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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 8, 2011 at 10:20 AM

The contradictions and tensions behind Kemper Freeman’s move

If nothing else, Kemper Freeman leaving the Downtown Bellevue Association is a sign of a changing Bellevue, and also a city confronted with a bit of an identity crisis. As the Seattle Times’ Nancy Bartley writes, the group’s “membership is increasingly diversified, with architects, CPAs, retailers of all sizes and representatives — if not the owners — of out-of-state investors among the ranks.”

Bellevue, a place that Freeman and his father did so much to develop in its present form, has grown up. As to the identity crisis: Crossing Lake Washington, the observer confronts an impressive, urban-looking skyline attached to a 1960-style automobile suburb, anchoring a string of automobile suburbs. No surprise, then, the tension between the old car-centric way of development and the evolution of high-quality density and desire for light-rail, which is anathema to Freeman. We can argue about light rail all day, but road warrior metros have built successful systems. It’s about offering choice and preparing American suburbia for a high-cost energy future. The Seattle area’s problem is that it’s taking too long to build light rail and show its benefits (Dallas suburbs, for example, hardly citadels of enviro-consciousness, clamored for lines once the first DART route opened).

The most unconstructive discussion is whether Freeman’s move enhances Bellevue’s competitiveness against Seattle or not. While some rivalry is inherent, the big picture should be focused on the overall health of the metro area in all its variety. Bellevue wouldn’t do well with a sick Seattle, and Seattle is helped by the offerings of the East Side. As with light rail and cars, it’s not an “either/or” choice. Our real competition is high-quality world centers of talent and innovation.

As for Freeman, I suspect his influence won’t be far, no matter which organizations he belongs to. He’s survived the Great Recession that included the worst real-estate crisis since the Great Depression. He’s not done.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

‘More jobs, if you please,’

Obama begged big business.

Maybe overseas

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