Architect Jim Goodspeed, along with members of the South Lake Union community and LUOA have created a vision for some thoughtful design aspects that we feel should be considered and implemented in the planning and development of South Lake Union. This work has been shared with Seattle City Council members, local area developers, and other architects. For the most part, it has been well received and we hope for your support of these general concepts as the City works through the final stages of approving the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the neighborhood.
LUOA feels very strongly that it is vital to set an appropriate vision for SLU before it is too late. The residents here do not want to see SLU as an extension of downtown – nor do they want to see an endless sea of office parks. Development should be done at a human scale that offers a great street experience while accommodating SLU’s growth targets as an Urban Center.
It has been said the the height of a building, whether 50 feet or 500 feet, has no impact on the experience at the street-level. If this is true, it is only so in theory. Tall towers require large podiums which essentially limit development to a single project that will fill an entire city block. We have several examples of this throughout Seattle and in South Lake Union. By and large, they all fail to offer a positive experience to the end-user on the street. See for yourself and take a walk up Terry or Boren from Harrison toward Lake Union. If you don’t work in the office buildings you’re passing by, these streets have nothing to offer you.
LUOA realizes the street-level, pedestrian experience will not be a primary development consideration for many projects. We do feel, however, there area areas of the neighborhood that deserve it. Namely, the area right around Lake Union commonly referred to as “the Mercer blocks.” This illustration shows a few possibilities for this area. You see the current zoning with the 40’ allowance. There is currently incentive zoning for greater height if a “public space” is created. (We all know those spaces never really feel “public!”) The EIS Alterantives being studied right now by the DPD, propose towers ranging from 125’ to 300’ right at the edge of the lake. There are obviously several problems with this – too many to possibly address here! What LUOA would like to see for the neighborhood on these blocks is the “quartered block” example. This would create an amazing street experience and, along with the City’s significant investment in South Lake Union Park and the Mercer Corridor, would solidify this area into the future as the “Heart of SLU.” Just like chopping a potato increases the surface area for
faster boiling, quartering these blocks increases the surface area of human activity. A neighborhood, to be sustainable, needs density and growth – but it also needs a draw. Something to give the people who work here a reason to stay later than 5pm. Something to give people who live here a reason not to go to Ballard or Capital Hill when they go out in the evening or on weekends. Filled with pubs, restaurants, galleries, and all manner of retail shops, the south end of the lake could give that draw. The level of vibrancy that could be attained in this area would electrify the Lake Union and make the South Lake Union neighborhood a truly great place to live and work.
It may seem like a utopian vision, but it is not far fetched! South Lake Union is in a unique position at this point in time – that of defining its future. It will take coordination, time, and substantial investment, but we are approaching the crossroads where we can make SLU into the neighborhood it deserves to become.
Which direction would you head?