Belltown Messenger - Documenting Downtown Seattle

Belltown Messenger #76 - February 2010


ZANDER BATCHELDER wants a better boulevard
Bell Street's New Direction

As you may have heard, Bell Street is due for a complete makeover in 2010. The city will soon spend $2.5 million from the Parks and Green Spaces levy to create a new pedestrian park along Bell Street from 5th to 1st Ave. The project has generated a lot of interest, drawing hundreds of Belltowners to two presentation meetings.

A third presentation meeting is scheduled for March, so there is still time to make your comments.

On that note, I’d like to chime in. The designs submitted so far are too standard for Belltown.  There is nothing about them that says, “Come to Bell Street and linger.” Nothing that encourages you to hang out or take a picture. This is especially important when you consider the competition for the souls of pedestrians that are nearby at Pike Place and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

The designs presented so far evoke the historic regrading of Denny Hill. Somehow they missed the massive Gyro Jack sculpture in the Dog Park that already does this and the fact that the neighborhood has taken up the name “Belltown” and dropped the “Denny Regrade” handle. Another design echoes Bell Street’s “Film Row” era of decades past. After its own revamping, 2nd Ave has a lot of these over-thought and too-subtle features that are lost on most people. How many people understand what those red board objects in the sidewalk mean? I can’t say that I do, and I lived on 2nd for over a decade.

I think that, like the ‘62 World’s Fair, it should not be retrospective but firmly rooted in the now and looking confidently at the future. Belltown, like Seattle, is a mix of many things. Instead of four blocks sharing one design, I’d like to see eight half blocks each with their own theme. It could be a physical demonstration of different urban design ideas. I’d like to see eight unique stations celebrating what makes our city tick.  They should stand out the way the “Angie’s Umbrella” sculpture at Western and Lenora does. These muses of Music, Science, Speech, Commerce, Rest, Art, Play and History would dance along Bell Street.  Some would be passive for quiet Tuesday mornings and some would be active for busy weekends and holidays.

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