Design Firm Offers Ideas To Make Downtown Seattle More Inviting, Visually Interesting

Feb 12, 2014

Seattle's downtown looks "spectacularly disjointed." That's the assessment of landscape architect Shannon Nichol after walking every block in a 65-acre area around the city's Pike and Pine streets, from just east of Interstate 5 down to the waterfront. 

Nichol's design firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was hired by Downtown Seattle Association to come up with ways to spark a renaissance along the Pike/Pine corridor and make downtown more inviting and visually interesting. The group of downtown boosters wants to extend the vibrancy of Pike Place Market and the waterfront all the way up to Capitol Hill. 

Nichol says the current mix of paving, trees and furnishings is an unattractive hodgepodge. The north-south avenues are daunting for pedestrians to cross. Trees that are nothing more than "bushes on sticks" block views of Elliott Bay on the streets that head up the hill.

Downtown Seattle Association asked her to come up with ways to make downtown Seattle on par with Chicago’s Michigan Avenue or San Francisco’s Union Square.

Fresh Ideas

Nichol's ideas range from easy-to-tackle changes, such as creating a sparkling light installation in the winter or a new garden festival in the summer, to more ambitious suggestions like changing some downtown avenues from one-way to two-way.

Nichol says she'd like to make the avenues more glamorous and fancy, crammed with trees. By contrast, she'd like to open up views on the east-west streets to highlight Seattle’s character as a rugged frontier town.  

"We want to play up the views of the water from the streets and that sense of strong directionality," Nichol said at the 2014 State of Downtown Economic Forum hosted by Downtown Seattle Association. "You kind of feel like you’re almost hiking when you’re walking around in downtown Seattle because of the raw topography."

Downtown Seattle Association says it will approach the project in phases and work with the city to find funding. Improving sidewalks and intersections would cost an estimated $30 to $50 million.