The Space Needle is asking the city for view protection—not views from it, but of it. In my view, that’s harder to justify.
Times reporter Bob Young had a story in the March 11 paper about the push to do this. One example was the view from Lake Union Park. If South Lake Union continues to develop, the story said, in the future a person stepping out of the Museum of History and Industry might not be able to see the Space Needle.
Is that important? People don’t go to MOHAI to see the Space Needle.
The Needle folk say people driving off I-5 on the Mercer Street ramps might lose their view of the Needle, too. So what? We’re talking about a view from a freeway ramp. Should landowners be denied the right to develop their property, and customers be denied the apartment units or the office space in order to protect momentary views from a freeway ramp?
Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, a University of Washington architecture professor, thinks so. He says the view from the freeway ramp is a “wayfinder” for out-of-towners to find the Seattle Center.
Knute Berger, who favors protecting “sight lines,” argues in Crosscut that the Needle is “an international civic symbol.” So it is. When I want to show out-of-towners a view of our international symbol, I take them to Kerry Park, at Third Avenue West and West Highland Drive on the south rim of Queen Anne Hill. Always other people are there, ooing and aahing and posing for photos. That’s the view to protect, because it’s the best view and really the park exists only because of the view. Also, the amount of property that needs to be restricted in order to preserve that view is small.
I can also understand a limit on tall buildings right next to the Space Needle. But the complaint now is that mid-rise buildings in South Lake Union, where Amazon has relocated itself, will block views of the distant Needle from the street. But how important is that? So the computer programmers coming back from the food trucks with their lumpias and pad thai can glimpse the Space Needle a mile away? How much is that worth to the people of Seattle?
South Lake Union is one of the hottest development areas in the Pacific Northwest, and after a long, deep recession the region needs all the excitement it can get. Here young people are earning good pay, and other people—cement workers, ironworkers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.—and earning good pay making more space for them. That’s worth a lot. The city has put in public money with a $50 million streetcar, a $200 million redo of Mercer Street and the first new City Light substation in years.
Stuff’s happening, and it’s good. We’re supposed to trowel another layer of “Seattle process” on it, thereby limiting it, to protect “sight lines” from the street?