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July 23, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Waterfront plan: Have we lost our design courage?

Does the waterfront plan as envisioned in the DJC on July 16 (https://www.djc.com/news/ae/12042941.html) not appear completely underwhelming? For such a large design fee in the hands of a highly regarded internationally known urban design firm, I for one do not see the brilliance. The new Alaska Way connector at the market appears to be the only new element/idea in the entire plan — and a not very elegant boulevard solution at that.

Where is the coherence of a larger “vision”? For the past 30 years local planners, designers and groups of concerned citizens have proposed all of the other ideas for various locations along the waterfront.

In fact, a weekend design charrette sponsored by the Design Commission and held some nine or so years ago, brought together over a hundred and fifty designers, planners and citizens to envision the waterfront. These teams of 6-10 people presented wildly diverse and interesting visions for our future waterfront.

How is it that have we lost our design courage in such a short time? These earlier charrette outcomes presented a much bolder and forwarding leaning sense of what we could be than these 10 timid touches to patch-up the existing waterfront. Has the recent economic calamity driven big thinking about our future out of the conversation and replaced it with retro-incrementalism?

It is quite interesting to note that one man with a strong vision for bringing people to our waterfront has constructed not just an elegant Ferris wheel but, yes, a future iconic element for Seattle and the waterfront. This single personal act is “way more” inspiring than this entire plan.

Will this plan live long enough to become a Seattle icon? How is it that our ongoing, four-decades-long discussions, plans, visioning and EIS's etc. for the waterfront have resulted in only plucking pieces from our past? These 10 timid patches to our present harbor's edge will not make a unique and special destination.

I have my doubts that this scattered urban design patch job or “fingers in the dike” will bring out the necessary and needed votes for this seawall project bond to pass.

Eric Schmidt


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