Sustaining and Enhancing Seattle's Downtown Livability

The fall of ancient Rome didn't happen in a day, but its decline provides lessons to cities like Seattle today. These lessons, like those from other once great cities, remind us that in the end cities are a collection of its citizens; and if they feel like their voices are not being heard and that their city is no longer a desirable place to live, they will not stay in the community.

Desirable and sustainable livability in a downtown area is composed of a number of factors, including:

1.    Great transit.

2.    Wide functional alleys.

3.    Public open spaces, parks, and schools.

4.  Reasonable tower spacing to provide adequate light, air, and privacy.

5.  Good mix of low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise buildings.

6.   Negligible numbers of homeless persons on the streets.

So the lessons for Seattle today:

1.    Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

a.  Seattle passed on mass transit decades ago, and has paid for it ever since. Only now are they starting to play “catch-up”…at an exorbitant cost.

b. Seattle failed to pass legislation on downtown zoning changes/residential development standards in 2006, deciding to “wait and see” if residential development came downtown. Now they've seen - and it’s not pretty - and yet the current administration is still not proposing to include residential development standards/alley setbacks in the HALA legislation this year.

2. Seattle can’t be a great city without a great downtown.

3. Seattle can’t have a great downtown without leaders who really “get it” regarding urban living and will do what’s necessary and right to insure livability for all of its citizens, no matter whether poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

The failure to take the necessary steps could be the “tipping point” toward a downward spiral for livability and an ultimate exodus from downtown Seattle. And some day, tourists might be viewing the empty shells of our once-thriving downtown towers just like we tour the Roman ruins today.