Notes on Seattle Commons

I wasn’t in Seattle at this time so I’m looking into some of the discourses that were circulating as the Seattle Commons project was being developed. If you were around and have thoughts about what you recall or the notes below, please get in touch.

Lynne Iglitzin, “The Seattle Commons: A Case Study in the Politics and Planning of an Urban Village” in Policy Studies Journal.

(620) Historical context of Commons project: Growth Management (1990 in WA) and Comprehensive Planning (1994); urban revitalization as response to sprawl using tenets of NU and urban villages.

(622) Hinterberger – emotional appeal for a park (affect) in a series of columns (find them!). After the construction boom in the 1980s, an “open space constituency was being created” (evidence: open space preservation bond passed with huge margins in ’89). Idea of a park captured public imagination, but more importantly, a small group of influential citizens  (“making their mark by using their private entrepreneurial skills to create a major urban amenity that would endure throughout the years”). I can’t help but think about Leo Marx here…

(623 & 631 – original and second proposals for SC)

(624) City: not just a park but “building a community” and “have social, economic, and political, as well as merely recreational, ramifications.” Hence “an urban village a large park at its core.” Still, it was too big for government, and “should be an effort carried on outside of government.”

Seattle planners: heavy in-migration requires increased open space to be palatable to general public (again, L Marx)…

(625) In order for park to gain support from mayor, council, public, it “had to be part of a broader plan.” Pub-priv endeavor  raises land values and tax rev w/out major public expenditures (a flavor of neolib? +/- for Peck?). These political realities helped create ‘urban village’ idea (was this concept used elsewhere beforehand?); movement from a “world-class park” to a “revitalized community surrounding a magnificent new park near downtown Seattle. A place where people will be able to live, work and play without being dependent on a car.” (Where did she get this quotation?)

(626) Small leadership supported by “highly pragmatic and task-oriented working groups” and volunteers. Private developers and media  (“wasteland of parking lots and warehouses”). City “staffers encouraged the Commons committee to broaden their vision into a new, mixed-use urban village in the South Lake Union area that would serve as a prototype for the city as a whole.”

(627) Strategy: acquire 50% of land – critical mass and to stave off speculative development nearby. Allen loans $20M with caveat that Commons needs to raise $1M (McCaw’s come through…no mention of Allen’s deal to take land back in exchange for an upzone if voters fail to approve proposition for increased sales tax to fund construction…). Times as opponent (wanted to build a printing press; didn’t jibe w/ vision)…land swap deal and a major employer stayed in area.

(628) Public details: “fluid and devoid of specifics”; detractors felt “caught off-guard” b/c “they had nothing tangible to which to react and were kept busy trying to figure out exactly what was being proposed.” This strategy reminds me of Jeff Sharp’s email saying Vulcan is super tight-lipped and requires employees to sign non-disclosure statements.

(628 and 629) Opposition: small biz, SDC (john fox), Cascade Residents Action Group…language of downtown elites, juggernauts, etc.

(630-633): Evolution of plan…

Conclusion: strong commitment to planning (~NU), connection to regional growth management, transit improvements…innovative b/c “private-sector funding was intended as the catalyst for city, state, and federal public funds, rather than the other way around.”

(634) Commons was a citizen’s movement, but from elites, not grassroots. Also demonstrated competing visions of that which constitutes the good life.

This article ends after the first vote (9/19/95)…I think second vote came in 96?

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