How the Market Was Won

Residents and visitors perusing Pike's Place, accessed 2/18/2014, dazzlingplaces.com

Residents and visitors perusing Pike’s Place, accessed 2/18/2014, dazzlingplaces.com

As the first proposed project slated for Urban Renewal in Seattle, the Pike Plaza Redevelopment Project had big plans for what is now one of the most recognizable landmarks in Seattle.

So, how exactly did this once “blighted” area escape its slated doom and transform into the beloved neighborhood commodity enjoyed by residents and visitors alike today?

After World War II the United States experienced a serious growth spurt.

Suburban living in Levittown, NY, accessed 2/18/2014, theatlantic.com

Suburban living in Levittown, NY, accessed 2/18/2014, theatlantic.com

In an effort to appeal to those leaving the city for suburban amenities, the city of Seattle hired a New York-based planner (at the peak of urban renewal), Donald Monson to create a new vision for downtown Seattle.

Monson’s vision included renovating and reconstructing Pike Place, including surrounding buildings, into a large-scale shopping mall (sound familiar, Boise?) . An emphasis on the waterfront, block-wide skybridges and a proposed air-water terminal with a heliport, were all contained within his grandiose redevelopment plan yielding what would be called Pike Plaza. Monson’s plan borrowed from history’s utopian idealists; Monson details technological advances as described by Le Corbusier  and Frank Lloyd Wright, while also championing the balance of city and nature as described by Ebenezer Howard.

Monson appeared to have done his homework. Almost…Had the Pike Plaza Redevelopment Project bothered to consider what the Public wanted? It turned out that everyone loved the Market (and still does), so much so, that a group of volunteers collaborated to form The Friends of the Market, this grassroots group was created with the intention of quelling the imminent destruction to part of Seattle’s history.

The Friends of the Market, accessed 2/18/2014, http://www.friendsofthemarket.net/friendshistory.html

The Friends of the Market, accessed 2/18/2014, http://www.friendsofthemarket.net/friendshistory.html

First developed in 1907 to cater to farmers, fishers, vendors and patrons, Pike Place Market had always played an integral part in the neighborhood and in Seattle as a region throughout its history. Luckily, The Friends of the Market were not willing to watch it succumb to the destruction proposed by proponents of reconstruction in the era of urban renewal. With the help of an elected official, an attorney and an architect, The Friends of the Market was able to stop bulldozers from demolishing a cultural institution, instead urging the City to use urban renewal funds toward rehabilitating already existing features.

Pike Place Market, circa 1960, accessed 2/18/2014, historylink.org

Pike Place Market, circa 1960, accessed 2/18/2014, historylink.org

Public participation and involvement have been essential elements within the urban framework throughout history.

The idea of the “Polis” as termed by the Greeks, is echoed in the actions of saving a public market such as Pike Place. The Friends of the Market group represents a sense of community, an extended family with affection for their public space. Pike Market was an establishment they could not envision Seattle without. In a roundabout way, the Public was able to decide what was best for their neighborhood and the city of Seattle. The organic mechanization of the Market is undeniable. The Pike Place Market was created with the sole intention of utility but has managed to create a vibrant gathering place, a destination for residents and visitors alike. The combination of commerce, art and overall vibrancy fulfills characteristics modern cities laboriously concoct (see The Livability Principles of the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities).

Grassroots movements, such as the above depicted hero in the Pike Plaza Redevelopment story, have been present throughout planning history. In this same era, on the other side of the United States, Jane Jacobs (along with many followers) fought a similar battle. Similarly, decades before, Lewis Mumford spoke to the importance of “the human side of cities”. In a similar redevelopment proposal, residents within the Lincoln Square district in Manhattan fought the proposed demolition of an art center. The questions for members of neighborhoods, communities and regions today becomes: How do we preserve the parts of our cities that make them more than just a space? How can we prevent the neutralization of our personalities and character? As our society succumbs more to modernization and technology, the cultural pieces of our past are at risk. It may be up to the Public to defend areas in the path of destructive ideas. History has taught us that small changes can yield large results; public participation may just be the solution. If nothing else, we could all make some new friends.

“Foremost among those who defend the Market as a vital part of the city and the region are the Friends of the Market, a volunteer civic organization formed in 1963 under the wing of Allied Arts of Seattle and ‘dedicated to saving and renewing the historical Pike Place market and district through a program of community planning.”
—Victor Steinbrueck, in the Forward to his Market Sketchbook, 1968

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