Since most of it was regraded a century ago, the area we now call Belltown has always been on the way to some fantastic destiny. The current vision has been clear since the 80s: Belltown should be a dense spinoff from Downtown proper, primarily residential but with offices too, and with lots of amenities.
I’ve always thought Belltown was just one more wave of projects away. After a few waves it’s not there yet. But it’s getting closer.
In many ways, Belltown is a huge success already, and I love living here. It’s vibrant to a point, and every convenience is either here or nearby. Young adults, empty-nesters, and a large poor population mix with less difficulty than some imagine. Half of us walk to work or use transit.
Traffic and street width are a hurdle. Belltown is “on the way to” Ballard in addition to destiny. The narrow streets and low traffic of Portland’s Pearl District magnify the feeling of people out and about, while Belltown needs lots of pedestrians to seem right, and busy crossings discourage strolling. Some avenues are probably unfixable, but Second and Third are low-volume toward the north and could be narrowed, perhaps replacing a lane or two with greenery.
We should concentrate our retail. Belltown is populated enough to have a couple good retail avenues, or one great one, but instead it has a lot of “sort of” retail streets. The culprit is code that favors/requires retail everywhere, and doesn’t require it to be wall-to-wall anywhere. We ought to pick a couple avenues for retail, and sharply reduce requirements elsewhere, leaving space for corner stores of course.
For those wishing for a bigger-city feel, another lesson is that a few hundred new housing units won’t have much effect in such a large area. That’ll take thousands of people, which will take years. Luckily some of us enjoy the journey.
Perhaps we can talk about amenities in another post!