#ThrowbackThursday: NYC Upper West Side...Where Density is Livable!

Note: This post was published on April 18, 2016. It is repeated now on #ThrowbackThursday because it is an example that merits repeating over and over until our City's leaders really understand what's at risk in downtown Seattle today.

 You wouldn’t think that we in Seattle could learn much about livability from Manhattan, but we can. Let me give you some background.

1969 was a great year in New York City, and a great experience for me and my bride of not quite one year at the time. The Miracle Mets won their first World Series; Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and then both had their traditional ticker tape parades down Broadway through Lower Manhattan.

Because I was in training school for Merrill Lynch at the time, I had the opportunity to witness both of those historic events first hand. And I got the opportunity to live on the Upper West Side [UWS] on W. 73rd in an older apartment building we affectionately called “the roach” [it’s a luxury co-op today]. While the neighborhood was not nearly as popular nor as nice as it is today, it was a great place for an “out-of-towner”, because everything we needed was within walking distance…dining, shopping, entertainment, subways, and Central Park was only a block away.  That’s still the basic formula for a livable neighborhood today.

Since 1969, we have visited New York City a number of times, and I always enjoy going back to my old stomping ground on the Upper West Side. In fact, we are going back there this summer, and taking our nine-year old granddaughter. And we’ll stay at the Hotel Beacon at W. 75th & Broadway, right across the street from the first Fairway Market where we shopped in 1969.

What keeps bringing me back to the UWS? It’s simple. They haven’t screwed it up with big skyscrapers one on top of the other. It’s a very dense neighborhood, but, as urbanist Aaron Renn says, “high density living done right can be extremely livable, human, and even uncongested.”

The UWS is the second most dense neighborhood in the entire city [110,000 people per square mile], but it doesn’t give you that Midtown Manhattan feeling, or even downtown Seattle feeling. It has a mixture of low to mid-rise buildings with a few skyscrapers. While there aren’t many alleys, there are often courtyards between blocks with open space and greenery. For comparison, the densest part of Seattle on Capital Hill is 55,000 people per square mile, and doesn’t give you the congested feeling of the downtown core.

I believe that the UWS also exposes the fallacy of today’s thinking in Seattle, which is all about building mega-towers cheek to jowl to increase the housing supply. If you can get to 110,000 densities with mid-and low-rise buildings, these towers just aren’t necessary without reasonable residential development standards to protect humane livability.

                                                -John Sosnowy, Downtown Resident