Monday, September 28, 2009

What Can We Learn From Seattle? Part I

I’ve been back from the trip I took to Seattle for a week now, and every day I’ve been meaning to write about what we learned. It’s taken a little longer than I wanted to get to this discussion, partly because I needed to digest what I had seen, and partly because the valet at DFW wrecked my truck in a freak accident upon my return—that’s thrown me a little off my stride.

First, I need to provide a little context. Seattle is a very different city than Dallas; older, more dense, more urban and different culturally and politically. Downtown Seattle is vibrant. Not just Peak Place Market, but the downtown streets as well.

The available real estate is constricted by Puget Sound, Lake Washington and other bodies of water. The terrain is hilly.

As a result, land use is more dense—and of course the views are more spectacular.

Seattle’s downtown has more than 20,000 residents, as opposed to the 5,000 people now living in Downtown Dallas, and there are four adjacent neighborhoods, which you couldn’t tell weren’t part of downtown unless someone told you, with another 10,000 residents.

The zoning requires every downtown building (except for some few grandfathered in) to have ground floor retail. The downtown retail market seems strong with Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, every outdoor retailer you can imagine, all the normal chain stores and a plethora of trendy looking restaurants and bars—and a of course a Starbucks, or two, at every corner.

Larry Hamilton, of Hamilton Properties, led our intrepid group of seven (four of whom are pictured below) to learn what we could in twenty-four hours. Besides Larry, there was Mike Faenza from the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, myself, a cameraman, two representatives from the Cedars Neighborhood Association and Paula Blackmon from the Mayor’s office. We wanted to see what Seattle was doing right, how it might apply to Dallas, and establish a baseline for fruitful discussion.

Over the next week I’ll try to describe what we learned.

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