As Will Hall said recently, city planning is all about 'placemaking'- defining and enhancing the distinctive natures of places within the city so citizens can comprehend, utilize, enjoy and take pride in them. When Sound Transit Link Light Rail comes it looks like . Two stops are planned, at 145th St. and at 185th St. I mentioned these in "" but I think a bit more attention is due, so let's do a first draft plan for the 'new' neighborhood I called "Link South".
Link Light Rail's station- centerpiece and raison d'etre for Link South- will be roughly 400' (about two blocks) long and 100' wide, and will be right along the Interstate. Because it is coming up from Northgate I assume they will choose to put it up the east side of I-5. That probably puts the station north of the 145th St northbound onramp to access the small, existing park-and-ride lot. I expect that P&R will expand to fill its block, maybe with a second level. I'm not much of a park & ride fan. I think we should be building our ridership right into the site with serious, multistory upzoning, , and a solid, prefinished plan.
Assume I'm right about the alignment. The map shows you a compact, contiguous area bounded by Paramount Park and Paramount Park Natural Area on the east and Interstate 5 on the west, NE 145th St on the south and NE 155th St on the north. Indeed, those bounding features are a big part of placemaking. You know the old saying- "Good fences make for good neighbors." That’s smaller than my original boundary in “2062”, but that was based on a ‘generic’ station in the middle of the freeway. If it comes up the east side, then the area on the west of I-5 would seem too inconvenient or distant to feel like part of the neighborhood. Still, there should be at least two and perhaps three pedestrian freeway crossings to guarantee foot access.
The station will stretch from the ramp to NE 149th St, perhaps eliminating all the houses along the freeway. This will allow direct access to the Link via 148th and 149th Streets, and will work much better if 4th Ave NE is completed through to NE 155th St, maximizing pedestrian, automotive, and transit interconnection. That road will also make a much more attractive mileu for higher density housing and commercial development in the immediate area- more streetfront, and that is exactly what's called for. By the freeway north of NE 152nd St is a lot owned by some public entity (no tax ID number on record), which can be another park for all the new residents.
What is a neighborhood anyway and what goes into designing one? It's not like most of ours were ever designed at all- indeed, I think Bill Boeing's old haunts, Innis Arden and The Highlands are the only ones, strictly limited though they are- but facing the issues we are a bit of careful consideration is due, so here we go. In Seattle, when they were doing the Neighborhood Plan for South Lake Union, their “Key Elements” included:
>A pervasive human scale ambiance consistent with a vital aesthetically pleasing, safe and energetic neighborhood which embraces a dynamic intermixing of opportunities for working, living and playing;
>Retention of a significant element of the area’s commercial activities, including opportunities for business growth;
>A full spectrum of housing opportunities;
>Ecologically-sound development and life-styles and promotion of ecologically sound business practices consistent within the regulatory environment; ease of transportation for all modes within and through the area;
>A variety of open spaces serving the needs of the area and the city, with emphasis on Lake Union, and its continued preservation for a wide range of uses; and
>Sensitivity to the area’s history and historical elements; and coordination with plans of adjacent neighborhood.
Some of this is directly useable, but some is problematic. The first is right on, but the second… there is no commercial activity there now, so it’s all “opportunities for business growth”. The third is great (with proper emphasis on much higher densities), the fourth and fifth are fine as is (minus the Lake Union reference). The sixth, though? Hmm. The area’s history is one of clear cutting, single family tract house development and the area’s callous amputation by freeway.
So what history is it we must be sensitive to? Each family surely has felt attached to their home, and I don’t mean any disrespect to that, but we must change almost all the current place to make it into the place it must become, so maybe we need to look at it in different ways. Next to Paramount Park and Natural Area maybe the existing houses will remain, but I hope the houses closer to the center can be reused- repositioned and stacked to form a denser but familiar transitional tier between the surrounding, unchanged single family neighborhood and the much denser ‘interior’ section of Link South.
Fifth Avenue NE will naturally become the ‘Main Street’ of Link South neighborhood. It’s a through road, too, connecting Northgate to Link South to Ridgecrest (the Crest Theater, et al) to 175th St (Town Center and North City) and all the way to 185th St, and has I-5 connections at 145th and 175th. Vancouver Metro Area’s experience with SkyTrain can be instructive. The greatest density, both commercial and residential, should grow right around the station itself- a cluster of highrises- and it should trail off toward the edges.
Of course, this exercise is not the last word, nor even the first. The city of Shoreline is vigorously involved with the process, and is deeply into the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Growing Transit Communities" program. We, of course, must be deeply involved with the city! Let them know how much better this place would be with good planning rather than a haphazard, timid approach.