One Step at a Time: Your Ideas, Please

After reading an article on Gehl Architects’ work in Seattle ("New study offers ideas to get Seattle walking,", I agree with the snarky one-liner at the bottom: We needed an architect from Cophenhagen to give us these ideas???


Yet—apparently, we do.


The ideas Gehl presents can be described as “time-honored” or “common sense” at best, and unoriginal at worst: upgrade the waterfront (gee, that’s so simple, why haven’t we considered that before?), add bike paths, add public green space, differentiate downtown neighborhoods, add green roofs and walls, make streets safer and more comfortable.


All great ideas…


But they are not anything that Seattle planners, architects, urban designers, landscape architects and just about every city staffer, politician and non-profit advocate hasn’t already discussed ad nauseum. (Seriously, haven’t we?) Yet, since we as a city are unable of implementing what we’ve talked to death for decades, we've just paid for three years of professional service time for European architects to help us understand what makes a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented urban core tick.


Despite all this, a few things continue to bug (again, nothing new) in spite of Gehl’s good suggestions:

-          Helle Soholt cites examples from other cities that simplify a solution and don’t necessarily track. It’s great that Copenhagen has a mere 7,000 parking spaces, but their regional transportation system and compact street grid trumps ours in a heartbeat. Until we can effectively move people into and through downtown via multi-modal transit, those cars just aren’t going away—and it’s doubtful that our city blocks will get smaller.


-          Where are the dollars? Gehl’s team gave sound advice and set lofty goals, but nowhere is there mention of how all of these initiatives would be funded. If I were paying a consultant for three years worth of work, I would want more than ideas and pretty renderings—I would ask for a strategic plan for how fund those ideas into fruition. Public/private partnerships? Bonds? Tax credits? Developer incentives? Grants? Federal funding? I hope that this was mistakenly left out of the article and not omitted from the plan entirely.


-          “Soholt listed things Seattle could do soon that are easy and don't cost a lot.” Taking cues from current projects, such as transforming a mere four block section of Bell Street into a park boulevard, this statement drastically minimizes how much it does take to get “simple” projects—such as greening all of First Avenue—accomplished. And, if it were truly so cheap and easy, why is it so difficult for us to implement? Again, the idea of First Avenue is a fabulous dream, but where we clearly need help is in the funding and implementing stage—we’re abundant with ideas, less so where the rubber meets the road (for many reasons.)


I could go on, but since I actually agree with Gehl’s suggestions, I’d rather challenge those of us who have the technical expertise, development potential, personal connections and fiery passion to stop talking about it and get it done.


Is there one initiative that you’re personally invested in or already involved with? Is there something that each of us can do to make these ideas come to life? Are you developing property with local retailers and living walls and roofs? Are you raising money to turn your street into a green street? Are you connecting local food producers with neighborhoods who are in need of a nearby farmer's market? Are you working on pedestrian or bicycle connectivity issues? What are you doing now to promote a vibrant, walkable downtown and what success have you witnessed? If you haven't been successful, what's standing in your way?
We'd love to hear what you're doing now to make Seattle the most walkable, healthy, enjoyable, culturally diverse and economically vibrant city in the nation. I know we can get there. It just takes one step at a time—so to speak.