Down to Seattle last weekend: dismal weather, but an opportunity to see some of the city’s newest development.
It’s a good news/bad news story. The new light rail line connecting Downtown with the Airport is nearing completion. At least there’s enough on the ground to get a sense of what’s coming – and “on the ground” is the operative phrase.
To much objection, the rail was run at grade through the Rainier Valley along Martin Luther King Jr. Way. (‘Other parts of the route will be in tunnels; why not us?’ asked the residents and businesses in this predominately Black part of the city.)
But remarkably, not only is the rail in place but so is the residential redevelopment – built and occupied before the service even starts.
These mixed-use projects look nicely scaled to my eyes, even on a gloomy day, and I presume they incorporate a percentage of affordable housing. Most unusual to see transit-oriented development occur on this scale before the line is even open.
Not so good is the new townhousing popping up in Seattle neighbourhoods as the city tries to find ways to provide appropriately scaled densification. The idea is good; the execution isn’t.
Here’s just one project (they all pretty much look the same, at least in the Ballard/Phinney Ridge area). First the front view:
At least I think it’s the front. You can see the garage door and driveway tucked in below the main floor – and hence the problem. Because there is no underground parking (no doubt at considerable savings), the house does not address the street in a traditional way.
But worse is the cramped massing on the site, made even more problematic by the wooden fencing, cheap in appearance and doomed to age badly, that may give privacy but only at that expense of neighbourhood civility.
Same on the side, facing a heavily travelled street:
And worst of all, the lane at the back:
It’s a mystery to me why the parking is not accessed from the back. While this lane may be eventually paved, this is not a route anyone is going to want to use, particularly at night. Just waiting for the taggers.
Altogether, a very unhappy illustration of how ground-oriented housing can be fitted into existing neighbourhoods.
By comparison, here are some Vancouver examples where design has been a priority, and underground parking required. First, Towne near Oakridge:
And this charming complex on Oak at West 37th:
Design and parking aren’t the only big differences, of course. The differential in cost between the Seattle and Vancouver examples, I suspect, is huge – and hence the dilemma of affordability.
UPDATE: Town Homes Spark Neighborhood Debate (Seattle Times) Read more »