear down the Alaska Way Viaduct to open up its waterfront. The same old stories, up for another round.
Seattle is now more clearly paying the price for its penury. At a time when the design and quality of the public realm is a factor that cities must have to effectively compete, Seattle comes in second. They lost Boeing to Chicago, the city of Millennium Park. And while that great public space – a golden link in a chain of green – can hardly be credited as the reason why Boeing made the move, it serves nicely as the symbol.
Well, at least Seattle has its more modest version of Millennium Park, the new Olympic Sculpture Park: largely the consequence of private vision, and certainly private money. I’ve visited it three times now, and I’ll go again, probably every time I visit downtown. The art is good – or at least good enough (particularly the Richard Serra) – the plantings change with the season, and the views are spectacular. Always something to see in a different light.
Best of all, it’s where the people are. All different kinds, walking, strolling, enjoying the place, the art and each other.
It’s about the only place Seattle has.
The park just planted, last December:
And now abloom:
In truth, the park now has a seawall very much in the Vancouver style, with a separated bike path that connects up to the waterfront walkway to the north. It’s a very good beginning.