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Ron van der Veen

As the writer of the ARCADE article, I take offense at the suggestion that my use of language dates me. I consider myself a very hip architect with a unique pulse on the state of architecture in Portland and Seattle. I thought the Pearl Jam reference was kind of catchy. Believe me, you Portlanders may have your pet peeves about the Pearl (Jams), but Seattle would give it's Puget Sound for such an enlightened neighborhood.


Brian: I went to undergrad at Reed and grad school at UW and have lived back and forth in both cities for most of the 80s and 90s. It's been my observation that given the identical opportunity, Portland gets it pretty much right and Seattle completely squanders the opportunity.

Waterfront? Portland creates a waterfront park along the seawall. Seattle creates a 5-story concrete monstrosity of a viaduct.

Transit? Portland builds a light rail system. Seattle spends more money building a useless subway for buses through 20 blocks of downtown so Nordstrom doesn't have to have ugly buses parked in front. Anyone who's commuted in Seattle will tell you the problem is getting TO downtown, not getting through it.

Civic square? Portland builds Pioneer Courthouse square by selling thousands of bricks. Seattle turns it's one chance of a good urban square into a horrendous multi-story shopping center called Westlake Center with a little tiny public square on one corner. Then compounds the error by trying to close Pine St to create a larger public square and horrendous traffic foul-ups. Then loses its nerve and and opens Pine St. back up. For some reason Seattle never got the fact that most good urban squares fill up a single block. They don't sprawl half across two blocks fouling up the grid and traffic flow.

Stadiums? Portland remodels what it has and ends up with a decent suitable Civic Stadium for triple-A baseball and PSU football. Seattle spends over $100 million repairing the Kingdome roof and then blows the place up a year or two later but them completely botches the placement of the two new stadiums by putting the rarely-used football stadium right in Pioneer Square and putting the frequently-used baseball stadium further away from the streetlife. The two stadiums should absolutely be swapped. And of course the residents of Seattle are actually still paying for the long-gone Kingdome not to mention the infamous roof repair in addition to the two new stadiums.

I've spent a lot of time in Belltown and can honestly agree that there really isn't much "THERE" there. There's no central location around which the neighborhood is centered. Pike Place doesn't really count as that's on the edge and more touristy. I haven't spend hardly any time in the Pearl but what I've seen I've liked, other than the distruction of the Weinhard's Brewery which broke my heart as a favorite memory from college was smelling the malt from the brewery during late nights at Powells.

Of course I'm not an architect so I really can't comment on building design.


In my estimation, the Pearl District is both a success and a failure for the same reason: It is predicated on the contiuation/extension of the existing street grid and block structure. This allows it to blur the distinction between the new and old parts of the city fabric. Unfortunately, the opportunity to create a more vital streetscape, with more incidental and interesting spaces and diversity of experiences was missed. Given the tendancy to turn everything into a flower bed, Portland might have ended up with a Disneyland like version of an urban village...but I had hoped that we could achieve something on the order of Greenwich Village. The skewing of the grid would have also been an appropriate and sensitive response to the bend in the River!


The Pearl has a quite diversity of experiences, theres... Hoyt Street Yards, North Park Blocks, 13th Avenue Historical District, Brewery Blocks, the Pearl waterfront by Centennial Mills, a still industrial section north of Northrup near 405, and then the central part of the Pearl in the vicinity of the Gregory and McKenzie Lofts. Not bad for one neighborhood and even more remarkable for a new neighborhood. Its pretty difficult to build a quality intimate urban neighborhood now since the buildings have to be large enough for resident parking as well as wheelchair accessibility plus developers find it most economical to build on a larger scale. Its a little unrealistic to have the Pearl be like Greenwich Village built well over 120 years ago and evolved over those many years.

The building's facades in the Pearl could be better but their using modern construction techniques and dont want everything in glass. Theres still acres of open land to be developed to the north, but slowly the vibrancy is creeping north as Hoyt Yards' projects are completed. The Brewery Blocks is very vibrant and just 6 years ago was an operating brewery.


I worked in Belltown as it was being built and it's nothing less than oppressive -- an anti-PDC lover's dream. Every building is built out for maximum profit with little thought for the people who actually live and work there. One building of about 15 stories even has the front doors and windows of the lowest floor _on_ the sidewalk - you literally step from your house onto the city sidewalk.

With all the great views Seattle has you would think every one of those buildings would have a functional balcony for long summer evenings and covered to enjoy the misty mornings, but no such luck.

Whenever I hear people knock Portland and its so-called 'anti-business' nature of this city I think of Belltown -- nothing could be more pro-business and the city is left to suffer for it.

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