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caption: Architect Rico Quirindongo.
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1 of 3 Architect Rico Quirindongo.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Designing Seattle's Waterfront For Both Rich And Poor

The Seattle Waterfront is going to change dramatically when the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down. So what’s going to happen to all the low-income people who hang out on the waterfront now? That’s one of the questions being asked at a public symposium Thursday afternoon about designing an equitable waterfront. It’s part of the Seattle Design Festival.


The new waterfront will include 20 acres of new parks, and many of the shabby buildings now blocked by the viaduct could become a lot fancier.

Architect Rico Quirindongo was thinking about that vision as he was walking with his young son along the Seattle waterfront.

They passed a homeless man in a sleeping bag. Quirindongo asked himself: “Do we look the other way and pretend that the problem isn’t there? Or do we look the problem in the face and try to answer the hard questions about how we get to a solution?”

Quirindongo has been thinking about solutions lately. And he wants us to think of the waterfront like we think of the Pike Place Market.

The market has lots of social services and affordable housing. At the same time, it’s embraced by all kinds of people, rich and poor.

Quirindongo says there’s currently no plan to bring lots of low-income housing and services to the waterfront, but there should be.

I ran Quirindongo’s idea by Jon Scholes with the Downtown Seattle Association. I expected him to shoot it down because downtown has so much of the city’s affordable housing and social services already.

But Scholes and his group have been optimistic lately that rich and poor people can all get along downtown. They’ve been seeing it happen already in some neighborhoods like Westlake and Occidental park. They’ve brought in ping pong tables.

And the police have been experimenting with new techniques that rely on officers who walk the same beat every day and know the people in the neighborhood.

Scholes: “The new waterfront’s no different from any public space in downtown and what it takes to really make it successful. And it’s part of why we’re doing this work in Westlake and Occidental, to sort of inform a new model of how do we create great spaces for everyone and make them welcoming for everyone.”

Of course, for all this transformation to happen, the viaduct has to come down. That’s scheduled to start in mid-2018.

But that could be delayed if Bertha, the drill tunneling under the viaduct, doesn’t stick to its latest schedule.

The Seattle Waterfront Symposium that Rico Quirindongo helped organize is open to the public. It convenes at 4 p.m., Thursday Sept. 17, 2015, at the offices of DLR Group, 51 University Street, Suite 600. There’s also a walk-and-talk led by Feet First leaving from the street in front of the office at 2 p.m.

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