March 15 2013

Seattle’s New Front Porch: The Redevelopment of the Waterfront

Seattle's Waterfront

Historically, port cities located their industrial zones near the waterfront for the convenience of transporting goods. Often times, highways or railroads were later constructed near the industrial waterfront. But as contemporary manufacturing and shipping processes are significantly more efficient and require less space (since transportation moved from bulk to shipping containers), these port cities are now left with vacant land that is separated from the rest of the city. American cities that began with industrial shorelines are now facing two issues latent within the post-industrial landscape: the change in shipping processes, and the appearance of an urban waterfront.

As an industrial port city, Seattle’s urban waterfront began with working-class roots. The logging industry of the 1850’s first used Elliot Bay to transport timber. The waterfront was also used for the city’s shipbuilding industry, as well as for Boeing’s aircraft design and manufacturing during WWII.

Alaskan Way Viaduct in downtown Seattle

The relics of heavy manufacturing will soon disappear as the city plans to reclaim its shoreline. Seattle’s waterfront transformation includes:

●      The demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct (a double decked elevated section of the highway that runs along the waterfront);

●      A 1.8 mile bored road tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct (that’s 200 feet below grade);

●      And an earthquake-conscious Sea Wall buttressing the historic piers.

These engineering projects will result in 300 acres of the Elliot Bay waterfront becoming reconnected with the city proper. The Alaskan Way Viaduct will no longer be a physical barrier between the shoreline and Downtown. Essentially, the waterfront will become the new front porch of the city.

Seattle's Proposed Waterfront

Landscape architect James Corner, who designed Manhattan’s “High Line,” developed the overall urban design plan for Seattle’s central waterfront. The vision is to create a new waterfront promenade that will link Pioneer Square to Olympic Sculpture Park. It expands between the historic piers to create new public spaces that appear punctured along the promenade.

While it will be several years before the new waterfront plan comes to fruition, how do you think it will change the city? Will it become a tremendous public amenity for residents, a tourist destination, or a vertical land rush for developers?

Credits: Photographs by Amanda Bosse. Map courtesy of James Corner Field Operations. Data linked to sources.

Amanda Bosse

Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual structures and the urban fabric (including those structures not typically designed by architects). With a background in both architecture and urban design, Amanda was primarily interested in applying architectural thinking to solve larger scale design problems.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 9:34 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Engineering, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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