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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Re: Re: More Changes on Broadway

Posted by on March 21 at 15:40 PM

Dan: Setbacks don’t “suck.” In fact, in most cities - including Vancouver, B.C., the model we’re supposedly striving for - they’re required. You would never see a building like this in Vancouver, because Vancouver requires wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and narrower buildings that don’t take up entire lots. (So, by the way, does Portland.) Vancouver, which has no height limits, nonetheless requires buildings to be shorter on the side that faces the street, in keeping with the principle that tall buildings feel oppressive and monolithic when they’re jammed right against heavily traveled sidewalks. Too many people who talk about wanting a city full of “tall and skinny” buildings forget that tall and skinny aren’t the same thing. For a building to be thin, it has to be set back from the street. I’m talking about sidewalks, Dan, not parking-lot-sized courtyards for the homeless. Look at Hawthorne Street in Portland, where buildings that aren’t set back from the street seem totally out of scale with the surrounding developments - even when they’re exactly the same size.

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goddamn I wish I could see some images of this presumed monstrosity. Is it as ugly as the new aerial rebuild?

Wide sidewalks are unnecessary. Read William White on the subject; the narrowest places on the narrowest sidewalks in New York are where people congregate the most.

Sidewalks are required by code. The word "setback" means "from the sidewalk". What's essential is that all the setbacks on a block, and preferably for many blocks, be exactly the same, thus creating the wall that makes a street feel cozy, like an outdoor room, not "oppressive".

The issue of how thin a building is has nothing to do with setbacks. The maximum width of a building is easily controlled by the code, and in places where buildings are wider, they can be broken up by making sure that no one storefront is too wide. This provides the texture that makes a street interesting.

The actual architecture of the building doesn't friggin' matter that much. Most "architecture" is designed to be seen from far away, like the Columbia Center downtown, not up close like a shopping street.

Fnarf: fully concur with your post, except:

"Most "architecture" is designed to be seen from far away, like the Columbia Center downtown, not up close like a shopping street."

And that's a shame. Architecture does matter. The texture of a building above street level matters, especially on a wide and important street like Broadway.

But most architects barely bother with the street level, and concentrate on the heroic grandeur of the tower. That's how you end up with monstrosities like the Columbia Center, which gives the city a big "fuck you" all day long every day at street level.

Some of the most interesting street-level architecture, in any number of great street cities, is among the least distinguished. Block after block of brick piles. Brick piles are outdated now, but brain-dead nostalgia demands fake versions (like Safeco Field, for instance, and the new hotel across the street from it). But untimately on the street, no one cares, if the shops are interesting enough. Once you have enough people walking past, no one looks up. How many people who walk Broadway every day would recognize pictures of the existing old buildings there cropped above the ground floor?

For the record, we're not talking sidewalk setbacks, but upper-level setbacks here. (Right?) Since Broadway, unlike Pike/Pine, is a north-south street, it gets shade half-way through the day, while Pike/Pine gets light all day because it's east/west. Some of the neighbors were concerned about that.

The City Council chose not to require setbacks because they were afraid of the same setback going all the way down the street. However, in providing this level of flexibility, they were hoping that developers would be more creative than just building a box.

(Red herring: the Vancouver planners Peter hired both thought that Seattle's downtown (which isn't what were talking about here, but anyway) was much nicer architecturally than Vancouver. In this vein, they urged us to keep our historic buildings in order to keep the character of the city.)

The building at John and Broadway is on an east-west arterial and is also historic, which makes it a little nicer to look at.

Up the height limit to 20 stories.

The reason this city is getting so goddam expensive is because people are being born and/or moving into Seattle at a rate far faster than new housing is being built. Business school 101, supply and demand. Limit the supply of housing (by all manner of zoning restrictions), and increase the demand (hordes of people moving here), and shock of shock, housing prices go up. There are economies of scale too. The more floors there are, the less expensive per unit the construction is.

All these height limits are set because people want to preserve the city like it is, more or less, and don't want rampant construction. However, that only works if the population growth is flat. But the reality is that most of Broadway was built when Seattle had about 1/4 of its current population. As were most of the residential neighborhoods around the core of the city.

So preserve the city all you want. Keep all those height restrictions in place. But then don't come crying to me when 10 years from now 1 bedroom apartment rents average $2000 per month.

Seattle can't expand outward. We are geographically hemmed in by Puget Sound and Lake WA. The only way we can absorb the population increase is to increase density and build up.

If all the condo and apartment buildings on Capitol Hill were twice their current height, I guarantee that condos and apartments would be a lot cheaper than they are now.

"keep our historic buildings"

yeah right, what the five or six that are left outside of Pioneer Square?

Is there another city outside of the southwest that has managed to as effectively gut its historic building stock as Seattle?

There's a lot of history around still. The problem is, most Seattleites, and most preservationists as well, have a very narrow view of history. Remember when they knocked down the Twin Teepees? A cultural atrocity. The giant warehouse that Earthwise is in, recently rescued from the Monorail? It should be saved. And even in the center of downtown, there's a lot of old buildings that don't have the cachet of the Smith Tower but are just as vital. Consider also the rapidly disappearing legacy of 50s and 60s buildings, like the old library building.


Good points. Small scale historic buildings matter, too. Truly "world-class" cities realize this, even if our developer-friendly wannabe "world class" city largely doesn't...

Development is good because it brings density.

Old buildings don't matter that much to most people and should never stand in the way of more density.

That old downtown library building was fifty years old, but who cares? The new library is much better and as a bonus brings tourist dollars into town.

Freemont is much better with all the new buildings. Who cares about a bunch of seventy five year old warehouses? I don't.

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