October 22, 2019
By Dennis Kaiser
Seattle is arguably the most active commercial real estate market in the country, thanks to a sonic boom brought on by the expanding operations of companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and a host of other companies. That growth has presented a number of challenges to the entire Puget Sound region. Downtown Seattle Association’s Jacqueline Gruber AICP, shared a few of the ways her organization is working to solve the issues facing the Emerald City in our latest 3 CRE Q&A. The DSA’s Sr. Economic Development Manager was a recent honoree in Connect Media’s Next Generation Awards.
Q: What is the fundamental challenge facing downtowns?
A: For as many opportunities as we have in downtown Seattle, we also have challenges. The biggest threat to downtowns is incorrectly diagnosing the problems at hand. We all hold certain assumptions about what cities are and who they serve. In Seattle, some people jump to the generalization that downtown is comprised of young millennials, but that generalization does a disservice to anyone who does not fit that demographic. Lost in that generality are the nearly 5,000 children who live in downtown. Children are our fastest-growing demographic, doubling in population since 2010, yet we don’t have a public school for them to attend, and we lack services like sufficient playgrounds and day-care centers. People who have a hand in shaping our city must constantly check their assumptions with the on-the-ground realities to make sure we are planning cities for the people who use them.
Q: In your opinion, what role do urban planners play in building cities?
A: So often, urban planners are thought of in their regulatory capacity. These are the fundamentals of urban development—zoning, permitting, ensuring public access to light, fresh air, and potable water. But in the U.S. in the 21st Century, the real opportunities are now in what we create together. Cities are a conglomeration of the decisions we make as separate individuals, organizations, and government entities. This fragmentation can create a certain Tragedy of the Commons. Urban planners are keenly positioned to convene diverse groups of experts and stakeholders and build momentum around a shared vision, then divvy up the tasks and get to work. When it’s unclear who can solve the problem, planners can lead.
Q: How can urban planners and real estate professionals work together?
A: Cities across the U.S. experienced unprecedented growth over the last decade, and many of those cities are playing catch-up on building the infrastructure and amenities they need to serve their populations. In downtown Seattle in particular, we lack sufficient parks and public spaces. Property owners and city leaders have shared interest in cultivating spaces for people. I’m very interested in developments that are blurring the line between public and private property to cultivate city life. In Seattle, we’ve leveraged public-private partnerships to activate places like Occidental Park and Westlake Park. Next year, the DSA will partner with Skanska USA and Shunpike to activate a new, covered plaza that will be open to the public. Seattle’s future waterfront park will be made possible, in part, because of a joint venture with philanthropic investment. There’s no limit to what we can do. I recently spoke with staff at the City of Denver, who worked with their regional transit agency and private developers to revitalize a formerly derelict Union Station into a publicly accessible, mixed-use food hall and transit hub, attracting almost as many people a year as Pike Place Market. This could be a model for Seattle’s Union Station.
Connect Seattle is set for November 7th at Coterie Worklounge. Plan to join us for the afternoon of CRE conversations and networking. You can find out more information and register on this link.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Dennis Kaiser