Parking and Parks—and the People Who Love Them / Parcheggio e Parchi, e le Persone Che Li Amano

Last week, I enjoyed the haughty pleasure of HOV passage as three of us whizzed past the single-occupant vehicles idling in an impossibly long line for 520 to Bellevue. The sounds of Stephen good-naturedly wagging his tongue as we passed (“SOV looooooosers”) served as the backdrop for our discussion of a station area planning pursuit.

We spent much of our tour in the car not only due to the wind-whipped weather on Friday, but also in response to the striking lack of sidewalks, crossings, or a connected street grid that might afford us the ability to be pedestrians. Bellevue may bill itself as a “city in the park,” but as it stands today, it’s a city of parking.

Ultimately, this will change, thanks to residents like our teammate, Gen, who advocate for vibrant, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use environments—and to those at the City of Bellevue who do see the bigger picture. Proof in fact is the project’s scope, which includes the transformation of these super blocks into walkable fingers of green infrastructure that masquerade as simple streets, thereby promoting pedestrian activity and invigorating the existing business clusters with the incorporation of light rail.

Great ideas—that are still 10 years out. I was happy to return downtown where I walked to grab lunch a few blocks from the office, walked a few blocks to the ferry to visit a friend on Bainbridge, walked a block off the ferry to catch a bus, and walked mere steps from the bus stop to my front door.

After one car trip came another, this time to Shoreline. My journey up Aurora to 175th quickly transformed from the lush greenery of Westlake, Fremont and Greenlake into gaping stretches of cracked asphalt, billboards, palm readers, fast food, used car lots, and endless miles of strip malls—and a cemetery and a Home Depot.

(Why does the cemetery need a clock on its sign? Is it to remind the rest of us that time is running out? Or that time has no meaning? Or to tell you how long you’ve been sitting in your car at the gargantuan intersection?)

The project I traveled to hear about will transform a swath of isolated, auto-oriented blocks tethered by a web of power lines into a pedestrian-oriented, linear park and gathering space where people can connect with nature and each other.

In between curses during my reverse commute, I reflected on how far we’ve removed ourselves from basic principles of the animal kingdom in the past 200 years alone. The more “intelligent” we have become—able to devise machines like gas engines and air conditioners—so the more divergent our settling, commuting and building practices have become.

Today, however, a shift is taking hold. Though our smarts continue to grow at a geometric rate, we are now tapping back into simple yet elegant practices embraced thousands of years ago in places like Civita: solar and wind orientation, acknowledging the need for a connection to nature in the built environment, clustering our density and uses, including agriculture in our urban areas—and reclaiming parking lots for parks.

The other thing that we’re doing, which can only come as cities age, is preserving the old with the new—bringing forth the buildings, alleys, streets, nooks and crannies that hold invaluable character as we add new things around and atop them. These are elements that places like Bellevue and Shoreline don’t have—yet.

But they will, if we figure out how to redevelop them right.

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