Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat has written about the exodus of citizens from Portland and concluded that it foreshadows Seattle departures. In the same issue, another columnist, Jon Talton, was busy decrying candidates who are “activists,” protesting permit review (just approve any ugly design) and longing to elect those with business credentials. An overdose of Babbittry.
Apparently it’s going to fall to those of us who see a future to pull Seattle off its deathbed. Look, people, we have a lot going for us: a compact city center with a fairy tale setting (Elliott Bay and the mountains beyond), almost ideal weather and 29 resident brain factories (Seattle University, University of Washington, Seattle Pacific and so on.) What we need are both visionary politicians and creative entrepreneurs to build on what’s out there.
For starters we must rethink what draws people to an area. We should ask ourselves: Why would I want to go downtown? What I want most is a safe place, one where I don’t need to worry about being mugged. I want a bustling place, people-filled streets, great things to gaze at and fun things to do.
One way of remaking downtown might be to return to what once worked: closing the Pine Street block to cars between Westlake Park and Westlake Center. That closure would make Westlake a greater people area. I can see it ringed by small bistros that could spill out into the park while people linger over chess or board games, patronize a nearby news stand and listen to buskers. I have never understood why some people want to close the Pike Place Market to car traffic when this block makes far better sense.
Another necessity is reclaiming Third Avenue, which has been given over to buses and to crime, drug dealing, and other ills. We should try putting cars back on Third, beautifying the area with street trees and putting some bus routes on adjacent streets. The calamity that Third has become separates the city from the charms of the Pike Place Market and the Waterfront. Time to take our streets back.
There are other ways as well to boost Seattle’s vitality. Admittedly, they’re far-out ideas, but let’s toss a few out and see if anything resonates:
Books. We need a Seattle version of Portland’s legendary Powell’s Books. Ever since Barnes & Noble left Pacific Place, downtown hasn’t had a large general-interest bookstore, nothing to rival Elliott Bay Books up on Capitol Hill. What’s required is someone with the vision of Ron Sher who spread Third Place Books across the region.
Team Spirit. Sports are a growth industry. We have a Mariners Store downtown, but what about our other teams? Sure there’s merchandise for Seahawks and Soccer fans at Lumen Field, and Kraken and Storm merch at Seattle Center. But wouldn’t it be great to have a downtown outlet filled with jerseys, hats and fan gear from our favorite sports teams?
Music. Seattle already has downtown music venues. For classics, it’s Benaroya Hall; for contemporary music, it’s the Moore Theater and the Triple Door. But never underestimate the draw of live performances. Think of refitted spots, like maybe the long shuttered Cinerama.
Pike Place Spillover. The city’s famed farmers’ market has powerful appeal. Why not spread the excitement into Seattle’s core? A flower seller on the corner of Sixth and Union? A Market produce stall in Belltown? A cheese vendor with free samples at Fourth and Pine? Artisan sales relocated into one of the empty storefronts?
Food Trucks. Fun fast food is always a draw. I could see half a dozen trucks lining parking lanes along a Second Avenue block, everything from breakfast burritos to cups of seafood chowder and sweet frybreads.
Pets. Seattle has more dogs than children but in downtown there’s only the one dog park, the one located in Denny Park. Why not another off-leash area at City Hall Park, that long debated and troublesome spot near Pioneer Square? Or even dog friendly spot at Jim Ellis Freeway Park?
Outdoor Theater. During New York City’s annual Easter Parade, the police block off city thoroughfares to allow for live theater performances on city streets. Wouldn’t it be great fun if on certain holidays (maybe St. Paddy’s Day or Lunar New Year) Seattle could arrange for local productions to showcase live theater.
Central Airport Lounge. Light rail as well as an airporter shuttle to Sea-Tac are available. However, that doesn’t rule out a comfortable airport lounge near city center where travelers could linger, confirm flights and get up to date information before boarding express transport to airport terminals.
Sportswear. Seattle can rightfully claim to be the sportswear style capital. Recreational Equipment Inc. (aka REI) and a few others like North Face and Patagonia are within strolling distance, but it’s more of a trek to places like Filson’s Seattle and Eddie Bauer. Gathered under one roof, our outdoorsy look would be a popular draw.
Downtown Food Court. There are vacant and underused spots in Seattle’s downtown that could be retrofitted for a food court that emphasizes the region’s fabled cuisines. I can envision stopping at the Uwajimaya stall for humbow, at Communion for shrimp and grits, at Pho Bac for a steaming bowl and finishing up at Molly Moon’s for a dish of salted caramel.
Indigenous art. Seattle, we must always remind ourselves, was built on native land. We were invited here by Sealth, the Chief who gave us our name. Seattle’s center city needs a native art gallery, a sampling from establishments like Stonington Gallery, Steinbrueck Native Art, Northwest Tribal Art, the Burke Museum and United Indians Native Art.
There probably is no end to possibilities. We know we’ve got a dented downtown; but what this city has always had are great, innovative ideas and people who can make things happen. When candidates for office solicit your vote, be sure to ask how they’re going to make Seattle an exciting place again.