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Originally published January 30, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Page modified January 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM

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Op-ed: South Lake Union rezone could usher in new era of urban design

If the Seattle City Council embraces the rezone of South Lake Union, it will usher in a new era of urban design for the city that prioritizes people and sustainability, according to guest columnists Jerry Dinndorf and Brock Howell.

Special to The Times

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SEATTLE can and should be a shining emerald for America as a city of urban living opportunity for all. And with South Lake Union, we’re beginning to see that sparkle.

Amazon.com, the biotech industry, Vulcan and Northeastern University are helping to make the transformation. With a more comprehensive plan, we can leverage timing and increased development to achieve a truly great neighborhood.

Right now the Seattle City Council is considering a proposal to rezone South Lake Union for thousands of new jobs, affordable housing, farmland preservation, and neighborhood infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, bikeways or a community center.

If the Seattle City Council embraces the proposed rezone of South Lake Union, it will usher in a new era of urban design for the city that puts people and sustainability at the top of its priorities.

Decades of urban sameness and lack of affordability have resulted in many families settling in the suburbs, causing sprawl and congestion. The opportunity that South Lake Union presents is to provide an environment where individuals and families can live, work and play with easy access to amenities and transportation. If successful, and there is every indication that it will be, the model can be applied to other dense city neighborhoods as well.

That’s why Seattleites and organizations with diverse perspectives are working to get the rezone approved. Residents, local businesses, environmentalists, developers and farmers understand the benefits that will result from sustainable development in South Lake Union.

After eight years of a thoughtful and inclusive process, the time for action is now. Development will not wait and the opportunity to create a great neighborhood by allowing taller buildings in exchange for open space, streetscape improvements, affordable housing, child care and infrastructure will pass us by.

The rezone has already passed a thorough environmental-impact study process with vetting through many public hearings. The rezone was strongly supported during the study by environmental groups, including Forterra, Futurewise, Great City, King County Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Transportation Choices Coalition. The opportunities and benefits are not only broad-based, they are truly exciting.

Seattle will get a new, elegant skyline of buildings with varied heights. On the street, more people will enjoy better sidewalks. Calmed roadways will work better for cars, pedestrians, bikes and transit together.

Attractive storefronts and public plazas will create places where people can interact and activate the neighborhood into the night, making it a more desirable place for families to live.

And through the planned incentive program, more than 25,000 acres of farms, forests and open space across King County will be preserved for generations to come.

These new, thoughtful development guidelines are both enlightened and pragmatic. They are the work of years of collaboration, dialogue and study.

Imagine a neighborhood where thousands of people live, work and play. Imagine a residential avenue with apartments and condos that is safe for walking and riding bicycles. Imagine neighbors of different cultures and backgrounds from around the world striking up conversations in a corner coffee shop that leads to a new IPO, a new cure, a new book or a new lifelong friendship. Imagine a place where families live and can walk down the street to take their kids to school and the local park.

We can build that neighborhood. But the Seattle City Council needs to act quickly and boldly.

Jerry Dinndorf, left, is a member of the South Lake Union Community Council. Brock Howell is King County program director at Futurewise.


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