Observations from Seattle, Washington – where I attended the 25th Congress for New Urbanism.
- Buses everywhere – Immediately upon landing in Seattle I was surrounded by a wealth of transit options. The Link light rail connected the airport to downtown and several intermediate points. However, the real surprise was the sheer quantity of bus transit. King County Metro operates the majority of bus service in the city. They operate a mixed fleet of diesel, hybrid, articulated, and trolleybuses. In the course of four days, I got around Seattle exclusively on foot, bus, streetcar, and light rail using the handy Orca Card for payments on each system.
- Bike paradise – Once we exited the light rail station in Capitol Hill, we saw the first of several cycle tracks that the city of Seattle has installed. Each light rail station had two maps: a network map which showed your place on the rail line and a bicycle facility map which indicated the various bicycle facilities on the street network.
- It’s bigger on the inside – The enigmatic spaces around Pikes Place Market seemed to grow as we explored them. The famous market is much more than a couple of dudes pitching a salmon around for tourists. The 6-story building connects downtown Seattle to the waterfront through a series of winding, somewhat disorienting corridors. The alleys outside of Pikes Place also host a variety of businesses – including two restaurants I patronized for lunch.
- Rules of enclosure – Intimate public spaces such as Occidental Square showcase the importance of good urban form to creating useful public space. When I visited the square and the adjacent pedestrian street, a huge variety of people from all walks of life were utilizing the space. Kudos to the Seattle parks department for mixing active uses (basketball hoops, ping pong & foosball tables) passive uses (a violin player, cafe chairs & tables, benches, walking pathways), and food in delightful proportions.
- The Region of Boom – My college classmate told me that Seattle was in the midst of a construction surge. Indeed, wherever I looked I saw a crane (or three). The parcel of land next to his apartment was a case-in-point. On a space that appeared to be roughly 5 acres he said another 250 apartments would soon be available. The rapid pace of development has provided a crash course in urban planning for many locals. I found that Seattleites were very well informed about civic issues regarding housing affordability, public transit, and the environment.